LONDON: Teenager and award-winning photographer Skye Meaker has more years ahead of him than most people who attended the World Economic Forum in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.
But the 17-year-old warned delegates at the annual gathering that, unless serious action was taken, some animal species were likely to die out during his lifetime.
Meaker, who lives in South Africa, was invited to Davos after being crowned Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year and used images from his portfolio to drive home his message.
“I’m talking about my story in wildlife photography to raise awareness of how the world’s wildlife population is being decimated,” he told Arab News ahead of the Davos meeting. “I’m very nervous. I got the invitation in November and I’ve been working on my speech for the past two months. Basically, I just want to show the beauty of nature.”
The photo that won him the top prize in the world’s largest international wildlife photography competition was called Lounging Leopard, a portrait of a female leopard relaxing in a tree and taken in Botswana.
He has known the portrait subject since he was 8 and feels they have developed a rapport.
“In a sense we’ve grown up together. I named her Limpy because when she was a cub she fell out of a tree and broke her leg. I can tell it’s her from her tracks because one leg drags. She also has more prominent whiskers and she’s a bit smaller than other leopards. I think she feels safe around me. She is one of the friendlier leopards. She’s never bothered by vehicles and she stretches out on our vehicle whenever I’m in it,” he said.
Meaker has been taking photographs for more than half his life. His parents gave him a simple camera when he was 7 and he used it during family trips into the African bush.
There were other events, too, that propelled him toward his passion for conservation and photography. He met the wildlife photographer Greg du Toit during a family holiday in Kenya aged 13. Du Toit, after seeing the teen’s photos, advised him to enter the Young Wildlife Photographer competition run by the Natural History Museum in London. It receives tens of thousands of entries from 96 countries.
Meaker reached the finals.
The following year, the 50th anniversary of the award, he was again placed in the under-14 category and met his hero, the celebrated naturalist and broadcaster, Sir David Attenborough.
“He signed a book of my photos for me and gave me some words of encouragement,” he said.
Last year it was Limpy who brought him the top prize. Unusually for a wildlife picture, it is not an action shot. It is a close-up and shows her gazing into the distance.
“It looks like there’s nothing going on but really there’s lots going on. What’s she looking at? What’s she thinking?”
Meaker had spotted the leopard snoozing in a tree and then drove around, hoping she would wake up. She opened her eyes just as a shaft of light fell across her face.
He was joined onstage after his Davos speech by chimpanzee expert Dame Jane Goodall for a question and answer session. She asked him to work with her Roots and Shoots program, which encourages children in 80 countries to get involved in nature exploration.
“I’d love to!” he replied.
“Good, we’ll talk about it later,” said Dame Jane.
He plans to study accounting for income support during future photography trips.
“I can quite happily live in the bush for a month or two,” he said.
As for Limpy, she recently gave birth to her second cub. Naturally, Meaker has already photographed mother and baby.