Our World: The Human-Animal Bond

The relationship between humans and animals has always been unique. If one thinks about it, the entire foundation of humanity relied upon animals. They provided us with food, companionship, and ultimately helped pave the way to our modernity. While not every single animal contributed to the direct rise of man, what they did contribute to was the health and natural order of the environment. 

For most of us, when we think about animals we are encompassed by a positive feeling. Although they lack the ability to directly communicate to us in our language, their presence incites joy and wonder. However, in recent years, the topic of animals has become quite controversial. Media outlets have been exploding with animal content. Whether it be funny pet skits on Instagram or articles of concern about animal welfare and the disappearance of native species, animals are in the Internet spotlight 24/7. With this post, we hope to examine how we interact with these creatures and instill a better appreciation in readers for the human-animal bond.

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A lone plains zebra trods along a path made by its herd.

If you grew up in the 90s, you would remember when Disney’s hit animated film, The Lion King hit screens. The allure of African wildlife juxtaposed with a Shakesperean plotline and musical arrangements crafted by Sir Elton John became a cultural phenomenon. The movie got a Broadway show, 2 follow up films and a new CGI remake. For most children, this film inspired them to love the creatures of the Serengeti and learn about the uniqueness of animals like the zebras, wildebeest, elephants, and hippos. Through that first touchpoint, they were able to appreciate the diversity of the earth. For many, seeing these animals in their natural habitat – or even at all – is a privilege. 

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A White-tailed deer fawn nestles in the underbrush as people walk by.

While seeing exotic wildlife is not of the everyday experience, many come into contact with some form of them just in their backyard. Crows, squirrels, deer, and foxes are some of America’s well-known and most wide-spread animals. Many people view these creatures as bothersome – posing risks while crossing the street, ruining landscaping or crops, or just generally existing. This contempt is actually quite sad. Only some see the intimacy we have with these animals as a gift. Being able to witness their lives closely shows us what the circle of life The Lion King sings about is really all about. Seeing fawns nestle in the grass as they wait for their mother can evoke feelings you might have for your own child. Hearing a crow cawing for attention could remind you of that one co-worker you just can’t stand. Making that connection from wildlife to your own life is important.

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A piglet stares up at me from their enclosure, thinking I might reward it with a treat.

With over seven billion of us on this planet, we rely on animals for mainly food. No one can live without having access to proper nutrition. Lately, in the media, food-producing animals – also known as livestock – have been front and center in debates. Just recently, Ellen DeGeneres voiced her opinion about eating less meat and was met with messages from concerned farmers and ranchers. Animal agriculture has been a point of conversation for years. Is it sustainable? What about animal welfare? Are greenhouse emissions from cattle a concern? Regardless of your personal diet and beliefs, there are millions of other people who cannot conform to an animal product-free diet due to economic status. 

It is also important to remember that thousands of other products – like medicine and even photo paper – are made with animal byproducts. Christien Meindertsma’s book, PIG 05049, shows how many contributions one pig makes to society. This multifaceted debate over animal agriculture shows us that we need to come together to create solutions that benefit both animals and people while respecting the environment around us.

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A North American black vulture perches on a fence outside of a farm hoping for scraps.

Just like people misconstrue facts about modern agriculture, people also misconstrue the value of animals. Earlier in this post, we touched upon how society sometimes takes nature for granted. Many like to judge the appearances of animals and rank those above the actual purpose of the animal. If the animal is ugly, it is not desirable to have around. One animal that constantly gets a bad reputation is the humble vulture. These avians descend in teams over roadkill, their large wings flapping and hooked beaks gnawing sinews from the bones. While they might not be the most attractive birds, they play an important part in our ecosystem. In the United States, these birds are actually protected by federal law under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. While they are protected, ignorant individuals still kill them guns or with poison for “being nuisances.” Without them, our neighborhoods would be overrun by the corpses of wildlife and the diseases that come with them. We should not take our health and the health of our avian friends for granted.

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As it’s habitat is threatened, this waxy monkey tree frog sits atop its replica enclosure.

It’s easy to be selfish when you don’t realize the impact the human race has on the rest of the living world. Through technology, greed, and harmful practices, we eat away at the environment causing climate change and global warming. Animals who used to be well-adjusted to their habitats are now struggling to survive. Reptiles and amphibians, in particular, are having the hardest times coping with their new surroundings. Zoologists are calling this the 6th mass extinction with up to 2,000 amphibian species currently at risk of disappearing forever. 

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A zookeeper discusses the daily rituals of caring for a feisty tiger cub.

And with over 40,000 threatened species of plants and animals on this planet, individuals and organizations have begun to take action. Zoos have transitioned to conservation centers. Donated land to sanctuaries. To make sure that these unique species thrive another day, many organizations look towards specialized breeding programs to help increase wild populations. Many large animals, like tigers and rhinos, are of extreme need of a population boost. It is very sad to know in the next twenty years a good portion of those creatures seen in Disney featured films could be gone. 

Before visiting a zoo or aquarium, take the time to do the appropriate research to make sure they are focused on conservation/rehabilitation and not on the profits. Unfortunately, there are many zoos globally that still support unethical practices regarding the acquisition and welfare of exotic animals. Educating yourself before supporting an organization’s cause with a ticket purchase is paramount. 

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Red-eared sliders enjoy the sunlight together at a local park.

As a unit, humans and animals continue to stride forward together on this earth. Our pets light up our world, our livestock gives us food, and our wild neighbors keep the heartbeat of nature going strong. After reading this post, you should hopefully feel more curious about what you can do to positively promote the importance of the human-animal bond. In order to conserve our world, we must teach the next generation to appreciate the little treasures in it so that we can make a big impact.

Why I Wrote This

The goal of this piece was to bring awareness to the animals that play an important role in our daily lives and to the ones that are currently experiencing some form of struggle due to human industries. Through the presentation of this information, I hope that readers will go on to become advocates. (Advocates meaning educated on both sides of the spectrum and supporting a specific cause, not just a mindless follower of a hoard.) The pictures included were shot by me at conservation zoos, in local parks, and in my own backyard. I consider myself to be somewhat of an animal photographer who likes to be able to capture authentic moments and display the beauty of every subject I’m photographing. These photos can be categorized as animal portraiture – similar to the style of National Geographic.

In these photos, I use design principles like contrast, scale, composition/negative space, and texture to create a successful piece. To me, balance and simplicity are the most important qualities of a good photograph. In the above photos, I make sure that the focal point is obvious and was aware of how I cropped the imagery. When editing, I prefer that my photos – unless they are to portray an important emotion or idea – are vibrant in color. This detail allows features, like texture, to pop and adds general interest. In some of these photos, a human touch (hands holding the animal) or human trace (fence/manmade object) is used to tie the written story and images together. This blog post is a successful photo essay because all of the photos string along to create a bigger picture. If you noticed, I carefully correlated the subjects I covered to each photo I was going to use. I also made sure to shoot my photography first and then craft my story. This way, the photos felt truly integrated and I did not force them to fit in my narrative. This blog was very much a passion piece for me and I hope it showed through the attention to detail and care put into it. Thank you for reading!

Sources:

Bonner, C. (2014, September 15). Using Gestalt Principles for Natural Interactions. Retrieved from https://thoughtbot.com/blog/gestalt-principles (Module 1)

Busche, L. (2019, May 15). Simplicity, symmetry and more: Gestalt theory and the design principles it gave birth to. Retrieved from https://www.canva.com/learn/gestalt-theory/ (Module 1)

Campbell, D. (2019, September 17). Why it’s time for visual journalism to include a solutions focus. Retrieved from https://witness.worldpressphoto.org/why-it-is-time-for-visual-journalism-to-include-a-solutions-focus-5be15aec3afc (Module 4)

Cao, J. (2018, June 11). Web design color theory: how to create the right emotions with color in web design. Retrieved from https://thenextweb.com/dd/2015/04/07/how-to-create-the-right-emotions-with-color-in-web-design/ (Module 2)

Cohen, M. (n.d.). How To Master Visual Storytelling with Emotional Pictures. Retrieved from http://insights.twenty20.com/how-to-master-visual-storytelling-with-emotional-pictures (Module 2)

Dahmen, N. (2017, December 2). How to Do Better Visual Journalism for Solutions Stories. Retrieved from http://mediashift.org/2017/11/visually-reporting-solutions-stories-newsrooms-classrooms/ (Module 4)

Shurbaji, E. (2014, December 17). Photo narratives. Retrieved from https://medium.com/learning-journalism-tech/photo-narratives-d77b812f99dd (Module 4)

6 thoughts on “Our World: The Human-Animal Bond

  1. Alex,

    I am very impressed by your piece. I would first like to start off by complimenting your beautiful photography skills. While reading through your photo essay, I couldn’t believe you had taken these yourself! The pictures are very crisp and vibrant. With that being said, I would have loved to see a little more variation in the angle of your images. I can only imagine that taking photos of these different animals can be very challenging, as they don’t exactly cooperate the way you would like then too. However, the photo of the pigs was one of the most intriguing to me because of how it was shot from above. You did an excellent job of making sure that the photos support the text and that they all flowed together nicely. I noticed that your photo essay was a solution-focused piece, which I admire. You directly address that animals have become quite controversial over the years. However, your piece focuses on the appreciation for them. You conclude your piece by addressing the reader and consider that they should feel more curious about this topic and what they can do to promote change. I like how you were able to address this topic but still remain honest and impartial. You were not trying to force your thoughts/opinions on the reader, which is a very important quality to have when it comes to photojournalism. It was a natural process to read your essay and follow along with the photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Laura,

      Thank you so much for enjoying my post! It is so true that photographing animals is a complete pain – especially exotic ones that are not trained to be “camera ready.” I started seriously photographing animals in high school and it just continued from there. The piglets are a favorite of mine as well! For this assignment, I shot with my Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-H300. While it is a bit of an older camera – it has a wonderful 35x zoom perfect for taking photos of animals at a distance. The challenge for some of the exotics was to make it look like they were NOT in a replicated habitat/enclosure – which actually involved a lot of angle work. I personally just feel lucky to have been so close to a tiger cub. 🙂

      I appreciate that you thought my stance throughout was unbiased. At my day job, I am part of a global comms team for animal health pharma. Being educated on what our audiences thinks/knows is important as we support the livestock businesses, but our companion animal audience comprises of a lot of people who are vegetarian/vegan. It is definitely compelling to understand and empathize with both sides – which is why I thought this subject would be perfect for this project.

      Again, thank you for the kind words.

      – Alex

      Like

  2. Hi Alex,

    I really think you did a fantastic job on this. First and Foremost, your photography skills are outstanding. The composition of each photo allowed our eyes to be drawn to the details in what is important to focus on and the colors in each photo also help us notice the details in the animals themselves. You used the focal point to your advantage and made it clear as to what we as the audience were supposed to understand or feel with each image. My personal favorite is the one of the pigs with most of them distracted from your presence and focused on another thing, and one looking up at you. This made me feel more attached to the animal rather than looking at how dirty the pen or the animals can be. I think it was really helpful for you to put a short caption under each photo and then tell a fuller story underneath consisting of research, thoughts, and things you have happened upon. I remember one of the articles we read a while back discussed the importance of a human touch in a photo that is staged. The photo of the cub and the zookeeper’s hands show directly the human-animal bond that you discuss so deeply in your writing. Your writing seems to have a lot of passion behind it, but also is based on research and fact. This makes your photoessay complete and, in my book – a success. Great job!

    Best,
    Alicia

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Alex, first off I just want to say the pictures you took were amazing. I like to scroll through what I’m reading and see the pictures before I actually dive into reading. It gives me a sense of where the story could be going. I thought your pictures were taken professionally. They look like they could be found in a National Geographic magazine or in Zoos (where they talk about the animal). So fantastic job with the pictures.
    I really like the topic that you chose. I could tell that it meant a lot to you, because not only were you siting outside sources, but I could hear your own voice throughout the piece. A lot of times that’s very difficult to portray. You did it very well. You did a great job in straying away from the mainstream take on why animals need to be protected and how if possible, we should eat less meat. The main argument being “don’t eat meat, because it’s murder”.
    I’d strongly suggest submitting this piece to a wildlife magazine or newspaper (if they have those). I think a lot of people would be interested in what you have to say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there, Louis!

      Thank you so much for the feedback! Photographing animals and writing about them has long since been a passion of mine that helped me obtain my current job at an animal health company. National Geographic was a great inspiration to me growing up. My grandfather actually gave me a collection from the 80s-90s that served as “bedtime stories” in my youth.

      I appreciate your kind words.

      – Alex

      Like

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