Finnish photographer Alison Buttigieg loves cats. The Internet loves cats. But these days Buttigieg hates the Internet because it’s lying about one of her cat photos.
It all started Feb. 11. Someone who knows her work as a wildlife photographer recognized a cheetah picture of hers online. That wasn’t necessarily a surprise — Buttigieg published the “remarkable” photo on her blog, Facebook and Instagram last November after it won an international award. But the flood of messages that started pouring in from strangers that day stunned her.
An intellectual property thief had stolen her photo, invented a feel-good back-story for it, and engineered a viral sensation — one that wasn’t exactly flattering to Buttigieg. The tall tale portrayed the three cheetahs in the photo as heartless killers, their impala prey as a self-sacrificial mother and Buttigieg as a fragile soul who sank into depression after documenting a feline feast.
“In the beginning I thought it was absolutely hilarious, even the trolling,” she told me in an email interview six days after the hoax spread. “But then it was suddenly really overwhelming when I realized there wasn’t much I could do.”
Buttigieg is an information technology consultant whose passion for animals and for wild places inspired a foray into photography. She has carried a camera on wildlife journeys around the world for 13 years and started taking the photographic aspect of her observations more seriously about four years ago.
“I see my photos as a means to spread awareness about wildlife and the need to protect them and their habitat,” she said.
Buttigieg has shot pictures on three continents — Africa, Asia and South America. Her favorite places include Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana and South Africa, and the Massai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. In September 2013, she was near the latter location, at the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, when she saw a family of cheetahs trap a lone impala.
Cats of all kinds fascinate Buttigieg because of their beauty and expressive faces. Cheetahs stand out in the felidae species for their speed, quirks and sounds. The guides at the conservancy knew she loved cheetahs, and a mother and two adolescents were near the camp during her visit.
Read the rest of the story at Medium.
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