The nature and wildlife photographer Gerry Ellis has been traveling the world for three decades. He has documented the plight of orphaned baby African elephants in East Africa. He spent four years in Australia and Papua-New Guinea. Recently he focused on the environmental devastation following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But he's now at the beginning of what he calls the biggest assignment of his lifetime.
Great Ape Diaries is a multi-year, multi-media, multi-continent project based on a simple question: Will there be any great apes left in the wild eight years from now? But looking at orangutans in Sumatra, the situation seems even more dire.
"Almost every expert that I talk to," Ellis explained to Think Out Loud's Dave Miller, "they all say, they don't think they'll be there in five years." The biggest threat to these orangutans is deforestation and degradation to habitat. Looking at the great apes all over the world, the problems only begin there.
Ellis says climate change, wars, poaching, Ebola and HIV are all threats to great apes like chimps, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans. "My approach has been to go to those places around the world like Borneo, Sumatra, Central and West Africa and then try and talk to the experts out there." These experts from all different disciplines, on the front lines, face issues that don't have an easy answer.
Gerry Ellis and Dave Miller talk about how the complicated web of war in Congo affects the great ape population:
Being around apes for 30 years has changed Ellis. It has also changed the way he looks at humans. He feels the evidence is clear in terms of what's happening, but we don't react to the issues. This disconnect has Ellis looking inward as much as outward. "I don't understand who we are. I don't understand how we can execute the level of greed and destruction, and I'm trying to find an answer to that as much as anything."
To Ellis the great apes are more than living mammals; they are symbols of the wild. "To know wilderness exists, to know 'wild' exists, I think maintains some sanity in us."
Listen to the full conversation with Gerry Ellis on Think Out Loud.