EDIT: Thanks guys, I appreciate you all signing on with your questions. Brent

My name is Brent Stirton, I'm a working photojournalist who spends a good deal of time covering the illegal wildlife trade and other matters concerning a sustainable balance on our planet. You can take a look at some of my work on my website: www.brentstirton.com or on my Instagram under my name. I'm going to be available on Reddit at 1pm EST / 10 am PST for an hour if you'd like to ask me any questions. I'll try to answer what I can.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/kh6n4na9eck41.jpg

Comments: 136 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

NationYell94 karma

How'd you get into photo journalism with National Geographic? That seems to be an exciting line of work!

nationalgeographic170 karma

I was lucky, I was working as a newsphotographer who covered the killing of mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. NG liked the pics and asked me to go back and do a full story for them. The bottom line with NG is that you need to get them to notice you, so do good work and try to do it in a way they haven't seen before

strostro7778 karma

Any stories where you were caught in a dangerous spot with those doing the illegal trades? Being spotted / harassed / threatened?

nationalgeographic132 karma

A couple of times, some involved being shot at by poachers on the ground, other situations involved being undercover with a group of people selling illegally, it happens. The thing is to be calm and quietly extract yourself. Its also a fact that I come and go in that world, I have great respect for the investigators who live in that world full time.

Chtorrr61 karma

What is a common misconception about the illegal wildlife trade that you'd like to dispel?

nationalgeographic158 karma

The most common misconception about the illegal trade that I'd like to dispel lies with the use of animals in traditional medicine. For the vast majority of animal based products, there is at best a placebo effect. It simply does not work and this misconception costs the lives of millions of animals every year

nationalgeographic45 karma

Thanks guys, I appreciate you all signing on with your questions. Brent

jediedmindtrick43 karma

I have always been troubled with the concept of zoos. On one side is the simple thought of "these animals should be in the wild". The other being " they are helping these animals". What are your thoughts on this?

nationalgeographic78 karma

Its a tough one, I think if I was a trillionaire I would want to give everyone alive the chance to see animals in the wild. Sadly I'm not so I think zoos provide an opportunity for most people to see an animal in the flesh. That said, I think the fact that those animals are in an unnatural circumstance is not great, they should at the very least be treated very well and given adequate space in which to live

Vulture2k42 karma

Do you think the things happening in china will actually "help" the pangolins and the illegal trade happening with them?

nationalgeographic68 karma

I hope so, I think this has certainly raised the profile of zoonotic disease and ideally that results in people leaving the pangolin and other species alone.

Leenzlions31 karma

Hi there! What advice would you give to someone who is trying to get into wildlife photography? Also what is an aspect of the illegal wildlife trade that you think everyone should know about?

nationalgeographic94 karma

If you want to be a wildlife photographer, then I would look at the work of Steve Winter, Nick Nicols, Brian Skerry, Paul Nicklen, Charlie Hamilton James, Vincent Munier etc. It will be clear from their work what the standard is. Start locally and be disciplined about working in good light, volunteer your photo services to local NGOS. You're going to need a long lens, it doesn't have to be new but it should be in good shape. You also want to learn camera trapping for animals. As for an aspect of the illegal wildlife trade that I think everyone should know about, I'd like everyone to be aware that Tusks are not teeth that grow back, you have to kill the elephant to takes its ivory. I'd also say that while animals can be very cute and tempting as babies, they often grow up to be fierce, they are meant to be wild after all

angelamerkelsboner28 karma

I recall reading about a number of start-ups over the past few years who have intended to flood the market with fake ivory. Have any of these efforts been enacted or successful?

nationalgeographic36 karma

A number of groups have tried this, not so much with ivory but with rhino horn. The issue there is that what the criminals will offer you is already 90% fake. We know this from a number of investigations done in Vietnam for example. Fake ivory will be difficult as it is usually carved and it will be immediately apparent. You also cannot dismiss the expertise of the people in the ivory industry. Its often people who come from a long line of experts

Criticalstone26 karma

What goods are most commonly traded, or what animal is the most hunted in your experience?

Is any of the animals you photograph create to extinction?

What's your favorite animal?

nationalgeographic59 karma

I worked on Pangolins last year, that is the worlds most traded mammal. Huge pity, its a unique and smart animal and we're losing them so fast we have no idea how many are left. Its one of the animals that may be a vector for the novel Coronavirus so hopefully that will actually help save the pangolin. I did photograph Northern White Rhinos, unfortunately Sudan, the last male died recently.

nationalgeographic38 karma

I like mountain gorillas, magnificent, funny and very human in so many ways

angelamerkelsboner20 karma

What are the chances the Chinese ban due to Coronavirus sticks?

nationalgeographic33 karma

I'm hopeful. I do know they have done a decent job cracking down on the domestic ivory trade. The Coronavirus is going have a massive economic effect globally, and probably most of all in China. I think they are serious about making sure it does not happen again. My biggest concern is that a great deal of the illegal wildlife trade happens online. Unless China's huge online retailers are also part of the ban and it is enforced, then I am not hopeful

fmurphy9216 karma

Do you hunt? Why or why not?

nationalgeographic48 karma

I have hunted, I don't have a need to most of the time, but there are projects that I work on in very remote places with indigenous people. I must eat what they eat and I don't have a problem with that kind of hunting. I don't hunt for sport but I think there is a place for sports hunting, it conserves a great deal of wild land that would otherwise be hunted out completely. I just ask that those hunts focus on animals that are not at the top of the breeding chain, do not represent the best DNA and that the hunt is conducted as humanely as possible

kinggobhead12 karma

Hi Brent, thanks for sharing your time and knowledge with us. My question is, which species are closer to extinction than most people are aware and what are the main reasons why they risk extinction?

nationalgeographic38 karma

Lions are lot closer to the brink than people realize, there are way less than 20, 000 in the wild and when you compare that to the number of elephants, 350 0000 +, you get a sense of how few lions there are. Human lion conflict is one issue, the use of poisons against them, loss of habitat, competition from domestic animals like cattle, feline diseases. Lions are pretty resilient if you leave them alone but in so many places there are just too many people

LubbockGuy9512 karma

How do you deal with seeing a lot of the underbelly and what people do to animals based on misconceptions?

nationalgeographic26 karma

It makes me angry and it fuels my work

sup2no10 karma

What’s the most scary/dangerous situation you’ve been in that you were sure it was gonna turn out a different way?

nationalgeographic26 karma

I had a couple of time when we were getting shot at by poachers that didn't feel very good. There was a lot of gunfire. There was another time when I was sitting in a room with rhino horn guys in South Africa when they were very clear about what they would do to me if I wasn't who I said I was. That involved knives and guns and smacking me around a bit. Still, all worked out ok in the end. There are far more committed people than me out there. Check out the EIA and EAGLE Network, LAGA etc

financiallyanal10 karma

How does the irrationality of medical beliefs in animal parts compare to maybe other irrational medical beliefs for things like natural cures for cancer, homeopathy, etc.? Should we be fighting irrationality or just the animal aspects? Sorry for this if it’s too loaded.

nationalgeographic29 karma

I think we are fighting a 5000 year old marketing machine and that machine is a multi-billion dollar business. Fostering an irrational belief system is good marketing for that business. I don't have an issue with products that have verifiable evidence behind their use, but that is not the case for most traditional medicine products involving animal parts. I also thinks its the worst kind of exploitation to market a product to sick people that you know doesn't work. Its a failure of leadership not to address that. To say nothing of the consequences of this thinking for the natural world

Claydough8910 karma

What are some of the biggest and most common mistakes you see amateur and hobby wildlife photographers make?

nationalgeographic25 karma

Being impatient, expecting animals to do what you want them to do. Buying a whole bunch of gear instead of getting only what you really need and then spending their money on going somewhere interesting

cheffy1238 karma

How did you feel when people called Coronavirus the 'revenge of the pangolin?'

I was sad, pangolins are my favorite terrestrial animals.

nationalgeographic17 karma

I think that is very loaded thinking, the pangolin is one of at least 4 animals being considered a a vector for the coronavirus. I worry that it may have other negative consequences for the pangolin. Zoonotic diseases have been present for a long time and maybe it is natures way of telling us that some animals are not for consumption

starynight9495 karma

Do you have a favorite or close-to-the-heart investigation that you have participated in? What made it stand out? Is it hard to do what you do (not the photography side but seeing and investigating the illegal wildlife reads)?

nationalgeographic10 karma

I liked working on all the stories I've been fortunate to do. I think they all contribute to our thinking on these issues and I'm grateful for that. I have worked with great writers like Bryan Christy, David Quammen and Peter Gwin. I've learnt something from all of them. The investigation that stood out most for me is probably the first one, finding out who killed the mountain gorillas in Virunga. That really cemented a sense in me that I could be useful in this sector of journalism, maybe be of service. It can be hard but I think its a worthwhile life.

OhNoCosmo4 karma


nationalgeographic14 karma

I do believe that my job is to report rather than to interfere. If I do my job correctly, I can have more impact that way. You have to remember that I am often alone, or with one other person, and its really not safe to interfere as most often we are significantly outnumbered or even dealing with corrupt authorities which has a whole other level of danger to it. I always hope in those case, that the picture I make can at the very least form a sympathetic metaphor for the species involved.

SpaceCadetriment4 karma

In your estimate, what does the percentage breakdown look like with the illegal animal trade between the "demand" side of the market? Essentially, how much of the trade is geared towards using animals as food compared to placing illegally traded animals in captivity or pets?

Also, of the animals being traded as pets, what percentage of those do you believe end up in zoos and tourist attractions?

nationalgeographic13 karma

In my experience the largest segment of the market is for traditional Asian medicine, not food. That is a smaller sector and is largely "prestige" eating. The Pet trade is certainly big too, especially with reptiles. The Zoo aspect is a little different as it goes through CITES. There is no doubt some of those animals end up in tourist attractions. Vietnam and Laos and China have good examples of those facilities but it is a global business. I see it as smaller than the other sectors

Nitroscout3 karma

Is illegal wildlife trade a serious problem? If yes, how much is the estimated value of the trades?

nationalgeographic18 karma

It's been estimated that the illegal wildlife trade is the 4th largest illegal trade in the world, worth well over 4 billion dollars per annum. Its worth considering that investigations have proven that those groups who are involved in the illegal wildlife trade are most often involved in other aspects of criminality like guns and drugs

Geschichtenerzaehler3 karma

Have you had encounters with the end customers of poached goods etc.? Have you tried to reason with them or noticed common character traits amongst them?

nationalgeographic10 karma

A lot of the people I meet who buy these products are not necessarily aware of the consequences of their choices, that said, a number of them also told me they want to get some while they still can. The common character trait is usually that they are not struggling economically

WayzeeMary1 karma

Have you ever heard of wildlife photographer Martin Johnson?

nationalgeographic3 karma

Maybe, I think I saw that name associated with WWF. But I'm afraid I can't be sure

Phonophobia1 karma

What is the scariest situation you’ve encountered while shooting and what happened?

nationalgeographic9 karma

I got kidnapped, held for a while and then eventually released. That happened a couple of times. It wasn't such a big deal when I look back on it, but I remember being afraid at the time.

generalvostok1 karma

For the illegal wildlife trade centered around food, are any of these animals actually delicious enough to explain their trade or is it all just the lure of the forbidden?

nationalgeographic4 karma

The lure of the forbidden and the high prices of some of these animals in restaurants lends itself to a certain "status" eating amongst the wealthy. Thats the big draw. As for how they taste, I often hear people who eat these animals rave about it

mylifewithoutrucola1 karma

Hi Brent,

I imagine it must be sometimes difficult to witness wrong situations but be a mere observer. Have you had occasions where you intervened to orevent something?

nationalgeographic8 karma

Sure, if there is no-one else around, then sure, you help .Remember though that a lot of places where photojournalists work, there are professionals there who's job is to help. That said, placing a wounded person in your vehicle and getting them to the nearest hospital is the decent thing to do if there is no other assistance available. Its a tough one, you cannot underestimate how much aid a good photograph can also bring to a bad situation

WhyMaster771 karma

What happens to all the contraband that gets confiscated from poachers and other traders?

nationalgeographic3 karma

Its mostly held as evidence for court cases and then its destroyed