Carlton Ward Jr@carltonward

Photographer and Explorer @NatGeo | Focused on wild nature, often hidden in plain sight | #FloridaWild #PathofthePanther

In honor of #WorldElephantDay - a young forest elephant peers out from dense foliage in Gabon, a Central African country which protects some of the most expansive rainforests in the region. Working with biologists in Gabon helped me understand the importance or large landscape conservation and wildlife corridors for wide ranging wildlife. Gabon is also where I first met @jmichaelfay and the #Megatransect project he and @michaelnicknichols were doing for @thewcs and @natgeo, undoubtedly inspiring my work with the @fl_wildcorridor. Elephants across the world need our help. Please see the work of the organizations I’ve mentioned here plus @savetheelephants and @wildfoundation. Shot on assignment for @smithsonian in 2001. #Gabon #rainforest #biodiversity


I am thankful to have taken this young explorer to one of my favorite places this week. Almost 5, my oldest daughter Eldridge got to see a ghost orchid and build a fort in the canoe while I serviced my camera traps. I hope this 9th generation Floridian will grow into a future where wildness thrives in balance with humanity. That challenge is our responsibility today! #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild #pathofthepanther #chasingghosts #gratitude #Fakhatchee @fl_wildcorridor


Over the past year I’ve started incorporating video into my camera trapping efforts for the #PathofthePanther project. While I am still driven by the pursuit of decisive moments that still photographs provide, I have a growing appreciation for the power of video to give longer views and context for behavior. Here is a pair of clips from last month at @corkscrewswamp where the @audubonsociety has permitted me to deploy a camera system in the backcountry of their preserve. Although increasingly squeezed by development from Naples, this preserve protects habitat that allows the Florida panther population to welcome new generations. If we can protect the #FloridaWildlifeCorridor, it’s possible that a panther born at Corkscrew will one day cross the Caloosahatchee River to the north and help the endangered species recover into its historic territory throughout the Florida peninsula. The mother panther in this video is the same individual I witnessed with my own eyes and photographed a couple weeks before — perhaps the most memorable experience in my career as a conservation photographer. Click the link in my bio for the full story online @natgeo. @fl_wildcorridor #Florida #panther


It is an incredible feeling to look into the eyes of a bear at ground level in its habitat. This Florida black bear was one of the first I photographed while focusing on the research that ultimately inspired the #FloridaWildlifeCorridor campaign. I was following biologist Joe Guthrie (@joeguthrie8) on foot as he stalked towards this female bear with a dart rifle in a bay head forest on the Hendrie Ranch in Highlands County. The Highlands-Glades Bear Project was a collaboration between University of Kentucky and @ArchboldStation. Joe’s professor David Maehr, who was lost in a plane crash tracking a missing black bear with rancher Mason Smoak, often made the point that there would be no bears in that part of Florida without the proactive stewardship of ranchers. GPS tracking showed that bears traveled as far as 500 miles across a patchwork or ranches, groves and public preserves that keep the Northern Everglades connected for wide ranging wildlife. Through research, bears have shown us what we need to do to save the Corridor, and in that way are preparing the path of recovery for the Florida panther as it reclaims historic territory northwards out of the Everglades. #PathofthePanther @FL_WildCorridor #floridawild #keepflwild #bear #forest #conservation #florida #wildlife @myfwc @natgeo @insidenatgeo #pureflorida @pureflorida


Today is #NationalDayoftheCowboy in the United States. The cowboy image means different things to different people. For me, living and working in Florida, the first place in America to receive cattle from Spain in 1521, cattlemen and cattlewomen are heroes who are keepers of the last frontier for large landscape conservation in the east. Millions of acres of rangelands, particularly in south-central Florida, make up nearly half of the Florida Wildlife Corridor which keeps the vast public lands of the southern Everglades connected to the rest of the state and country. Suburban sprawl in Florida is consuming ranches and farms at a rate of 100,000 acres per year to accommodate 1,000 new residents who move here every day. Ranchers committed to their land and heritage are our best defense against development, and investing in conservation easements with these people is the best thing we can do to protect ranches, sustain the Everglades headwaters and save the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Bears and panthers need these ranches for their survival and in the big picture, so do we. Cattlemen and cattlewomen here are the reason we still have a chance. In this photo, my cousin Doyle Carlton III (left) and his son Dale (back right) drive cattle through a wet pasture on their Horse Creek Ranch near the Peace River in DeSoto County (east of Bradenton and Sararota). Dale and I are 8th generation Floridians with the same great grandfather. I am thankful that Dale is keeping our Florida heritage alive. #ranch #wetland @fl_wildcorridor #lastfrontier #conservation #cowboy @pureflorida @roamflorida @flcattlemen


Rise and shine. Last week @dre_jumper used his cow whip to call his dogs back to the cow pens during round up at the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Big Cypress Reservation. Seminoles trace heritage raising cattle in Florida back to the early 1700s and today manage one of the top ten cattle producing ranches in the United States. #pathofthepanther #floridawild #seminole #cowboy @fl_wildcorridor @flcattlemen #keepflwild


For the past two years I have been pursuing Florida panthers with camera traps — the only reliable method for photographing them. But two weeks ago, at Audubon's @CorkscrewSwamp, I had an encounter that I'll be talking about the rest of my life. I was driving into the backcountry and rounded a corner to see a panther sitting in the dirt road. I grabbed a telephoto lens and nervously snapped a few distant frames through the windshield before rolling a little closer and pulling off to the side. The panther was still 150 yards away in harsh 3 PM light. I was just watching when filmmaker Eric Bendick called. I whispered that I was staring at a real-life panther; the conference about our panther film would have to wait. Eric told me to take some video, and with the panther still sitting in the road in bad light, I complied, not realizing how jacked up I was until trying to hold my iPhone steady. After a few seconds of jittery self-narration, the panther started walking right towards me. When it sat back down in the road I resumed my video, but the panther started walking toward me again! I switched back to my main camera, put it in silent mode and held my breath. The panther kept coming, skirting the edge of the swamp behind grass and low palms. I let the shutter rip every time it revealed itself, coming closer with every step. Then it walked within 20 yards of my truck and sat down in an island of palms directly out my window! I filled the frame with its body and looked straight into its piercing eyes! I had mistaken it for a young male by its height, but was corrected when a ruffling in the palms transformed into a kitten. When the little guy got closer, its mother stood and continued down the road. Then they vanished into a thick hammock leaving me alone with my thoughts. When I went to change the batteries in my nearby camera trap, the process felt mechanical and empty. Remote cameras are invaluable, but it’s a whole different experience when the panther is looking right back at you. I am thankful @audubonsociety for protecting this place and giving me access their land. Please join me in following the #PathofthePanther for @natgeo. #floridawild #keepflwild


It is ghost orchid season again in South Florida. The pond apple and pop ash sloughs where the orchids live are now filled with summer rains. A stand up paddleboard with the rear fin removed is my preferred method of travel, making carrying heavy camera trap equipment much easier than wading. This video by @leyoho from last week shows me paddling in to service a camera trap in the upper Fakahatchee Strand. My @yoloboard 12’ Hammerhead Explorer is proving a worthy vessel for these swamps. #swamp #paddle #sup @fl_wildcorridor @insidenatgeo #floridawild #keepflwild


Conservation photographers @peter_houlihan (top) and @macstonephoto explore an old growth cypress tree at @corkscrewswamp. Peter is completing his PhD on South Florida orchids — one of the species he and Mac were documenting in the canopy 70 feet above the swamp. Most large cypress were harvested for lumber throughout the southeast. Thankfully the @audubonsociety intervened to protect Corkscrew Swamp which is a rare sanctuary for ancient trees. A beautiful 2.5 mile long boardwalk makes it easy for visitors to walk in the shade of these giants. @fl_wildcorridor @ilcp_photographers #floridawild #keepflwild #cypress #tree #climb


Please check out my editorial and photo essay in today’s @tampabaytimes (link in my profile) about what we need to do to save wild Florida. This photo shows Eglin Air Force Base in the panhandle which the centerpiece of the largest connected corridor of longleaf forests left on the planet. We need to invest in buying conservation easements and selective public acquisitions if there is any hope to keep North Florida’s wilderness areas connected to the Everglades in the south. Some of America’s most rapidly sprawling development in between threatens to sever the Florida Wildlife Corridor that still keeps wild Florida connected. @fl_wildcorridor #pathofthepanther #floridawild #keepflwild #forest #sunrise #conservation


Path of the Panther. The reason I am focusing on the Florida panther for my current storytelling project with @NatGeo is that protecting the land needed for the wide-ranging panther will protect millions of acres of habitat for thousands of other species that depend on the panther’s domain. Not to mention saving Florida rangelands, timberlands, groves and the headwaters of the Everglades from development. As rancher Cary Lightsey told me, “the panther is going to have to help us save Florida.” A male panther has a home range of 200 square miles — four time larger than the city of Miami but approximately the same amount of wildlife habitat lost to development in Florida each year. This camera trap at Babcock Ranch shows a few of the species relying on the “Path of the Panther.” Swipe for 3 more photos following this adult male panther: white-tailed deer, Osceola turkey and raccoon, all captured on the same trail during a couple weeks in January. Please share this story to help inspire the protection of the #FloridaWildlifeCorridor. @fl_wildcorridor #PathofthePanther #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild #panther #deer #turkey #raccoon #corridor


Coral reefs rise close to the surface in Dry Tortugas National Park, with the historic lighthouse at Loggerhead Key in the background. Seventy miles west of Key West, Florida, this lighthouse marks the tip of a Marine Protected Area where the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico meet. Corals here remain relatively pristine compared to reefs closer to Florida's heavily developed coastlines. But no corner of the ocean is beyond the reach of plastics pollution. I share this photograph on #WorldOceansDay as a reminder of what is at stake if we don't clean up our act. Join me in signing the #planetorplastics pledge @natgeo. Shot #onassigment for @nature_org in @drytortugasnps. #Coral #reef #ocean #floridawild #keepflwild #pureflorida #lovefl