Award-winning Israeli photographer urges protecting wildlife through his lens

While traveling through some of the northernmost places on Earth, Roie Galitz is quick to capture the disappearing landscapes and the animals that live in them, in an attempt to make her plight real for people around the world.

Galitz is an award-winning Israeli wildlife photographer and Greenpeace ambassador. In the run-up to the COP 26 Climate Conference that kicks off in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 31, and where United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will try to convince world leaders to take more ambitious steps towards reducing global warming emissions, Galitz spoke about his work on the Times of Israel weekly podcast, Times will tell (edited excerpts are below) and shared some of his favorite images.

“As an Israeli, based in Tel Aviv, I am drawn to things that are most different from home,” he says. “I like to go as far as possible. I would love to go to Mars, but since we can’t go there yet, I love going to the colder places. “

Among his favorite places are Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, Antarctica, and the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East.

‘Arctic Romance’, Svalbard, April 2019. A male polar bear demonstrates his dominance in attracting the female. (Roie Galitz)

“I love the ability to tell stories,” he says. “With photography, I can take people on my adventures all over the world. I can take a piece of something that only I am a witness to and keep it forever, freezing a fleeting moment for eternity. “

Foraging for food: A female Kamchatka brown bear searches for fish to feed her cubs in southern Kamchatka Peninsula, the Russian Far East, August 2018 (Roie Galitz).

Galitz’s travels to colder climates have brought him face to face with some of the most extreme effects of climate change, as the effects of global warming are being seen most rapidly at the north and south poles.

“This is what has led me to environmental diplomacy,” he says. Before those trips began, he heard about the climate crisis on the news, like everyone else, but recounted it as something distant and not of personal relevance.

“When you go to those places, year after year, you see the huge changes that are happening.”

White ice reflects more energy from the sun back into space than dark land and water, he explains. Without sea ice, the Earth will absorb more solar radiation, warming the planet even more.

“There you see glaciers melting, polar bears starving, an Arctic without ice, the Northeast Passage opening up.” The passage is a shipping route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, along the Arctic coasts of Norway and Russia.

‘King of the Beach’ shows a large male walrus guarding his harem in the Svalbard Fjord. (Roie Galitz)

Some of Galitz’s photographs deal directly with the effects of climate change.

But more often, he zooms into the daily lives of his subjects, showing them playing, feeding and mating.

Polar bear mating, Svalbard, April 2019 (Roie Galitz)

“It is one thing to photograph depressing things, but I try to humanize the animals, to make them more identifiable, pleasant and adorable,” he says. “When people care about something and then take it away, they usually care more.”

In ‘Motherhood’, a Japanese snow monkey and her baby relax in the warm and thermal Jigokudani Pools in Nagano, Japan, February 2019. (Roie Galitz)

In ‘Serengeti Sunset’, a female cheetah and her four cubs watch the sunset in southern Serengeti, Tanzania, March 2017 (Roie Galitz).

In explanations of his photos and the many talks he gives, including one at a TED convention in Glasgow two years ago, Galitz connects his images with the effect of humanity’s actions in what he calls the “relay race of life “, during which all living things strive to pass the” genetic witness “from one generation to the next, to keep the species going.

One of his photographs, which shows a young lioness eating the corpse of an old female elephant that died of natural causes, symbolizes for him the endless cycle of life. Earlier this month, he earned high praise at the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards at the Natural History Museum in London.

‘Last Embrace’, highly praised by the judges of Wildlife Photography of the year 2021, at the Natural History Museum, London. A young lioness will gain strength by eating the remains of an old female elephant that died of natural causes, Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, March 2019 (Roie Galitz).

Galitz especially loves bears, which he says are super-smart, along with all the large mammals, many of which are apex predators.

“We’ve seen around the world that when apex predators or any keystone species are removed from the environment, the entire ecosystem can collapse.”

‘Photograb,’ taken in Svalbard in the summer of 2018, shows a large male polar bear chasing Galitz away so he could take a beak through the lens. (Roie Galitz)

When asked why people should care about the extinction of polar bears thousands of miles away, he replies that they are apex predators and keystone species, creatures that help define an entire ecosystem, and that if removed, the entire chain of life is affected. Countries like Iceland and the United Kingdom will feel the impact, he says, because with more seals in the oceans, there will be fewer fish.

On a global scale, he says, polar bears are like “the canary in our coal mine,” warning us of the many consequences of massive thaw, such as rising sea levels, which will endanger millions of people around the world. .

Kamchatka brown bear with sockeye salmon in its mouth, southern Kamchatka Peninsula, Russian Far East, August 2017 (Roie Galitz).

Galitz says that if he weren’t optimistic that the crisis could still be controlled, he wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing.

“There are many things we can do about it. We’re just trying, like we did with him [COVID-19] pandemic, to flatten the curve. We hope that future generations will know how to fix our mess better than we do. “

‘Summer break’ in Svalbard, during the particularly hot summer of 2017, when the polar bears rested as much as possible to conserve their energy until the ice returned. (Roie Galitz)

‘Polar Night’ features the large male polar bear who looked through Galitz’s camera lens (above) walking through an icy fjord in Svalbard around midnight looking for the seals’ breathing holes, summertime 2018 (Roie Galitz).

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