Riis used his Young Explorers grant to photograph migrating pronghorn in the Grand Tetons; at the time, it was the longest documented land mammal migration in the Lower 48. Riis, who studied wildlife biology at the University of Wyoming, is part of an emerging field of conservation photographers whose work documents wildlife, but also includes the human context. His images reveal the challenges the pronghorn face as they navigate roads, barbed wire fences, and other obstacles along their migration.
“There’s a tradition in wildlife photography where if an animal is crossing the road, you wait until it crosses the road and then you photograph it with the mountain in the backdrop,” Riis said. “And then there’s this other idea — you photograph it when it’s on
the road. You essentially try to give the full picture to the story.”
Riis spent nearly two years on his Young Explorers project, which led other assignments for National Geographic
magazine. He’s photographed wild tigers in Thailand and Burma, and worked on projects from Africa to Mongolia. In recent years, Riis, like McLean, has used camera traps to document wildlife movement, most recently photographing elk migrations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with Arthur Middleton
’07 M.E.M., an associate research scientist at F&ES. Riis approached the work as both a scientist and as an artist. He spent months figuring out where the elk were moving, hiking their trails with Middleton before, during, and after the migration.
“I’m trying to produce very unique pictures that are moments in these animals’ lives that take months or years to make,” he said. “The purpose for me is to show people what it looks like to be a migrating animal. And catch those moments when [the elk] are at their most vulnerable.”
earned Riis and Middleton an Adventurer of the Year
award and will be featured in the May issue of National Geographic
magazine. The ecologist and photographer team will present their work on the Greater Yellowstone Migrations as part of the Science & Storytelling Symposium
on April 23 at Kroon Hall.
nother F&ES student, Lily Zeng, first heard about the Young Explorers Grants from McLean. “He told me about this really cool opportunity, and I needed some additional funding for my doctoral dissertation fieldwork in China,” she said.
Zeng studies the changing relationship between indigenous communities and their traditionally protected sacred forests, its effect on land use practices, and its ecological implications for biodiversity conservation.
“My research is based in Xishuangbanna, an area that contains the world’s northernmost tropical rain forest and China’s richest biodiversity,” she said. “This work seeks to understand when and how community goals for protecting sacred forests are compatible with conservation goals, which is important for engaging with conservation science and policy-making in a way that can conserve biodiversity while still allowing for cultural self-determination.”
She encourages applicants to plan ahead when designing their projects. “There are lots of details to figure out for the application,” she said. “Having a good local collaborator at my research site helped a great deal at thinking through these details and what I need to prepare in advance for my research, and their continued support through the fieldwork was invaluable.”
For McLean, who currently works as a researcher with a science documentary production studio, the Young Explorer Grant not only enabled him to complete his doctoral fieldwork, it also opened a whole new network. “I’ve been able to now interact with a lot of the other Young Explorers through various events from National Geographic,” he said.
Zeng says the grant has also allowed her to share her research more widely. “I’m excited that the Young Explorers Grantgives me a chance to share my research more broadly with the public through National Geographic,” she said.