EDIT: Thanks so much for your questions! I had a lot of fun answering them and appreciate your desire to take action on this issue! I've got to jump on some other stories now, but please do read the story about the inside efforts to help animals hurt by the Amazon fires and share it with your friends! Until next time, thanks! – Juan Pablo.
Hi Reddit! I’m Juan Pablo Ampudia, a documentary photographer for National Geographic who focuses on the aftermath of different social and economic events around the world with particular interest in resilience. For about the past six months I’ve been working on a project about how animal agriculture is the most destructive industry facing the planet today, addressing issues like climate change, deforestation, animal extinction, land use, water use, waste and health. In the last month I documented the wildlife affected by the fires in the Bolivian Amazon and the effort of a group of volunteers to cure the animals by giving them a new opportunity to live and be reintroduced into their natural habitat. Ask me anything!
You can see my photos of wildlife affected by the Amazon fires here.
Hi there! What was the most unexpected thing that you encountered while working in the Bolivian Amazon? And what sort of adventures (either good or bad) have you had while documenting animal agriculture in the past 6 months?
Hi Leenzlions! Thanks for asking! The most unexpected thing was to meet with volunteers from all over the area organized to put out the fires despite not having the resources or means necessary for it. The union of all the inhabitants of the nearby communities was really impressive.
Documenting animal agriculture has been extremely difficult. I have experienced in Mexico, Bolivia and Brazil the suffering of animals which live and die in inhuman conditions and it is difficult to imagine and understand until you see it. We think that the animals people eat die without pain and this is not the case. I have visited slaughterhouses of pigs, cattle, chickens, lambs and turtles and the reality is completely different. Culturally we have been educated throughout the world that meat consumption is healthy and many of our traditions are based on it. Many people and their families live from this industry, however, time has changed and the demand for animal products has surpassed us. We are destroying our planet, our forests, our fauna and flora and even our health is being affected. All by the greed of a multibillion dollar industry.
Are the fires mostly in areas that have been cleared in the past, or old growth forest?
Are there particular programs that you think are working to help find other ways for farmers to earn without destroying the forest?
Fires occur in areas that have not previously been cleared to make room mainly for animal agriculture.
1/3 land is desertified due to livestock. Livestock covers 45% of the earth's total land. In 1.5 acres you can have 37,000 lbs of plant based food vs 375 lbs of meat. If we begin to teach people that a plant-based diet can feed more people and occupy less territory, farmers would earn the same money with different food products.
Can you link us to a map of the areas that have been burned? Maybe it would help us get an idea of the scale we are talking. Where is smoke the worst right now? Any end in sight?
Hi! thanks for asking!
6 million acres have been burned so far, an area the size of Vermont. Currently due to the dry weather, the fire continues to spread throughout the Chiquitania. Unfortunately until the rainy season arrives (end of October November) there is no end in sight.
Here some links for you to see the burned areas, monitor air quality, and live satellite maps:
How do you keep yourself and your equipment safe?
I am 13 and really into photography, and it seems like it would be an awesome job.
Hi! I can't recommend you enough to be a photographer. It is a wonderful profession that makes you understand yourself and the world around you. Generally, depending on the area where I will be working, I contact local people to help me know more about the region and the precautions I should have in each story.
Hello! Thanks for your questions.
1) It is difficult since animal agriculture is an industry with a huge economic spill, what we must do is to educate the people and encourage alternative businesses that can represent the same economic growth but in a sustainable way.
2) Many people say that it is normal for forests to burn and that it is part of the natural cycle, but it is not true. Human beings are setting fire to our own benefit and the destruction and pollution of our lands, our rivers and oceans is proven scientifically and now is the time to act.
3) Watching animals die from the fires was emotionally devastating.
4) 8 months ago I became a vegan and from there I began to thoroughly investigate all the implications of animal agriculture and I think it is something that people need to witness in order to make informed decisions.
Hey I'm quite young and live far far away from the Amazon forest but I'm concerned with everything that's been happening to the Amazon forest and the animals, especially my country's rainforest been burning up too. Been curious, is there anything significant that we can do to help at this point?
PS. i love your work.
Thank you! for me to stop eating meat is the most effective solution I have found so far.
I also leave you the go fund me campaign to help the rescue center for fire victims in Bolivia.
I feel like I'm always hearing about devastation to the rainforests. Is this recent stuff significantly more severe than previous devastation, or is the cumulative damage over the last century or so coming to a breaking point?
Hi! The current problem is that the weather has changed, the droughts are stronger and longer lasting, which makes the devastation greater. This coupled with the growing demand for meat and its by-products have made 2019 the worst year to date.
are the fires still burning? getting worse?
Yes, the fires are still burning. The Bolivian government does not want to declare a national natural disaster and receive international aid as elections are approaching in October. Unfortunately, the weather, which has been the driest in the last 10 years, makes it worse.
Is it true that the fire is getting closer to the uncontactable tribes? What efforts have been made to prevent that from happening? What is the backup plan when the fire actually forces them out to the open? Is there any contact attempt or anything to encourage them going deeper or something else?
Yes, the fires are burning the territory of the indigenous tribes, the Brazilian government has said that it will not give one more meter of protected area to the natives, on the contrary it wants to take away territory.
are the fires worse now than in years past or about the same? getting both sides from American media.
According to experts in Bolivia and Brazil this has been the worst year so far. Although burns happen every year, the climate change has led to greater devastation and greater challenges for fauna and flora to cope with and adapt.
Maybe you don’t have the answer to this, but how does the general Brazilian population feel about the fires? While some small controlled fires are good for the forest, this uncontrollable razing is something completely different. How is it being “sold” to the Brazilian people? What is their reaction?
The population of Brazil is divided, there are some in favor and others against it. The inhabitants are very polarized. The media in Brazil are trying to show people the reality of what is happening, but the government is controlling the information, minimizing what is happening and the consequences.
Love your work!
As an aspiring nature and wildlife photographer who maintains a full time job in an unreleated field; whats your best advice to break into the industry beyond that of posting photos to instagram and trying to get lucky?
And, where was the most difficult shoot you ever had?
Thank you! my background comes from advertising and nothing to do with photography, so I identify myself with having a full-time job in another industry. Believe it or not Instagram was a great way for me to approach the industry and many editors that otherwise I wouldn't have had access. Of course the key is to work hard and photograph constantly.
The hardest job was photographing the aftermath of sexual abuse in India.
What was ur favourite animal to see?
Hi! My favorite animal was Valentina, an anteater with third degree burns on all her legs. The reason she was my favorite was because of her strength and desire to live after being in a coma.
What organizations are you working with in Bolivia? I worked with Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi and they're currently being threatened by the wildfires. It's been devastating for the region.
In Bolivia I am only collaborating with the rescue center for animals victims of the fires. Here is their facebook page if you want to know more about them:
And their go fund me campaign:
What was your first photo or photo that got you into natgeo for the first time ?
The portfolio with which I got into NatGeo was about the aftermath of slavery in Brazil and the aftermath of sexual abuse in India. Also with a personal project about my mother and her struggle for more than 20 years with multiple sclerosis, which has paralyzed her from the neck down. My first assignment was the illegal trafficking of Mexican tarantulas.
You can see some of my work on Instagram @jpampudia. :)
What can us people do to help?
here is the go fund me campaign if you want to help the rescue center :)
While reading the article and looking at the images of burned animals really messed me up. Does seeing the images of burned animals get to you or are you at this point numb to the carnage?
As a follow up question, I want to help out (either financially or through volunteer work) but am so overwhelmed by the destruction that I do not even know where to begin. Are there any local charities or hospitals you would recommend donating to or is it best to give to a worldwide charity and have the local communities inquire to them for funds (e.g., wwf)?
No. Every picture I take breaks my heart everytime.
Thanks Jessica. Yes! you can donate to the rescue center directly through the go fund me campaign.
are they burning the trees to plant soy beans?
Yes, they are basically setting fire for cattle pasture and to increase the land space to have more livestock.
How did you become a ng photographer, how much do you get paid?
I went to a portfolio review in which several editors of National Geographic reviewed my work and one editor trusted me and gave me my first assignment. I will be forever grateful to her.
NG has two ways to hire you, it can be with a daily rate or a fixed fee per project. The amount depends on many of things.
Why was the mainstream narrative of this story that the fires are because of climate change? Since the forests are being intentionally lit on fire to increase meat production, what does climate change have to do with it?
Climate change has caused these months to be drier, the rainy season has not arrived as it had in other years. Illegal burning is happening and due to current conditions have spread making it worst.
Hello! What's your argument for how animal agriculture is the most destructive industry facing the planet compared to other industries? Is this based on carbon emissions? Soil erosion? etc.
Also as mentioned elsewhere here, media coverage of the fires on an international stage has only been obviously evident over the last year and other years when the fires have been possibly worse, media coverage has been almost non-existent, comparatively. Why do you think is?
51% of global green house gas emissions is due to livestock and their byproducts (13% is due to transport: Road, rail, air and marine). Livestock is responsible for 65% of nitrous oxide emissions. a GHG is 296x more destructive than CO2.
1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every minute and animal agriculture is responsible for 85% of amazon destruction, and is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction.
The meat and dairy industry use 1/3 of earths fresh water (5% domestic, 55% animal agriculture) and uses 45% of earth's total land. The waste from a farm of 2500 dairy cows es equal to the waste from a city of 41100 people.
I think the media coverage is evident the last year because people have started taking more obvious actions too.
We're these fires set, or were they actually really bad seasonal fires?
Both. Some were set and with the current climate conditions have spread.
Have the fires affected any of the uncontacted tribes? Is there a plan on how to protect them?
In Brazil I lived for a qhile with the Huni Kuin indigenous tribe whose territory was burned, unfortunately there are no plans to protect them, quite the opposite.
This breaks my heart to see these photos. This is actually my dream job. I have to ask, is it tough for you to take some of these photos sometimes?
Sometimes. When I am in the field I try to suppress my feelings to be able to do a good job, it is after finishing the story when it's tough, and when I really start digesting my feelings.
Being absolutely realistic (considering the Brazilian governments inactivity at times as well as illegal logging) can the Amazon forest be saved or are we facing the same situation of endangered animals in Africa who have a bleak future?
It is difficult to answer that question with certainty, but I think we should try at all costs and raise our voices.
What can we actually do to help?
I think we can all do something no matter how small our help seems. To the animals victims of the fires you can help them through a donation in our go funds me campaign. So that the rescue center can still help in the future.
Hey! How do you decide on projects to work on? Do interests just pop up organically, is there some process of elimination you go through to narrow down a topic, or is it something completely different? I guess somewhat related to that, has this sort of photography always been your passion and what led you to pursue this? Loving your work!
Thank you!! Everything happens organically, starting with what interests me, it catches my attention and raises questions about a specific topic. The process is first to study the subject in depth to decide how to tell it in the best way.
How did you get your job with NG?
It was something very special, I went to a portfolio review in which several editors of National Geographic reviewed my work. One editor trusted me and gave me my first assignment. :)
During covering the fire, dow does your accomodation work? Did you set up a camp, live with the locals or stay in the city?
Did NatGeo photographers work in teams in big event like this or individually?
How do photographers taking care of their equipments while dealing with such dangerous zone?
It depends on the place. In Bolivia I slept in the rescue center. In the work I am doing in Brazil, I have stayed in hotels and slept with indigenous tribes too. Sometimes you work as a team, this time I am doing it alone. I have insurance that protects my photographic equipment.
Do you think a person can live their lives consuming the way they do without impacting rainforests? Like what would one have to do in order to have less of an impact on the rainforest without doing something they're not comfortable with like giving up meat?
EDIT: Downvoted for asking a relevant question. Stay classy, Reddit.
It is very difficult for a change to happen by doing the same thing over and over again. Demand in meat consumption is increasing. The problem is that people do not want to leave their comfort zone and take action.
Do you feel safe reporting on these man-made fires?
Yes, in general I feel safe. I surrounded myself with a great team of specialists who have helped me to better understand the situation and above all to look for my safety first in the field.
How has your view of humanity changed by what you have photographed in your lifetime?
Totally, having witnessed so many painful situations have taught me to be more grateful with what I have and to value the effort of millions of people fighting to survive.
The advice I can give you to take as many photos as you can and start a long-term project that interest you and is close to your heart.
What did you read growing up made you want to become a photographer? Was there any specific photo that made you think, “I want to do this professionally.”
The world press photo made me want to be a photographer, being able to portray suffering in a poetic way captivated me, especially stories of resilience.
How are the indigenous people of Bolivia reacting to the fires?
The Indigenous people in Bolivia are helping to put out the fires, it is in Brazil where they are suffering the most because the protected areas where they live are being dismantled and given to agricultural producers.
How much of the indigenous peoples farms and houses were burnt?
I only visited the Huni Kuin community who was really affected by the fires. 70% of their territory was burned. I don't know the whole data of the total of the indigenous peoples farms.
Would you rather fight 100 pygmy marmoset-sized jaguars or one jaguar-sized pygmy marmosets?
hahaha. I rather not to fight.
Besides the fire and smoke (obviously), what other hazards did you have to face in your project to cover the fires in the Amazon?
The distrust, especially in Brazil, of many government institutions about the intentions of the project. Politically the issue is hot and there are great efforts to hide what is really happening. People are being killed for raising their voices and for showing a truth that affects the interests of a bunch.
Where was this story for the past 10 to 20 years, and especially 2 years ago when it was obviously worse? Why is the media pretending that something unusual is happening? Is it just a coincidence that the media decided this was a story the year Bolsonaro took office?
edit: the image source: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/24/world/americas/amazon-rain-forest-fire-maps.html
You are right, this story must have been told many years ago. The media are not pretending that something unusual is happening, it is something that has been increasing over time and in 2019 it is more urgent than ever to face it. People are more open to dialogue and more worried about the consequences. Governments are taking actions and carrying out reforms in favor of this destruction. Bolsonaro has a position where money is more important than the Amazon, putting at risk not only the fauna and flora but also thousands of indigenous people who are being affected. The past doesn't matter to me. It is never too late to take action.
Are people overreacting about the fires? My professor for my forestry 119 class thinks the whole thing is hilarious and it’s absolutely not a problem.
No we are not overreacting, it is happening and the current weather conditions have changed. The Amazon is not the same as the forests in the USA. The whole ecosystem is trying to adapt.
What is your go-to camera and how many lenses do you typically carry with you on your travels?
Also, I love the photos that make it into NatGeo. What are the secrets and tricks they teach you for framing a great shot?
I use a Sony a7iii and a Leica M10. I only carry a 35 mm lens and recently a 50 mm lens.
How screwed are we?
Very screwed! but there is hope if we take action today!
What’s an uplifting story from your travels?
The support of an entire community to get ahead of overwhelming circumstances always fill my heart with joy.
Juan, you know that shit burns every year, right?
Yes, every year it happens, and also every year the situation worsens.
I want to know the weather conditions. How were these fires occurring in the Southern Hemisphere during the winter? What was the average temperature? Relative Humidity?
In Bolivia the average temperature was 36 Celcius degrees, with a humidity of 40%
Has technology made your life easier? For example, using a drone would be handy in case of high risk scenarios like wildfires, wouldn't it?
For sure! technology has made it easier in every way. And I love using a Drone to tell stories.
Recommendations for getting into documentary photography? (For fun not for money).
Take photos of things that interest you. Look for photographs you admire and contact them, they can become great mentors.
What are the requirements needed to become a Nat Geo photographer?
Have a long-term project that demonstrates your commitment and vision for a particular topic. And take many many photos until you get it.
What path did you take in becoming a photographer for National Geographic?
Hi! Making long-term projects on topics that interested me. :)