Flowers in a Thorn Tree is the story of wildlife conservation in Northern Kenya. Over three years, Thackston made several trips to Kenya, whereupon he would imbed with ranger units of the Northern Rangelands Trust. They're known as the Warriors for Peace and Wildlife. He lived off a troop-carrier. He would patrol, eat and sleep with the rangers, photographing them as they chased poachers, murderers, and as they worked within the pastoral communities. In this regard, Flowers in a Thorn Tree is very much an "On the Road" book. The aim of the photographer is to show and let the pictures tell, in a nonlinear and organic manner.
NRT rangers work both on and off of their respective conservancies (there are 5 ranger groups, the 9-1 through the 9-5 sprinkled throughout northern Kenya.) Amongst the pastoral peoples, they have contacts who tell them about the movements of animal herds and potential poaching rings. They also work as peacekeepers within these communities with the idea that a happy and stable community is less likely to feel the need to poach an endangered animal.
The mission to change the hearts and minds of the pastoral people regarding the treatment of endangered animals, is instilled within the ranks of the ranger units. The elephants and rhinos that appear in Flowers in a Thorn Tree are all rescue animals or live on conservancies. They would probably not be alive without the efforts of men, particularly the rangers who populate this book. The rangers believe in their work. This group of humble men have one of the most important jobs in the world and they are succeeding.
Steven Thackston is a photographer and multi-media artist based in Atlanta, Georgia whose work has been widely published and exhibited. His work has been published by Smithsonian, The New York Times, Time magazine, CNN, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, Georgia State University, Oxfam America, The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Washington Post and Wired. The bedrock of Steven’s photographic work is observing and documenting human behaviour, culture and in some cases how humans affect animal cultures and the environment.
Peter Martell is a British author and foreign correspondent based in East Africa. His first book, First Raise a Flag: How South Sudan Won the Longest War but Lost the Peace, was named one of the best books of the year, 2018, by The Economist, and The Spectator.