Bruno D'Amicis - Fennec, a species in danger
I have been extensively working in Southern Tunisia over 2012 and 2013 on a personal project aiming at documenting both the natural history and the issue of pet-trade and exploitation of the fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) in a typical Saharan country.
In the image, you can see an adult (about one year-old) fennec, caught in the wild as pup and illegally kept as pet by a local kid for over one year in a sheep pen located in the outskirts of a village (name concealed) in the Tunisian Sahara. The fennec was kept tied with a short leash to a wheel rim and had barely room to move around. It often tried to dig a burrow in the sand, both to escape people and the animals sharing the pen with it. Although the young owner truly loved his pet, the animal was kept in miserable conditions and was very stressed and underfed – results of a scarce knowledge of the fennec biology. I photographed this fennec on two separate occasions and only for very brief periods of time, as to not stress it too much and thus worsen its conditions. Although I had been asked, I was resolute to not pay any fee to take those pictures and thus support somehow this condition. Finally, I asked if the animal could be released, but I have been told that it had spent too long time in captivity to be able again to survive in the wild. Therefore, I discussed a lot with the owner about the cruelty of such a practice and asked the kid to reflect upon it and use a longer leash and take the animal out to walk. Eventually, I heard later, the kid has released this fennec and nobody has seen it anymore. I hope it has made it back to its natural life, but I am aware it is difficult.
The practice of catching fennec pups in the wild is widespread in the North African countries. Local people aim to sell or use the fennec as touristic attraction. Everyone, both the villagers and the (naive) tourists who support this by paying money for pictures or even purchasing such animals (which is an illegal practice) because of their cuteness, is guilty. The destruction of the fragile desert habitat, the ongoing massacre of wildlife and the lack of general conservation regulations are posing this and other desert species under serious threat, and the situation has worsened since the “Arab spring” revolt and resulting difficult socio-economic conditions.
Photojournalism is above all about documenting reality and raising awareness. I wish I never had to witness such sad situations and instead really treasure the precious time I had watching this amazing species free in the wild, but I firmly believe that this was a story worth telling as a whole.
As harsh and disturbing it might be, I hope with this image to make a wider audience aware of the ongoing crisis affecting the Saharan wildlife and reflect upon what are we doing to the natural world even with our simplest actions.
This image has been awarded 1st in the Nature “singles” category at the World Press Photo contest 2014
Location: Tunisia, Africa
Tags: bruno damicis, endangered, exploitation, fennec, sahara, trade, vulpes zerda, world press photo