Karl Ammann uncovers wildlife trafficking, poaching and other forms of brutal exploitation of the planet’s most iconic species. Circumventing red tape and challenging the status quo established by governments and supranational bodies, he discloses the shameful silence of international bodies and puts names and responsibilities behind the ongoing death of nature.
He is a leader of the campaign that gained worldwide recognition of the bush meat crisis in Africa. He is an advisory director to several organizations, including The World Society for the Protection of Animals , The Cheetah Conservation Fund, and The Biosynergy Institute. This Voices of Meltingpot is a good introduction to his philosophies and opinions, as well as the 3-parts ViewPoint on about his work: Part I and Part II and Part III.
After studying at St. Gall Graduate School of Economics and graduating from Cornell University’s Hotel Management School in 1974, Karl worked on new project development and marketing for InterContinental Hotels, first in Kinshasa where he helped to organize the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” with Muhammad Ali, and then worldwide, traveling to over 100 countries.
Karl first recognized the scale of the bush meat trade in 1988, while traveling on one of the legendary Zaire River boats. Since then, he carries a camera as his sidearm, shooting scenes of chimpanzees, gorillas and other wild animals being butchered for sale as expensive bush meat. One of his priorities has been researching the status of the apes in Africa and Asia, which exposed the bush meat trade and the illegal trafficking of orphans. In the process, he also initiated decade-long ape researches and conservation projects in the northern Congo.
Ammann graduated from publishing glossy “world in order” photographic coffee table books to documenting the illegal wildlife trade, the over-exploitation of natural resources and the impact on life-supporting ecosystems.
More recently he produced a series of documentaries exposing the trade of wildlife products and live animals, illustrating the very little known characteristics of the demand side. He is currently working on two new films, the first focusing on the farming of tigers in Southeast Asia and the second one documenting the illegal trade of live elephant.
Ammann’s reports and documentaries convinced the European Parliament and leaders of over twenty African states to sign a proclamation against the slaughter of apes and caused the government of Cameroon to convene a national conference on the illegal bush meat trade. For this work, he received the Dolly Green Award for Artistic Achievement at the 11th annual Genesis Awards banquet in Los Angeles in April 1997. Throughout his career, Ammann won a wide range awards, including TIME Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment.
The following interview excerpt shows Karl’s history and intrinsic motivation:
“I came to Africa some 30 years ago. What attracted me were the standard stereotypes of wide open spaces, untouched wilderness, the variety of its people and the general mystique, contained in the word AFRICA.
I was fortunate and found most of the above and was able to document some of what I found in a range of books, photographs and documentaries.
However, I sadly began to more and more realize, that the picture is far less pretty in Africa than in the other less developed continents such as Asia and South America.
I found key ecosystems and species being destroyed, degraded, over-commercialized and exploited. I soon concluded that if what was happening to some of the key indicator species and well known protected areas, then probably the eco-pessimists, predicting the collapse of some of the planet’s life support systems, might not be that far of the mark.”
How Karl works
Karl uses different approaches to uncover wildlife trafficking as well as poaching schemes in order to strengthen law enforcement and achieve some sustainable relief for nature. His closely knit network of partners and investigators, as well as cutting-edge technological equipment, helps in collecting evidence. When he has the full picture of criminal rings, the aim is always to confront the most important decision makers and the public with reality. Results are made accessible to a broad audience through a number of Documentaries shown on some of the world’s most renowned media outlets.
Photo and Writing Credits
Karl photographs and writings on the African bush meat trade have been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek, Stern, Natural History, Outdoor Photographer (USA), Airone (Italy), Focus (Germany), National Geographic’s Earth Almanac, and in many other venues. His work was also featured in several National Geographic photo galleries and interviews.
He is co-author and photographer of important books. Eating Apes, with Dale Peterson, documents the history and present status of the bush meat trade and the myriad of issues involved. Consuming Nature, with Tony Rose and others, is a full color coffee table book on the exploitation of African rainforests, with a focus on bush meat; French President Jacques Chirac was quite touched by these images and wrote this letter. (English translation).
Karl also initiated and helped produce TV programs on the bush meat issue for CNN, UK Channel Four, National Geographic, M-Net Carte Blanche and BBC Newsround, (latest BBC news report on bush meat, introducing BBC’s video of Karl documenting the bush meat trade). He also authored or co-authored widely distributed photo-essay books, including Orangutan Odyssey and Great Ape Odyssey (with Birute Galdikas), Gorilla, Cheetah, The Hunters and the Hunted, Maasai Mara, The Spotted One, Arco Cheetah and Little Bull: Growing Up in Africa’s Elephant Kingdom (with Ellen Foley James). He helped edit and provided photographs for the APA Insight Guide Book East African Wildlife, and more recently co-authored Where Have All the Animals Gone? (with Dale Peterson).
FULL MAGAZINE FEATURES
Karl was featured in numerous magazines, including The New York Times, The Sunday Times, GEO France, Germany, Korea, African Geographic, Stern, Asian Geographic, SINRA, International Wildlife, Natural History, Oasis, SWARA, Terre Sauvage, Natures Best, Outdoor Photography, Nature and many others.
Karl has given a number of interviews, some of which are: Photographer Fights African Poaching With Grisly Pictures (National Geographic Online News, September 2004), Smuggling Apes (Video Feature on YAHOO News, August, 2006), His philosophies (National Geographic, 2013), Trade Secrets, Southeast Asia Globe, 2014. Listen to this three-part interview about his life’s work: part I and part II and part III.
National Geographic story is a good introduction to Karl’s philosophies and opinions on the state of bush meat today. He was also interviewed by Southeast Asia Globe, where he reveals his trade secrets, how to avoid serious trouble and his disillusion over the lack of progress in combating illicit animal trade. He investigated an extensive wildlife smuggling ring stretching from Central Africa to Egypt. The 2011 and 2012 reports The Cairo Connection II and The Cairo Connection III bring us up to date on the status of Ape Trafficking.
Awards and Commendations
Karl is one of the leading environmental photographers in the world today, and his work has been widely acclaimed in many arenas. In 1988, Karl received the Animal Behaviour Award, in 1990 the Animal Portraits Award, in 1991, the Media Asia Advertising Award and in 1996 the Dolly Green Special Achievement Award for Photo Journalism.
In 1997, he received the very prestigious Dolly Green Award for Artistic Achievement at the 11th annual Awards banquet, for his work in Cameroon. He also received the Genesis Award from The Ark Trust (which has since merged with The Humane Society of the United States).
In 1999, he received the inaugural Chimfunshi Pal Award – Environmental Issue Photography in recognition of his efforts to raise hope, awareness and respect of chimpanzees.
He also won the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year “World In our Hands” category award five years in a row, and in 2000 he received the Genesis Award, Presented by the ARK TRUST Inc, Hollywood California and won the American Photo, Special Contest Issue N.5 in the Landscape and Nature category.
In 2007Karl was named SAB Environmental Journalist of the year in the broadcast category for his documentary The Cairo Connection, broadcasted on SABC 2’s 50/50. That same year, Time magazine named him a Hero of the Environment, an award given to people who gave the earth a voice; they credit Karl with almost single-handedly raising awareness of the issue of bush meat; read what else they say about Karl.
In 2008, Karl won the Brigitte Bardot International Genesis Award and the SAB Environmental Journalist of the year for the same documentary, The Cairo Connection, which looks at the illegal smuggling of primates from Africa.
In 2009, he once more won the Brigitte Bardot Genesis International Award for “The Mong Lah Connection”, his stirring documentary about the Asian trade in exotic animals and their parts; Some photos from that grand evening.
Karl’s documentaries “The Hanoi Connection” and “The Kinshasa Connection” also won Brigitte Bardot Genesis International Awards.