Wildlife photographers Colleen Gara and Peter Mather share their insights on the most pressing issues impacting Canadian wildlife and how their passion for photography began.
When did you first begin photographing wildlife?
Colleen Gara: I’ve always had a deep connection to nature and wildlife and grew up camping, hiking, and constantly exploring the outdoors. Both of my parents were interested in photography and I used a little point-and-shoot camera when I was younger. About eight years ago, after attending a local seminar on wildlife photography, I decided to combine my passion for wilderness and animals with photography and began my journey as a wildlife photographer.
Peter Mather: I began wildlife photography in 2000, when I lived in the remote Gwich’in First Nation village of Old Crow, Yukon, where I worked as a secondary school teacher. I mostly photograph conservation-related stories featuring animals like Arctic fox, wolverines, caribou, and salmon. In 2016, I left my job as a math teacher to pursue in-depth wildlife photography stories.
In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues affecting Canada’s wildlife and biodiversity?
CG: Habitat preservation and interconnectedness are what I see as the most pressing issues affecting Canada’s wildlife and biodiversity. As our human footprint continues to expand, wilderness shrinks. Whether from commercial development, resource extraction, or the expansion of roadways, the destruction and fragmentation of habitat threatens wildlife survival and biodiversity as a whole. Functioning and complete ecosystems are absolutely necessary to keep wildlife populations protected and healthy.
PM: The most pressing issues facing Canada’s wildlife and biodiversity are without doubt habitat destruction and climate change. Our climate is changing too quickly for most wildlife to adapt. In the Yukon we see this with salmon, as the rivers are quickly heating to temperatures not conducive to spawning. The salmon are slowly moving to Arctic rivers, but won’t be able to adapt quickly enough, and entire ecosystems depend on the salmon.
Why should Canadians care about protecting the country’s wildlife populations?
CG: We’re so privileged as Canadians to live in a country with incredible and diverse wildlife, including polar bears, grey wolves, spirit (Kermode) bears, snowy owls, and Canada lynx. Protecting and coexisting with wildlife is important not only because of the animals’ intrinsic value, but also because wildlife and their habitats are critical for our own health. We’re part of the natural world and if it suffers, so will we. The wilderness, as well as the natural spaces even in our own backyards, are crucial for our own mental and physical well-being.
PM: Wildlife populations are a reflection of our environment. If we’re causing such catastrophic changes that wildlife are disappearing, it’s a reflection of our environment, and if we’re making our environment untenable for wildlife, then we’re on the way to endangering ourselves. Also, the First Nations people who have called Canada home for thousands of years still depend on wildlife for their cultural and physical sustenance, and we must respect that.