Instants: Birds of Prey

In our new series “Instants,” the Proof staff brings you a snapshot of recent dispatches from the @natgeo Instagram feed. Follow us to experience more from National Geographic on Instagram.

Charlie Hamilton James has had some interesting adventures as a National Geographic photographer. Hamilton James, who has been a photographer since his teens, originally broke into the magazine with his pictures of kingfishers and later his work on river otters.

But chasing critters is just the tip of the iceberg of Hamilton James’ outlandish escapades. Earlier this year, he shared his experiences with a skin burrowing botfly and contracting a flesh-eating disease.

Since then, Hamilton James has been photographing eagles for our upcoming series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Parks system and working on a feature about the disappearing population of vultures in Africa.

A view of eagles as seen through a DSLR viewfinder.

The bodies of brown-hooded kingfishers hang next to the head of a baboon in Durban’s Warwick Triangle muthi market this morning. Muthi is a loose term for traditional medicines in southern Africa and includes a whole range of plant, mineral, and animal products. Many of the dead animals I have seen in the markets while shooting pictures are endangered. I have seen lions, leopards, servals, pangolins, and elephants among others. Today I was photographing vulture parts at the market. The muthi trade has played a significant part in the catastrophic decline of vultures in southern Africa.

Cape vultures look through the bars of their enclosure at the Vulpro rehab centre in South Africa. These birds, who have recovered from poisoning, await release. Africa’s vultures are in free-fall decline for a myriad of reasons—all involve poisoning. Some experts say extinction could be as soon as five to ten years away; others are more optimistic and believe there is still time to save them, the fastest declining birds in history. My opinion: Trying to save Africa’s vultures is a losing battle. The few conservationists who’ve tried are out-gunned and under-funded. But then imagine trying to win a war by only picking up the bodies.

Car stickers for vulture conservationists.

A Ruppell’s Griffon vulture stands over the body of a dead wildebeest in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Ruppell’s vultures, like all old world vultures, are in serious decline. This shot was taken on a GoPro which we managed to tweak so it would focus closely. If you don’t find vultures appealing, take some time to investigate them a little. They might be a little ugly but they are incredible and fascinating creatures.

“I Bought a Rainforest.” After foolishly buying 100 acres of Peruvian rainforest, this BBC series follows me as I visit my land for the first time and then work out what I’m going to do with it. Its a crazy journey—depressing, complex, and honest. Over the three episodes, I discover my land is an illegal coca plantation, live with illegal loggers, work with gold miners, take shamanic brews, live with slash and burn cattle ranchers, and see uncontacted tribes.

Follow Charlie Hamilton James on Twitter and Instagram.

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