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Michael "Nick" Nichols - Full Story

An Unspoken Conspiracy

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Nick Nichols is a passionate advocate for conservation — a passion we share. He spoke with us about his collaboration with Dr. Jane Goodall and their quest to provide a safe haven for neglected and abused chimpanzees. We're awed by his images, humbled by his sacrifices — and hope you are inspired by this glimpse into one of his many important projects.

In 1980, Nichols photographed Dian Fossey's famed Mountain Gorillas. This project would forever change his career, and lead him to one of his long-time inspirations, Dr. Jane Goodall.

In 1989, Nick traveled with Goodall, documenting her life and the chimps they encountered. They published a book, Brutal Kinship, and over the years have worked together on articles for National Geographic.

When my book on the Virunga Mountain Gorillas was published, Jane contacted me. “What about chimps?” she said. This was the beginning. She took me under her wing — and she taught me that chimps are a metaphor for how we look at the rest of the world

Chimps don't have retirement plans. When their usefulness in entertainment or research is over, they either die or live out the rest of their lives in captivity — many times in unbelievably horrible conditions. Jane's advocacy, and her sanctuary, offer an alternative.

It's inspiring to see the impact Jane has on people. I didn't know her during the earlier part of her career, but I was able to reveal Jane, the Activist. Her influence, when she puts her weight behind something, is almost unstoppable.

I felt I was both her visual biographer and protector. When we encountered Jou Jou (a dangerous and extremely aggressive male); I was watching Jane, watching Jou Jou and trying, at the same time, to remember to get the shot. She was fearless. And when she offered her silver-blonde hair to him, in typical Jane fashion, I knew I had a moment.

The fact that we were invited into labs was groundbreaking. We saw cage after cage of isolated chimps being used to try and find a cure for HIV. One chimp had been in a language study before. He started signing to us, "Get me out". It was very poignant.

Sometimes you have to put your head down and just do the job. It was so hard to walk away from the situations we encountered. And you don't walk away without a cost. I wanted to try and save each chimp, but had to believe that my pictures would help in the long run.


Nick Nichols - Cuddle

It's amazing to watch the audiences — especially young women who look up to Jane as an icon. Jane always sits and takes her time with people. Once, after a book signing, there were only a couple people left. I was ready to go, but I remember what she told me. "What if we change just one person, and they change the world?" If anyone can make that happen, it's Jane.

To think my work can make a difference is empowering. But I don't need the credit. If people remember the image, they don't need to remember who made it. That's what keeps me going.

If you want to help, contact the Jane Goodall Institute.

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If you want to help, contact the Jane Goodall Institute.

Nick Nichols

"It's no longer enough to shoot just for fun. The world is in peril. There needs to be a purpose. People need to learn that they can exploit our planet's resources, and conserve them at the same time. And when you have a medium like National Geographic your preaching can go beyond the choir.

- Nick Nichols

The "Indiana Jones of Photography", Nick Nichols is Editor-at-Large for National Geographic Magazine. He has been featured in Rolling Stone, Life, American Photographer and Geo. He's teamed up with biologist and conservationist J. Michael Fay to document the impact of the ivory trade on the elephants in Chad; and covered Fay's Megatransect, a 15-month, 1200 mile journey across central Africa. He's photographed shy forest elephants in the Congo, and chronicled America's most innovative zoos as they strive to keep rare species from becoming extinct. More recently, he has turned his attention to the ancient forests of giant redwoods in California.

A four-time first prize winner in the World Press Photo competition, he has received the Overseas Press Club of America's prize for reporting "above and beyond the call of duty," an honor usually reserved for combat photographers. His work has resulted in numerous books, the creation of 13 national parks in Africa and reforms in chimp conservation.

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