Sometimes an image is so terrible, so devastatingly bleak, it stays with you long after you have looked away.
28-year-old photojournalist Justin Sullivan, from Cape Town, South Africa, has taken such a photograph; capturing a scene which drives home the painful reality of the ivory trade.
Sullivan’s photograph, entitled ‘Disconnected’, was taken in northern Botswana where ivory poaching is a growing concern amongst environmentalists. It shows a murdered elephant whose trunk and tusks have been hacked from its body; severed trunk lying beside its corpse.
Ivory poachers reportedly mutilated the majestic creature using a chainsaw, with the gruesome slaying taking place just 20 minutes away from a nearby camp.
Sullivan had been filming in Botswana for a private company when he overheard rangers discussing the slaughtered elephant:
They said an elephant had just been poached and I asked to be taken to the site. On arrival I used a drone to capture the image.
The image is called ‘Disconnection’, the perspective of the image gives context to the situation which you would never be able to see from the ground.
The high angle looking top down shows isolation and highlights not only the physical disconnection of the animal, but our disconnection from the situation.
People have obviously reacted with mixed feelings of anger and sadness, especially with the recent lift on the hunting ban in Botswana, but this photo has driven some constructive dialogue around how we can promote more sustainable elephant conversation and solve our current ecological crisis.
Poaching has increased dramatically in Botswana over recent years. It’s estimated the number of carcasses in northern parts of the country soared by a staggering 593 per cent between the years 2014 and 2018.
A spokesperson from the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has made the following remarks to UNILAD:
It’s a depressing image and one that highlights the reality that ivory poaching remains a serious threat to elephants across Africa, not solely in Northern Botswana.
It should however be stressed that no date stamp has been provided by the drone operator for this image and it is important that the date of the footage be made public to ensure this is a highly recent image and not the release of older content.
According to Elephants Without Borders (EWB), who operate on the ground in Botswana, there are clear indications (from 2018 surveys) as to an increase in ivory poaching in the Northern Area of Botswana.
Earlier this year, conservationists were left appalled after Botswana lifted its ban on elephant hunting, justifying this by claiming the animals had become unmanageable in some areas.
Charlie Mayhew, Chief Executive at conservation charity Tusk, told UNILAD:
This photograph demonstrates the utterly barbaric nature of poaching and is further evidence that Botswana’s elephants are sadly coming under increasing threat from poaching.
Sullivan’s powerful photography has now been selected for the renowned Andrei Stenin International Press Photo Contest, with results due to be announced in September 2019.
You can cast your vote for this heartbreaking photograph here
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.