Iziko is proud to again be a partner in this the second edition of the Nature’s Best Photography Africa Competition and Exhibition. Humanity’s relationship with nature and understanding of nature is changing. While hunting still remains a major commercial activity in Africa that has provided financial sustainability for many wildlife reserve areas, a more compatible relationship with nature is developing through the medium of photography. Photography has become a vital component in the wildlife tourism mix, and tour operators are providing integrated and diverse wildlife experiences that create jobs and improve rural economies.

Within the Iziko South African Museum, the juxtaposition of the traditional displays of wild animals with the Nature’s Best Exhibition, highlights this changing relationship with Nature. Iziko intends to improve its displays going forward to represent different, contemporary ways of viewing nature and biodiversity. Steven Pinker, in his book The Better Angels of our Nature, shows how in human societies, reduction in mortality from war has gone hand-in-hand with reductions in domestic violence and animal cruelty. Humanity is finally learning to be more empathic to ourselves, to each other, to other animals, and our environment. There is a shift in our understanding of nature as no longer separate but integral that is so revolutionary that the term itself might eventually become obsolete. Since the agricultural revolution started about 12000 years ago, humanity has been involved in the taming of nature and has built up a garden and menagerie of domesticated plants and animals to sustain our societies, along with vast industrialised cities divorced from the wild. In the process, the natural environment has been exploited in an unsustainable manner. Today, there is a growing appreciation that humanity’s survival depends on learning how best to integrate our societies with nature to form a sustainable global ecosystem.

A further indication of this altered perception of how we as humans co-exist in relation to our environment is evident in the recent research on microbiomes in humans and other multicellular organisms that reveals we have literally hundreds of different species of microorganisms living in us and on us, occupying every tissue of our bodies and influencing everything from our general physiology to our mental health. The ecological approach we need to apply to our lifestyles thus extends to our own personal health and managing the ecosystem that exists in each of us.

Recent research has shown the benefits to our mental health of getting out of our urban environment and into wild environments – the Nature’s Best Exhibition and this accompanying catalogue are an inspiration to get out there and even if you can’t do this soon, at least Nature’s Best can transport you mentally into the wilds of Africa and the delights of seeing the ongoing theatre of life.

Rooksana Omar

CEO of Iziko Museums of South Africa