Two exhibitions now at the Museum of Texas Tech highlight the beauty of the natural world, as well as some ugly reminders about wildlife’s possible future. The two exhibitions complement one another. But they also remind us that humans need to practice stewardship to help preserve wildlife worldwide and fragile grasslands in North America and Africa.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is a prestigious, world-renowned exhibition of 100 black-and-white and color images on loan from the Museum of Natural History in London. The exhibition on the Grasslands of North America and Africa was developed in-house.
“We wanted a program that would be really reinforcing messages about the natural environment, about biodiversity and about the role of humans in being stewards for that natural environment,” Gary Morgan, executive director of the museum, says.
He walked Inside Texas Tech through the two exhibitions. The London museum’s annual competition for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year began in 1965, when just 361 entries were judged. Today, its appeal has grown wildly – drawing 50,000 entries from 92 countries.
The 100 winning images, including some from photographers as young as 10, are selected for their creativity, originality and technical excellence. They showcase the diversity of the natural world, from intimate animal portraits to astonishing wild landscapes.
“With nature photography, these people have to be so patient, because you never know when that perfect photograph is going to present itself. You can’t orchestrate it. You have to be there at the right moment and know what you’re doing, but you also have to be a bit lucky,” he says. “Some of these are just works of art.”
One section of the photography exhibition documents humans’ influence on the environment: a tiger in captivity, birds trapped for consumption and a seahorse clinging to a discarded Q-tip.
The winning photograph shows a black rhinoceros lying dead with its horn cut off. According to the website for Save the Rhino International, rhino poaching has escalated in recent years and is being driven by the demand for its horns in Asian countries, particularly Vietnam. It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine but more and more commonly now it is used as a status symbol to display someone's success and wealth.
At the end of 2015, conservationists' best estimates were that around 30,000 of all five species of rhinos remained in the wild.
“When you see a beast like that, just lying dead, just for the loss of its horn. It is a reminder of our role in terms of stewards of the planet,” Morgan says. “There’s a lot of beauty in this exhibit, but there’s some real harsh reminders here as well. There are a lot of species shown here, including the rhinoceros, that could well be extinct by the end of this century. And that’s a very salutary thought. It’s again a reminder that we do hold the future of so much of the world, in the palm of our hands.”
The Grasslands of North America and Africa exhibition includes taxidermy specimens – all donated to the museum – that have never been seen publicly. The specimens illustrate the mammalian biodiversity in grasslands, which are thought to comprise as much as 70 percent of the world’s landmass. But North America’s grasslands have been decimated.
“So now the area of grassland in North America is down to about five percent of what it once was—so 95 percent of it is gone. It is a reminder of how quickly—a few hundred years—we could almost lose and entire ecosystem.”
The photography exhibition runs through July 1 and the one on grasslands runs through January 2019. Both are made possible through the generous support of the Helen Jones Foundation.
“Because we have funding support from the Helen Jones Foundation, we can provide it. So that’s a great example of how the support from the local foundation means we can bring world-class exhibits here and provide them for everybody,” he says.