Julie Maher shoots animals.
As the chief photographer for the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City, it’s Maher’s job to encourage people to care about the conservation of wild animals and to support the network of city zoos and aquariums.
Some days it’s easy. Like when the walrus at the New York Aquarium gives birth to a pup as big as a Volkswagen.
Or when a famous movie star gets up close and personal with a porcupine
at the Bronx Zoo.
And some days it’s tough.
“I’ve had food spit at me by rhinos,” Maher laughs. “I’ve been kicked, bitten, scratched, but it’s just the normal course of it – no different than my farm days.”
Julie Larsen Maher (’81 advertising design) grew up in southwest Iowa on a farm where her family raised soybeans, corn, and animals. So her job, she says, is the “perfect match:” to be able to live in New York City and also be around the kind of environment where she grew up.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for which Maher is just the sixth photographer in 114 years, is the non-profit organization that manages the Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, New York Aquarium, and the venerable Bronx Zoo. The WCS also manages some 500 field conservation projects worldwide.
Maher is the organization’s first female photographer, and she’s the first photographer in more than 50 years to shoot in the field – not since a photographer captured images of blind cave fish in Mexico in the late 1940s.
She’s traveled to Madagascar seven times, to Argentina, to Yellowstone and the Adirondacks, to Zambia.
In Madagascar, she photographed the animals of course, but also the environment: the landscape, the tree roots and lichens and plant life. Artists used her images to craft realistic settings for animals in the new Madagascar exhibit at the Bronx Zoo. The exhibit features the lemurs, radiated tortoises, tomato frogs, crocodiles, and other animals unique
to that environment.
In Zambia, she photographed a native woman who had taken the traps formerly used to capture elephants and turned them into jewelry. Dubbed “Snareware,” the initiative has allowed the community to profit from something besides poaching. WCS also helps teach the local residents agricultural practices, beekeeping, and other methods of income.
Maher’s job is two-fold. She takes photographs to help promote the WCS and its affiliate organizations through signage, brochures, posters, and Web sites. She also takes photographs to pitch to the media: Her images have been seen in the New York Times, New York Post, Washington Post, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal,
and picked up by the Associated Press.
The importance of good visual images to conservation of animals,
she says, is “invaluable.”
“People want to see action. They get involved in Earth Day activities. It’s a much higher priority than it used to be.”
One of her colleagues describes Maher as the “eyes and ears” of the WCS. And Maher says every day is
“Everybody says I’m the luckiest person in the world, and I am.”
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