Photo from Jo-Anne McArthur’s book, HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene, ©We Animals Media
This wont be the easiest podcast episode you’ve ever listened to. That’s because it holds up a dark mirror that many of us simply refuse to look into.
Talking Apes isn’t always just about apes. It’s about trying to address some of the big questions about our connections with other living beings and the world around us.
Jo-Anne McAthur’s work does exactly that. Her over two decades of documenting our complex and fraught relationship with animals globally has forced us to face some ugly, unsettling truths. Not only do we abuse, use, and consume over 80 billion land animals per year, but through these actions we contribute to climate change, pandemics, and other global disasters.
Jo-Anne at work. Photo: ©We Animals Media
Jo-Anne is a world-renowned photojournalist, author, and speaker who has won multiple awards for her work illustrating the lives of the animals we trap, eat, wear, experiment on, and sacrifice in the name of religion or tradition. She is founder of We Animals Media, an organisation dedicated to bringing visibility to these hidden animals through compelling photo and videojournalism.
A red fox at a fur farm in Quebec. ©Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals Media
A calf struggles against the chain of his veal crate. ©Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals Media
During our conversation, Jo-Anne revealed her past struggles with PTSD resulting from her exposure to the cruelty and suffering humans inflict on animals. She detailed how she and other We Animals Media journalists often put themselves in grave danger and routinely break the law to obtain the photographs and stories that they believe will change the way we treat other living beings. Jo-Anne describes the work as ‘terrible and scary‘, but never allows it to crush her inner-strength and determination.
‘We have journalists putting themselves at physical, financial, and psychological risk because they care so much’.
Her work and that of her team captures not only the melancholy and often gruesome treatment of animals, but also what Jo-Anne describes as ‘the beauty that is happening‘ – those heart-warming moments where we catch a glimpse of a possible near-future filled with compassionate and humane coexistence.
Jo-Anne’s famous photo of Pikin and Appolinaire, taken at Cameroon Primate Rescue Center, Ape Action Africa. The photo was awarded Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2017. Read more: HERE. ©Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals Media
Jo-Anne’s captive gorilla behind dirty glass from ‘HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene’. ©Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals Media
Book cover for HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene
Despite doing what some may consider one of the most depressing jobs in the world, Jo-Anne’s message and outlook isn’t sorrowful or bitter. Her smile remains radiant throughout our meeting and she explains that her work brings her joy because she sees the change that it affects.
‘We’re seeing huge developments. The animal advocacy space is a really exciting place to be right now because we’re seeing changes.’
Jo-Anne leaves us with the beautiful words of Buddhist philosopher Shantideva, which she feels embody her life’s mission:
May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power,
And may people think of benefiting each other.
For as long as space remains,
For as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then may I too remain
To dispel the miseries of the world.
Photo by ©Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals Media, from the book We Animals. Featuring Rachel Hogan (the series called Rachel’s Promise shows the Ape Action Africa Director interacting with orphaned gorillas rescued from the bushmeat trade).
Listen to the full episode HERE, or on your favourite podcast platform including Spotify, Apple, Google, and Amazon.
Watch The Ghosts in Our Machine, by Liz Marshall, featuring Jo-Anne McArthur: