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“In order to protect our planet, we will need to feel and recognize our connection with the natural world again.”

May 9, 2022

Molly Ferrill is a photographer, writer, filmmaker and correspondent dedicated to documenting global environmental, human rights, and animal rights issues. Based at Puerto Morelos, Mexico, her work for National Geographic involves shooting environmental stories (photography and film) for National Geographic Magazine, News, Travel and Television. Molly is a recipient of National Geographic Explorers Collaboration grant in 2020 to produce visual stories about the illegal turtle trade; National Geographic Explorers grant in 2019 to direct and host a documentary film series about female park rangers and the species they protect around the world; National Geographic Explorers grant in 2015 to document the conservation and cultural significance of elephants in Myanmar. She is a public speaking representative at their several events.


Praveen Gupta: You wear many hats: photographer, writer, filmmaker and correspondent – dedicated to documenting global environmental, human rights, and animal rights issues. What takes your most time?

Molly Ferrill: It varies from project to project; some months I’ll focus more heavily on a film production, while others will be dedicated mainly to writing and research. At the moment I would say that I dedicate most of my time to still photography projects.

PG: What symptoms of climate crisis do you experience?

MF: I have covered several stories where I’ve witnessed symptoms of the climate crisis. One thing that I have noticed in particular is the way that changing weather patterns can put humans and wildlife in conflict with each other in ways that were not previously seen. For example, the Baird’s tapir is a very water dependent species.

A drastic shift in weather patterns in Southeastern Mexico has recently led to droughts that affect these tapirs’ habitat and lead them to venture onto farmland searching for water. They sometimes eat farmers’ crops, which can lead to conflict or retaliatory killing of the tapirs. This is just one of many situations that I have seen confirming the climate crisis and how it affects both people and animals on a local level. 

Many women working in these roles are challenging stereotypes in their communities (field work is considered a man’s job in many places), and paving the way for a younger generation of women to follow in their footsteps.

PG: Women, particularly in the developing world, bear the most brunt of climate emergency. Would you like to allude to some great work that you witness?

MF: Yes! I have met a number of female park rangers and wildlife protection officers around the world, and I find their work to be very inspiring. Wildlife protection officers working in the field are some of the world’s most knowledgeable witnesses of what is happening to nature on the ground, and serve as the first line of defense against poaching, trafficking, and environmental degradation.

In addition to the importance of their conservation work itself, many women working in these roles are challenging stereotypes in their communities (field work is considered a man’s job in many places), and paving the way for a younger generation of women to follow in their footsteps. I recently finished the pilot episode of Women of the Wild, a documentary film series that I hope to continue about female wildlife protection officers and the species they protect around the world. 

Slow Loris that was rescued from trafficking, now kept at a wildlife sanctuary.

PG:  Do you see large land animals getting the priority focus over the smaller ones?

MF: I do think that elephants and other large charismatic species often receive more attention in conservation work. In communicating environmental concerns, highlighting these charismatic species can be useful if they can serve as “ambassadors” that encourage the protection of their entire ecosystem. However, I think it is also important to recognize the importance of smaller, lesser-known species that also play essential roles in their ecosystems and are worth protecting.

I am currently working on a National Geographic grant project focused on preventing the illegal trade of freshwater turtles and tortoises in Southeast Asia, alongside National Geographic Explorers KM Reyes and Astrid Andersson. Turtles might be some of those smaller species considered less charismatic by some people, but to me all wildlife is worth protecting. 

It has been proven over and over again that conservation strategies that integrate indigenous people as leaders and advisors are much more successful long term.

PG: Any thoughts on the role of indigenous people in preserving nature?

MF: I see indigenous people as essential leaders in the fight to preserve nature. Many indigenous communities hold valuable knowledge about ecosystems and species based on generations of experience and connection to nature. It has been proven over and over again that conservation strategies that integrate indigenous people as leaders and advisors are much more successful long term.

I have had the opportunity to interact with several indigenous communities working in ecotourism and environmental conservation, and one of the things that has struck me most is their understanding of our interconnectedness with nature. Many of us have forgotten that connection; I think that in order to protect our planet, we will need to feel and recognize our connection with the natural world again. 

African Lion at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

PG: With several wildlife trafficking hotspots in Asia, aren’t these only bound to aggravate the existing challenges?

MF: I view wildlife trafficking as one of the greatest threats to biodiversity today. I also see it as a global health concern, since wildlife trafficking can lead to the spread of zoonotic diseases like the pandemic we are experiencing today. 

It worries me that there is not a more central focus in the global conversation surrounding the prevention of future pandemics. There are, however, some international groups taking the risks of wildlife trade very seriously and spreading the word, such as the EndPandemics Alliance. 

A butterfly on a tree outside my house in Puerto Morelos, Mexico. Quarantine at home during COVID-19 has led me to seek out and photograph some surprising wildlife in my own backyard.”

PG: Best wishes for your insipring work, Molly! Please keep educating us. Thank you!

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