Captivating close encounters

Professional photographer Alex Cearns with some of the prints she will be donating to raise money for Wildlife Alliance's Care for Rescued Wildlife program and Free the Bears Fund [NAMES OK]
Professional photographer Alex Cearns with some of the prints she will be donating to raise money for Wildlife Alliance's Care for Rescued Wildlife program and Free the Bears Fund [NAMES OK]

There was the delight of being kissed by elephants, the exhilaration of standing one metre from a captive, but wild tiger and the joy of watching a six-month-old bear cub named Anita roll around like a baby, only to hear the horror story of how she received her bodily scars at the hands of a vicious hunter.

‘She was tied to a tree with a piece of wire around her neck by a hunter to lure out the mother so that he could then kill the mother,’ Cearns told Community.

There was also a close encounter with a hairy-nosed otter rescued from the meat market or pet trade ” the only one in the world remaining in captivity. She also held a precious African hedgehog, smuggled into Asia.

Cearns’ experiences at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in Cambodia resulted in 60 photos, capturing the rare and endangered animals’ natural majesty, strength and spirit, which will go on sale next month to raise funds for the Free the Bears Fund and Wildlife Alliance’s Care for Rescued Wildlife program.

More than 1000 birds, mammals, reptiles and 200 bears receive food, shelter, vet care and enrichment at the centre, with funding from individual donations, special projects and the efforts of volunteers.

‘It looks like a zoo, but they’re all rescued animals, which you tend to forget when you’re there,’ Cearns said.

‘I hope it makes people aware of the illegal wildlife trade in south-east Asia.’

Cearns’ love of animals stems from her childhood in outback South Australia where her father was a shearer and wool valuer, and later Tom Price in WA’s Pilbara. After taking up photography as a hobby in 2007, she turned her back on a high-profile position in the Australian Federal Government, which had followed 14 years as a police officer and crime analyst.

In 2010, she went full-time behind the lens with the opening of commercial photography business Houndstooth Studio.

‘People tell me I have the gift of sixth sense communication with animals, but to me it’s just about body language ” if they’re timid, terrified or cowering, I know it’s about energy and staying calm.’