Award-winning natural history photographer and GWC partner Clay Bolt traveled this month with GWC Communications Director Robin Moore and a team of conservationists and photographers to CREA‘s Cocobolo Nature Reserve in eastern Panama. Bolt is a Natural History and Conservation Photographer specializing in macro photography with an emphasis on invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians. He regularly works with organizations and publications such as National Geographic, The Nature Conservancy, The National Wildlife Federation and many others. He is an Associate Fellow in the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), president-elect of the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), and co-founder (2009) of the international nature and biodiversity photography project “Meet Your Neighbours.”
We sat down with Clay to ask him about his time at Cocobolo and the role of photography in conservation.
A. Cocobolo Nature Reserve is unique in many ways. First, you have a place that is located on the Continental Divide, and in a position between the Caribbean and Pacific Slopes. This means that species from both sides of the Divide find their way into the Reserve. In addition, Cocobolo is located in the most narrow point of Panama, with forest stretching from the Reserve all of the way down to Colombia, which is also relatively close. As a result, it forms a wildlife corridor for a broad range of species, including five species of cats and many species that are typically only found in South America, such as the gladiator tree frog. All of this adds up to a location that is brimming with biodiversity and opportunities for surprising evolutionary results.
For me, the thing that makes Cocobolo so special is that there is still so much that we don’t understand there. What is it about Cocobolo’s environment that allows the Limosa Harlequin Frog (Atelopus limosus) to not only hang on, but reproduce in numbers, when so many other species in the genus are dying from chytrid fungus? Also, there have been so few biological surveys there that we are still finding interesting and sometimes undescribed species on a regular basis. In short, it is a goldmine for biodiversity research. Add to this the fact that Cocobolo is only a relatively short drive from Panama City and soon you can understand why this place is so special for scientists and students searching for a place to spend time in a tropical forest environment.
A. Through my work as a natural history photography, I’ve traveled to some pretty incredible places, but Cocobolo is one of the most biodiverse places I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring. From insects, to birds, to plants, to herps, it is hard to imagine anyone leaving an experience at Cocobolo without feeling elated.
A. No matter what the subject matter is, my main goal is to always try to use my images to tell a story that will engage the public, and hopefully draw their attention toward a species or conservation issue that is need of support. In order to do this, I look for species with interesting behavior, captivating physical characteristics, or a creature or place that is facing conservation challenges. I admit that I am fascinated by just about every aspect of the natural world, but when you’re in need of a spark that will light a fire in the viewer’s imagination, it sometimes pays to be selective about your subject matter.
Q. Why should more conservationists and researchers spend time at Cocobolo?
A. Cocobolo is a living research lab for exploration and discovery. There is so much that we don’t know about this amazing place, and it has the potential to offer us solutions to big problems that species such as the Limosa Harlequin Frog are facing in the developing tropics and beyond. Also, given that it is so easy to access, with great basecamp facilities, it is the perfect place to conduct research, retreat and exploration-based work.
(Photo of Clay at top of page by Neil Losin)