Young Conservation Photographer Cracks Top 100

Evelyn Lewis, Volunteer Raptor Rehabber, releases Michael, a red-shouldered hawk, during flight training. Owl Moon Raptor Center, Boyds, Maryland, 2022 Showcase Top 100, Conservation © Jules Jacobs

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Jules Jacobs is a Maryland native now serving in the U.S. Navy and stationed in San Diego, California. In his spare time, he is following his passion as a conservation photographer. Jacobs is one of two photographers under the age of 25 who placed in the Top 100 of NANPA’s 2022 Showcase photo competition, impressing the judges with his image of a red-shouldered hawk at a wildlife rehabilitation center. He’s also been a finalist in the Audubon Top 100 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. So, what gets a young man interested in nature and conservation photography?

Early love of animals

Jacobs said that observing animals first sparked his interest, particularly his visits to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, where he loved seeing Kandula, an elephant born about the same time Jacobs was old enough to walk around the zoo. That may have sparked what’s now a lifelong obsession with wildlife. Jacobs raised seahorses and, later, hard coral in an aquarium at his home in suburban Maryland. He thinks that contributed to his love of marine life and his developing interest in how marine ecosystems are affected by human behavior. He began to see incredible breeding behaviors. Seahorse courtship rituals are complex and it’s the male who eventually gives birth. Documenting this, photography became another lens through which Jacobs could view and understand the natural world.

He was also taking lots of photos in Maryland and in DC, where he attended The George Washington University. He saw lots of hawks in city, which surprised him. He wondered, “Why are they in urban environment? What are dangers? Who is working to protect them?”

That curiosity led him to ask around, seeking information about where sick and injured wildlife were cared for, where they were rehabilitated, and by whom? He eventually found Owl Moon Raptor Center, a state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitation center in Boyds, Maryland.  Founded in 2002 by Suzanne Shoemaker, who serves as director, Owl Moon specialized in birds of prey. Jacobs wound up spending six months working with lead rehabilitator Nancy McDonald and assistant rehabilitator Evelyn Lewis during the COVID pandemic. He saw, first hand, what the raptors went through and what these women experienced working with the birds. “It’s a very hard day when one doesn’t make it or can’t be released again,” he said. “And it’s exhilarating when they can.”

Jacobs got more serious about conservation when he was in college, studying political science with a focus on Asian military policy. He was interested in how U.S. domestic politics affected the delistment of animals on the Endangered Species List and how fear plays a role in public perception of and support for conservation causes.