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Protecting endangered species

Protecting endangered species

Spotting a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep – native to the California mountain range by the same name – is nearly impossible without special tracking equipment.

Spotting a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep – native to the California mountain range by the same name – is nearly impossible without special tracking equipment. But now, motorists can spy the elusive and endangered sheep more easily thanks to a mural project artist Jane Kim 03 PR has undertaken on buildings along Route 395, which runs parallel to the Sierra Nevadas.

In 2000 the bighorn sheep population in the US had dropped as low as 125, and although it has began to rise – with an estimated 500 now in the wild – the sheep are the first subject of Migrating Murals, her Kickstarter-funded endeavor to help preserve endangered or lesser-known migratory animals.

“I first fell in love with this animal when I was in Yosemite National Park,” Kim says, referring to a summer 2010 Science Visualization Fellowship she received through the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia in Merced. During that internship, Kim discovered that Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep dwell high up in the mountains and are elusive and difficult to find without the help of GPS tracking collars and radio telemetry.

“Their terrain is harsh and severe – they’re kind of badass,” says Kim, who’s originally from Mount Prospect, IL, but now lives in San Francisco. “One of the things I love about this animal, specifically, is that in order to study them, you yourself have to be a mountaineer.”

In order to preserve the Sierra Nevada bighorn subspecies (often mistaken for the more common desert bighorn sheep), Kim realized she first needed to help them become better known. “It’s not like you stumble across them,” she says. “It’s one of those out-of-sight, out-of-mind situations, so I really wanted to bring this animal to the forefront.”

Learning to think and question at RISD

Kim majored in Printmaking at RISD and says her education shaped how she works as an artist. In addition to honing technical art skills, she learned to ask herself why she makes what she does and to think about the point of any particular piece. “That was something I learned in critiques and that the teachers always challenged us on,” she says. “I’ve landed in a place where I’m using art as a tool to help generate awareness and environmental protection.”

Another RISD experience that helped shape Kim’s course was the European Honors Program (EHP), which took her to Rome for a year of intense, self-directed study in the historic home of Western art and architecture. “EHP opened up my eyes to travel and experiencing new things and broadened my understanding of what’s possible and what’s out there,” she says.

After graduation, Kim pursued her love of nature by enrolling in the Science Illustration Program at California State University at Monterey Bay. Blending art and science led her to illustrate a new fish species and contribute to the Handbook of Bird Biology.

Last fall she completed the first bighorn sheep murals on Mt. Williamson Motel in Independence, CA – depicting the growth stages of a ram and an eight-year-old ram standing in front of the iconic Mt. Williamson summit. She then took a winter break to work on fundraising and grant applications to complete murals at the remaining three sites she has in mind. When she finishes the project in September, murals will adorn Gus’ Really Good Fresh Jerky, Bishop Gun Club and other sites from Olancha to Lee Vining, CA.

Kim hopes the murals will spur public awareness of this endangered migratory species and spotlight the need for immediate conservation. In the long run, she envisions Migrating Murals as a partnership between artists and the environmental, public and private sectors to create similar mural series around the globe. “I love making hard-to-see wildlife easy to find,” she sums up. –Carrie Madren

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