By Melody Parker & Michele Lanctot
Health/Science Editor, Health/Science Reporter

Imagine a 1,200-pound grizzly bear running at you at full speed. Now imagine trying to keep your camera still and focused, instead of running for your life. This is a part of the job description for both Kennan and Karen Ward, nature photographers for National Geographic and BBC Wildlife.

“Knowledge comes from people who really have done things,” Kennan said. “You don’t want to jump out of an airplane with somebody who has never done it before.”

Kennan Ward has over 25 years of experience photographing wild and rare moments in nature. He and his wife, Karen Ward, showcased their award-winning photos at an Earth Day celebration at the Rio Theatre last Saturday, April 19.

“Earth Day and Santa Cruz have a long history. Santa Cruz is deeply rooted in the environment,” Kennan said. “There is a consciousness here. I think it’s really a good time for us to celebrate.”

The proceeds from the event went to the Conservation Alliance, a group of outdoor industry companies that supports grassroots organizations to protect wild habitats.

Money raised also went to the UC Santa Cruz Wilderness Orientation Scholarship Fund, which allows certain youths to participate in a 10-day excursion of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Kennan, a UCSC alumnus, spent some of his youth exploring Big Basin State Park, later graduating in 1979 with a combined degree in natural history and environmental studies.

The Wards have traveled the globe to bring locals a unique taste of the wild. When they aren’t crusading the majestic glaciers of Antarctica or trekking through the cloudy forests of Central America, they are lucky enough to split their time between Santa Cruz and Alaska.

Kennan and Karen Ward work to fuel others’ desire to see rare creatures first-hand, in addition to appreciating them from afar.

“Don’t take what’s going on for granted … get out there and experience it,” Kennan said.

Karen Ward emphasized the struggles of being a wildlife photographer, including withstanding subzero temperatures and weeks without bathing.

“You don’t know what five minutes of the four months are going to be good,” Karen said. “So you have this tension of: ‘Am I going to be in the right place at the right time?’ ‘Am I going to have batteries in my camera?’”

The Ward’s breathtaking photographs are the products of their eager willingness to capture elusive and even dangerous wildlife.

“I think that is the magic of photography,” Karen said. “Where you really get to study it.”

The presentation focused on species whose populations are threatened by habitat degradation, pollution, and climate change. But the Wards ended on a hopeful note with a video of a successful hatching of wild condors in neighboring Big Sur.

The audience felt the same admiration for Kennan and Karen Ward as for the grizzly cubs.

“I thought the most interesting thing was how they went around the world, seven continents, and brought it back home,” said Lesley Cucuel, an audience member. “That’s always interesting that we have so much here and we are so blessed.”