Wildlife photographer Craig Jones wishes Finland would avoid the mistakes made in the UK.
As a visitor to rural Finland’s most remote areas to photograph the rare and shy wolves, Craig Jones wishes that Finland could learn something from the UK, as there are now wishes of trying to re-enter some of the lost species to the wildlife, such as lynx and wolves. Craig is nevertheless not convinced it will happen very soon at least. He thinks that we should act now to preserve the strugling wolf populations and avoid the mistakes made in the UK, where they killed all their wolves and larger predators that once roamed free. Later, the work to reintroduce such species, once they’ve vanished from the landscape, would be a lot harder. “It’s better to conserve what you have alive now”, he feels. The wolf populations in Finland are small and shattered with only approximately 150-180 individuals according to the latest estimates by The Finnish Nature Resource Centre (Luonnonvarakeskus.).
“Meeting with wolves is very spiritual. The way these two worlds collide when you get the first contact with wolves can be very moving. There’s our world and there’s their world and you can see how far removed from nature we have gone”. Craig says that wolves are like the mist or the fog when they appear from seemingly nowhere. When staring them in the eyes the mind goes blank as you take the photograph. For Craig, even though being in the hide, it is important to try to see if the animals are stressed out or alarmed. He is convinced that they are aware of the presence of the photographer.
Craig himself was surprised about the amazing team work by the wolves when they would fight a many times larger predator and compete for food. Also the pecking order of the herd seemed striking to Craig. But he also sees a very beautiful, playful and gentle side of the wolves. Craig says there are several places where you can find bears, but that wolves are a lot rarer to come by.
“When people come into contact with the wolves, they are amazed and feel a sense of privilege and pride. It is a “wow” experience. Also people start to pay attention to their own place in the environment. When you witness such creatures up close it moves you in ways that I can’t explain”.
Craig is very surprised and shocked about the hate of wolves that is imbedded in the Finnish culture and he asks why this is so. He understands the emotions that could be associated with a wolf snatching or otherwise killing a dog or other domestic animals. ”If I were the owner I would be angry at the wolf too and very sad” Craig says. He thinks it would be important to talk to people who have suffered losses like this. Also the topic of compensations from the government comes up frequently when talking to Craig. He thinks that a better relationship with the government is key, when helping the locals deal with wolf related losses. He says that around the world people easily take the law in their own hands when the government doesn’t address the issues effectively and in a timely manner. “Attitudes about wolves are very emotional. Being proactive is very important to avoid problems”.
Craig says that photographers and hunters have a very different mentality and therefore he doesn’t think photography could substitute hunting. He says photographers have love for the animals, they don’t just see them as objects. But he thinks that photography can have a protective quality against poaching. Also he sees that by photography you can inspire people to take action to help preserve the wildlife. “Engaging with the public is important, showing them, what we share the countryside with; to inspire them to save what is left from further persecution”.
Conservation is for everybody, says Craig. It is important to make people care by engaging them and taking people to see the actual wildlife. Craig also says that visual art can have a huge impact on people and he suggests that it would be a good idea, to have different wildlife exhibitions in the cities. So we could bring these remote predators to cities, showing people that otherwise may never get the chance to see such wonderful creatures. “From this people will become interested and care, and once people care things can and do change”. For the image of wolves, Graig says, we should educate people early on. It is easier to influence someone from a young age than it would be someone older. He even suggests that Finland could have a national day for our apex predators, where they would be shown in a positive light and how they are embedded into Finnish culture and peoples own national heritage.
The “law of silence”
“Breaking the “law of silence” is the last stone to turn concerning poaching. This is also the poacher’s only protection and therefore changing attitudes around locals could be the best way to break the silence and prevent poaching. If people could see that the tide is turning then the silence could be broken down. So we should try to change the public opinion and look after what we have, instead of fearing it. Showing the data collected by the GPS collars to the locals, to prove them that wolves are shy and avoid people, is a good way of educating the locals”, says Craig. “We should teach the public about how important the wolves are to the environment. The wolf is a good indicator species and they bring many other animals with them”.
Ecotourism is rapidly growing all over the world. Craig thinks that the benefits of ecotourism should be made visible to the locals through infrastructure for example. But he also sees that it is a very fine line, which needs to be overseen by the officials. Craig points out, many times, that we should put the wildlife first and not concentrate on the money. “We don’t want everybody doing these kinds of things, but people who are passionate and very well rounded in the nature. We need to get the ethics right. We don’t want to change the animals. Ecotourism can and should have a positive impact on the wildlife, thus creating a positive feedback loop”. Where ecotourism is concerned Craig says, that India is dealing very well with the tigers. He says that there is an explosion going on in the field of ecotourism and that it is very important for the governments and the officials to keep a track on this development.
In Finland Craig says we have a very unique nature with the thousands of lakes and the wilderness. Craig says he did a lot of research and found that in Finland the ethics were well thought of. In Kuikka near Kuhmo close to the Russian border Craig found Lassi Rautiainen who arranges wolf safaris. “I like Lassi and his work he’s done over many decades to help the wolves and bears that cross over from Russia. Working with the Finish government and scientists to gain data and information and help these predators with positive actions is something I greatly admire. It shows a framework and model perhaps of keeping such animals alive long enough to engage the public, and to preserve them rather than killing them”.
Nature from mother’s milk
“The 8 years in the British army as a sniper was beneficial to my occupation as a wildlife photographer, but it all began a lot earlier than that. I learned the respect for the nature from my mother, who would teach me about the nature and the circle of life, where our food comes from, how we were part of the natural world and so on. So my interest for the wildlife started very early and as child I would often spend my time in the wild trying to see some wild animals. I learned to watch and listen, pretend I was them and mimic their movements, nature was my teacher. I’ve always used nature for peace and calm in my life. I learned to move in the nature using it to my advantage. It is very important to be able to use the terrain when trying to come in contact with the animals. If you would go to a park and just sit there for a whole day you would certainly learn what animals live there. If you stayed there for a week you would start to learn how those animals behave and live”, says Craig.
The locals knows best
“I visit many places around the world and see amazing work from locals to save what wildlife they have. I always speak as a guest and not as someone who knows better than those on the ground in their native country. The best nature-people are those locals and once you engage with them and help them, then anything is possible. Here in the UK we have almost hunted and killed everything that lives in our countryside. We are overrun with introduced species and non-native animals that are often killing our native wildlife. One example is the mink. My hope by doing this article is for the people of Finland not to follow in our footsteps and kill everything, to then regret this and try to reintroduce what once roamed free. It’s better to save what is left with positive education, engagement of locals and help from government. I have travelled to Finland for several years; I love the country and its friendly, peaceful people. You have some of the world’s most amazing wildlife that needs your help before they are consigned to the history books. Please don’t let it be this way because an almost soulless countryside as we have here in the UK isn’t the answer”.
Craig Jones interviewed by Janne Vuorinen for the Finnish Wolf Action Group