In loving memory of a loyal friend.

So, I’ve thought long and hard about whether to share this — a very intimate moment in my life — but ultimately, I feel I can make good of it, with your help…

Last Sunday I said goodbye to our family dog. Leaving my parents house after a Mother’s Day visit, I knew the next time I visited home he would be gone. At 16 and half years old he was beginning to suffer and the obvious choice was for him to put to sleep.

Kate on Conservation with dog, Chaz

What could have been a more fitting day than Mother’s Day, to bid farewell to my first baby?

During those 16 years he’d shared so many of my adventures and milestones — from my first year of high school to my first year of motherhood — and although we lived apart in his final years (as I moved to London and he stayed in his comfortable home with my parents), I cherished the evenings back home where he would rest on my lap in front of the TV, or sleep on my bed at night.

Kate on Conservation with dog, Chaz as a puppy

The day we bought our boy home, 21st November 2001 — I was 11 years old, and it seemed reasonable to suggest naming him after a character in The Rugrats!

Though I will miss his presence, I’m so glad that he had a long and happy life surrounded by love and family in a comfortable home.

Not all dogs are so lucky. Which is why I’m hoping to raise money in his memory for the brilliant charity Wetnose Animal Aid. Based in my home county of Norfolk, Wetnose Animal Aid help small shelters across the UK, including dog rescue centres.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Wetnose team, as they launched their annual Wetnose Day fundraiser last year, and they welcomed me like family. I really believe in what they do, and would love to use this as a chance to support them,

Andrea Gamby-Boulger at wetnose day

Wetnose Animal Aid founder Andrea Gamby-Boulger at Wetnose Day 2017 launch

I’ve opened up a JustGiving page in Chaz’s memory (https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/wetnose-for-chaz), to help with raising much needed funds.

If you have a spare pound, please consider a donation. I want to spread the love in my heart that my little dog has given me, and do something good with it.

I made the above video 11 years ago, and I never would have dreamed I would have still had that crazy little guy this long. We truly have been lucky!

So please don’t feel sad, and know that no sympathy is needed here. I had a good friend for a long time, and his life was filled with love and comfort and family. There are so many dogs who don’t have this, and those are the ones we should feel sad for.

Kate on Conservation with dog, Chaz on mothers day

Saying our goodbyes last Sunday

It was not a sad goodbye, the story in the photo is true. I said goodbye with a smile — because, hey, 16 is pretty good age for a dog — and I know he’s had a good life.

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Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Awards 2018: inspiring eco-warriors

Nothing is better for the soul than spending a few hours listening to children talking about the future they imagine and how they are working towards it. Last Friday’s Roots and Shoots Awards gave me the opportunity to do just that.

Portway School's display at Roots and shoots 2018

Portray Junior School at Roots and Shoots 2018

It was a privilege to attend this inspiring award ceremony for a second year, and to learn about the different projects that schoolchildren are working on across the UK to help care for people, wildlife and the environment — the three prongs on which the Roots and Shoots programme is built.

Rockwood School's display at Roots and Shoots 2018

Rockwood School’s display at Roots and Shoots 2018

Now present in over 100 schools across the globe, Roots & Shoots is a youth service programme for young people of all ages to foster respect and compassion for all living things; to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs and to inspire individuals to take action to make the world a better place for people, other animals, and the environment.

Held in the Barbican Centre in London, the event saw a packed out room teeming energy and inspiration. As the children showcased their schools’ green initiatives and the eco-friendly activities they’re orchestrating, it struck me just how passionate and switched on they are when it comes to making informed choices about their impact on the planet.

Harrow Way Community School with their display at Roots and Shoots 2018

Harrow Way Community School with their models of the school’s eco-friendly activities

From planting vegetable patches to recycling Lego sets, and from monitoring local air pollution levels to creating and sending care packages to dogs in Romania, the compassion showed by these young people was truly admirable.

This year, a new addition was included in the day’s programme of events; a ‘Trashion’ Show; for which clothing designs were made from recycled and up-cycled materials and packaging. Here are some of the superb entries!

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So much creative talent was displayed during the Ethical Fashion Show, and I could only admire the eye-catching styles and brilliant bravery of the entrants as they sashayed down the makeshift catwalk.

The day of course culminated in honouring this year’s Roots and Shoots Award winners, and the incredible effort they have all shown.

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I’d like to take a moment to give a special mention to Ella from James Allen’s Girls’ School for winning the Most Outstanding Photograph Award for her picture of rain water in a lotus flower, taken in Ubud, Bali.

The award was sponsored by National Geographic Kids magazine, and my colleague Alex was on hand to present her with her prize. We’re looking forward to welcoming Ella into the office when she becomes a Nat Geo reporter for the day!

Roots and Shoots Most Outstanding Photograph Award winner Ella. Award presented by Nat Geo Kids magazine.

Most Outstanding Photograph Award winner Ella from James Allen’s Girls’ School

A special well done also to:

  • Chloe Bonner, who won The Jane Goodall Award for Individual Endeavour
  • Children’s Hospital School who won the Most Outstanding Group Award
  • Harrow Way Community School, who won the prize for Most Outstanding Group in Touch With Nature.

There could be no better way to end such an inspiring event than to hear a few words from Dr Jane Goodall herself. First greeting us all in chimp language, she went on to excuse the absence of her beloved toy monkey, Mr H, who is this year 29 years old, has visited 63 countries and been touched by millions of hands across the world!

The original Mr H is currently in transit back to the UK from Borneo, but a similar design was on hand to help in his absence!

Jane Goodall speaks at Roots and Shoots Awards 2018

One of my favourite anecdotes from this year’s closing speech — and one I had never heard from Jane before — was about her favourite tree. The name Roots and Shoots was of course inspired by trees, which Jane described as ‘magical creatures’.

“My fave tree, Beech, is in Bournemouth where my sister lives,” she said. “He’s over 100 years old and I used to swing from his branches growing up.”

When you think of trees as the ultimate givers of life — providing energy, shelter and clean air to the world around them — it’s easy to see why Dr Jane would take such inspiration from them!

Kate on Conservation with Jane Goodall

Thank you once again for allowing me to be a part of this brilliant celebration of education, empowerment, environment, people and wildlife!

If you want to know more about Roots and Shoots and how your local school can get involved, please visit: www.rootsnshoots.org.uk

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Learn more about Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots

Learn more about Dr Jane Goodall


World Wildlife Day 2018: Big Cat hero

Big Cats CITES

Today is World Wildlife Day! The theme for this year is ‘Big Cats‘; which encompasses the four largest wild cats — which are also the ones that roar — lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. Often the term is extended, as is the case with World Wildlife Day, to include the cheetah, snow leopard and mountain lion, and sometimes even the clouded leopard and Sunda clouded leopard (pictured above).

Having recently spoken with BBC Researcher and Digital Researcher Tania Esteban about her work on the BBC One series Big Cats and her film A Lion’s Tale, I was inspired to focus my blog post today on lions.

I discussed at length the current CITES protection status of lions in my earlier post about Cecil the lion’s legacy, so instead, my personal theme of today is hope. To me, hope is key in conservation. We have must have belief that the fight is one worth taking on, and one such person who is fighting for lions — and showing just how much one person can make a difference — is Drew Abrahamson. I decided to find out more…

Lion Rescue and Relocation Work

I was curious to learn more about Drew’s work with Captured In Africa Foundation  — who I spotlighted on a previous blog post. If you would like to know more about what they do and why, more info can be found here.

Drew Abrahamson

Name: Drew Abrahamson

Organisation: Captured in Africa Foundation

Job Title: Director & Founder Captured In Africa Foundation

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

Favourite animal: Leopard. It’s strange I know, because I rescue and relocate lions, but they found me.

I first realised I wanted to work with big cats when: There wasn’t really a point of realisation, it happened so naturally and without any fanfare, that one day I found myself immersed in conservation and fighting for them.

I got into this field because: I strongly believe that everything you do in life that you are passionate about, is chosen before you are even born, and that you come to Earth to fulfil that purpose if you are lucky enough to.

As I mentioned before, leopards are my favourite animal so you would think I would be directly involved with them somehow — and although I have been contacted to help with leopard / farmer conflict — the main animal that I have ended up working with is lions.

What I’ve learnt along the way: I have learnt many things, so to pinpoint one specifically is difficult. The lessons and human emotion is definitely what stands out for me though. Dealing with rescues and relocations brings about so many different emotions on a daily basis across the spectrum and on opposite sides…from elation to despair.

It has taught me to fight and not give up, as that’s not an option. It has taught me how to work with people but sadly has shown me that not all people who claim to be friends are. I think I have become more humble and earthly doing what I do, always thinking of the animals before myself.

Most memorable rescue: There have been memorable moments with all the rescues I have done, wild as well as captive. The feeling you get when you see an animal that was in a compromise walking into an area where they will be safe forever, there is no way to explain that & my heart more often than not is on my sleeve.

I am a fierce fighter and believe that we should be fighting fiercely for our wild lion and the habitat they occupy, so if I am completely honest, the wild lions that I have relocated have been the most rewarding as they are still alive to contribute to the conservation of the species.

Drew Abrahamson speaking at event

Drew Abrahamson talks about the main issues affecting big cats. © Drew Abrahamson / www.capturedinafrica.com

Favourite people/organisations I’ve worked with: I work with amazing people in conservation but am very specific as to who, as they need to have the same moral compass and vision for where they see wild or captive lions and other wildlife to be in the future.

I think my favourite people I work with are Dereck & Beverly Joubert who are National Geographic Explorers In Residence and own their own lodges and properties throughout Africa under the brand Great Plains Conservation, they have their own foundation called Great Plains Foundation which is specific to Lion and Rhino.

Other organisations I work closely with are Four Paws International (Vier Pfoten) who own Lions Rock Lodge & Sanctuary in Bethlehem, Free State, South Africa — who are partners with Princess Alia Foundation in Jordan and have their own Sanctuary. Another is Born Free Foundation; we have collaborated on International issues and we often communicate via e-mail on certain situations regarding zoo or captive issues in Europe.

© Drew Abrahamson / www.capturedinafrica.com

Career highlight: I think it was one of the first rescues I had done. I started an online campaign to bring awareness to a situation regarding a white lioness called Nyanga, who was born & being kept at a zoo breeding farm in the Free State. Nyanga attacked a zoo employee who subsequently died.

The whole situation was due to human error, as the gate was left open at feeding time and she was going to be euthanised.

It was a 4 ½ month battle applying pressure to various authorities to grant her a second chance at life. We were successful and when I got word from the authorities I just burst out crying… I think that was mainly from pure exhaustion after many sleepless nights and stressful days!

Biggest challenge: It has to be trying to locate a safe reserve for wild lions as there are very few empty spaces left, especially in South Africa due to all the reserves being fenced.

Each fenced reserve has a certain carrying capacity and are on the constant lookout for a place to move their lions to or they have to cull. I think the longest time frame was about 1 year and 6 months to find two males a safe home.

Another is when lions break out of reserves and find themselves in compromise due to being in the middle of communities, most times manpower is limited and days or weeks later the lion has now killed livestock or has become a danger to community members, so hunters are called in to destroy the lion/s.

However, there is a solution as Carl from Pit-Track K9 Conservation and Captured In Africa Foundation have joined forces starting an initiative called K9’s For Big Cats, which uses dogs trained specifically to track and locate lions quickly, so we can relocate them back to the safety of the reserve or sanctuary they have managed to escape from.

captured in africa and k9 for conservation logo

Hopes for the future: I am eternal optimist and for me there is always hope, this is what I choose to focus on and don’t pay too much attention to negativity or walls placed in front of me. I can scale.

There are so many organisations and individuals from around the world who have banded together to fight for our wildlife and it is the most humbling and heartening thing to see — and experience. Children from different countries are doing school projects and presentations from as young as Grade 3 to bring awareness to their peers and parents, this is the beauty of education — which is vital.

It is a movement that is growing daily and this gives me hope — because the more people that stand up against atrocities, the stronger our chance of protecting our wild spaces and the animals within.

Drew Abrahamson wildlife photographs elephants

World Wildlife Day parting thought: I would love for people to set differences aside and start working together. We are all on the same mission, which is to do as much for whatever species we have chosen. At the end of the day, whether it is a lion or a pangolin, we need to have an important common goal — which is to protect habitat, because the biggest hindrance is habitat loss. This has a knock-on effect of human-wildlife conflict. I believe people should start focusing on dropping egos for the benefit of our wildlife or we are in serious trouble.

For more information about Captured in Africa and their latest news, visit their website here.

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World Book Day 2018: My recommended Natural History reads!

Happy World Book Day! It’s no secret that I am total book geek, and if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’re bound to have seen that I often share my latest book purchase — or the title I am currently reading (yes, I even have an Instagram hashtag; #kateonconservationreads) — and it’s no coincidence that my book collection is FULL of Natural History books.

Today, however, I want to highlight some lesser known, independent authors whose work has brought me much joy in 2018.

Fiction: The Absence of Wings, written by Mark Stewart

A collection of beautifully written short stories, often inspired by the author’s real life encounters with animals; The Absence of Wings is delicately penned with haunting tragedy encased in enchanting language.

I must admit that my bookcase doesn’t house nearly enough short story collections (which is surprising, given Rudyard Kipling‘s The Jungle Book is one of favourite books of all time), but this is one I’m so glad I own.

Easy to read (and lose oneself in) over and over again, I thought perhaps the best way to share it with you would be to share a reading from my favourite story Snow Bear, read by Mark Stewart’s daughter, Natasha especially for Kate on Conservation readers! Please take a few moments to listen to the video below:

The Absense of Wings can be purchased here:

Follow Mark Stewart on Twitter: @pendragonmist.

Poetry: ‘Animated Nature’ Selected Poems by Richard Bonfield from 1989 – 2009

I’m a lover of poetry, and huge fan of the great American poet Robert Frost, whose musings of rural life in New England are laced with nature and references to weather and the seasons. Even so, it’s rare for me to actively seek poetry collections; owing to the fact that I’m often enthralled in reference books, learning about the next animal, conservationist or political issue that I’m going to be writing about.

Richard Bonfield is an exception however, perhaps because his work found me. I discovered Richard’s poetry through wildlife artist Pollyanna Pickering, who has illustrated his books and their beautiful front covers. Richard was present at one of Pollyanna’s exhibitions and by chance I got chatting to him — and left with one of the most charming collections of poems!

Animated Nature book by Richard Bonfield

Richard was Born Free Foundation‘s Poet in Residence, and described by Virginia McKenna (herself an accomplished poet) as “one of poetry’s most original and amazing talents”, with his poems described as “extraordinary, deep and evocative.”

This captivating collection swings between profound, beautiful and humorous, and is well worth a read! Here, given it’s the 1st of March, Nick Stephenson reads the poem ‘Hare’. Please take a few moments to listen to this charming poem in the video below:

Animated Nature can be purchased through Amazon here.

Non Fiction: Wild Lives, written by Lori Robinson and Janie Chodosh

One of my favourite new finds, and the book I am currently reading, Wild Lives by Lori Robinson and Janie Chodosh is a fascinating exploration into the lives of some of the world’s leading conservationists.

Featuring 20 extraordinary wildlife warriors who have dedicated their lives to studying and conserving endangered and threatened species from across the globe; including lions, cheetahs, jaguars and dolphins, this book is a brilliant tool of inspiration!

Some of the familiar faces included in its pages are: National Geographic filmmakers and big cat experts Beverly and Dereck Joubert; dolphin advocate Ric O’Barry, who features in the Oscar-winning film The Cove; and lion champion (and author of the book Lions in the Balance), ecologist Craig Packer. This book is brilliant for discovering the wonderful stories of some of wildlife’s biggest heroes!

Wild Lives can be purchased here: http://savingwild.com/lori-robinsons-books/ 

While the mainstream media debates whether or not World Book Day has simply become an excuse for fancy dress in schools, I’d like to use it as a chance to celebrate two of my favourite things: Natural History and learning! Happy reading!

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Poaching, poverty and empowerment through conservation – Guest post by Maasai warrior Philip Ole Senteria

This week I am truly honoured to share the words of Maasai warrior Philip Ole Senteria. Philip provides an authentic perspective of living in a community residing alongside wild and often dangerous animals, and how — despite the poverty in these areas and the threat that poachers bring to both the local wildlife and the local community —  wildlife conservation (teamed with hard work, education and some brightly coloured beads) can empower the Maasai people.

Tree-planting community projects

There is a continued, rapid loss of biodiversity and deterioration of mega fauna worldwide. Poaching leads the list of environmental crisis accelerators; that is being witnessed; a menace that has faced a strong battle, but continues to plunge the local (and global) wildlife into extinction.

Although every effort has been put to action to stop it, the heinous act is still very much alive — particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Poverty is undeniably one of the main reasons why the war against poaching hasn’t succeeded yet. And unless the locally indigenous communities are fully involved in conservation, the world risks losing the small remaining rhino, elephant population among other wildlife endangered.

The importance of indigenous people

There are approximately 370 million indigenous people worldwide. They make up just 5% of the global population, but they hold nearly 25% of the world’s lands and waters, representing 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity.

This shows that these communities have a very close contact with the natural resources that need to be protected. It’s worth noting that, with this close connection, the natural world is then central to the human rights of the indigenous peoples as well as their economic, spiritual, physical and cultural well-being.

Indigenous peoples directly manage the biodiversity setting that is vital for both their survival and their respect of nature. The two are deeply entwined.

But it comes with complex challenges: the development of natural resources and the climate change are threatening the environments on which their livelihoods and cultures depend.

Is poverty a factor?

Poverty impedes conservation because poaching and environmental degradation is often pursued by the poor in short-sighted ways.

When people attain stabilised livelihoods, they are more likely to accept conservation policies. Addressing poverty is therefore a means of directly or indirectly promoting conservation.

Conservationists therefore have to find a more holistic approach that lays the foundation for the long-term success of protecting wildlife, especially elephants, rhinos, etc. here in Kenya.

Oloimugi Maasai Cultural Village

Two years ago I started the Oloimugi Maasai Village project. The main aim was to bring our Maasai community together for the purpose of having a conversation around conservation.

We live in a region very rich with wildlife, but are constantly at threat from poaching and hunting, human-wildlife conflict, etc. Poverty, lack of social amenities — for example: health; schools; general economic instability; are some of the factors contributing to the issues that we face as we try to fulfil a role as guardians of wildlife.

The Village serves as a cultural promotion centre, seeking empowerment and education through and about conservationIncome generated from cultural/wildlife tourism from guests visiting us is used to grow trees, construct gabions to stop soil erosion and to support the community.

The main focus of all this, however, is the BEADWORK project which is part of our initiative to tap into the potential of the Maasai women.

Beadwork offers an important  opportunity to Maasai women. Traditionally, they are uneducated, married at the age of 13, and completely financially reliant on the men or government aid. Their skills with beadwork are a chance for self-sufficiency.

The group, Olkiripa women, which was started as part of the Oloimugi Maasai Project, consists of 25 Maasai women who hand-make all of the beaded items we sell.

This is their primary source of income, and as a group they support their families.

Bead product purchases help these women and their families break a pattern of poverty. We believe that the spectacular beadwork that the women make can be sold to make enough money to feed their families, educate children and invest in conservation activities.

The main challenges we are facing is a lack of marketing and exposure, as well networking to reach the right, relevant markets, individuals and brands. We really hope to get help with this very crucial pillar of our ‘holistic conservation’ foundation laying.

There is a wide range of items they make, such as necklaces, bracelets, beaded dog collars, belts, etc.

In conclusion, empowerment of local communities creates a very suitable, friendly environment for wildlife as there is generally decreased competition for resources. Many global environmental problems are caused by human factors. Poaching can only be ended with goodwill from an empowered society taking in consideration that wildlife depend on 80% of community land for survival.


If you would like to support the Oloimugi Maasai Village’s BEADWORK project by purchasing an item, please visit: http://shop.oloimugimaasai.org.

Philip Ole Senteria is a 24-year-old Maasai warrior from Laikipia, Kenya. He is a Law student with a passion for wildlife conservation, eco-tourism, culture and community work. He is the founder of the Oloimugi Maasai Village — a project based on cultural preservation, conservation and community empowerment. The village focuses of teaching the community about environmental issues, culture promotion and empowerment.

The BEADWORK project  aims to empower women through an eco-friendly, economic activity and a pillar of conserving Maasai culture. Philip is looking for opportunities to learn more about marketing and networking to further his work with the Oloimugi Maasai Village. If you think you can help, please fill out the contact form here.


Top 5 ways to reduce plastic waste!

Following on from my #NoWasteNovember blog post, for which I took part in a brilliant campaign by Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots programme to reduce the amount of plastic waste I dispose of, I’ve received some great feedback from my blog readers asking for more information and suggestions for reducing plastic waste.

plastic bottles collected up

My #NoWasteNovember pledge was to use washable nappies, liners and pads with my new baby daughter — and almost four months in, it’s actually been an easy pledge to stick to, thanks to my early shopping spree with Babi Pur!

In fact, I’ve been so inspired with the ease and lack of fuss it’s caused, that I’m even investigating eco-friendly feminine hygiene products — and the wonderful Eco Fluffy Mama is my go-to guru for all things eco period-related. For any one interested, she has some great reviews available to read here. But for my non-gender-specific, non-parent-specific tips to living a greener lifestyle, check out my top 5 easy ways to reduce plastic waste below…

1.  Swap plastic straws for reusable steel

Steel straws

By now we’ve all heard the horror stories of plastic making it’s way into the sea — 8 million tonnes of it a year, in fact, is dumped into our oceans — and there are some horrifying videos online of how some of this impacts our planet’s wildlife. From seabird autopsies that reveal stomachs full of coloured fragments of the stuff, to a sea turtle struggling and writhing in pain as a plastic straw is pulled from its nostril; the very real, very emotive reasons to make a change are clear — which is why I love these stainless steel reusable straws.

Suitable for hot or cold beverages, these straws are available to order from ecostrawz and come with a wire cleaning brush so that you can use them over and over again. In some parts of the ocean it’s estimated that there are over half a million pieces of plastic for every square kilometre, so even reusable plastic straws are a no-go for me!

2. Bamboo toothbrushes

bamboo toothbrushes

One billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the United States alone! That’s more than 22 million kilograms annually!

As plastics breakdown into micro plastics, they cause toxins to build up throughout the food chain — which ultimately contaminate the milk of marine mammals at the top of the food chain. Sometimes this is so bad, the contaminated milk kills the young.

Plastic toothbrushes are a major culprit in ocean plastic waste, so making the change to an eco-friendly bamboo brush is a great way to reduce the number of plastic toothbrushes we’re estimated to throw away in our lifetimes (300 approximately). The Giving Brush are giving away their rainbow-themed brush for FREE right now, so there’s no reason not to jump onboard with this one!

3. 100% Compostable phone case

compostable phone case

A new favourite find of mine — eco-friendly phone cases! How many of us hold a phone case in our hands every single day? I’m willing to bet that most people in the western world carry one of these around without even thinking about it! I know it certainly hadn’t occurred to me that this is just another way that we’re buying, using and disposing of plastic, which is why I think it’s such a great idea!

These particular cases are 100% compostable and free from plastic packaging! Plus a donation is made from each sale to various environmental initiatives. Pela currently have a buy one get one half price sale on too.

4. Reusable drinks bottle

stainless steel water bottle

Glass or stainless steel are my top choice in material for reusable water bottles. 16 million plastic bottles go un-recycled in the UK every day, choking our rivers and ultimately destroying ocean habitats for our marine life.

Even reusable plastic bottles are likely to end up being disposed of eventually, and after reading about the risks of some reusable plastic bottles containing the controversial chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) – which is thought to interfere with sex hormones — I personally choose to stick with stainless steel! Thehut.com currently have a 3 for £20 deal on.

5. Plastic bottle pick-up (and join Lilly’s Global Clean-Up Day!)

Lily's global clean up day

The photograph I’ve used at the top of this blog post shows the plastic bottles I picked up on a short 15-minute or so walk to my local shops with my daughter. The amount of plastic bottles that litter our streets, fields and rivers genuinely still surprises me!

Luckily, there are some plastic pollution heroes out there like nine-year old Lilly, who are willing to go that extra mile. Lilly is a Child Ambassador for HOW Global and a Youth Ambassador for Plastic Pollution Coalition and is this year dedicating her birthday as a day for everyone to pick-up plastic from the environment!

#LillysGlobalCleanUpDay will take place on 18 April, and Lilly has challenged everyone to pick-up plastic on this day to help make the world a better, safer place. What an amazing wish for a 10th birthday! See her Twitter page @lillyspickup for the full video. Why wait though? Pick up some plastic and tweet today!

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Gorillas in the wild; and how to help them stay that way! — Guest post by Dan Richardson

Last month saw the exciting announcement that the Remembering Wildlife book series, responsible for the highly acclaimed Remembering Elephants and Remembering Rhinos titles, will be dedicating this year’s follow up book to Great apes. To date, the Remembering Wildlife series has raised more than £275,000 for the conservation of its highlighted species. Here, Ambassador to the book series, Dan Richardson, talks about his recent trip to Africa with Remembering Wildlife Founder Margot Raggett; his thoughts on the profound experience of seeing great apes in the wild and shares some of his incredible photographs from the encounters.

Gorilla eyes, Rwanda, photo by Dan Richardson

Rwanda and her people are truly astounding. Apart from the incredible wildlife, particularly the gorillas — which were the primary reason for being there — it’s a country that’s utterly unique in Africa.

The progressiveness would be quite an achievement for any country anywhere in the world, but for one with a recent history as dark as Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, it’s absolutely remarkable.

There’s a lot I need to learn about the Rwanda and how they’ve come from such tragedy to where they are today, but it’s certainly a fascinating country, and one I’ll definitely be visiting again.

Great ape species are in terrible trouble in many places, but they aren’t perhaps as iconic or immediately obvious as the likes of elephant, rhino and lion.

I travelled to Africa with Margot Raggett, Founder of Remembering Wildlife to close the loop on some rhino conservation projects that had been funded through the Remembering Rhinos book, via the Born Free Foundation.

That was the retrospective part of the trip, and then looking ahead, we made plans to encounter some great apes, including gorillas, in the wild.

I’m an ambassador for Margot’s wonderful series of books. Great apes being the next in the series (following Remembering Rhinos and Remembering Elephants. It’s a really fantastic idea and it emphasises Margot’s determination to put attention where it’s needed, where it might not automatically go.

What Margot achieves with her books, in terms of raising both funds and awareness, is exemplary and invaluable. The prestigiousness of the campaign and the traction it has already gained in the conservation world is indicative of that.

My role is basically to use whatever platform I have to shine a little more light on Margot’s extraordinary work and it is such a great honour to do that and to be involved with the Remembering Wildlife series in any way.

Remembering Great Apes - cover photo by Nelis Wolmarans

Remembering Great Apes – Cover photo by Nelis Wolmarans

The first time I saw great apes in the wild was in Tanzania, just a few days before going to Rwanda. Specifically, I was at an unimaginably beautiful lodge called Greystoke Mahale in the Mahale Mountains National Park to see chimpanzees. This is a genuinely wild and completely isolated place on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. It’s like going back in time. No roads, no people, nothing but pure, unadulterated nature.

The trek to get to see chimps was a fairly arduous one — apparently about two hours or so of steep incline — but I was so gripped by the surroundings that it went pretty quickly. There’s no guarantee of actually reaching or seeing them, and that’s exactly as it should be. But the feeling upon first setting sight, and as it turned out, hearing, them was sheer elation.

There’s something surreally beautiful about being so far out there in totally unspoiled nature and coming across a family of these incredible, sentient creatures living wild and free. It’s all added to massively by the fact that they look right back, I mean really look at you. It’s quite extraordinary.

With the chimpanzees all visitors are required to wear a surgical mask, to protect the chimps from our illnesses as opposed to the other way around.

There are also rules relating to the distance that must be maintained. This varies from place to place and species to species but whatever it is, the guides keep a close eye on that and instruct you to move back if necessary.

Of course the apes don’t know or care about the rules so every once in a while a very close encounter can happen…as was the case with me with both chimps and gorillas.

They are free to roam far and wide, and they do. Unsurprisingly they can move significantly faster and more efficiently than we humans, so it’s good to know any encounter is always on their terms to that extent.

Observing these wonderful animals is done very respectfully by keeping groups small and limiting time with the animals to a maximum of one hour a day — that’s if you even find them in the first place.

Even at the required distance though, seeing these creatures in their natural habitat and having the privilege of spending a little time with them is absolutely unforgettable. I was moved to tears by it more than once.


Great apes in captivity

I’m vehemently against any captivity and have been since long before seeing gorillas, or any other species, in the wild. Despite what some establishments claim about creating an environment as close to natural as possible, this is simply never achieved.

Not that it should be necessary, but when you spend a bit of time in the mountain forests and experience the vastness first-hand, seeing the ability these animals have to move freely over such huge distances, you understand in no uncertain terms just how far off the mark captivity really is, how cruel it is. It’s not comparable. Not remotely.

Gorilla mother and baby photographed in the wild in Rwanda, how it should be.

There are a very limited number of exceptions where, for example, a certain animal may be in some form of captivity for genuinely unavoidable reasons. Animals born into and rescued from a ‘life’ in the circus, for instance. An animal like that will either end up in a sanctuary or be put to sleep because release into the wild simply isn’t an option for an animal that has no idea how to be wild.

In those instances it has to be about the welfare of the animal before anything else, and it’s easy to tell the difference. A true sanctuary doesn’t involve a stream of gawping tourists with flash cameras.

In the case of gorillas, it’s glaringly obvious that zoos in cities around the world don’t hold gorillas captive in the name of sanctuary or conservation. They do so because they draw a crowd and help the zoo to turn a profit.

The outdated ‘education’ argument also falls flat.

We live in a world of high definition TV’s and award-winning, ground-breaking documentaries, any of which will teach you more about the natural behaviour of an animal than any zoo could ever do, just as you wouldn’t learn much about natural human behaviour by observing a person confined to a prison cell.

Whether it’s gorillas we’re talking about or any other species, it seems to me that at some point in history we humans got so caught up with what we could do that we stopped asking ourselves whether we should.

I just hope with all my heart, for the sake of the countless animals suffering such a miserable fate, that humans evolve beyond the unthinkable selfishness of captivity.

Similarly to the other titles in the series, the production of the Remembering Great Apes book will be funded by a Kickstarter campaign: Click here to make a pledge


Dan Richardson

Dan Richardson is an actor, wildlife activist and proud vegan. A Patron of Born Free Foundation and Voices For Asian Elephants Society and an Ambassador for International Aid for the Protection & Welfare of Animals (IAPWA), Angels For The Innocent and Remembering Wildlife; Dan is a prolific animal advocate and passionate fundraiser for charities supporting animals both wild and domestic. Follow his incredible work online here.

Uniting some of the world’s best wildlife photographers to raise funds for the protection of these species in the wild; this book will represent chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos and will be guest edited by great ape expert Ian Redmond OBE