Kirsten Luce @kirstenluce

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Photo by @kirstenluce // Sponsored by @samsungmobileusa// I'm posting a photo from earlier this month, with fond memories of a trip to Arizona before our collective lives were thrown into disarray. With packs of coyotes howling in the distance, we set out on the Sugarloaf Summit Trail just before sunrise #withGalaxy. One benefit to early morning hikes is that you often have the views to yourself. I watched as the early morning light hit the facade of these mountains and I nestled my Samsung #GalaxyS20 Ultra 5G phone into the vegetation to create a frame for this golden scene. This is in Sedona, AZ, in the Coconino National Forest, a place that I hope to return to once we are all safe and sound.

31 Mar 2020

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Over @natgeo, I've been posting new photos from the last installment of our investigation into the elephant industry in Thailand. Link in bio for the full story by @natashaldaly : “In this Thai village, life revolves around 300 captive elephants.” For our June 2019 cover story on wildlife tourism, Natasha and I (along with translator @ryn_writes) spent a month in Thailand surveying the state of elephant tourism. To better understand the industry, we traveled to Ban Ta Klang, the "elephant village," in the state of Surin. Half of all captive elephants in Thailand are said to have been born here. Here young elephants are separated early from their mothers, and trainers (called mahouts) will break and train them using a metal instrument called a bullhook. There is constantly a new crop of animals trained and ready to be sold around the country for tourism. Although most mahouts in Ban Ta Klang will claim to love and treat the elephants like family, they acknowledge that they don’t always know what happens to them after they are sold to the tourist camps. Here Siriyupha, 16, naps with her newborn baby. The elephants in the yard are her extended family’s livelihood. The tourism industry in Thailand is extremely entrepreneurial. If fewer tourists asked for performing elephants or rides, the industry will adapt.

06 Jan 2020

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Over @natgeo, I've been posting new photos from the last installment of our investigation into the elephant industry in Thailand. Link in bio for the full story by @natashaldaly: “In this Thai village, life revolves around 300 captive elephants.” For our June 2019 cover story on wildlife tourism, Natasha and I (along with translator @ryn_writes) spent a month in Thailand surveying the state of elephant tourism. To better understand the industry, we traveled to Ban Ta Klang, the "elephant village," in the state of Surin. Half of all captive elephants in Thailand are said to have been born here. Here young elephants are separated early from their mothers, and trainers (called mahouts) will break and train them using a metal instrument called a bullhook. Once a mahout can prove that an elephant has mastered three tricks and is actively performing in local shows, the Thai government pays a monthly stipend to subsidize the animal’s care—so there's constantly a new crop of animals trained and ready to be sold around the country for tourism. Although most mahouts in Ban Ta Klang will claim to love and treat the elephants like family, they acknowledge that they don’t always know what happens to them after they are sold to the tourist camps. Here a mahout watches as his elephant practices a handstand, one of many tricks they are taught to perform. The tourism industry in Thailand is extremely entrepreneurial. If fewer tourists asked for performing elephants or rides, the industry would change.

05 Jan 2020

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Over @natgeo, I've been posting new photos from the last installment of our investigation into the elephant industry in Thailand. Link in my bio for the full story by @natashaldaly: “In this Thai village, life revolves around 300 captive elephants.” For our June 2019 cover story on wildlife tourism, Natasha and I (with translator @ryn_writes) spent a month in Thailand surveying the state of elephant tourism. To better understand the industry, we traveled to Ban Ta Klang, the "elephant village," in the state of Surin. Half of all captive elephants in Thailand are said to have been born here. There we met hundreds of elephants being bred or raised for tourism. We also met Thong Bai, elderly at age 45, arguably Thailand’s most famous elephant. He is the model for the Chang beer brand logo and has starred in movies and on television. He is wearing face paint, likely from a festival or party. Trained elephants can be rented for special occasions. Although he was in this big enclosure, his mahout (handler) still keeps him on a hobble chain in which his two front legs are tied together to limit his movement. This is a common way to restrain large male elephants to keep them from being aggressive.

05 Jan 2020

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My perfect end-of-summer assignment came from @jfurt for a collaborative project with 20 photographers covering block parties all over New York City. I think I lucked out when I got assigned to Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The result was a stunning 64-page (!!) special section of the @nytimes yesterday. Link in bio to the online version. Thanks to Jeff + designer @waynefonts! Happy end of summer everyone. x

23 Sep 2019

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Tonight 9/21 at 7:30 at @photoville in Brooklyn: “Conservation Storytelling at National Geographic” with @roseleen, @katebrooksphoto, @jenniferhayesig and myself. I will be presenting my story about wildlife tourism which includes these pink bottlenose dolphins in the Río Negro in Brazil. It’s free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

21 Sep 2019

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A British family poses with elephants on the beach in Phuket, Thailand for about $20. Though this may seem like a fairly innocuous tourist activity, elephants in Thailand are trained to perform using cruel, fear-based methods using a metal bull hook. Over 3500 Asian elephants are in captivity today and the vast majority work in the tourism industry. NYC: To hear more about this @natgeo story, I’ll be presenting this work tonight (9/21) at Photoville in Brooklyn at 7:30. Would love to see some of you there!

21 Sep 2019

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NYC! Excited to be invited to speak about my Wildlife Tourism story for @natgeo at Photoville in Brooklyn tomorrow night (9/21). Would love to see some familiar faces in the crowd! This is a scene from a traveling dolphinarium in Saratov, Russia. This show featured two trained Beluga whales, which come from the Black Sea. These two Belugas have a horrible quality of life, living in makeshift saltwater pools that are far too small and dirty and performing multiple times a day. After a few weeks in one city, the whales are hoisted by a crane into a truck and driven to the next city.

20 Sep 2019

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This tiger begins its workday at the Phuket Zoo, pacing in circles for several minutes after being put a short chain. Tourists can pay 300 Baht to sit and get a photo taken. In Thailand, this is standard treatment of tigers and does not break any laws. From the owners, "Those who like to take pictures with animals, mostly do not consider chaining them as cruel, but instead as a safety measure for tourists, especially tigers, because tigers are untrustworthy, unstable, and unpredictable,” said the owner. (Source: Phuket News)

08 Jul 2019

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Meet Stepan, a famous Russian brown bear who can be hired for movies, commercials and, increasingly, for fantastical portrait shoots such as these. We included Stepan in our wildlife tourism story for @natgeo to show how this trend of being photographed with wild animals is being amplified on social media. There are tourists who come from all over Russia, Europe and even China to book these shoots with Stepan. Several photographers rent him and his handlers by the hour. We even attended a workshop where ten photographers paid to photograph him with models. After our story published, writer @natashaldaly and I have received a lot of angry responses from Stepan’s fans in Russia. You see, if you google ‘Stepan the Russian bear’ you will find many stories which show Stepan living in a Russian cottage with his owners Svetlana and Yuriy, something straight out of a fairy tale. The backstory that is perpetuated is that his mother was shot by hunters leaving him orphaned and alone. Then these owners rescued him and raised him like they would their own child. Sounds nice, right? In reality, Stepan was born in captivity in the St. Petersburg zoo. This is included in the first paragraph of Stepan’s official website (medvedstepan.ru), created by his owners. They were circus trainers for decades, performing with bears all over Latin America. They also had Stepan’s sperm professionally inseminated in a captive female to create a new baby bear, who is two years old. As Stepan is now elderly, they need a new young bear to be his replacement for these shoots. So while I don’t doubt that his handlers love him, and we did not witness any abusive treatment of him, it's important to note that his situation is still exploitative: He has been trained to perform for a living. Many handlers and owners we met over the course of reporting this story would present their own version of reality, which is often what the public prefers to believe in order to justify keeping these wild animals captive for the entertainment of humans. See below for some interesting comments, no doubt.

17 Jun 2019

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We watched this macaque perform at Mae Rim Monkey School in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There are several tourist attractions just like this one, where the monkeys perform when tourists are present and then they return to their tiny cages. There were handwritten signs posted in English here which claim the monkeys are moved to a more comfortable place at night after closing. It was clear that tourists had complained and this was an attempt to placate their concerns. We returned after closing and of course the animals are not moved. I have heard from hundreds of people asking how they can find more ethical wildlife experiences in a foreign country. One suggestion is to comb the 1-star negative reviews online. Often animal abuse allegations are outlined here by other tourists. If you’re taking a group tour, ask the tour operator for the full names of the locations you’ll visit so that you can do your own research. Refuse to support places which do not treat their animals well. I know this story is depressing but it’s important to remember that the tourism industry is incredibly entrepreneurial. If tourists ask repeatedly for more ethical experiences, they will become more prevalent. For this months’s @natgeo. Link in bio to the full story.

05 Jun 2019

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This is believed to be the world's only circus act with performing polar bears. Here they perform with their trainer Yulia Denisenko in Kazan, Russia. The four bears in the show are fitted with metal muzzles and their trainer holds a metal rod. Though controversial, it is not illegal in Russia for these bears to perform. Polar bears are a threatened species and are often used as a symbol for conservation. See link in bio for the @natgeo story that looks at Wildlife Tourism around the world.

17 May 2019

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At Sriracha Tiger Zoo, in Chon Buri, Thailand, captive tigers are taken from their mothers at birth to ensure that they can be easily handled and so the mothers can breed again quickly. There are always new, adorable cubs for visitors to handle. As the tigers grow, they graduate to slightly larger cages. In one cage on the periphery, I found several adult tigers living together in tight quarters. During our month in Thailand, we visited a number of tiger attractions. We learned that in the tiger industry in Thailand, larger tigers are sometimes declawed and/or drugged in order to make it safe for them to sit and pose with the steady stream of tourists who want their photos taken with them. Their lives are spent in small cages or as photo props. #srirachatigerzoo🐯

17 May 2019

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For the past year, I've been working on a feature for @natgeo about wildlife tourism. Writer @natashaldaly and I spent a month in Thailand visiting wildlife tourist attractions to get a feel for the conditions in which the animals lived. At first I had to get used to the idea that captive elephants are expected to "work" for a living to earn their keep. Then I had to get used to seeing elephants swaying on chains and prodded with bullhooks so that they would move this way or that for a trick or a selfie. All of it was hard to see and photograph but this four-year-old guy named Gluay Hom is the one elephant who stuck with me the most. He was found with an injured leg and open sores on his face at Samut Prakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo outside of Bangkok. In this case, since he couldn't work, he was left languishing under the stadium where the other elephants perform. The owner has so far refused to cooperate with wildlife authorities or rescue centers. #samutprakarncrocodilefarm

16 May 2019

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Last week I got to join @natgeoexpeditions @lindbladexp in the Sea of Cortez with @meghandhaliwal and a bunch of new friends. We got to explore a whole new side of Baja. Thanks @dannermo for making it happen!

24 Apr 2019