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5 things that made Bradt’s Big Cat Festival amazing!

Pulling away from Kings Cross Station, head lolling against the window of the rickety train, I couldn’t have felt more content. Once in a while you have an experience that will stay with you forever, and for me; a day spent in the big smoke, celebrating big cats was everything I could have asked for and more.

More than just a source of information (though it certainly taught me a lot!), the day was a brilliant coming together of so many things that have brought me to the very place (and person) I am today; like the universe has been quietly watching and listening and chose this very day to drop it’s hints that I’m on the right track.

Kate on Conservation holds bradt's big cat festival guide

This was the first ever Big Cat Festival, hosted by Bradt’s travel guides at the Royal Geographical Society in London, and it will hopefully be the first of many…

1. Remembering Christian the lion

Alongside the beautiful, black-maned Cecil, Christian the lion is perhaps the internet’s most famous lion. The re-released footage of him reuniting with former owners John Rendall and Ace Bourke (with a great big lion hug) has been viewed collectively more than 35 million times on YouTube!

The beginning of my personal journey into conservation writing started with two brilliant films of my childhood, which would help foster a lifelong love of animals. The first was Disney’s animated classic, The Lion King, and the second was the 1966 live action depiction of Joy Adamson‘s bestselling book Born Free.

The film Born Free, featuring Virginia McKenna in the role of Joy and her real life husband, Bill Travers, playing Joy’s husband George Adamson would start a movement — eventually resulting in the founding of Born Free Foundation, but first helping to establish George Adamson’s pride.

John Rendall shows George Adamson's photo at Christian the lion's legacy talk at Big Cat Festival

After successfully releasing Elsa the lioness into the wild, George was tasked with releasing ‘Boy’ — a male lion used in the filming of Born Free —  into his Kora reserve in Kenya. Christian, ‘the Harrods lion’, would be flown from London to Kenya to join Boy after a chance encounter between his owners in their aptly named furniture shop ‘Sophisticat’ in Kings Road, Chelsea, and Born Free actors Virginia and Bill; visiting the shop to buy a pine writing desk.

One of Christian’s former owner’s, John Rendall, kicked off the programme of speakers, joined by Christian’s official photographer Derek Cattani. Sharing some incredible photographs of Christian — in both his Chelsea flat and later in Kora with George — gave the audience a chance to delve deeper into the story.

John Rendall Christian the lion's legacy at Big Cat Festival

I recently re-watched the documentary ‘The Lion Who Thought He Was People‘, featuring that clip of them reuniting, so getting this further perspective and hearing Derek Cattani’s voice on the experience for the first time was a real treat — and a great introduction to the book that the pair have co-authored, due for release in October. I also spotted George Adamson’s former assistant; Tony Fitzjohn in the audience of this talk, which was an added bonus.

2. BBC Big Cats — behind the scenes

This one is kind of a double-whammy. Along with 5.3 million other viewers, I loved BBC1’s Big Cats series. Learning about lesser known species of small cat — such as Fishing Cats, Margays and Sand Cat’s — and enjoying the amazing standard of wildlife filmmaking that the BBC has become synonymous with — made my frosty Thursday evenings more bearable this past January. So I was delighted to see that Series Producer and Director Gavin Boyland was billed to discuss the series.

Gavin unravelled the series from a filmmaking perspective; showing us how two separate camera buggies were used to film running cheetahs, with the help of a Newton arm and a Phantom Flex camera — which slows down action by 40%. While I’m not very familiar with filmmaking, gaining a simple understanding explained with on-screen examples was a great introduction to behind the scenes of the series.

I was fortunate enough to be attending the event with Tania Esteban, who has worked as Digital Researcher for a number of top BBC series, such as Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, and — you guessed it — Big Cats; for whom she completed work experience as her first job at the BBC. I interviewed Tania on her career earlier in the year, and learnt so many fascinating things about her involvement with the Iberian Lynx segment of the series, so it was pretty special to share this experience with her.

Kate on Conservation and Tania Esteban

Who better to visit Big Cat Festival with than Producer and Director of A Lion’s Tale, Tania Esteban

A brilliant take-home from this talk was that accompanying social media can sometimes be seen wider than the series itself.

I was surprised to hear that in a programme titled ‘Big Cats’, it was the small cats that stole the show — and social media played it’s part in elevating the small cats’ stories. Gavin explained that the below clip showing ‘the world’s deadliest cat’ (with a kill rate of 60%) has been viewed more 58 million times!

3. Cheetahs and HRH Princess Michael of Kent

HRH Princess Michael of Kent‘s fascinating connection with cheetahs is something I knew very little of before Bradt’s Big Cat Festival. But following the event, her book ‘A Cheetah’s Tale‘ is now top of my wishlist.

Discussing her first trip to Africa to visit her father’s farm, Princess Michael’s stories of camping on safari, eating a snake her father had accidentally run over and inadvertently smuggling a puppy across the border were utterly charming and completely captivating tales.

cheetahs tale book by princess michael of kent

Giving a short history of how cheetah’s were used for hunting purposes by members of high society in India in the 1800s, Her Royal Highness explained that cheetahs have a high kill rate, at 50% (though still not as high as number 4’s African Black Footed Cat!)..

A great takeaway from this talk was hearing about her projects to raise baby cheetahs and re-release them back into the wild. I was also intrigued to hear about her collaborations with Laurie Marker of Cheetah Conservation Fund. Laurie uses Anatolian Shepherd Dogs to help conserve wild cheetah numbers — achieved by using the dogs to guard livestock, which in turn reduces the number of cheetahs killed by people for taking down their valuable cattle.


Watch the above video for full highlights.

4. The Big Cat People — Living with The Marsh Pride lions

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know I’m a huge fan of The Big Cat People, Jonathan and Angela Scott. In fact, during my high school days I was so inspired by BBC’s Big Cat Diaries, I began my own handwritten and personally illustrated Big Cat project — which ended up being 200 pages long! Some 15 years later, stories of the Marsh Pride still have the ability to inspire awe and wonder.

Jonathan-Scott-the-big-cat-people-talk

With Jonathan at the helm, weaving through stories of this magnificent pride and their neighbours; the Ridge Pride (which today contains relatives of the Marsh Pride) — it was fascinating to hear of developments in recent times. How the original Marsh Pride contained 15 to 30 lions, but how today’s prides are smaller. How they get active around 5pm; how they mate around 1,500 times for every cub that’s born. How, like dogs, they have very few sweat glands. And how lion’s are not lazy — they’re just being lions.

All the while, Angie’s photography shines like a beacon above him, in an unusually darkened room (after the pair insist on a complete blackout, to allow the photography on display to really speak). Dramatic photographs of leopards (the big cat that Jonathan originally went to Africa to pursue), cubs, lion prides, a heavily scarred male, chipped teeth protruding out from a scarred lip and aged mane filled the screen. It’s beautiful and powerful, and so utterly distant from the reality of my chair in a dark room in London’s South Kensington.

Jonathan later joined a panel discussion on 'the future of Big Cats'.

Jonathan later joined a panel discussion on ‘the future of Big Cats’.

A somewhat shocking revelation from this talk was that females have been observed eating the remains of their own cubs following episodes of infanticide — where males who have newly taken over a pride kill the existing cubs to bring the females to heat sooner. As Jonathan quotes; “If lions could speak, we probably wouldn’t understand them.”

Perhaps a more recognisable instinct, however, was his explanation of how females with new litters often attack males; even the father of their cubs — a distrust born of the fact the male has likely killed one of her previous litters at the start of his reign.

Jonathan Scott and Kate on Conservation at Big Cat Festival

It was great to catch up with Jonathan Scott after his talk

Before wrapping up, Jonathan announced a new series from himself and Angie, created by an Australian production company. How exciting! Although little more could be said on that for now, a thought-provoking parting message was that there is a counter argument against the kind of wondrous wildlife photography we’d just been treated to: that it makes people think there are more animals and wild spaces than there actually are.

I feel like that statement may be worth an entire discussion all of it’s own, but a quickly offered antidote was that it inspires people to care about the big, charismatic mammals; “and if you take care of big, charismatic mammals, you take care of everything else.”

5. The haul: Big Cat stalls and Bradt’s goody bags

The brilliant thing about the stalls at Big Cat Festival was that there was only a handful — so you really had the time to find your way around them. A host of brilliant books were on sale from Bradt — many of which had been discussed throughout the day; as well as information on Nambian-based charities Cheetah Conservation Fund and Africat; travel information from Exodus Travel, Travel Africa magazine and Kenya Airways — who even had a Born Free Elsa plush on their stand (see below) — and Swarovski Opik showcased some high quality binoculars.

Born Free Foundation elsa toy on kenya airways stall

It was inventible that I would leave with at least one new book, given I’m an avid collector of wildlife and natural history books, but I wasn’t expecting to get quite the bargain I ended up with! I took advantage of a half price offer on the stunning photography book Sacred Nature by Jonathan and Angela Scott, and was delighted to find a free copy of the book A Summer of British Wildlife in our goody bags.

Big Cat Festival goody bag and book purchases

A Summer of British Wildlife is designed for use as a 100-day guide to wildlife spotting over the summer; so I’m very excited to explore its recommendations.

Pictured above is my haul from the event — information pamphlets, early book previews, vouchers, magazines and more — I can’t wait to see what Big Cat Festival has in store next year!

kate on conservation logo

 

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Big Cat Hero: Meet Drew Abrahamson

Happy World Wildlife Day 2018! 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 below).

Big Cats CITES

My personal theme of today is hope. To me, hope is key in conservation.

We must uphold the belief that the fight to protect our planet’s wildlife is one worth taking on. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to encounter lots of incredible conservationists proving that their work is making a positive impact on troubled species. One such individual who is showing just how much one person can make a difference is Captured in Africa’s 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.

kate on conservation logo

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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.

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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

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Sides of a Horn – Guest post by teenage conservationist Bavukile Vilane

Following the release of the controversial new film ‘Trophy’ last month, guest blogger Bavukile Vilane offers his voice as an advocate of the film ‘Sides of a Horn’, which claims to deliver the real truth behind the opposing views on the rhino horn trade. Will it deliver where Trophy fell short?

Sides Of A Horn film art

The Rhino Movie: Sides of a Horn is based on actual events, the dramatic film details the rhino poaching epidemic from the perspective of the three characters most directly affected: the ranger, the poacher, and the rhino.

When I first saw a mini trailer for the film on social media when the Kickstarter campaign had just started I wanted to get involved. I emailed Toby Wosskow, (very great guy indeed) who is the film’s writer and director. I then got involved in raising awareness for the film and the Kickstarter campaign so that all the funds could be met for the making of the film. Together we accomplish great things, as conservationists, I believe the only way to overcome barriers is working together one step at a time.

Writer/Director Toby Wosskow meeting with royal family. Photo by Dino Benedetti – © 2017 Sides of a Horn

On Friday, 20th October, the narrative short film received full funding and is moving into pre-production. 235 passionate philanthropists and wildlife enthusiasts from around the world have contributed over $57,000, making Sides of a Horn the fifth highest funded short film of all time on Kickstarter. After sharing the build-up to success countlessly on social media, I was very happy when it became a success. I had wished I was done with school and fully working on the production myself because I love editing and producing videos etc.

The short film is set to begin filming on location in South Africa in early-2018, and a feature-length adaptation is to follow. It is the first film to present an unbiased narrative of South Africa’s rhino poaching war.

Writer/Director Toby Wosskow location scouting. Photo by Dino Benedetti - © 2017 Sides of a Horn

Writer/Director Toby Wosskow location scouting. Photo by Dino Benedetti – © 2017 Sides of a Horn

Wildlife crime is the world’s fourth largest illegal industry (behind drugs, human trafficking and the illicit trade in arms) , and it is at an all-time high. A single rhino horn can fetch up to $300,000 (U.S. dollars) on the black market in China and Vietnam. By weight, it is worth more than gold or cocaine, and the demand in the Far East is fueling a war on the ground in South Africa. The human death toll is rising, but it is the rhino that faces extinction.

Team with a rhino. Photo by Dino Benedetti - © 2017 Sides of a Horn

Team with a rhino. Photo by Dino Benedetti – © 2017 Sides of a Horn

Sides of a Horn will expose the social impact of the rhino horn trade in a similar way that Blood Diamond did for the diamond trade—humanizing those on the ground, creating awareness, and catalyzing positive change. The team of U.S. and South African filmmakers are partnering with influential conservationists and global organizations to release the film around the world with a direct call to action.

The project will be filmed in the townships impacted by the crisis and in the game reserves that combat poaching on a daily basis. Months of research, countless hours on the ground, and relationships with local community leaders aid the team in keeping authenticity at the forefront of the project.

Discover more about the Sides of a Horn project here.

 

Bavukile Vilane

Bavukile Vilane is a 16-year-old with big dreams for the future. “I want to change the world”, he tells me. “I have always been interested in many things and Software Engineering was something I was going in to. So why Conservation? Because I believe there can be conservation everywhere, even in Software Engineering! It all started after I watched the Blood Lions documentary which also featured My father, possibly the greatest role model for most of the things I do. After watching Blood Lions, I had to join their youth for lions as an Ambassador and moved on to joining The Roots and Shoots SA Institute by Dr Jane Goodall and later The Crash Kids Against Rhino Poaching. I still have many plans for conservation and the role I can play. It all starts somewhere though. This is my story and it is only just the introduction to a lot of great chapters that I want to complete. There’s a lot to be done and it is about time the youth acts… It is, of course, our future. I alone can make a difference, but only together can we bring real change.”

Bavukile has his own platform, Conservation In Heart, and YouTube series: ‘Conservation Life‘. Find out more by clicking here.

 

Learn more about the trade in rhino horn

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Trophy ‘shockumentary’: Does it really compare to Blackfish?

In 1900 there were 500,000 rhinos in the world. Today there are less than 30,000. This shocking statistic opens the controversial new documentary ‘Trophy‘ — and if there’s one thing that audiences can agree on, it’s that this represents a crisis for the species.

I imagine this divisive film, which serves primarily to promote the idea of legalising the trade in rhino horn, offers little else that can universally unite its viewers.

trophy film poster

There’s no doubt that the time is now to act to save this iconic species. Over the last couple of years I’ve seen the momentum intensify when it comes to anti-poaching responses, debates and campaigns concerning rhinos and the horn trade.

Within moments of the film opening (to a scene of father and young son shooting dead a ‘trophy’ deer), we are introduced to South Africa’s most successful rhino breeder, John Hume. I’ve previously heard Mr Hume’s position on the rhinos horn trade at a debate I attended last year. The debate actually features briefly in the film (including a split-second shot of me, holding my pen to take notes for a blog post).

In 2016, John Hume’s rhino farm comprised of more than 1,400 of the animals — also making him first in-line for a huge profit, should the ban on international sale of horn be lifted. A cause he so passionately campaigns for.

“If he had an opinion to give to you, he would say ‘I’m very happy to sacrifice my horn in order to save my life’,” John states, simplifying a somewhat complex issue to a life vs. death scenario, rather than quality of life of a sentient being vs. compromised welfare standards owing to increased exploitation.

I think most people would agree that welfare standards surrounding large scale farming are far from satisfactory (think of the dairy industry) — when money is on the table, it seems that species survival matters only for the sake of profit for the owner, not to encourage an ecosystem to flourish via a natural life for the individual.

white rhinos born free foundations

Rhino by George Logan

Later in the film, John acknowledges that he has a protected stockpile of horns worth at least $16 million. His words echo round my head: “Give me one animal that’s gone extinct while farmers were breeding and making money out of it. There’s not one.” And I can’t think of a single example. But nor can I think of a country whose environment and natural ecosystem hasn’t been drastically altered for the sake of farming.

Another familiar face on this documentary is ecologist Craig Packer, author of the book ‘Lions in the Balance‘. Packer, who chaired the debate last year in which I first encountered John Hume, explains the hunters’ desire to ‘collect’ the big five. That is to kill a lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and a rhino — the cost of legally hunting each of these species reflects how rare each animal is and Packer places the bill to shoot the rarest of these; the rhino, at $350,000. Significantly more than the next in line; elephants at $50,000.

african elephant in Shamwari

Safari Club International President, Joe Hosmer, claims the entire cost of an elephant hunt, which sold for $50,000, would go back into conservation. A wildly unsupported claim — as I discovered in my research for an earlier blog post about trophy hunting and canned lion hunting; the average percentage of hunting fees that make it back into conservation at the community level is more like 3%. For clarification, Safari Club International is an international organisation of hunters — not a jolly collective of tourist-ferrying safari guides; as it’s name might suggest.

At 32 minutes in, Trophy provides us with our first counter argument against the killing of animals for so-called conservation. Adam Roberts of Born Free USA examines the contradiction of Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting culture, whereby he hunted thousands of animals (reportedly 5,000 of which were mammals) and recorded each of his kills, whilst at the same time declaring national parks across the US. Roberts challenges the idea of cloaking the ‘sport’ in ideals of conservation and helping people, suggesting that the reality of the appeal is really in the rush of excitement that hunters feel when they put a bullet in something.

Ecologist Craig Packer expands on this argument: “A hunter was somebody who was willing to go out and spend three weeks walking around on foot tracking an elephant, tracking a lion, to shoot it to take home a trophy. There was a challenge, there was a sense of sport, but what has happened in the last 10 or 15 years has been a growing segment of the hunting demographic which are referred to as ‘the shooters’; the shooters may have to spend as much money as it takes to get a three-week permit, but if they can kill everything in the first two days, they’ll do it and they’ll fly home. It’s that mentality that really feeds the birth of the canned hunting industry… it’s not sport, it’s just killing.”

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Lion Trophy (c) Blood Lions

Having watched the point blank execution of a lion and a crocodile killed with a bullet to the head after first being injured and tied up; followed by scenes from a canned hunting lion farm and hunters posing with various kills with very little discussion and debate — and certainly no sense of a fair and balanced discussion about the ethics of such behaviour — I have to admit, it just felt rather perverse. But worse was to come as viewers bear witness to the slow, long drawn out death of a young African elephant, groaning through it’s last moments and requiring a shot to the chest at point blank to ‘finish the job’. These graphic scenes literally allow you to see the animal’s last breath.

Since the film’s release on 17th November, Born Free Foundation‘s President Will Travers OBE — who makes a brief appearance in the documentary — warns that the film, which was partly funded by the BBC, leaves viewers marooned in a no-man’s land without credible information on which to make up their minds on the highly-charged issues of trophy hunting and the dangers of promoting a legal international trade in rhino horn.

Kate on Conservation UK

Kate on Conservation

Travers said: “The film is peppered with assumptions and assertions about trophy hunting that are offered in an almost ‘fact-free’ environment. We are told (by a representative of America’s premier hunting organisation, Safari Club International) that ‘all the money [from trophy hunting] will go back into conservation’ with no evidence to back it up. Also that belief in the medical value of rhino horn ‘has been around for millions of years’. Neither is true.”

“In addition, the film presented almost no counter-argument or reliable data relating to the conservation ‘recipe’ of South African, John Hume, the most successful private rhino breeder on the planet, with 1,530 rhino to his name.”

“Mr Hume’s recipe is to breed rhino, cut off their horns and sell them — currently legal in South Africa but prohibited internationally. It is put forward by the film’s makers with almost no risk analysis, no alternative vision and no understanding of what would happen to the world’s 30,000 remaining wild rhino if his dream came true.”

Craig Packer, John Hume and Will Travers

John Hume, Craig Packer and Will Travers at the debate: ‘Should the trade in rhino horn be legalised?’

Born Free say they provided the film-makers with ample evidence drawn from history as to why legalising international rhino horn trade is likely to be a recipe for disaster. In 2008 the international community, despite the desperate pleas of Born Free and others, approved a ‘one-off’ sale of more than 100 tonnes of ivory from South Africa and several other countries to Japan and China. Far from ‘satisfying consumer demand’, as the architects of this sale hoped, it fuelled a dramatic and deadly explosion in poaching and illegal ivory trade.

The African elephant stronghold Tanzania, lost an average of 1,000 elephants a month, every month, for five years between 2009 and 2014. That’s 60,000 elephants. The poaching epidemic continues to this day with 20,000 elephants poached each year, tons of ivory being seized, and wildlife rangers and wardens — the elephants’ first line of defense — losing their lives. More than 1,000 wildlife rangers have been murdered in the last 10 years.

Mr Hume’s naive proposition, supported by pseudo-economics and a failure to understand risk, is likely to have the same impact

Trophy film poster 2

Does the human race really believe you have to kill something to save it? What a sorry, greedy world. My take away thoughts were that many of the people featured in this film stand to make a lot of money from rhino horn. Many of these hunters have a God-complex. Few of the filmmaker’s points are supported with any evidence. If you ARE expecting the next ‘Blackfish‘ when you watch this, you’ll be very disappointed.

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Learn more about the trade in rhino horn

Discover the documentary ‘Sides of a Horn’, which claims to be the first film to give an unbiased view of South Africa’s ​rhino poaching war from both sides

Want to read about the debate featuring John Hume and Will Travers?

Want to know more about CITES 2016?

Find out more about the work of Craig Packer:

Learn more about ‘Blackfish’

 

2

Dr Jane Goodall interview: reflecting on chimps in the image of man

This month I’m proud to announce that a very special interview of mine has been featured in National Geographic Kids magazine: my recent chat with globally renowned primatologist Dr Jane Goodall about her groundbreaking career studying chimpanzees.

An extract of our conversation; including Jane’s recount of both her favourite and funniest moments with the chimps can be heard here:

Later this month, the brand new feature-length National Geographic documentaryJane‘ will have its UK release on the 24th November, and on the 27th – 29th November the Primate Society of Great Britain, of which Dr Goodall is a patron, holds its 50th anniversary meetings where Jane will be guest speaker — making the timing of this article particularly exciting!

Jane national geographic film

It was a real honour to sit down with this conservation hero of mine in the incredible setting of Windsor Castle at the annual summit of Roots & Shoots.

(Part 1 of my interview, about Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots programme can be heard here).

Flint and Dr Jane Photo Credit NatGeo, Hugo van Lawick

Flint and Dr Jane. Photo Credit: NatGeo, Hugo van Lawick

Hearing about Jane’s determination to fulfil her dream to work with animals in Africa was endlessly fascinating and inspiring.

“When I was 10 years old I decided I wanted to go to Africa and live with wild animals and write books about them. That’s going back about 70 years ago now, and back then it didn’t happen in England that girls had those opportunities,” she tells me, as we both sip tea from china cups in this most regal and British of settings.

Dr Jane goodall and kate on conservation Windsor Castle

Dr Jane Goodall and I outside Windsor Castle

“So everybody laughed at me and said; ‘Jane, dream about something you can achieve’, but my mother said: ‘If you really want something, you’re going to have to work hard, take advantage of every opportunity and never give up’.”

The rest, as we know, is history. We talk through her favourite moments with her favourite chimp (David Greybeard) and some of the incredibly discoveries she observed in her camp in Gombe, Tanzania during her study for National Geographic — and the less than warm reaction she received from the scientific community at the time.

kate on conservation nat geo kids jane goodall article

To read the full interview, see this month’s National Geographic Kids magazine.

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Learn more about Dr Jane Goodall

Want to know more about Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Awards?

Want to know more about Great Apes?

 

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Remembering Rhinos launch: Special interview with Founder Margot Raggett

This week, many of the world’s top wildlife photographers and leading conservationists are joining forces once again for a series of events in London – this year to launch the coffee-table photography book Remembering Rhinos.

remembering rhinos

Remembering Rhinos is the much-anticipated follow-up to last year’s title; Remembering Elephants, for which I attended the launch at the Royal Geographical Society, London, the day before the Global March for Elephants.

Similarly to Remembering Elephants, Remembering Rhinos was founded by photographer Margot Raggett in association with the Born Free Foundation.

Like its predecessor, the book and its accompanying exhibition (opening today; 30th October until 11th November) both feature stunning photographs donated by top wildlife photographers from around the globe.

In this context of remembering the rhinos before they are confined to memory alone, the incredible images provide a profound, thought-provoking look at what we have to lose should we not win the fight against poaching, habitat loss and the horn trade.

Marlon du Toit Remembering Rhinos

The event comes at a time where the issue of rhino poaching for their keratin horns (the same substance that our fingernails are made from) has been spotlighted by the recent announcement of this year’s winner of the Wildlife Photographer of Year competition; ‘Memorial to a species’ by photojournalist Brent Stirton, which shows a victim of the illegal trade in rhino horn, taken as part of an undercover investigation. The decision of the international jury to select this particular image as their winning entry is a move that Remembering Rhinos Founder Margot Raggett describes as ‘brave’.

“I think the [rhino horn trade is an] issue is on a lot of conservationists’ minds and many of the judges of that award are conservationists,” she tells me in a special interview. “It was a brave decision to choose a picture which will have many of the public turning away from looking at it but it is incredibly important that as many people see it as possible nonetheless. We can’t deny what’s happening anymore, because we are all running out of time to save so many species.”

Memorial to a species by Brent Stirton

Memorial to a species by Brent Stirton, winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award 2017.

I spoke with Margot about the new book, exhibition and Remembering Rhinos’ special launch event to be held at the Royal Geographical Society on the 1st November…

 

Kate: What will make the launch on the 1st November a success to you?

Margot: Good question, I am so focussed on arranging it right now, it is important to step back and think about that… Obviously a packed house, the chance for likeminded people to mingle, talk about the issues and be inspired is all important. But ultimately, the exhibition and launch are all about trying to sell books because THAT’S how we raise funds to put into projects. So the aim is to inspire people to buy as many as they can carry and make it everyone’s Christmas present this year! If we sell out of books by Christmas I will be absolutely thrilled – we printed 4000 rhinos books this year compared to 2500 elephant ones last, so a real step up. 

 

How did Remembering Rhinos come about? Was it always in the pipeline, or a direct response to the success of Remembering Elephants?

During the launch of Remembering Elephants I had a lot of people asking me what’s next, as if it was a given that there should be a follow up. But I was very keen to do one thing at a time and get that first book launched successfully before I made any commitments. A few weeks after that launch I headed out to Africa with my friend, actor Dan Richardson – who had kindly agreed to become an ambassador for us – to have a look at some of the projects we’d supported in Meru in Kenya.

From there we headed to nearby Ol Pejeta and had the opportunity to meet Sudan, the last male northern white rhino left on the planet. That same day we visited a rhino graveyard for all of the rhinos who have been poached in that reserve and the impact of both those visits was immense. Both of us were in tears for much of that day and over dinner that night I declared that I simply had to produce another book to build upon the support we’d gathered. And of course it had to be on rhinos.

Margot Raggett and Dan Richardson with Sudan last male northern white rhino

Margot Raggett and Dan Richardson visit Sudan, the last male northern white rhino

 

How many photographers are involved this time? Are they different or the same the photographers that were involved in Remembering Elephants?

Once again we have 65 contributing photographers and while many are the same, we have swapped in a few new names. Some of the photographers from last time didn’t have suitable rhino pictures and in some instances very few photographers in the world had the images we wanted, such as those of Javan and Sumatran rhinos. Former Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner Steve Winter was a new name for this year and we’re thrilled that he agreed to come to London for our launch and deliver our keynote speech at our RGS launch on November 1st.

 

Why did you choose the Born Free Foundation as the charity to partner with on this?

It was important to me to find a charity partner whose ethics aligned with mine and whom I felt I could trust. No-one ever has anything other than good things to say about Born Free and Virginia McKenna is a personal inspiration to me, so it was a natural fit. They’ve been great.

 

Why is this fundraising campaign/the plight of rhinos so important at the moment?

The rate of poaching for rhino horn has soared in recent years with its value more than its weight in gold on the black market. Add to that the recent legalisation of the sale of rhino horn in South Africa, which only masks the illegal trade further, and rhinos are being killed more quickly than they are being born. It is unsustainable. I was chatting to someone the other day who said the media were reaching poaching fatigue in South Africa, which is a frightening prospect. Anything we can do to keep the issue in the spotlight is therefore critical – and the fact that we also raise funds, which can be so quickly deployed into rhino protection, is even better. We are doing something because the rhinos need us and that’s the right thing to do.

 

What will the money raised from Remembering Rhinos go towards? 

At the moment I have a working spreadsheet with potential funds allocated against eight different projects across Africa and Asia (all approved by Born Free) but until we know the final amount raised — which depends upon how many books we sell — we won’t know exactly what we have to distribute. I’d rather give bigger, more meaningful donations to fewer projects than spread ourselves too thinly. There will be an announcement as soon as we can make it.

But in the meantime there are two projects we’ve already started supporting in South Africa from funds raised earlier in the year, which are Saving The Survivors (veterinary care for victims) and Wilderness Foundation Africa (anti-poaching patrols). In mid-November after the launch is done, Dan [Richardson] and I are heading out to visit each of those projects and report back to everyone exactly what effect those funds are having. I see reporting back as a critical element to our success, people quite rightly want to know how their money is making a difference. Accountability is a key part of our success I believe.

Remembering rhinos book

 

Remembering Rhinos talk and launch

A special evening about rhino conservation and photography will be held at the Royal Geographical society, London, on 1st November, and will include talks from former Wildlife Photographer of the Year Steve Winter, Saving the Survivors founder, vet and photographer Johan Marais and Will Travers OBE, President of Born Free Foundation. The event, which Margot Raggett will compère, will also include a presentation of the images from the book and an auction of some of the images.

The books themselves will also be on sale on the night with some of the photographers available to sign them if requested. Books and prints will be on sale to support Born Free Foundation’s rhino-protection work.

Tickets can be purchased from Born Free Foundation: For more info, click here.

Learn more about the rhino horn trade

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Jonathan Scott Special Interview Part 2: The Big Cats and the Marsh Pride poisoning

In my last blog post, I explored the lives of ‘The Big Cat People’, Jonathan and Angela Scott, most famed for their work on BBC’s Big Cat Diary and Big Cat Week. Inevitably, our conversation became not just about the amazing photographs and stories that comprised their latest book offerings, but also the animals that inspired the work.

Like me, Jonathan Scott was first inspired to follow a dream of seeing animals in the wild by the 1966 film, Born Free, featuring actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna.

“What really stands out from those teenage years is the memory of sitting in a cinema watching Born Free, the true story of George and Joy Adamson‘s triumph in returning the wild-born lioness Elsa to the wilderness of Meru National Park in Kenya,” he explains. “Its stirring effect was reinforced by a talk that a fresh-faced teacher gave to the sixth form one evening, illustrated with colour slides of his travels around the world on a gap year. I sat there aching to do something like that – to be free of studying and to live.”

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 And live he certainly has. Jonathan clarifies that he wanted a ‘life of adventure’ combined with a ‘window on to wilderness’. That meant Africa.

“Preferably careering around in the bush looking for big cats, just as I had seen Armand and Michaela Dennis doing in On Safari on the telly.”

Having graduated with a degree in Zoology from Queens University in Belfast, and spent a year exploring the North American landscape, he signed up for a fourteen-week overland journey from London to Johannesburg in 1974.

“Six-thousand miles later and having sold my onward boat ticket from Cape Town to Sydney in Australia, I spent an idyllic few weeks living on a luxury houseboat – the Sitatunga – stationed in the Okavango Delta, a wildlife wonderland known as the jewel of the Kalahari.”

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From that point on, Jonathan fell in love with Africa and became a well-established author, photographer (winning the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award in 1987) and filmmaker.

I have grown to love writing natural history narratives about animal characters Angie and I have followed over the years,” he says, “such as the Marsh Pride of lions, the leopards Chui and Half-Tail, along with the cheetahs Kike and Honey and Honey’s adorable cub Toto of Big Cat fame.”

Marsh Pride

It is the Marsh Pride that we inevitably end up discussing the most.

The now greatly adored (thanks largely to Jonathan Scott’s work) Marsh Pride of lions were the subject of his first book, The Marsh Lions, co-authored with Brian Jackman in 1982.

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Scott credits Jackman with teaching him to appreciate the importance of the narrative flow, rather than simply producing a scientific journal: “He questioned whether I was writing for my chums at the Serengeti Research Centre at the expense of the general public, my primary audience. Learning to integrate the science with the narrative was something that took time for me to embrace.”

The pride, who live near the Musiara Marsh (which inspired their collective name) in the Maasai Mara National Reserve were the subject of several books, including those centered around the BBC Big Cat Diary series; which Scott authored on his own, with photographs by his wife Angie. They also starred in the BBC television series.

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Jonathan spent many years tapping into the lives of these cats, and their relationship with the Maasai Mara National Reserve – a protected area of more than 1,500 cubic km. He fondly refers to the Maasai Mara as the heartbeat of Africa, and observes that the lives of the Maasai people (often seen in their traditional red robes, adjourned with beads and carrying traditional weapons) are instinctively linked with the animals and the survival of the Maasai Mara as a whole.

This couldn’t have felt more relevant, when, at the end of 2015, the Marsh pride was back in the public’s consciousness after a mass poisoning.

“The poisoned lioness was 17,” Jonathan explained to an audience at the Royal Geographical Society, almost exactly one year on from the poisoning, “and a surviving cat from Big Cat Diaries in 1998 – one of Bebe’s pride.” 

Jonathan Scott getting ready to take the stand at the Royal Geographical Society, London.

Jonathan, getting ready to take the stand at the Royal Geographical Society, London.

I asked him in our interview whether the poisoning had ignited an urgency in him to tell these stories and share the amazing photographs that he and Angela took in the book Sacred Nature.

“People asked if we were shocked and surprised by the poisoning. We weren’t,” he explained.

“It is a fact of life for lions living among pastoralists or in the case of the Marsh Pride on the edge of a protected area – half inside the reserve and half outside – among the Maasai.”

His words made me think back to my study of Craig Packer’s book and the plight of lions following CITES last year.

“It was a tragedy, but rather like with the case of Cecil the male lion killed illegally by a trophy hunter in Zimbabwe, the killing of [the] high profile [Marsh] lions caused a storm on social media and in the local and international press.”

“That created a far louder ‘voice’ on behalf of lions than we could have on our own. And that caused the Ministry of Tourism – and the Narok County Government responsible for the Maasai Mara – to take the situation seriously, particularly when people realised they couldn’t just wait for the storm to blow itself out.”

Lionesses from the Marsh Pride

Lionesses from the Marsh Pride

The poisoning forced the authorities to ensure that cattle did not come in to Marsh Pride territory at night when the lions are most active and incidents with cattle most likely.

“The Marsh Pride are now able to roam their traditional territory without fear of conflict with livestock owners. But this is not a problem that is just going to disappear. Kenya is home to large numbers of pastoralists with large herds of cattle worth a lot of money in terms of cash and a fortune in terms of cultural status.”

Scott explains that due to global warming, Africa – particularly East Africa – is more prone to patterns of wild rainfall.

“Prolonged droughts and failed rainy seasons are more common. When I first came to live in Kenya 40 years ago the onset of the rains was very predictable – the short rains began in mid-October through to December and the long rains started towards the end of March and continued in to June. Droughts and dry times mean that large herds of cattle are driven in to protected areas and on to private land illegally causing enormous problems for the government, the wildlife and local communities.” 

“There just isn’t enough pasture for all those domestic animals.”

Members of the Marsh Pride, including Scarface

Members of the Marsh Pride, including Scarface

Despite opening this blog post with the early inspirations and aspirations of Jonathan Scott; his dream to have an adventurous life in Africa, I feel it is only fitting to close with the following statement from him:

“One thing I do know is that at 67 I had reached that time in life when I was eager to give back, to transition from following my personal dream of living with wild creatures to trying to find a fulfilling role as a conservationist and spokesperson for Africa’s wild places, in particular the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.”

“I wanted to acknowledge [with Sacred Nature and The Big Cat Man books] in a tangible way, the gift that Angie and I had been given by being able to spend so many years living and working in the Mara-Serengeti; to try to ensure that this last great wild place might survive the pressures that are currently threatening its very future.”

What next?

So, what can we expect from Jonathan and Angela Scott next? The pair have two new children’s books due out this year with Cambridge University Press – one on a Tiger Safari in India and the other on Toto the Cheetah.

Scott also tells me that they intend to take the message of Sacred Nature worldwide with a series of Exhibitions in key cities – London, Paris, LA, Sydney, Delhi, etc. That and a new TV series that they are currently filming in the Maasai Mara.

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Learn more The Big Cat People

Learn more about big cats

Want to know more about other big cat species?

Want to know more about Cecil’s the lion?

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Jonathan and Angela Scott – The Big Cat People: Special Interview Part 1

In the days before we saw life through the eyes of animal robots, we saw life through the eyes of the people who knew them best – and Jonathan Scott was instrumental in that. I was 8 years old when I first tuned in to BBC’s Big Cat Diary, where Simon King and Saba Douglas-Hamilton completed the trio of big cat filmmakers that would change the way we saw lions, cheetahs and leopards forever.

man-with-cubs“I had a unique story unfolding right before my eyes,” Scott acknowledges. From his days of sleeping in his car while following African Wild dogs – which, by his own admission, allowed him to become ‘part of the pack’ –  to becoming famous as ‘the man that a cheetah crapped on’ (who can forget that famous Big Cat Week scene with Kike the cheetah?); it certainly seems he has had a life that many of us can only dream of.

Fast forward almost a decade, and Jonathan Scott is still bringing us ever closer to the formidable big cats of Africa, with a little (or maybe I should say ‘a lot’) of help from his partner in work, as well as in life; Angela Scott – or as he affectionately refers to her in our conversation, ‘Angie’.

At the end of 2016, the pair released an impressive combination of work; Jonathan Scott’s autobiography ‘The Big Cat Man and a coffee table book ‘Sacred Nature: Life’s Eternal Dance, which is predominately Angela’s photography.

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Angela Scott photographing cheetahs for Big Cat Diary

I spoke to Jonathan in a special interview to find out why he felt it was time to tell his story and what made him want to tell it publicly.

 “It is one thing to write an autobiography, quite another to figure out why,” Scott explains.

The Big Cat Man

“I think in some ways it was wanting to review my life to make better sense of it – I have lived life at such a frenetic pace that I sometimes feel that I need to slow down and take stock and think about the big questions that flash across one’s mind from time to time, reminding us that life is not a dream, that it is real, and that we owe it to ourselves to pay attention to what we are doing with this precious gift of being alive and the amazing opportunity that offers us – both for adventures and for personal growth.”

“Isn’t it an indulgence;” he added, “to think that your memoir is of interest to others – the written equivalent of imagining that anyone might really like to see your holiday photos.”

I actually purchased a copy of the book after listening to Jonathan talk at the Royal Geographical Society in London; guiding the audience through anecdotes of his extraordinary life, in preparation for some of the incredible tales and awe-inspiring photographs that feature in the book. Archives of life that I’ve spent the last month of so poring over as I read page by page before settling in for the night.

It dawned on me that it must be quite a daunting task, to give away the intimate details of human life to complete strangers.

Jonathan, getting ready to take the stand at the Royal Geographical Society, London.

Jonathan, getting ready to take the stand at the Royal Geographical Society, London.

“I never [gave] a thought to who will eventually read it,” he states, “I needed and wanted this book to centre on me and my growth as a human being – not just about what it is like to live in Africa and spend time following big cats.”

 “I have always led two lives – like everyone to varying degrees – the life lived ‘out there’ in front of my eyes, one’s sense of self; and the inner world that for me was a bit of a muddle given the mental health issues I was grappling with. I really felt I was going to die – like my Dad.”

Quite early in the book, you learn the sad revelation that Scott was just two years old when his father died of an inoperable brain tumour.

“I was convinced that something was wrong that some awful disease was working its way into my system. It took me until I was 40 to lay that to rest.”  

“Marrying Angie and having a family gave me something much more important to worry about than my own wellbeing. Writing my story was a way of coming to terms with who I am – or who I think I am. And [a way of] being honest about my life and letting people see that we all have problems and issues and frailties – and that when you consider the lives of other people you need to see beyond the superficial. Particularly with people in the public eye.”

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“We are all just human – being famous doesn’t mean life is any less complex or angst ridden. I wanted people, particularly younger people who might want to follow the kind of life I have lived, to believe that following your dream is possible. It might be a very bumpy road but in following it you can find the most unimaginable joy and meaning.”

Hearing Jonathan’s words, I feel like, particularly in the current climate, the need to feel like there’s a sense of purpose to be found; a life outside your current existence is a very important rhetoric for young people to hear. 

“The autobiography I wanted to write was a more fulsome account of my life than my celebrity as a wildlife author and presenter of Big Cat Diary merited,” Jonathan explains, as he tells me how finding the right publisher proved to be an ‘elusive creature’.

“People knew me as ‘the bloke the cheetah crapped on’ from my encounter with Kike the car climbing cheetah of Big Cat Week 2003; surely my potential audience wanted to hear stories of daring do among large possibly dangerous wild creatures rather than of growing up on a farm in Berkshire along with revelations of whatever skeletons in the cupboard I might reveal.”  

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My own collection of Scott’s early books

Like many people, it was Big Cat Diary that first switched me on to the work of Jonathan Scott, and I subsequently began buying the BBC books that accompanied the programmes – originally co-authored with Brian Jackman, then later, Angela Scott – and whilst I came to expect more tales of the big cats we’d got to know on the television, the authors certainly fascinated me too. Skeletons in the cupboard and all.

The Big Cat People

The first thing I learned about the combined force of Jonathan and Angela Scott is that they are the only couple to have won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award individually – a testament to their individual skills and vision. Jonathan won the prestigious award in 1987 and Angela won in 2002.

Jonathan Scott's photograph, which won Wildlife Photographer of the Year 1987

Jonathan Scott’s photograph, which won Wildlife Photographer of the Year 1987

The second thing I learnt about them, is that they go by the collective name: The Big Cat People. “Social media is a huge opportunity to have a shop window, but you do have to grow your brand,” Jonathan addressed the audience at ‘The Big Cat People’ talk at the Royal Geographical Society.

The Big Cat People feels a like brand that has been a long time in development. Prior to these book releases, the Scotts have worked on 29 other publications together!

Angela Scott's photograph, which won Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2002

Angela Scott’s photograph, which won Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2002

I asked what makes them such a good team in telling these stories and sharing their world with people who may never get to see these places or animals for themselves. “Angie always says that the key to a great relationship –  both business and personal – is to make it a “Competition of Generosity”, Jonathan gushes.

“If you are always thinking of your partner’s best interests and prioritising them then – as long as you are both doing it – you will be successful. Angie is great organiser: very structured in her way of thinking, whereas I just tend to wing it and believe that things will always work out fine. So it is a great combo.”

“And we both love each other’s work; we think of it as ours. The problem sometimes – and I am always quick to remind people of this – is that because I am on TV I often get the lion’s share of the attention. But when it comes to our photography, Angie is the talent not me. She has a wonderful eye as you can see in Sacred Nature. Eighty per cent of the images are Angie’s.”

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I can very clearly see their intention in releasing both books together, as a combination of work for anyone interested in their lives and career. As Jonathan puts it, they are ‘very inclusive’ – the personal text of the autobiography with their pen and ink drawings and photographs, and then the splendor of viewing some of their best images in a big folio book.

“The books complement each other. We knew that the autobiography was not the right format to show off our photography to best advantage. Words predominate in the autobiography and images predominate in Sacred Nature. That was our intention.”

Sacred Nature: Life’s Eternal Dance

Sacred Nature comprises 10 chapters, each preceded by a short essay setting the theme and tone of the photographs to follow. As well as being Angela’s ‘mission’, Sacred Nature really is family ‘labour of love’, as their son David is responsible for creating the design concept.

“Our son is incredibly creative. He drew together all the elements that we wanted for Sacred Nature: the right images – both colour and black and white; the tone of the text, and he chose the quotes from great poets and sages to mirror the message of: ‘look, listen and absorb the mood created by the images and the words’.”

“He conjured up a little bit of the magic inherent in the wonder of savanna Africa and the incredible place we call The Last Place On Earth – the Mara-Serengeti – home of the great migration, all the big cats that have been our obsession all the years,  and so much more besides.

A leaflet teasing the design concept of 'Sacred Nature' and the book's review by Keith Wilson in Geographical Magazine

A leaflet teasing the design concept of ‘Sacred Nature’ and the book’s review by Keith Wilson in Geographical Magazine

Keith Wilson writes of the book in Geographical Magazine‘s November 2016 issue: “This may be Jonathan and Angela Scott’s 30th book, but it is without doubt their magnum opus.”

So, what is it that makes the book stand out so much? (Jonathan tells me that one journalist said of Sacred Nature: “It is a coffee table book on steroids.”).

It’s clear from his answer that he agrees with Wilson’s interpretation, which reads: “The Scott’s have been firmly established at the top of their field for decades, during which time the public has grown accustomed to witnessing their spectacular work in print and on screen (through BBC TV‘s hugely popular Big Cat Diary), but this book differs in many ways to any of their previous efforts. Sacred Nature is primarily Angela’s vision.” 

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Angie is a very spiritual person,” Jonathan tells me. “Compassionate; someone who reaches out to others in need. She grew up in Africa, spent her holidays on safari in places like the Serengeti as a child living in Tanzania.”

“She draws strength from connecting to wilderness – she loves trees and seeing plants growing in her veggie garden. And she is very artistic; she loves to draw and was always very artistic and her great passion was photography and the ocean. She is quiet, and shy and retiring – so photography gave her a voice, a way to express herself.”

“The genesis of Sacred Nature was partly to do with our age. I am 68 this year and Angie will be 64. We have had a long and successful career as authors, wildlife photographers and working in television. This was the time when we wanted to review and assess where we were in our lives and careers and plan the next step.”

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Some of the incredible photography featured in the book, giving and intimate view of Africa’s wildlife

He also cites concerns about the natural world, loss of wild habitat and diversity, and the surge of the human population across the planet.

“They all played a part in focusing our attention on the reality that most of the world is shut off from nature. Most of the world lives in cities. And the places that still harbour most of the wild animals on earth are mainly the most impoverished parts of the planet – such as Africa.”

The irony of these places, he says, is that local communities are too busy just trying to get by in ensuring they have the basics in life (and many don’t; ‘living on a few dollars a day’), dealing with far more pressing day-to-day priorities to be able either enjoy the natural environment or to see any reason to treasure it. 

“Most people living in East Africa will never see a wild lion or elephant. And those living in rural areas adjacent to wilderness naturally have a very different view of an elephant a lion or a buffalo to the one enjoyed by visitors on safari. Those same charismatic wild animals that visitors so want to see up close and romanticise are often a threat to life and livelihoods for local communities who bear the brunt of living with wildlife. Elephants and buffalos destroy crops at times and predators sometimes kill livestock.”

“We hope to take the message of Sacred Nature: that we need to re-engage with wilderness and to value it as the source of life, as the provider of our fresh water, our food and the air we breathe, and use it to remind people that the world will be a poorer place without other forms of life to share it with and marvel at.

Geographical Magazine publishes images from Sacred Nature

Geographical Magazine publishes images from Sacred Nature

Purchase these incredible books here.

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