A distressing aerial image by documentary photographer Justin Sullivan shows the tragic on-ground reality of elephant poaching in Botswana.
A recently-released photograph that has quickly gone viral is once again alerting the world to the gruesome reality of animal poaching. The striking aerial shot shows the corpse of a lone African elephant in northern Botswana, killed for its ivory, lying mutilated on the ground with its trunk hacked off. According to reports, poachers used a chainsaw to sever the elephant's trunk and tusks, 20 minutes away from a nearby camp. The photo, titled Disconnection, was taken with a drone by South African documentary photographer Justin Sullivan, and has been selected as a finalist for the prestigious Andrei Stenin International Press Photo Contest, the results of which are scheduled to be announced in September.
Poaching in Botswana has risen rapidly over the years, and reports show that fresh elephant carcasses in the country increased by 593% from 2014 to 2018. An estimated minimum of 385 elephants were poached in Botswana between 2017 and 2018. Sullivan photographed the distressing scene when he was filming for a private company in Botswana and overheard rangers talking about a poached elephant. He asked to be taken to the site and then captured the aerial image using a drone. "The image is called 'Disconnection', the perspective of the image gives context to the situation which you would never be able to see from the ground," said Sullivan. "The high angle looking top-down shows isolation and highlights not only the physical disconnection of the animal, but our disconnection from the situation." After the incredibly powerful image was chosen as a finalist in the Stenin Contest, Sullivan shared his feelings on the matter, hoping that the wide reach of the photograph would spark renewed interest in conversations about elephant poaching. He wrote: The announcement of this image couldn’t come at a more crucial time for Elephant conservation, especially with the recent controversial decision by the Botswana government to lift the 5-year ban on elephant hunting. Human-wildlife conflict is the disconnection between us and the wild. We need empathy now more than ever before, for both humans and wildlife.
Sullivan added that the image was also a heartbreaking reminder of the ongoing ecological loss to the planet. "It’s also heartbreaking as a reminder of the ecological loss we are currently facing," he said. "This specific elephant was slaughtered in an extremely inhumane manner and the photo represents just how isolated and disconnected not only the elephant was in that moment, but how disconnected we are from the situation." Botswana currently has the world's largest elephant population. But the country has now lifted an elephant-hunting ban that was announced in 2014, citing "high levels of human-elephant conflict". The Botswana Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said in a statement that they would ensure that "reinstatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner". Critics of the ban say that the restriction was causing problems to small farmers and to those who previously benefited from hunting.