Najin and Fatu are the only two rhinos of their species in existence. Jack Davison visited Ol Pejeta in Kenya to document a story that transcends tragedy.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya is one of the largest rhinoceros sanctuaries in the world and home to Najin and Fatu, a mother and daughter who are the last living northern white rhinos in existence. Jack Davison’s Ol Pejeta is published by Loose Joints. Sales of the book will raise funds for those trying to save the rhino species. All photographs: Jack Davison
Sam Anderson, who collaborated with Davison on the project, says: ‘The story of the last two northern white rhinos is, unavoidably, tragic. Decades of poaching and habitat loss have reduced this once-thriving subspecies from a population of thousands to basically nothing – a state of doom that scientists call “functional extinction”. The last male died in 2018, leaving only two females: Najin and Fatu, mother and daughter. They live together, under the protection of armed guards, on the Kenyan wildlife conservancy Ol Pejeta, where everyone refers to them, affectionately, as “the girls”’
Anderson: ‘To be near the girls is, almost magically, to transcend the tragedy of that larger story. They are huge and strange – products of many millions of years of evolution – and unlike any creatures most of us have seen up close. White rhinos are the second largest land animals, surpassed in size only by elephants. Fortunately, they tend to be gentle and calm’
Ol Pejeta is the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa. Ol Pejeta rehabilitates a broad selection of animals rescued from the black market; it also seeks to support the people living around its borders, to ensure wildlife conservation translates to better education, healthcare and infrastructure for the next generation of wildlife guardians
Davison visited Ol Pejeta to photograph Najin and Fatu with their caretaker Zacharia. Using eggs harvested from Najin and Fatu, as well as sperm from the last males, they have managed to create, so far, five embryos. These now wait, in deep freeze, for the day when it might be possible to kindle them into life
Davison turns his inimitable eye on the conservancy to capture the grace, power and pathos of Najin and Fatu, as well as focusing on the spiritual and physical connection between the rhinos and their keepers, who guard them with their life, using dogs, weapons, drones and surveillance
Anderson says: ‘After my week in Kenya, I wondered how a photographer could ever capture the odd flavours of the things I had seen and felt. I saw Jack Davison’s photos, and there it all was: the wide, flat beauty of the savannah; the humble devotion of the caretakers; the rusted metal buildings; and above all, the majesty and vividness, the mundane weirdness, the irreducible reality of the girls themselves. These are not traditional wildlife photos. They take bold risks of scale and perspective, which allows them to convey, with special power, the huge presence of the northern whites’
‘In some images, the rhinos overflow the frame, looking geological – cracked, folded, like frozen flows of mass and gravity’
‘Ol Pejeta is also a story of contrasts: on the one hand, the tragedy of another species slipping away at the hands of mankind, and on the other, the hope and optimism presented by science and innovation to support and uplift the fragile natural world,’ says Anderson, who notes: ‘We will be donating a portion of proceeds from this book towards supporting the work of Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Biorescue, the genetic project’
The book was designed in a way that captured the immenseness and physical presence of the rhinos. Each book ‘cover’ is actually a large poster (A2 size) that folds down to cover the book. You can then take this poster and put it on the wall. The size of this section of the rhino Najin’s back is pretty much to scale of her actual size. Loose Joints designed the publication to use up only extra papers that were leftover or unused from other book projects at their printing partner, Robstolk in Amsterdam
There is an accompanying print edition, selling for £150, to raise further funds. It includes two prints, one by Davison and a drawing by Hatty Staniforth
This article was first published by The Guardian on 10 February 2021. Lead Image: Here come the girls … Najin and Fatu. Photograph: Jack Davison.
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