With a growing brood of 12, it’s not a stretch to say Monica Reekie takes a herd mentality approach to adoption.
The award-winning photographer and frequent contributor to the Sooke Fine Arts Show donate the proceeds from prize winnings and sales of her work to foster wildlife conservation and animal welfare, including adopting 11 elephants and one rhino and counting.
Reekie’s entry in the Sooke Fine Arts Show, a photo of a crouching cheetah titled A Serious Conversation, earned her the nod for the Children’s Choice award this year.
Reekie divided the prize money between the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya because the piece was created there.
Her prize also allowed her to adopt another rescued elephant at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which had been named Nyambeni by the Trust in honour of the area where the elephant was found, and the farmer who helped with its rescue from a muddy ditch.
Reekie’s devotion to assisting endangered species began in earnest during trips to the Galapagos Island in 2013 and 2014.
“I remember having a couple of sea lions sit beside me,” she said. “They have no predators there or fear of humans. They’re very gentle and accepting. I didn’t want to leave that beach. It inspired me to concentrate more on protecting endangered species, and it’s been an absolute passion ever since.”
Reekie took part in a trip to Kenya in 2018 with the American Association of Zoo Keepers through a connection she made with a member of the association Reekie met while working at the Robert Bateman Gallery in Victoria.
”I’ve been trying to return to Kenya ever since, but COVID kept delaying a return,” she said, adding she plans to return in March.
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy take a measured approach to their work.
“They do so much more than just protecting animals by engaging the community on the importance of their work,” Reekie said. “They raise them for eight to 10 years, and then the elephant decides if they’re ready for release.
“I met my first adopted elephant, Enkeshra in 2018. Her trunk was nearly severed in a snare, and I adopted her that day. She stayed near me the whole time I was there, and she’s in one of the integration units now.”
From an early age, Reekie was passionate about photography.
“My dad had an old Brownie camera and took family photos,” she said. “I started out with old cardboard cameras and progressed from there. Right from the get-go I loved taking pictures of animals. I saw Born Free when I was six, and it just took off from there.”
Although she has no formal training in photography, Reekie credits a background in art for contributing to her success behind the lens.
That’s led to opportunities at the Robert Bateman Gallery in Victoria, where she has worked for seven years and had some of her worki diswplayed, and the Peninsula Gallery in Sidney, where Reekie is a featured resident artist. She has travelled to 40 countries and has more than 200,000 photos digitally stored, with 22,000 of those from her 2018 trip to Kenya. Although subjects range from cars to flowers to architecture, most are portraits of animals.
“Robert Bateman has been a huge influence,” she said. “Most art galleries don’t carry photographers’ work, so it’s been a big boost for my career. I focus on portraits so people can fall in love with the animal. I find the fastest way to connect with their heart is through a photo. If they can love it, they can learn to protect it.”
When the Coast Collective Gallery in Colwood closed, contributing artists were left scrambling to find new venues for their work. Reekie, a former member of Coast Collective, stepped up and offered to coordinate the effort.
“I had met(former B.C. premier) John Horgan through Coast Collective,” she said. “I approached him about having regular art displays at his constituency office, and he agreed. He’s always supported the arts and never misses the Sooke Fine Arts Show.”
Seventeen of Reekie’s photographs will be displayed at Horgan’s office in Langford through November, December, and January. The plan is to rotate displays of other artists throughout the year. The Saanich resident also makes frequent donations to the BCSPCA, Wild ARC, The Galapagos Conservancy, the Jane Goodall Foundations and numerous other organizations.