EcoCenter sets up ‘Wild Encounters’
The Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter focuses on ways to engage its visitors with conservation issues that include protecting the watershed and restoring the wetland on the 1,200-acre preserve while protecting wildlife habitat.
Hunter Klingensmith, the nonprofit’s visitor experience coordinator, said similar conservation issues are a global concern and one way to shed light on them is through exhibits such as “Wild Encounters: Iconic Photographs of Wild Vanishing Animals.”
British fine art photographer David Yarrow shot the black and white photos featured in the installment, on display through May 13. It features photographs of a bison by Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, a male lion from Dinokeng, South Africa, a rare tusked female elephant in Kenya’s Tsavo region and a domesticated wolf in Montana.
Each photograph is accompanied by an information plaque that was written by Yarrow.
“The biggest threat that faces the animals in these photographs is that they have all lost their natural habitats and the natural corridors they used to travel from habitat to habitat,” Klingensmith explained.
Yarrow agreed to lend the photographs to the EcoCenter after he met executive director Nell Larson and one of the Swaner’s board members, Julie Hopkins, during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
“Two of the photos were on display at St. Regis Deer Valley, and David gave a presentation,” Klingensmith said. “Nell and Julie attended the discussion and really liked the photographs because they highlighted a global conservation issue, which was relevant to the Swaner.”
Yarrow, other than being a photographer, is also a conservationist.
“That’s why the animals he photographs all face some sort of conservation challenge,” Klingensmith said. “A lot of those challenges are similar to what some of the animals face here in Utah.”
The bison, the photograph of which is the first visitors see as they walk into the EcoCenter, is one animal that has a connection to Utah.
“There are 350 pure, genetically unaltered and disease-free bison that live near the Henry Mountains in southeastern Utah,” she said. “And there are only about 5,000 pure bison that live in North America. The others are located in Wood Bison National Park in Canada and in Yellowstone National Park”.
In the 19th century, bison were crossbred with cattle to combine the best characteristics of both animals for beef production, Klingensmith said.
“So having a genetically pure bison is unusual,” she said. “Yellowstone is home to the largest group of these pure bison, and the ones in Utah were transplanted from Yellowstone in the 1940s.”
Yarrow shot the photo of the lion, the second in the exhibit, with a long range telephoto lens while occupying a protective cage 25 feet away.
“Lions are extinct in 26 African countries [and] in the remaining 27 African countries that lions still inhabit, the total lion population is thought to be between 15,000 and 20,000 individuals,” Yarrow said on the plaque.
The big cats occupy only eight percent of their former historical range and showing more than a 40 percent decline over the past two decades, Klingensmith said.
The biggest contributors to the lion’s decline human-lion conflict and the illegal trade of bushmeat, which is meat harvested from big game in remote locations.
“The illegal bushmeat trade further depletes lions’ prey species while also killing lions and other animals in wire snares that are indiscriminate in who they target,” she said.
The elephant image, which is located across the way from the lion photo, is of one of the last surviving large-tusked females.
“She’s unusual because the tips of her tusks actually touch under her trunk,” Klingensmith said.
The elephant population within Tsavo’s ecosystem is the largest and most important in Kenya. The region, which includes a national park, is home to approximately 12,000 elephants, one-third of all the elephants in Kenya, according to the photograph’s information plaque.
“Elephants are essential to the recycling of the nutrients within the ecosystem,” Yarrow wrote. “Anything that affects elephants and their movements also affects the amounts of nutrients being recycled and seeds being distributed. In essence, if the elephants are cut off from migrating the landscape and ecosystem of this area faces a serious threat.”
The photo of the domesticated wolf was taken in an Old West bar in a Montana ghost town, Klingensmith said.
The image depicts the animal trotting across the wooden bar to meet the photographer.
“The photo is also a symbolic way to show the vanishing culture of the West,” she said.
Gray wolves once dominated the western landscape, but widespread killing virtually wiped them out in the lower 48 United States by the 1940s, according to the information plaque.
“Today, their range has been reduced to Canada, Alaska, the Great Lakes, the Northern Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest,” Yarrow wrote. “By the end of 2012, the estimated population was 1,674 wolves in the Northern Rockies region.”
With the exception of the lion and wolf, Yarrow used a remote to trigger the camera’s shutter, which allowed him to get close-up shots of the animals, Klingensmith said.
The camera was housed in a 14-pound steel box.
“When David feels the animal is in the right spot, he uses a handheld switch to take the photo,” Klingensmith said. “He also like to take the photos from ground level, which give the images a more realistic sense of the animal through the viewing angle.”
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