February 24, 2021

The photographer who portrays swans eating from garbage and oil palm plantations to raise awareness about the environment


Since childhood, Joan de la Malla felt the call of the jungle. At the age of 22, he entered the jungle of Borneo for the first time and alone. “It took me more than five hours to travel nearly 500 meters”, Joan relives. On that route through the tropical forest he was overwhelmed by the “abundance of life” and the “uncontrollable natural wealth”. It was during that trip to the Malay archipelago that he fell in love with a rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, with “an intense orange color and almost a meter in diameter”.

The hug of the tigress in love with a fir tree, chosen best nature photo of the year

The hug of the tigress in love with a fir tree, chosen best nature photo of the year

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Joan de la Malla (Barcelona, ​​1982), biologist, teacher and photographer freelance –NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 award–, he remained kneeling and immobile for several minutes until he dared to caress a petal of that rafflesia. Then he photographed her until night fell. Then he hung up his hammock and spent the night between an “intense smell of ripe fruit” and the “song of countless nocturnal animals.”

In 2016, de la Malla returned to Borneo and went straight to that location where ten years ago he had spent the night next to a large flower of rafflesia. De la Malla didn’t even find the rafflesia nor did he find the tropical forest because “in its place an oil palm plantation grew prolific, oblivious to my astonished gaze,” Joan de la Malla sadly recalls one of the many environmental disasters that he documents (camera in hand) and points out in Hidden Stories, his first author’s book that collects part of his almost 14 years dedicated to conservation. “An ode to nature”, according to de la Malla, which pays tribute “to the work of the people who are really there, who live in the shadows, but who do titanic tasks with a love and dedication that I find admirable.”

Preserve biodiversity

In Hidden Stories the naturalist Joan de la Malla describes and reflects 25 stories related to environmental problems and conservation. Or rather, the fight for it and how naturalists loyal to science and local communities become guardians and guardians of nature. Its objective is to disseminate reconciliation with the ecosystem so that every day more people become aware and reduce the footprint we leave on Earth. “I think the most interesting thing is to generate debate and that people have an interest in finding out, worrying and forming their opinion,” says de la Malla.

The biologist also portrays socio-environmental problems such as those caused by the extraction of minerals and metals such as sulfur and gold. “Sulfur may be in a vegan cosmetic product, but where does that sulfur come from? This has repercussions on the environment in another way. Likewise, no animals have been mistreated in the sulfur mine because no animals live or grow there no plants. But it has human and landscape costs “, he reflects. De la Malla has in mind the volcano of Ijen, in Indonesia, where the miners carry “about 80 kilos of sulfur in each ascent” and work “between toxic gases and flames without any protection” for more than 12 hours a day.

The hidden face of the world that enlightens Hidden Stories It exposes unnatural situations such as swans eating from garbage, seals giving birth in shooting ranges, orphaned orangutans, buying and selling of exotic animals: living beings exiled from their habitat due to speciesism and the colonization of the human being on the ecosystem.

Even so, De la Malla captures the beauty of the Earth and the synergies between living beings that feed on it and vice versa. Like the fruit bat of Madagascar, which, thanks to its seed depositions, fights deforestation on the island. However, although it is an endangered species, humans hunt it down. As well as its species and island brother, the insectivorous bat, which controls the pests suffered by rice fields. In addition, thanks to his diet and guano, he contributes to the increase in the productivity of the crop while living in the Malagasy village whose staple food is rice.

Facing Terricide

The original communities of Patagonia call terricide “the murder not only of tangible ecosystems and the peoples that inhabit them, but also the murder of all the forces that regulate life on earth, which we call perceptible ecosystem,” he explains. the Indigenous Women’s Movement for Good Living.

“Indigenous lands represent 37% of all the natural spaces that remain on Earth,” says Joan de la Malla. Therefore, Joan makes visible the ecological work of projects that seek to empower local communities. For example, the one performed by Maasai women (“semi-nomadic” tribe) in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Amboseli is an extensive savanna with infrequent rainfall.

“What these women do is that during times of abundance they limit access to a pasture area, both to wild and domestic fauna. When the time of scarcity arrives, what is done is to artificially feed the domestic fauna although they are kept in a semi-freedom regime. This prevents domestic fauna from destroying the grass that continues to grow, even if it is very little, and which is used by wild fauna (…). win-win. The domestic fauna spend those months well with the grass, the communities make life easier and there is still a space so that the wild fauna can continue to prosper, “says de la Malla.

The photographer should now be working in Bolivia, but the pandemic has paralyzed several projects. “I would love to work closer, but unfortunately I can’t get conservation photography of much interest at the national level.” However, Joan believes that “at the conservation level there are very interesting things. We have some of the most important colonies of the most endangered seabird in Europe, the Cinderella Shearwater. They are in decline and it is not being documented very well. It is being studied. at the scientific level, but no one is documenting at the level of history why they are in decline, no one is putting them in value and people do not know it (…) There are also success stories, there is a small toad in Mallorca of which they remained very few individuals and now there is a reintroduction project and it is improving its conservation status, it is a very successful project. ”

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