Saturday, August 27, 2011

Shukuru, one of many orphaned elephants

THE MOMENT  Michael Nichols

Quiet Time  Getting too attached to animals is something Michael Nichols tries to avoid when he's on assignment.  As a journalist, he says it's important to appear neutral.  Still, certain subjects---like the orphaned elephants of Kenya that he photographed for this issue---tug at his heart.  One example is Shukuru, pictured below at seven months old, settling down for the night with her keeper.  "For me," says Nichols, "elephants represent an important level of nature that we need to understand better."  ~ Catherine Zuckerman


This photograph feels very private.  What is happening in this scene?

Michael Nichols:  It's dusk at the nursery.  Shukuru has had her evening milk and is now getting ready for bed.  Her keeper, Jiba Galgallo, will spend the night with her; orphan elephants are never left alone.  The blanket is for warmth and comfort---it's meant to mimic the feel of Shukuru's mother.  Young elephants are extremely tactile, so the blanket is essential.
Why does this image have special meaning to you?

Michael Nichols:  An elephant's ears are so important.  They indicate if danger is afoot, and they also regulate body temperature--- but you rarely get to see the backs of them like this.  Here you can see all of Shukuru's blood vessels.  It might not be apparent from this angle, but she is a total sweetheart.

As for Galgallo, what he's doing is not just a job.  It's much more spiritual than that.  I like the light in his eyes.  Many African tribesmen are pastoralists, and they love animals.  I was trying to capture that feeling.  Shukuru was rescued from death. This picture talks softly, but it says what I wanted it to say:  that these two really love each other.

The above article appeared in the September 2011 issue of National Geographic

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