Turning the lens on conservation for a new generation of activists
Helena Atkinson is creating a new generation of conservationists. A photographer with a commitment to our planet, she runs wildlife safaris for tourists wanting to get the perfect shot while teaching them how to interact with animals in an ethical manner. Conservation education is crucial amid increases in poaching and concerns over the mistreatment of wildlife in the tourism industry. In addition to assisting professional photographers, she’s also developing an interest in conservation among the youth.
Atkinson spent six years in Botswana running Children in the Wilderness, an environmental education programme that bridged the gap between tourists on safari and the local communities by exposing local children to the tourism industry. Atkinson taught them methods of conservation and offered career advice to increase their chances of joining and sustainably contributing to wildlife tourism. Now she’s ensuring that the youth of South Africa get the same opportunities. When Atkinson is not capturing African wildlife, she teaches photography to vulnerable youth at the Chrysalis Academy in Tokai, Cape Town. The kids are learning fast, having sold out all their photos at a recent exhibition. “It really has been eye-opening to see how photography can make a person find their own inner voice and find a way to then express what they have been feeling all along,” Atkinson says.
While there are numerous measures that people can take to protect our animals, photography is one way of introducing people to the value of South Africa’s wildlife. “I think taking pictures in our environment is now a crucial step in conserving it,” Atkinson says. “It’s not a medium that works for everyone but when it clicks with you, it’s incredibly powerful.” In addition to having her photos published in Africa Birds and Birding, Atkinson also has a master’s degree in Conservation Ecology, specialising in National Parks and Community Conservation from the University of Stellenbosch. She’s combined her qualifications with her passion for photography to ensure that in her daily work, she’s making a change to the environment and enabling others to do so too.