The Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA) are marking anti-bullying week with the announcement of Alfie Bowen, an autistic photographer from Beccles, as their charity ambassador.
Alfie was continuously bullied throughout his school career but found solace with photography whilst connecting with nature during visits to Africa Alive in Suffolk and Banham Zoo in Norfolk, both owned by ZSEA, which he has frequented since he was a young boy.
The 23-year-old has since received huge critical acclaim for his work from wildlife experts Chris Packham and Sir David Attenborough and has published his debut photography book ‘Wild World: Nature Through an Autistic Eye’.
To celebrate becoming a ZSEA ambassador, Alfie will be hosting an exclusive book signing during anti-bullying week on Tuesday 16 November at 9:30am where he will be sharing more about how his passion for photography got him through the toughest of times.
Alfie said: “I have been a season ticket holder at these zoos for nearly 20-years, and they have played an important part in my journey, offering a safe space to express myself as a toddler with autism, a place to learn as an animal-obsessed child, and a place to take photographs. Each time I walk through the entrance it is like the flick of a switch – my anxiety disappears, and I am at my happiest.
“My appointment as a ZSEA Ambassador is perhaps the proudest achievement of my career to date – it is time to give back to a charity that has given me so much, and I am looking forward to helping others discover the wonders of Africa Alive and Banham Zoo, and to making them the most welcoming and accepting zoos in the UK where everyone is free to be themselves.”
The announcement of Alfie becoming a ZSEA Ambassador is an exciting step forward in ZSEA’s commitment to becoming the UK’s first neuro-diverse zoo which aims to be inclusive to all. The charity will be working closely with Alfie to create a safer space for everyone to enjoy.
Claudia Roberts, Chief Operating Officer at ZSEA, said: “When I first met Alfie and his grandfather at the start of the pandemic, it was evident that Alfie embodied the purpose of what we all do at ZSEA, connecting people in nature, and why we should work so hard to save the charity at that time.
“Now the charity is on a solid trajectory, what better way to celebrate and make a difference to more lives by asking Alfie to support our work as our ZSEA Ambassador, and work together to help more people find peace through nature.
“It is a honour to be part of your journey Alfie, Thank you.”
Alfie’s photography is noted for the ‘tenderness of his soul and the sharpness of his mind’, with Intelligent Magazine stating that ‘as Alfie bares his soul through his lenses, in return they [the animals] bare theirs’.
Commenting in a recent interview, Chris Packham said: “His photographs are good let’s be clear about this. We’re not celebrating a young autistic man who’s had a series of problems but takes photos. Alfie is a very, very successful and good photographer.
“I’m absolutely certain that other autistic and young people and neuro-diverse people will look at him and think what a star, what an absolutely brilliantly, determined, energetic and accomplished young man he is. I obviously can’t praise him enough. He’s an absolute inspiration to me.”
Banham Zoo will be offering £5 entry on the day of Alfie’s book signing as part of their ongoing ‘Me and Zoo – we’re good for each other’ wellbeing campaign which reflects the NHS ‘Five Ways of Wellbeing’ to increase awareness of the positive mental health benefits that caring for nature and wildlife can bring.