Capturing the wild

  • Elephants contribute in many ways — this one is helping log a forest. Photo by Molly FerrilL

  • Photo by Molly Ferrill—

  • Photo by Molly Ferrill—

  • Molly Ferrill Photo by Min Min Hein—

  • Molly Ferrill Photo by Thurein Lynn—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/9/2017 7:07:23 PM

Molly Ferrill has lived in Temple since she was 1 year old. There, she fell in love with animals and nature.

After having spent years in Thailand and Myanmar promoting conservation and chronicling endangered species, Ferrill thinks Temple is where her drive to protect the environment originated, and she still calls it her home base.

“It comes back to New Hampshire, growing up here in a place with a lot of nature, with a lot of animals,” she said. “Being able to go out into the forest and see a lot of different species at an early age and seeing it and protecting it.”

This drive has motivated Ferrill to work to raise awareness, so people are conscious of where the products they buy are coming from and can learn about species from around the world.

“Animals are the most voiceless,” she said. “They need someone to speak up for them, so that was my motivation.”

A graduate of Tufts University, Ferrill is using her education in international relations, environmentalism and new media in a career that uniquely makes use of all of those. She works with the counter-trafficking organization Freeland, creating videos for over three years in Thailand to promote awareness of the harm animal trafficking does to ecosystems.

“There are some species I never even heard of, so I started hearing about how these animals are being used and what they’re being trafficked for,” she said. “The elephants are threatened by poachers, traffickers, hunters, armed gangs.”

More recently, Ferrill shot photos for National Geographic of the elephants of Myanmar, where the word for elephant literally translated to “respected elder.” 

“I wanted to explore the relationship between people and elephants,” she said. “They’re still seen as something very sensitive in the country, very sacred.”

For the project, she received sponsorship from Freeland, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Geographic Young Explorer Grant. Getting to photograph and be so close to elephants required permits and licenses she would not have gotten on her own.

Ferrill first went to Myanmar in 2012 as the country’s borders were being opened for the first time. It was during this time that she started thinking about how new development and capitalism might have an impact on wildlife.

“I wound up doing research for quite a while,” she said. “It took a while to get it all together but the idea was there from the very beginning.”

Her project took her from reservations to rural farmland to some of Myanmar’s biggest cities. She saw plantation owners fearing stampedes who had all known someone killed or injured by a wild elephant. She met the law enforcement officers who intercepted the largest ivory shipment ever confiscated on its way into China. She saw a mother elephant give birth at a sanctuary and noted how involved humans were in ensuring the health of the baby as it took its first steps. She saw elephants raised for harvesting timber who were paired with young children to grow old together.

Since that trip was completed, a number of her pictures have appeared in print in National Geographic Magazine.

Ferrill has toured the region presenting her photos and research about her experiences, including at Singapore University. Now, she’s looking for a next project.

Next stop is Mexico City, where her boyfriend is from; there she will research potential subjects for a wildlife documentary in Central America.

“I have a couple projects in the idea stage,” she said. “I’m looking to broaden the regions because I’m so interested in wildlife in Latin America.”

She said she is pitching different ideas around the world, and might even go to India before getting into a new project on this side of the globe.

Ferrill is embracing her next challenge, whatever it might be. She says it is easy to get people to engage emotionally with animals, so her next work might be about trees and the relationship between development and deforestation in a place like the Amazon rainforest.

“It’s great if I can talk about one species to talk about whole issues,” she said.

After time in the Southeast Asian wilderness, this explorer who grew up with horses in Temple is ready to return to the forest, like she did as a kid.


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