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People’s Walk For Wildlife: A catalyst for change

The People’s Walk for Wildlife lead by naturalist Chris Packham through the streets of London yesterday was certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Peoples walk for wildlife the crowd

Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

What was the People’s Walk For Wildlife?

I’ve attended many marches for wildlife over the last decade, and this was certainly one of most uplifting, expressive and largest I’ve ever seen. Thousands came together to march from Hyde Park to Downing Street, and there were so many creative signs; outfits (plenty of bees); hats (badger heads and blue tit helmets); an 8ft papier-mâché stag beetle… a 10-person wide caterpillar… amazing!

kate on conservation People's walk for wildlife banner

My own sign, held up proudly on the walk

I think the best part, however, was that instead of chanting, the peaceful march walked to the soundtrack of birdsong, played out from thousands of mobile phones through the streets of London.

What we’re missing…

After years of living and working in the Capital, walking past the buildings and landmarks I know so well cloaked in the sound of birdsong instead of traffic (the roads were closed for the benefit of the march); was both remarkable and shocking — we are notably distant from the reality of wildlife in our cities!

Peoples walk for wildlife owl props

I was delighted to see so many friends and familiar faces coming together for the event. Those from different charities, different fields of conservation and involved in different causes all showed how, ultimately, we’re fighting for one goal — a better planet for our wildlife.

born free foundation and the badger trust

Dominic Dyer shares a message from Born Free Foundation and the Badger Trust

For a flavour of the kinds of people present, and their motivations for taking part, have a listen to Wild Voices Projects’ live podcast from the event here.

What does it mean?

It’s important to recognise that yesterday’s walk is very much only the beginning of a much bigger story. The People’s Walk for Wildlife was a call to action to draw attention to an overall mission; the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife. The working document; compiled by 18 ministers, outlines 200 ideas for change related to our country’s wildlife and wild spaces and how we would like to see natural diversity restored.

To view the full document, and suggest any thoughts of your own, click here or on the image above. In the words of Chris Packham; “It is freely open to future contributions – we urgently need more ideas, discussion and debate to move conservation in the UK forward and cease the war on wildlife. Please distribute and please contribute.”

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Learn more about the issues facing British wildlife

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Wild Voices Project: the podcast for nature lovers

Wildlife photographers, authors, film makers, fundraisers and change-makers are all coming together to tell their stories — and they’re definitely worth hearing!

I am endlessly inspired by the people who dedicate their lives to protecting nature and wildlife across the globe, and fascinated by their stories. That’s why I became instantly addicted when I discovered the brilliant podcastWild Voices Project‘ by naturalist Matt Williams!

I am already a fan of podcasts and it seems I’m not alone. Figures from March this year show that 23% of people in the UK have listened to a podcast in the past month, and on average, podcast listeners spend 3.6 hours listening to podcasts in a typical week. I personally fall into the category of around that much a day — hungrily drawing on audio inspiration as I work at my desk.

So, given that I’m a bit of podcast addict, here are five good reasons why Wild Voices Project is certainly one to tune in to for all nature and wildlife lovers and those curious about science comms!

 

5 reasons to listen to Wild Voices Project podcast…

 

1. New and surprising people to discover…

Although I’ve spent a long time working in and around wildlife conservation, and I’ve met many fascinating people along the way, there’s always a desire to cast the net wider and find out about the work, issues and lifestyles of nature lovers far and wide. Or those under our noses that perhaps aren’t given the media attention they deserve.

For example, it was a treat to listen to an interview with Skywalker gibbon researcher Carolyn Thompson, (who previously won a Roots & Shoots award) after learning so much about Dr Jane Goodall‘s Roots & Shoots programme over the last few years.

Click the image above to have a listen

 

2. Real voices in their own words…

It is an incredible honour to tell the stories of the people who change our planet, I know this from my own years of blogging. But there’s something quite special about simply framing those stories and allowing the person at the centre to tell it themselves.

From the first episode I listened to — an interview with the wonderful late Dr Alan Rabinowitz that I discovered while further researching the jaguar hero after writing my blog post about him (which you can read here) — to some of the most recent recordings, including an interview with Racing Extinction Director Louie Psihoyos, I have found every podcast inspiring. The authenticity of hearing these conservation heroes telling their own stories in their own words really helps to connect you with their journey.

Click the image above to have a listen

 

3. Voices from very different fields…

“Volunteers, conservation staff, TV presenters, photographers, surveyers, amateur enthusiasts, moth lovers, butterfly netters, dragonfly illustrators, guano collectors and more. They are the people with amazing stories to tell who help wildlife to flourish,” the Wild Voices Project website states. It’s true that a wonderful and diverse range of conservationists are represented on this podcast. And I’ve certainly learnt a little something new about nature from every single one.

Tiffany Francis‘ interview about her book ‘Food You Can Forage‘ was certainly one of my favourite finds. It’s an area I wouldn’t have necessarily researched myself, but after listening to her talk, I genuinely have a new and unexpected interest in foraging!

Click the image above to have a listen

 

4. Doesn’t shy away from debate…

I must admit, I’m impressed with the way that podcast host Matt Williams encourages open and frank debate. Often in the wildlife and conservation world, controversy sparks heated social media arguments, but moving away from the written word gives us a chance to listen more calmly to those who have less popular views. I’ve enjoyed taking the time to listen to opinions that I don’t often hear voiced — or those which would be lost under a stack of heated opposition on Facebook. I was interested to hear Dr James Borrell‘s recent discussion on whether or not we should be focussing on wildlife within country borders (NB: he believes in looking at the wider ecology) and I respect his view that ‘more healthy disagreement is what’s needed to help secure environmental progress’. You can check that episode out below.

Click the image above to have a listen

 

5. New roving reporter…

Ok, this one’s a little cheeky — but I’m absolutely delighted to acting as a roving reporter for this brilliant podcast from time to time! As much as I absolutely love blogging and writing (for my day job at Nat Geo Kids), I’m excited to try out a different format and put my interview skills to the test. Of course I’m used to chatting to my conservation heroes, but it’s certainly a bit different for me to have people listening in! My first foray into this field; an interview with Dr Jane Goodall is live on the podcast now and can be listened to by clicking the link below.

Click the image above to have a listen

 

Do let me know what you think, and if you’ve found any other recommended nature and wildlife podcasts, by leaving a comment in the box below.

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Chris Packham Interview: Are we losing our connection with creepy crawlies?

This summer, Chris Packham helped Intu shopping centres launch their ‘Big Bugs on tour’ initiative, which aims to bring more than 30 million shoppers back to nature. Shocking research by Intu revealed that children are better at identifying Pokémon characters than British wildlife, sparking the idea to unleash 12 super-sized, indigenous bugs on intu shopping centres nationwide.

Chris Packham interacts with a 7ft long lifelike model of a Swallowtail Caterpillar and a Hornet at the launch of Big Bugs on Tour at intu Lakeside

Photo credit: Matt Alexander/intu

Now, before you start envisaging live critters worthy of horror movies (anyone says ‘super-sized bug’ and immediately picture Jeff Goldblum turning into a fly…), I can assure you these enormous insects are family-friendly models — and are pretty cool to look at. (NB: I’m not saying Goldblum’s fly isn’t cool to look at. It’s just these creepy crawlies are less… creepy).

Having opened at intu Lakeside in July, before moving to 12 further locations over the next year, the displays aim to help fill in the blanks when it comes to our nation’s knowledge of bugs.

I was shocked to learn that one in six children (16%) have not seen a single bug for six months, while 25% have not seen a caterpillar in over a year.

Perhaps even more surprisingly though, especially given the recent focus on the importance of bees as their numbers have declined; is that the study revealed that 21% of children were unable to correctly identify a bee while 10% did not know honey came from bees!

Unfortunately, adults did not fare much better in the study, with one in four unable to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp and an equal 25% unable to correctly identify a grasshopper!

 

Q&A with Chris Packham

“More needs to be done to reconnect people with nature and Big Bugs on tour is a fantastic initative to wake people up to the importance of nature in our lives.” Chris Packham explained in our recent interview.

A real life Azure damselfly, one of the big bug species that will be going on tour

I used the opportunity to take a look back into his own childhood, and the bugs that he encountered — and why they’ve made this an issue close to his heart.

Kate on Conservation: Why is the Big Bugs on tour campaign important? What are you hoping it will inspire parents and children to do?

Chris Packham: Hats off to intu, because they are shining the light on indigenous bugs and encouraging kids to connect with nature and explore the wildlife in their garden. I love Big Bugs on tour because it’s not only impressive with the size and accuracy of the bugs, but also a very imaginative way to engage with customers about wildlife and also reaching an audience that we wouldn’t necessarily speak to on Spring Watch.

I also like how they are working with schools to get them in centres and face-to-face with all the bugs, and learn to appreciate not just the pretty ones like butterflies and ladybirds, but the crawly ones which are equally important in our ecosystem.

K: Do you have any memories of encountering bugs as a child?

C: The front gate of my parents’ house had a bush which was the home to lots of different coloured ladybirds, which I would catch by standing on the wall. 

K: Why is it good for children to explore the bug life in their garden?

C: It’s really important for kids to explore the bug life in their garden because it’s been proven that being connected to nature makes you happier. New research from intu shopping centres found that 67% of people said that being connected to nature makes you happier, but one in six kids have not seen a bug in six months.

K: What might they find looking in the garden for insects?

C: Lots of exciting things! For kids, the first safari they do is in their garden, from my opinion. Kids can find everything from ladybirds, bees, beetles such as the stag beetle, all of which are on display at intu’s Big bugs on tour.

K: What is your favourite bug? And why?

C: Hornet – they are fantastic insect predators. They are misunderstood though, it’s easy to live alongside them. 

Big Bugs on tour; and when to catch them!

Intu’s campaign to reconnect kids and adults to nature comes as reports show children are now better at identifying Pokemon characters than British wildlife, despite a £10 million pledge from the Government to encourage children to get closer to nature.

big bugs on tour intu shopping centres

Over 35 million people shop at intu centres every year, so Roger Binks, customer experience director for intu, hopes that bringing them face-to-face with these giant British bugs “can make a real impact in how they interact and reconnect with nature, and ensure they are happier than when they arrived.”

One of the most encouraging conclusions from the study showed that 78% of parents want their children to be more connected to nature (86% thought their children spent too much time looking at screens), with nearly half (49%) saying they are worried about the decline in insects, but didn’t know how to help.

Bee hotels

I’d suggest creating a bee or bug hotel (find out how here), or planting flowering, bee-friendly plants in the garden would be a good start (as well as avoiding using any pesticides and bug killing chemicals!).

Hopefully this can help with the very sad news that over a third of adults say they see far fewer bugs in their gardens now than five years ago.

The 12 British bugs being exhibited across Intu shopping centres nationwide between now and September 2019 are:

  1. Azure damselfly
  2. Black ant
  3. Honeybee
  4. Hornet
  5. Ladybird
  6. Meadow grasshopper
  7. Swallowtail butterfly
  8. Swallowtail caterpillar
  9. Nut weevil
  10. Rose chafer beetle
  11. Stag beetle
  12. Greater water boatman

For more information go to: www.intu.co.uk/BigBugshttp://www.intu.co.uk/BigBugs.

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Rainforests of the World: Guest post and infographic by Todd Smith

Rainforests are the most vital habitats on Earth, serving as our planet’s powerhouses by creating their own climates; which in turn impacts global weather systems. They also house more than half of the world’s plant and animal species! This month’s guest blog post comes from Todd Smith, an advocate of rainforest preservation with an interest in ecology. Todd has created an incredible infographic, which I’m very happy to share at the end of this post. 

The Earth’s rainforests are truly remarkable areas. Away from the bustle and glitz of major cities, the rainforests provide a pacifying, captivating experience where, instead of car horns and blaring pop music, your ears are serenaded by animals in their natural habitat, leaves blowing gently and splashes of water.

At present, 2% of this planet is covered in rainforests. It’s a figure that ought to be higher, but sadly deforestation continues apace and wonderful rare species of animals and trees are being shepherded towards extinction. For all the destruction of some rainforest regions, though, there are still vast swarms of land which thankfully remain untouched and where you can find animal and plant life you won’t get anywhere else.

By a distance, the Amazon rainforest is the largest in the world. Of South America’s 13 countries, it traverses nine and still extends to 5.5 million square kilometres despite large areas being destroyed by deforestation.

One-third of all plant species on Earth are located in the Amazon Basin, which houses a vast array of animal life including jaguars, cougars, anacondas, piranhas and electric eels. Of course, not all these creatures are friendly(!), but observing them first-hand is nonetheless enthralling.

If South America has the Amazon, then Africa has the Congo Rainforest. Another nine-country expanse covering almost the entire breadth of the southern half of the continent, this is an area which proves that humankind and wildlife can live in pleasant harmony. More than 75 million people reside within the confines of the Congo Rainforest, representing a plethora of native tribes. This is where you’ll find elephants, gorillas and lions in their natural surroundings, encountering them just as readily as you’d spot a McDonalds in any city.

While these rainforest regions are likely to remain largely untouched for generations, there are parts of Asia which have not been so lucky. The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is the last viable area of tropical rainforest in Sri Lanka, having been reduced to less than 90 square kilometres, while the Southeast Asian Rainforest once housed more than 200 tree species in a single hectare before deforestation eradicated most of these.

Here is an infographic guide to some of the world’s most prominent rainforests, with a few interesting facts on each:

 

Todd SmithTodd Smith is the owner of Jarrimber, stockists of quality Jarrah furniture in Australia. He explains “We use Jarrah and Marri timbers in the manufacture of our products, many of which are constructed from recycled timber. Our company is dedicated to promoting environmental responsibility and, where possible, we will always use recycled timber in our factory rather than new timber. Even though our business sells timber products, I would be an advocate of rainforest preservation and I’ve always had an interest in ecology, which is why I wanted to put this infographic together.” For more information visit jarrimber.com.au

 

 

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World Elephant Day: A call to end adverts for cruel elephant attractions

This week concludes with World Elephant Day and its global focus on the protection of the African Savannah elephant, the African Forest elephant and the Asian elephant. For wildlife charity Save The Asian Elephant (STAE), the week also started with a huge push to try and secure the future of elephants.

On Monday (6 August) I joined Vegan podcaster Evanna Lynch (aka Harry Potter’s Luna Lovegood) and one of my blog readers, the lovely Annabel Lever (who’s been helping out at the Nat Geo Kids‘ office this week), outside 10 Downing Street as STAE staff, trustees, volunteers and supporters gathered to deliver a petition to Prime Minister Theresa May calling for a ban on advertising and promotion of elephant-related tourist activities.

STAE Founder Duncan McNair, celebrity animal activists Peter Egan and Rula Lenska and STAE trustee Stanley Johnson were among the crowd gathered to deliver STAE’s Change.org petition of more than 200,000 signatories and over 2.6 million further petition signatures aligning with it, calling on the UK Government to take an active role in saving the highly endangered Asian elephants.

You may have seen my earlier blog post on the dangers that Asian elephants face in their native homes. Astonishingly, the surviving population of Asian elephants is barely 5% of that of African elephants — with a huge decline from estimates of a million or more in the late 19th century to scarcely 40,000 today! (Around 10,000 of these are captive). You can revisit that post here.

Elephant expert Ian Redmond OBE (pictured above), who’s also an ambassador for vEcotourism — which looks to promote virtual reality tourism over tourist practices which may be harmful to the native wildlife — is a trustee for STAE and was keen to support delivery of the petition.

Most holidaymakers are unaware that many elephants have been captured from the wild, trained through fear and beaten into continuing their work: often carrying heavy loads of 2-4 tourists on metal seats on their backs. Their tusks (only present on male Asian elephants) are often blunted with chainsaws; the ends removed in a stressful and terrifying ordeal.

The team from STAE also presented an open letter to the Prime Minister, explaining how a recent poll revealed large support for STAE’s policies.

The Asian elephant, which has been classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 1986, faces a bigger threat from the tourist industry then it does the ivory trade, as a lifetime of tourist rides are more lucrative than the one-off sale of its ivory.

Evanna Lynch and Duncan McNair, who recently visited Kerala in partnership with The Sun to raise awareness of the Asian elephants’ plight, emerged from Downing Street to applause from the crowd after delivering their message. According to a recent press release from STAE, their aim was to assert the following actions…

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Evanna for National Geographic Kids’, about the importance of World Elephant Day, and why she’s proud to be a STAE ambassador. I was so impressed by her love and passion for elephants, and would definitely recommend reading the full interview here.

STAE supporters present at the event wore t’shirts highlighting the need to ban the process used to crush elephants’ spirit, supposedly making them more suitable for ‘working with tourists’. The breaking in process, known as “pajan” ends in the death of 50% of the elephants it intends to domesticate. It is also used to make elephants more suitable for use in festivals; something STAE has previously campaigned against.

To join STAE’s campaign this #WorldElephantDay, or add your signature to their petition, visit: stae.org

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Remembering Dr Alan Rabinowitz: A voice for the voiceless

Dr Alan Rabinowitz, the jaguar hero dubbed ‘the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation’, sadly passed away on 5 August 2018.

Alan’s career as a conservationist, specialising in big cats (predominantly the jaguar), spanned more than three decades, and his passion for creating a safer world for these incredible cats lives on through his charity Panthera.

Alan Rabinowitz - jaguar journey

Dr Rabinowitz on his epic ‘Journey of the Jaguar’. Photo by Veronica Domit Photography

In ancient Aztec mythology, the spirit of the jaguar is an indomitable, mystic force — the jaguar was see as the ‘master of animals’, and the spiritual lord of the powers of fertility in the natural world.

When I spoke to Dr Alan in August last year, he was part-way through a mission titled ‘Jaguar journey‘, to walk the spine of the Jaguar corridor he had personally secured for the big cats. While I’m terribly sad to hear that Alan will not complete his journey, I strongly believe that his equally indomitable spirit lives on in the jaguars whose very existence depends on them freely walking those protected corridors to mate and diversify the species’ genetics. Perhaps it’s not hard to imagine that in many ways, his spirit has already touched all of the many pathways that span the Jaguar corridor.

 

***Reblogged from October 2017***

Jaguar journey: Alan Rabinowitz and saving a species

 

The jaguar; a most elusive, yet powerful big cat. Stealthy and strong, it hunts like a true warrior, yet lives almost like a phantom; ghost-like in the rainforests of South America.

Compared to the prolific press that Africa’s big cats — the lion, leopard and cheetah — are granted, the jaguar is rarely seen gracing the covers of magazines, receiving week-long coverage on prime time BBC broadcast slots, or taking centre stage in its own feature-length docufilm.

Despite being the world’s third largest cat, possessing such iconic features as its beautiful rosette-covered coat and bone-crushing jaws (the largest of any big cat), the magnificent jaguar and its vulnerability to the continued threat of deforestation remains a largely unsung story.

But for the last 30 years, one man has made it his mission to save these big cats. Dr Alan Rabinowitz, Chief Scientist at Panthera and the man who established the world’s first jaguar reserve, is himself somewhat of an overlooked entity here in the UK…

 

Discovering the jaguar

Some time in my teens, when I would rush home from high school to try and catch as many wildlife documentaries on National Geographic Channel as possible before the 6 o’clock news and the firmly established family TV time that followed; I fell in love with jaguars.

The Nat Geo documentary that first piqued my interest in the big cat was titled ‘In Search of the Jaguar’. The film followed the story of Dr Rabinowitz — and showcased his quest to a secure 5,000 mile pathway for the jaguar to move from Mexico to Argentina.

The protected pathway would be an invaluable conservation effort to allow the big cats to move freely and diversify their genes.

In search of the jaguar - jaguar journey

Shockingly, estimates at the time (around 2006) suggested that one and a half billion acres of jaguar habitat had been taken by man, leaving the surviving population isolated in small pockets. Back then, it had also recently been discovered that all jaguars shared the same DNA — so a method of sewing together these pockets was necessary to allow movement for more diverse breeding.

Known as the ‘Jaguar Corridor’, the pathway — spanning 18 countries — is intoxicatingly referred to as a ‘necklace’ in the documentary, and each potential new territory sourced by Rabinowitz is referred to as a ‘gem in that necklace’.

The imagery of the emerald forests of Brazil, the burning amber flashes of the elusive jaguar slinking in and out of view and this elaborate necklace of geographical gems has always made it stick in my mind.

That and the fact that Rabinowitz was himself fighting against the odds of a serious illness during this film; yet choosing his quest to save the jaguar over slowing down to save himself.

 

Intermission

As the formidable jungle cat slips in and out of view in its rainforest habitat in real life; so my interest in jaguars has slipped in and out of my consciousness over recent times.

In the years that followed my initial discovery of wildlife warrior Rabinowitz, I would read countless stories and memoirs about people who had entwined their lives with African big cats. I would come to understand the complex social structures of lion prides and marvel at the cuteness of baby cheetahs on BBC’s Big Cat Diaries; I’d even end up travelling to South Africa to see how these big cats find ways to share a continent, and catch a fleeting glimpse of a lone leopard on the horizon. But the Latin American jaguar; this most mystic and spiritual of cats would remain a quiet, secretive, yet powerfully present interest of mine.

Towards the end of last year, exactly 10 years after first viewing ‘In Search of the Jaguar’ I took a chance on following the big cat myself. Perhaps not in quite the same way as Dr Rabinowitz and his team, but through my own journey.

Historically, these animals are interwoven in ancient civilisation as mystic creatures of great spirituality; prowlers of ancient imaginations, paid testament to through elaborate carvings and etched onto the walls of temples: their spirituality and strength make them an iconic feline.

jaguar temple statue

It is perhaps this very spirituality and strength then, that guided me at the end of last year.

Picking up a copy of National Geographic Kids magazine’s September issue, I took in the beautiful jaguar image staring back at me from the cover and flicked through the copy, taking note of facts about jaguars snatching up prey, such as caiman and capybaras, by uniquely using the winding tributaries of the Amazon basin to their advantage.

Poring over information about their skull crunching canines and their skilful swimming abilities rarely seen in big cats, I used the article as my main preparation for chasing down a job at this most esteemed of natural history media brands. I referenced the article several times in my job interview for the publication; and after a securing a second meeting, I was offered a job at the company.

Within my first few weeks, I was tasked with researching jaguar facts for a promotional ‘jungle survival guide’, which would be released with National Geographic publications across the globe, in many different languages. My first real project with the company, and it featured jaguars!

National geographic lego expedition jungle guide

If signs come in threes, the next one definitely felt like one worth seeing — or rather, listening to. When one of my new colleagues recommended listening to a podcast called RadioLab, as it featured and in-depth look at trophy hunting for rhino horn, it didn’t take long for me to look around and find an episode about zoos.

I was curious to see the journalists’ handling of the issues surrounding captivity, and shocked at the coincidence that, quite unexpectedly, the final segment in the broadcast featured one Dr Alan Rabinowitz (a name I had first heard through Nat Geo many years ago); tracing his life’s work back to being a child, and encountering a lone jaguar in the Big Cat House at the Bronx Zoo

The powerful RadioLab story (which can be listened to by clicking on the player link above) focusses on why Rabinowitz connected so much with the jaguar (owing to a severe stutter throughout his childhood, which left him feeling voiceless — a symptom he could recognise in the pitiful yowling of the Bronx Zoo’s jaguar).

The severity of Rabinowitz’ stutter was barely touched upon in that earlier Nat Geo documentary, so hearing about the extremity of the speech disorder and the impact it had on the course of Alan’s life gave a whole new dimension to the story; and a whole new perspective on his connection to the jaguar.

The coincidence of re-discovering a human-wildlife story that had fascinated me so much as a teenager, and learning of such a significant side of the story — the influence of communicating with animals on learning to overcome a stutter — certainly reignited my interest in finding out what has happened to the jaguar population now, and how Rabinowitz’ all-important ‘Jaguar Corridor’ has made a difference.

 

Jaguar journey

In Search of the Jaguar ends with a tantalising concept: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an overwhelming challenge? For this wildlife warrior, that chapter has yet to be written…”

Just over a decade on, it’s safe to say that that next chapter is an exciting one! Dr Rabinowitz is now Chief Scientist of Panthera; founded in 2006 as the only organisation in the world that is devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species (including tigers, lions, jaguars, snow leopards,cheetahs, pumas and leopards) and their ecosystems.

The Panthera Team take on the formidable forests of the jaguar’s range – on foot! Photo by: Veronica Domit Photography

Along with Dr Howard Quigley, Head of Panthera’s Jaguar Program, Alan is currently undertaking a three-year quest to journey by foot(!) through the 10 counties that make up the spine of his now well-established 18-country ‘Jaguar Corridor’, sharing his experience along the way of the progress being made—  and of course the jaguars he encounters!

On their journey deep into the jaguar’s range, together with Panthera’s scientists and partners, they hope to continue to shine a light on the developments in the jaguar’s population and range, as well as the challenges in places where jaguars are most at risk — so that they can continue to develop and implement global strategies to best protect the cat.

I’ve signed up to ‘join the journey’ and receive regular updates about the team’s progress and was delighted to read about the efforts to explore the powerful cultural connections that locals have to Latin America’s iconic big cat.

‘The Journey of the Jaguar is showing that humans and jaguars are coexisting’ one of their most recent email newsletters reads.

This sounds like an incredible achievement when there is often so much conflict between local populations and predators (such as in the case of last year’s poisoning of multiple lions from the Maasai Mara’s Marsh pride).

I contacted Dr Rabinowitz to find out more about his experience and how the local people are able to live alongside the big cat, when so often predators are seen as a threat.

“My best experience has been to see the enthusiasm of local people and local governments to the idea of an integrated jaguar corridor,” Alan explains.

“Also to see local people feel strongly about wanting to bring jaguar culture back into the lives of their children and the schools.”

Hearing of the desire to educate local children about the beauty and importance of jaguars as part of their learning in the classroom is immediately something that resonates with me.

“I realise more than ever that the future rests in the hands of the young,” Alan continues. “My hopes are that this journey creates a permanent platform and a permanent movement for saving the jaguar, saving jaguar culture, and making sure that the world’s third largest cat does not go down the road of the tiger, lion and leopard.”

And for a man who has faced (and overcome) so many challenges in his life, what has been the hardest part of the jaguar journey so far?

“The worst experiences, as always, are to see dead animals.” he tells me.“Jaguar skins, jaguar teeth, and other animal parts. And learn of the fear some people still have about jaguars.”

Leaving a legacy…

R.i.P Dr Alan Rabinowitz. A true life hero of conservation. Continue supporting the Panthera team at: panthera.org and The Stuttering Foundation, which was of course is an organisation close to Alan.

 

 

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A unique solution to plastic pollution: introducing Ocean Sole UK

Plastic pollution and its impact on the planet is on many people’s minds at present. Thanks to the legacy of the majorly successful Blue Planet II series and publications such as National Geographic’s Planet or plastic? issue, the world is waking up to the problems that plastic waste can cause for the environment and wildlife.

You may have seen my #PlasticFreeJuly post on here recently, or last year’s #NoWasteNovember post — both looking at simple ways to reduce use of single-use plastic in our daily lives. But what about the plastic waste that is already littering the world’s beaches? How can we turn its negative presence into something positive and beautiful? That’s where Ocean Sole comes in…

ocean sole uk dolphin

Removing pollution and supporting marine conservation

It’s not often you hear someone say that their ultimate aim is to be put out of business. But that’s exactly what Ocean Sole UK’s Mark Dougal tells me during our recent chat.

Ocean Sole makes beautiful, colourful animal sculptures from discarded flip flops, which have been collected from the beaches of Kenya.

Many of the 520,000 flip flops collected last year washed up on Africa’s east coast from Asia, where refuse systems in some countries are poor, causing flip flops (many people’s primary form of shoe — owing to how cheap they are) end up in the rivers; eventually making their way into the sea.

ocean sole uk giraffe made of flip flops

A giraffe made from flip flops collected from the beach

“My biggest hope would be that one day there are no more flip flops to collect off the beaches,” Mark says. “Then we’ll be put out of business. But with 3 billion people across the world wearing flip flops, that day seems very far away.”

Once they reach the sea, flip flops — which are made of non-biodegradable plastics — pose a threat to marine wildlife. It is now, thankfully, well-documented how plastic makes its way into the food chain, and how its volume increases significantly as it moves up each level. But plastics can also trap and entangle fish and other sea creatures, and winds and currents can transport them across the oceans.

In the 20 years that Ocean Sole has been in existence, they have cleaned up over 1,000 tonnes of flip flops from the ocean and waterways of Kenya and contributed over 10% of their revenue to marine conservation programmes.

 

Saving the ocean with heart and soul

Mark tells me the work that he’s doing as Ocean Sole’s UK distributor ‘really lights his fire’ and he credits his involvement with the company, and many of his successes with it to ‘serendipity’.

Like so many cases of people who have been inspired to do their bit in helping the environment, the origins of Ocean Sole UK began with the awe and excitement of a child.

“After realising I’d lost touch with travelling, which was something I really needed in my life, I booked a trip to Kenya,” he explains. “The night before I left, I visited my sister and told my nephew where I was going. He pointed out Africa on a globe —one of those globes that shows the different animals that can be found in each country. I asked him if he would like me to bring him anything back from my holiday and he answered; ‘a lion’.”

With this request in mind, Mark sort to find ‘the best lion he could’, for his nephew to take to Show and Tell on his return.

“I told my friend who I was staying with out there about my little mission,” he says. “He told me about a shop a few streets away that sold animals made from flip flops —which sounded perfect.”

ocean sole uk lion made from flip flops

Before even visiting the shop, however, Mark had a chance encounter with the store’s owner at a festival.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was at the bar at a music festival, in the middle of a nowhere, talking to a complete stranger. When I ask her what she did for a living she told me she sold animals made out of flip flops… I knew instantly it was the same place that my friend had mentioned. What are the chances?!”

“From that point on three years ago, I’ve had an awful lot of positive coincidences. I had another friend who was holding an open house art exhibition here in the UK and he asked me to bring some of the animal sculptures along. I brought along 10 and they all sold in one afternoon. That’s when I knew there was something in this.”

ocean sole uk sculptures dolphin and hammerhead shark

Mark has since invested in the company, and despite it being a side project to his full time job, he’s even seen his Brighton flat turn into a makeshift picking and packaging depot for his stock!

“We had a video go viral recently, receiving over 100 millions views! On the Monday morning the guys in Kenya came in to 10,000 emails in their inbox!”

“Here in the UK I had 150 orders in one weekend, and that’s when I realised I was going to have to outsource the packaging. It’s just too much for one man. We’ve now got a brilliant website for the UK side too, and things are looking good.”

 

From strength to strength, from soul to sole…

During the three years that Mark has been a part of Ocean Sole he says the number of artists working on the sculptures has gone from 50 to 90. In total, Ocean Sole provides a steady income to over 150 low-income Kenyans, both in the social enterprise and the extended supply-chain.

I love the idea that one business is helping to clean beaches, recycle plastic waste, encourage people to admire animals through its sculptures and providing local jobs to low-income citizens.

“One of the best things about this is that everyone wants to help.” Mark concludes. And from where I’m standing (in pumps, not flip flops I might add), it’s easy to see why.

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Want to own one of these awesome animal sculptures yourself?
Visit oceansole.co.uk/shop/

Check out the Ocean Sole viral video here.

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5 more ways to reduce plastic waste!

This month is #PlasticFreeJuly, a great opportunity to evaluate our consumption of single-use plastic and to find more sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives. The hope is, of course, that a month of trialling such a lifestyle will result in permanent change once we discover that it’s not as inconvenient as we first thought.

That’s why, following on from my Top 5 easy ways to reduce plastic waste! blog post a few months ago, I’d like to offer five more simple solutions for tackling everyday plastic use.

We all know by now the devastating effect that plastic is having on our environment, especially our oceans; and in particular our marine wildlife and sea birds, who are paying a huge price (in many cases, with their lives), for our inability to properly manage and dispose of the sheer volume of plastic that is being manufactured. So if you’re looking for simple swaps to achieve a greener lifestyle, look no further…

 

1. No more plastic soap dispensers

This one is so easy, and begs the question: why did we ever stop using bars of soap? Sure, I can understand it’s more hygienic in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries to minimalize contact with other people’s germs, but within our own homes and bathrooms? No problem! (Give it a little rinse under the tap first if you’re really concerned about germ transfer).

Just be sure to choose a soap that’s wrapped in recyclable paper or card, to really go green. The soap bar pictured above is from The Body Shop and had paper wrapping. Goodbye plastic liquid-soap dispensers!

NB: Also consider shampoo and conditioner bars instead of bottled liquids. Lush‘s shampoo bar comes highly recommended!

 

2. Ditch the throwaway face wipes

These things are not only dished out in plastic packaging, often smothered in chemicals and contain varying levels of non-biodegradable plastic, but they also end up getting flushed down the loo instead of thrown in the bin; and it certainly begs the question: What’s worse? Landfill polluting our soil and landscapes, or products clogging our water ways?

London’s sewers are notorious for getting clogged with fatbergs, which are often perpetuated by face wipes and baby wipes. Eradicate all of the above issues with one easy change over!

These bamboo wipes by Close, Pop-in are super soft and don’t reduce quality after lots of washes. Billed as baby wipes, I team them up with cloth nappies when tending to my daughter, and have a second set (in different colours I might add — very important for not muddling them up!) for removing my make up at the end of the day.

 

3. Cut out the disposable coffee cups

tea-in-a-cafetea-in-a-cafe

Working in a busy district in London, it blows my mind to think about how many people go through the doors of all the local high street cafe chains and come out again with non-recyclable, non-biodegradable plastic products. Multiply that with all the other busy districts in the City, all the odd branches and kiosks next to train and tube stations, then add in all the chains in towns and cities across the country; and finally map that idea on a global scale… and I’m pretty sure coffee shops must be some of the biggest offenders in supplying single-use plastic. In fact, we use 7 million disposable coffee cups every day in the UK alone – that’s 2.5 billion every year!

It’s estimated that only 1% of paper cups ever get recycled, that’s because they’re often lined with plastic polyethylene to make them waterproof — which deems them unsuitable for recycling in most facilities (only three recycling facilities in the whole of the UK can actually do it). Also, the fact that they are contaminated with drink presents further difficulties in the process.

Often, this symbol:  is misunderstood to mean the product can be recycled in our household recycle bins, whereas in actual fact, it doesn’t always mean it’s possible to recycle from home. If the numbers 3-7 are written within the triangle, it means the plastic it’s made from can’t be recycled into something else very easily, and requires a specialised recycling facility. If it’s thrown into household recycle bins, it’s destined for landfill.

As an incentive to reduce the use of disposable cups, many franchises are now onboard with offering a discount to customers who refill a reusable coffee cup — Pret offers 50p off, for example.

But what if you’ve left your reusable cup at home? Or didn’t expect to be in such desperate need of a coffee this morning? It’s surprising to think that even a brand as seemingly eco-conscious as Pret (known for it’s high quality foods and vegan and vegetarian ranges) doesn’t even give customers an option to use ceramic mugs/cups if you’re drinking in. Which would be my recommendation here: if you don’t have a reusable cup, sit-in for your coffee this time, and opt for a chain that provides non-disposable crockery for you to do so.

 

4. Choose a manatee over a bag of tea

manatee-tea-strainer-reduce-plastic-waste

While we’re on the supject of hot drinks; did you know that the majority of tea bags are made with non-biodegradable plastics? The stuff is literally everywhere!

Many of the major brands make their tea bags using polypropylene, a sealing plastic, to stop them from falling apart. This includes: Tetley (who have promised a change), ClipperYorkshire Tea and Twinings‘ ‘heat-sealed’ and ‘string and tag’ ranges.

An easy way to banish the bad bits from your brew is to turn to looseleaf tea. Reusable tea infusers, like this manatee (given to me by the lovely people at Bradenton Anna Maria Island Longboat Key) mean you can make a looseleaf tea in a cup instead of a pot (thus saving the energy of boiling surplus water), working in exactly the same way as a tea bag. I’ve spotted these little guys for sale in Pylones stores.

MAKING COFFEE AT HOME? Did you know 55 million coffee pods are used everyday, and most of them end up in landfill?  A single pod may take up to 500 years to break down. Companies like Nespresso boast recyclable pods, but they’re too small to be recycled with household rubbish and collection points are scarce. To go green, swap them out for making coffee with a plunger.

 

5 Give a Guppyfriend a go

I’ve been hearing about Guppyfriend washing bags for a while, and they’re the next purchase on my list for Plastic Free July.

Designed to catch microplastics released from our clothing (yes, even washing your best-loved garments is releasing tiny shards of plastic destined to one day pollute our drinking water!), simply pop your washing into a Guppyfriend bag before putting it into the machine; let it collect those pesky plastic fibres and brush it off into the bin when you’ve emptied your clothes from it.

I know sending the fibres to landfill isn’t much better, but at least it’s not contaminating our water and leave behind plastics prone to ending up in human and animal stomachs. Have you used one yet? Let me know your thoughts and any tips for using it.

 

Got anymore ideas for using sustainable alternatives? Please add them in the comment box at the the end of this post!

 

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King update: Born Free’s rescued lion cub starts a new life

Imagine a lion cub, rescued from physical abuse and the confines of a filthy cage in a Paris apartment, feeling the South African sunshine on his back for the first time and the dry grass beneath his paws.

King the lion at Shamwari

King at Shamwari

That is the story of beautiful King the lion. Now successfully re-homed by International wildlife charity Born Free at their big cat sanctuary in South Africa’s Shamwari Game Reserve; King’s story captured interest (and hearts) back in April, when an appeal was launched to raise the funds to deliver him back to his ancestral home of Africa, and highlight the issue of the illegal wildlife trade. For those of you who’d like to read the first part of King’s story, take a look here.

Born free foundation's king the lion cub

King, back in April, before his big move

The one-year-old lion cub was rescued from an apartment in Paris last summer where he was being kept illegally as an ‘exotic pet’ in appalling conditions.

After his rescue, he was temporarily homed at Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre, Belgium, awaiting his big journey back to African soil and lifetime care provided by Born Free.

A home fit for a King…

On July 5th he travelled from Belgium, to London Heathrow airport under the care of Born Free’s expert team. In his Born Free branded wooden container, King then flew to Africa, courtesy of Kenya Airways.

Born Free Foundation elsa toy on kenya airways stall

Katrina Hanson, Kenya Airways’ Area Cargo Manager, said: “We were delighted to assist in King’s amazing relocation to Born Free’s Big Cat Rescue Centre at Shamwari in South Africa. We have worked with Born Free for many years carrying rescued lions from Europe to Africa so they can enjoy being a lion. These relocations have been a great success and we do all we can to make it as stress free as possible for the lions.”

After a short internal flight, King touched down in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, before travelling the short distance by road to Shamwari and to his new home at Born Free’s Jean Byrd Centre. Shamwari, where I was fortunate enough to gain a 3-month volunteer placement back in 2008, has been home to Born Free’s two Big Cat Rescue Centres for more than 20 years.

King the lion returns home to Africa

“So many people responded to our appeal to bring young King to Shamwari, and now he has arrived!,” said Virginia McKenna OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder and Trustee. “Thanks to everyone whose hearts were touched by his story, he now takes his first steps on African soil, and can begin his happy new life. May it be a long and peaceful one.”

The exotic pet trade

The sad story of King before he was rescued highlights the plight of millions of captive wild animals around the world that are kept as exotic pets.

I’m proud to support Born Free, who oppose the keeping of wild animals as pets. They state: \Wild animals, whether they have been taken from the wild or bred in captivity, have extremely complex social, physical and behavioural needs and are, therefore, particularly susceptible to suffer when kept as pets.

Dr Chris Draper, Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, adds: “It is staggering that, in 2018, lion cubs are still finding their way into the pet trade in Europe. We are concerned that King’s case is the tip of the iceberg, and that a great many wild animals are being kept illegally as pets across Europe and elsewhere. This situation needs to be addressed urgently, and we hope that by introducing the world to King – his plight, his rescue and his rehoming to lifetime care – Born Free can draw attention to this important issue.”

***

I’m so glad to know that for King, the tale ends happily, but like many of the people who have reacted to this story; I find it shocking to think that wild animals are being kept privately in people’s homes. In the case of King, his owner’s warped sense of pride in posting pictures of the lion cub (and the abuse he suffered) on social media was his own downfall. Thank goodness that the right people saw his posts and reacted accordingly.

I am, however, concerned about the many wild animals whose owners are not foolish enough to post their mistreatment online. How many others are stuck in an existence like the one King had?

Please consider supporting Born Free’s petition to restrict the trade in, and private keeping of, dangerous wild animals in Great Britain: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/221050

To donate to King’s lifetime care, visit www.bornfree.org.uk/king, call 01403 240170 or text KING to 70755 to donate £10.

 

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Want to know more about King?

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Want to know more about Shamwari Game Reserve?

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The Dominant Male: Guest post by young conservationist Bella Lack

This month’s guest blog post comes from 15-year-old wildlife campaigner Bella Lack. Bella describes her unforgettable close encounter with a male orangutan…

orangutan looks on with a solemn expression

The light had waned until the sky was a deep navy-blue.

We stood in the warm twilight of Borneo, in the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah. The orang-utans had made their nests for the night and the piercing wails of the cicadas that started at sunset were slowly abating into a background throb of noise.

We were in a small group with one guide. We sat outside the orphan nursery on a damp slope, binoculars being passed round, pressed tightly to eyes and then passed on again. We were watching as the flying squirrels made their ‘leap of faith’. They would come out from their nests and scurry up the tree until, with a sudden thrust, they would launch into the night, their large bodies silhouetted against the darkening sky.

This was when our group would let out a collective sigh of wonderment as we watched these cat-sized creatures elegantly soaring through the tangled canopy. It was then that we first heard it. The sound is unlike any other I had ever heard.

Dr Brigitte Spillmann has described it as ‘a series of long booming pulses and grumbles, which can be heard through more than 1 km of dense jungle.”

However, nothing can compare with the feeling of hearing this call. It reverberates through your body.

“If he had stayed quietly in his throne of leaves, we would have been unaware of the regal presence mere metres above us.”

Upon hearing this, the guide whispered frantically into his walkie talkie. Within moments, swarms of excitable guides were materialising, weaving their way through the trees with the nimbleness and grace that only experienced forest dwellers possess. We knew this was special. In the excitement, we soon interpreted that that the male had never been seen before. He was wild.

It is not unusual for a dominant male to leave his nest if he has been disturbed. Regretfully, he must have obviously felt unsettled by the throng of binocular wielding apes that stood searching for flying squirrels and so he abandoned his nest and began to ‘long call’ in an attempt to dissuade us.

If he had stayed quietly in his throne of leaves, we would have been unaware of the regal presence mere metres above us.

Orangutan anger!

He soon came down, his eyes ablaze with the anger that any human will know if they have been disturbed from deep sleep. His flanges protruded from his cheeks. His body was massive, drenched in thick orange hair. His hands were easily larger than my head and we watched in admiration as this king of the jungle attempted to proceed towards us.

Fortunately, the shoots that he used to try and swing towards were much too delicate for this mighty king. When his anger had heightened into a boiling rage, we were ushered away.

Yet, to this day, I can still see this indomitable being glaring at us through the foliage. It was an experience I could never forget.

Blog post first published on www.callfromthewild.com.

 

Bella Lack born free ambassadorBella Lack is a young conservationist and wildlife campaigner. She has a strong social media presence, which she uses to educate and inspire others concerning global wildlife issues to help educate others on critical problems and encourage them to take action. As well as running her own blog; callfromthewild.com, she is an ambassador for Born Free Foundation and The Pocket Pals AppShe is the youth organiser of the This Is Zero Hour London march, which empowers youth to lead the fight against climate change and will​ be speaking with other young naturalists at Birdfair on the 19th of August.Find her on Twitter: ​@BellaLack

 

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