A young South African has made a big splash at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, where he shared the stage with legendary wildlife activist Jane Goodall MBE.
In October last year, 16-year-old Skye Meaker won the 2018 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award hosted by the Natural History Museum in London. This week he took the stage at WEF alongside the 84-year-old Dame to discuss issues around conservation during a session entitled Close Encounters with Jane Goodall and Skye Meaker.
Meaker, of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, was invited to WEF as one of a select group of cultural leaders.
The session on Tuesday, moderated by Susan Goldberg, editorial director of National Geographic, was described as “two wildlife lovers of different generations urging people to stay in touch with nature”.
Meaker, whose photograph of a leopard in the Mashatu game reserve in southern Botswana saw him win the wildlife photography award, urged people to look for the small creatures near them. “The common doesn’t have to be mundane,” he said. “Even a bird can be extraordinary.”
Dame Jane Goodall, who achieved international fame as an iconic primatologist for her work with chimpanzees, in particular, picked up the theme, urging everyone to appreciate nature wherever they live. “You’d be amazed at the wildlife within a city, it’s everywhere,” she said.
The African News Agency (ANA) caught up with Meaker on Thursday, a day before his 17th birthday, to hear the story about the object of his lens focus, Limpy the leopard.
“I have been taking pictures of that leopard for the last eight years,” he said. “We call her Limpy because she broke her leg when she was a young cub.”
Meaker, who attended WEF alongside his mother Enid, said their family spent around two months a year in the Mashatu area near the northern border of South Africa. It is a 14-hour journey to the Pont Drift border post.
His parents’ passion for nature and photography inspired him he states on his website skyemeaker.com
Of his award-winning shot in which Limpy’s “prominent whiskers” can be clearly seen, he said he managed to get “really close” to the leopard which was perched up a tree.
The injury to her right hind leg prevents her from hauling carcasses up into trees and she often falls victim to hyenas who steal in to grab her kill.
“She has to hunt twice as much as other leopards because of this, but she has become very experienced and very good at ambushes.”
Meaker who started off photography around the age of seven on his father’s camera and began entering competitions from the age of 12, is a pupil at Clifton school in Durban and said his nickname among his friends is also Limpy due to two knee operations.
He gives numerous talks on conservation due to his passion for wildlife photography which he hopes translates and motivates people to do more to help preserve the natural environment.
Skye’s story struck such a chord with some WEF attendees, some of whom offered to write letters of reference after his mother mentioned that he needed to start thinking about life after school.
Ada Poon, Associate Professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University’s school of engineering in California in the US, was in Meaker’s WEF session and said what struck her most was his “maturity as a 16-year-old and his heartiness to preserve nature”.
“I was in his talk,” she said. “I could feel his passion.”
An offer of a reference letter was also made by Ali Raza Siddiqui, philanthropist and entrepreneur and co-chairman of Pakistan-based investment and industrial conglomerate the JS Group, and who is connected to Cornell University in New York state in the US where he is an alumni and serves on the university’s advisory council on its South Asia programme.
And WEF attendee ASM Daniel from India tweeted: “Davos Summit: It takes time to claw your way to the top. You age. It’s 54 for men and 49 for women. Anomalie: At just 16, South African wildlife photographer Skye Meaker is the youngest participant this year, while the oldest is 92-year-old broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.”
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is the largest such wildlife photography competition in the world and last year attracted a total of 45,000 entries from 94 countries. It has been run since 1964.