2

Great Horned Owlets Rescue: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way!

Great horned owlets, Willow and Wisdom - Photo by Cheryl Aguiar

It’s no secret that I’m a lover of reading. So it was a real treat when first time author and all-round animal lover Cheryl Aguiar sent me a copy of her award-winning nature book, which chronicles her experience of observing a family of great horned owls and finding herself part of a rescue mission to save their two young owlets.

A modern day ‘Pocahontas’, Cheryl’s draw to nature and the great outdoors is a deep-rooted desire that certainly resonates. As does her compassion to help wildlife, one animal at a time.

Kate on Conservation holds Great Horned Owlets Rescue book

Kate on Conservation with author Cheryl Aguiar’s Great Horned Owlets Rescue book

Great Horned Owlets Rescue: Where There’s A Will, There’s a Way details Cheryl’s early encounters with wildlife in the woods where she grew up, and explains how these experiences — including rescuing a newborn baby rabbit and nursing it back to health as a child — inspired her later fascination with animals.

“Throughout the years, my love for wildlife continued to grow, along with many attempts at saving anything from small birds to tiny frogs”, Cheryl writes. “Some were successful and some were not, but I always tried to give them a fighting chance.”

I must admit, I knew very little about the Great Horned Owl before reading this book. Found throughout North America and Canada, these large raptors have bright yellow eyes and distinctive feather ear tufts, which combined with their deep sounding hoots, make them the perfect storybook owl.

Great horned owlet, Willow - Photo by Cheryl Aguiar

Through Cheryl’s tales of her daily (and weekly) visits to the owl family, I was able to learn fascinating facts about their diet (which consists of small animals; rodents, lizards, insects); how, and when, they are fed by their parents; the different stages of their maturity (i.e. when they lose their down feathers, when they leave the nest, etc.) and the challenges they face in their natural environment.

This charming tale takes readers on a journey of the highs and lows that Cheryl, husband Jim, her nearby Aunt and Uncle and close neighbours who share their woods, experience when high April winds bring down the gradually depleted nest that the young owlets have been hatched into.

Their affectionately named parents; Mama and Papa, like many great horned owls, chose to reuse an old nest — possibly built by hawks a year or so previously — and in this instance, it wasn’t up to the job!

Fortunately, Cheryl springs to action to save the little owlets, who find themselves alone and vulnerable on the forest floor as the last light of day is fading.

With her afore mentioned team of rescuers and the expert advice of seasoned pro and founder of Eyes On Owls in Dunstable, Massachusetts; Mark, she is able to give the little owls a fighting chance (and a brand new basket nest!). And so begins this beautiful and dedicated chapter of her life.

Great Horned Owlets Rescue book by Cheryl Aguiar

Great Horned Owlets Rescue by Cheryl Aguiar

An enjoyable read and a great source of information (for example, I had no idea that owl feathers are not waterproof, to enable them to be silent flyers), this is a cute little read and a great way to connect with nature.

To learn more about about Cheryl Aguiar, order her book or view her wildlife photography, click here.

kate on conservation logo

Want to discover more nature books?

0

Shocking reality of exotic pet trade exposed by Paris lion cub pet!

It’s hard to imagine the unstoppable, untameable force of the lion fitting into a tiny cage in private home. But King the lion cub found himself trapped in such a scenario. A victim of the illegal exotic pet trade, he was rescued from an apartment in Paris after shocking social media footage showed his captor beating the tiny cub.

Born free foundation's king the lion cub

King made international headlines in October last year, when he was found half-starved and cowering in a dirty cage in an abandoned apartment in Paris.

Just a few months old and kept illegally as an exotic pet, he had been beaten and kicked by his owner who then posted videos of the abuse online.

It’s hard to imagine such a shocking case can exist so close to home, and the thought of living near by to someone with a pet lion sounds like something that would only happen decades ago — but the latest research by international wildlife charity Born Free has revealed more than 292 dangerous wild cats – including at least nine lions – are being kept privately, and legally, in Great Britain under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.

The growing demand for wild animals to be kept as exotic pets worldwide is fuelled by both the legal and illegal wildlife trade. The illegal trade alone is worth an estimated $23 billion US dollars a year!

These wild species may be captive-bred, sourced from zoos and circuses or wild-caught, and they are sold through various means — such as online, in pet shops, trade fairs, markets and directly through breeders.

In response to King’s story, Born Free, has launched an urgent appeal to rehome King to its big cat sanctuary at Shamwari Game Reserve — a place I was fortunate enough to volunteer at many years ago — in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

 

#LongLiveTheKing from Born Free Foundation on Vimeo.

King has left the building

Fortunately, King was rescued from his cruel captor — who was later tracked down, arrested and charged — by French animal rescue charities Fondation 30 Million d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche.

King has now been given a temporary home at Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre, in Belgium, and Born Free plans to transport him from Belgium to South Africa, where he will be given a permanent home at their long-established big cat sanctuary at Shamwari. The sanctuary is already home to 16 lions and leopards rescued from appalling captive conditions.

King’s new life at Born Free’s big cat sanctuary will be a world away from the Paris apartment in which he was discovered. He will be given lifetime care in a spacious, safe and natural environment, surrounded by the beautiful sights and sounds of Africa.

King, in Belgium, awaiting a ‘forever home’ at Shamwari’s big cat sanctuary

He was born free, he should live free

I have always been a huge supporter of Born Free Foundation, who strongly oppose the keeping of wild animals as pets. Wild animals have complex social, physical and behavioural needs and are, therefore, particularly susceptible to welfare problems when kept as pets.

“Whether wild-caught or captive-bred, wild animals retain their wild instincts and their often complex social, behaviour and environmental needs: needs that are impossible to meet in a domestic environment,” Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, Dr Chris Draper explains.

“It is high time that we stop viewing exotic wild animals simply as objects to own, and start considering their welfare — and the risks they may sometimes pose to us. It should be abundantly clear that the never-ending demand for increasingly exotic and dangerous wild animals in the pet trade needs to stop.”

Born free king campaign letters

As ever, perhaps the most impassioned voice comes from Born Free Co-Founder and Trustee, Virginia McKenna OBE:
“Have we learned nothing over the years? How can we not understand that keeping wild animals in cages is not just cruel, but shameful? Lions are known as kings of the jungle.”
“This little king, sadly, will never wear his crown, but at least we can give him love and respect and a natural environment to roam and rest in. That is the least he deserves, and I hope people will help us write a happy ending to this story.””
To donate to this cause, visit www.bornfree.org.uk/king, call 01403 240170 or text KING to 70755 to donate £10.

 

kate on conservation logo

Learn more about Born Free Foundation

Want to know more about Born Free Foundation?

Want to know more about Shamwari Game Reserve?

6

Sea turtle conservation and my first National Geographic Kids cover story!

There’s nothing like the excitement of new life. Scooping out the final handful of cool sand to reveal the first couple of pristine, squishy white eggs, it was a complete thrill to know that soon there would be a mass of tiny loggerhead sea turtles hatched out and running toward the sea.

sea turtle eggs in nest

Watching the Sarasota sun rising in the sky as we completed documenting and recording every detail of the nest, I felt the wave of sickness in my tummy starting to shift too. It was morning sickness. Like the tiny little lives flourishing inside the eggs of the sandy nest we’d been recording, there was a tiny life flourishing inside of me too.

Even without eating breakfast, the 6am sea air churned my stomach. But it was worth it to join the Mote Marine Laboratory‘s turtle patrol team. I was on one of my first field assignments for National Geographic Kids magazine; to explore the local marine life in Florida, and I didn’t want anything to get in the way!

Kate on Conservation turtle nest monitoring

Photograph by Mark Sickles

Joining Mote’s sea turtle nest monitoring team on Venice Beach, Sarasota was a fantastic assignment. Finding the newly dug egg chambers, having the opportunity to actually see the eggs — and then protecting the nests from unsuspecting beachgoers who may accidentally stand on them — was a very moving experience.

As a soon-to-be mum; seeing the effort that these incredible turtle mothers go through to find the perfect nesting spot to give their young the best chance at life brought a tear to my eye! (ok, lots of things brought a tear to my eye when I was pregnant, but this truly was special).

Mote team with patrol vehicle on the beach

Out and about with the Mote team

I learnt that over the previous year’s nesting season, Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program reported that Longboat Key through Venice hosted a total of 4,588 nests (beating the 2015 record by 2,103 nests), showing this thriving nesting area’s importance to the local sea turtle population.

Shifting sands and moving nests

Sometimes, when the nests are in a spot that may be affected by human impact, such as beach nourishment, it’s necessary for the Mote team to move them.

A nourishment project takes place where there is a need to place fresh sand on the beach. It takes a while for the turtles to get used to the new sand, because its texture and height can be different and create obstacles.

Following the previous year’s nourishment project on Venice beach, the turtles would not come very far up the sand. There were almost three times as many false crawls (where a mother comes onto the beach to lay her eggs, but returns to the sea without actually nesting) as there were nests.

A false crawl on Venice beach, Sarasota

A false crawl, where a mother turtle has turned around and returned to the sea without nesting

in 2016, the team had to relocate 200 nests! Which meant moving up to eight a day. This is no easy feat when there’s a tight deadline to move nests by 9.30am, before visitors and tourists come to the beach.

Apparently it takes an hour to find all the eggs, dig them all out of the sand, and put them all back in at the new location. Of course eggs have to be moved extremely delicately and carefully, as the team don’t know exactly when the eggs were laid overnight.

mote team moving sand

To make the task even more complex, when a new nest chamber is dug, it must be exactly like that which the mother created.

“You have to measure it perfectly and dig a new one exactly the same,” Mote’s Kirsten Mazzarella tells me. “And you have to find a spot that’s not going to have a predators and a place that doesn’t have any lighting to draw them in the wrong direction. You don’t want to move them to a worse spot than where the mum laid them.”

Mote’s Kirsten tells us all about the nest relocation programme. Photo by Mark Sickles

Mote feel very strongly about creating nests the way that mother’s intended, as they try not to interfere with nature. Moving nests is not something they like to do, as usually the mother has picked the best natural spot and they may be moving it to a less desirable area. If the mother has picked a bad site, they don’t like to move this either, as that’s nature’s way of saying the genes were not meant to be passed on.

“We take care of human impact, but not nature’s impact,” Kirsten explains. “We used to move the nests that were too close to the water higher up the beach, but now if the mother turtle gets it wrong, we allow nature to take its course. The only time we actively move a nest is when a nourishment project of the sand is actively taking place. That requires the nourishment people to get a special permit and then contact Mote to do the work.”

Turtle treatment and recovery

Mote work hard to reduce human impact and help the turtle populations in other ways too. They own one of only three wildlife hospitals in Florida with special facilities and training to care for turtles suffering from fibropapilloma tumors.

Because scientists are still learning how the disease is transmitted among turtles, they must provide a separate facility just for animals with these tumours.

Grace the green turtle gets ready for surgery

Grace the green turtle gets ready for surgery to remove her fibropapilloma tumours. Photo by Mark Sickles

Tumours can grow on the surface of the flippers, inside the mouth (affecting feeding), and on the turtle’s eyes. All tumours are removed by laser surgery, though the animal must have at least one salvageable eye after removal of the tumours in order to be released back into the wild.

It was an incredible and emotive experience to be allowed behind the scenes in this amazing facility, which really is changing the lives of these beautiful animals. The care and attention delivered by staff is admirable, and I don’t quite know what the outcome would be for the injured and sick turtles if it weren’t for Mote.

turtle hospital feature in Nat Geo Kids magazine

It’s also fascinating to discover how far the facility has come and what they have learnt in the day-to-day handling of its patients.

Up until 2010, they used to have to keep turtles in the centre for a year after their tumour-removal surgery, to ensure they were not contagious. If they had a re-growth of any tumours, they would have to start that clock again.

This meant that some animals were being kept at the facility for two years and more! But in 2010, Sarasota had an outbreak of red tide (a harmful algal bloom), which saw the hospital inundated with patients, so they made the decision to release turtles with the disease as soon as they healed from surgery.

Over time they learnt that the virus comes out in times of stress, so keeping them in captivity to ensure they were healed was actually creating a vicious cycle where they ended up getting more tumours instead of recovering.

Kate on Conservation with Nat Geo Kids cover story

I learnt so much about Mote’s projects and Sarasota’s different species of turtle (loggerhead, leatherback, green turtle, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley) on my trip — all of which are mentioned in my Nat Geo Kids article. If you’d like to read about them and much more about the turtle nesting patrol and turtle hospital (I’ve tried to keep the content of this blog post quite different from the article), the May issue is out now!

kate on conservation logo

Want to know more about my work with Nat Geo Kids?

Want to know more about Nat Geo Kids inspiring natural history learning?

0

Killer whales in captivity: guest post by Ben Stockwell

My latest Kate on Conservation guest blog post explores the reality of orcas in captivity. Just two weeks after a new film detailing the story of Tokitae (renamed Lolita by Miami Seaquarium) was shared online, this post from Ben Stockwell was inspired by his Geography dissertation, and reminds us all why the issue of orca captivity is one we should still be talking about after the death of SeaWorld’s Tilikum.

Exploitation or Conservation Education?  

sea world tilikum

In 2014 I wrote my undergraduate Geography dissertation, entitled Killer whales in captivity: Exploitation or Conservation and Education?  Since then, public and media attention around the topic has soared as a result of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s incredible Blackfish released in 2013.

The documentary followed the life of SeaWorld’s prized bull orca, Tillikum, and his involvement in the tragic deaths of three people, highlighting the issues with keeping such large, intelligent animals captive along the way.  

Whilst publication of the topic is not in short supply, I couldn’t let this stop me (finally) sharing some of my findings. I have chosen to focus on my favourite section of the project, which looked at the pros and cons of anthropomorphising orcas (assigning them human characteristics). Now this might not seem like a good way of arguing for or against keeping orcas captive, but just bear with me.  

Humans certainly have a desire to label things, especially in ways that we can relate to. Take pets; we give them human names and assign them human characteristics. A good example is the viral sensation ‘Grumpy Cat’, whose underbite and feline dwarfism induced ‘grumpy’ face made her a social media sensation (she even has her own movie, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever!). By identifying animals, such as a (grumpy) cat, as having shared features and even emotions with us, we can empathise and relate to them, forming tighter bonds.    

In the case of SeaWorld, these bonds are developed via the naming of their orcas, say Tilikum, or even ‘Tilly’ for short. Additionally, the orca perform human actions throughout the show, splashing the crowd and blowing raspberries — a playful act that signifies their intelligence and further helps us empathise with them. They reinforce this message by referring to trainers and orcas as being part of ‘one really big family’ and each orca having a ‘unique personality’. 

Sea world, Florida

The shows combine anthropomorphisation of the orca with repeated messaging about our ‘one ocean’ that is under threat, which through ‘conservation and education’, ‘we’ can help to protect. I do actually think that these techniques will inspire many watching about the species and their natural habitats. You only need to look at dogs and cats, animals we have forever anthropomorphised, and look how well we treat them!  

However, this all needs to be considered in the context of these being wild animals living in unnatural circumstances. Suggesting they are ‘one big family’ is simply not true, as the artificial pods in captivity are often highly dysfunctional, comprised of individuals from sub-species thrown together in a small pool. The result is often raised levels of aggression towards each other (and humans), high levels of stress and abnormal behaviours.  

Similarly, applying human characteristics to animals, like names and human behaviours, hardly educates the public about orcas in the wild (or even the issues they face). Yes, being able to blow bubbles on command is impressive, but it’s not a natural behaviour that would occur without our interference. I think this provides very little educational value to the shows and whilst they do attempt to inspire the audience to relate to the orca, I would be very interested to know how many people go on to donate to conservation efforts as a result.  

In fact, it is highly likely that this form of consumptive tourism attributes to some of the issues orca face in the wild anyways. Think about the number of single-use plastics sold at SeaWorld – how many of those end up in in the marine environment? Even SeaWorld’s own orca have a legacy of damaging wild populations – the Southern Resident population is now Endangered, largely as a result of the 47 individuals killed or captured by the industry in the 60s and 70s. I suppose there is a strange irony that this staged spectacle is sold as a conservation and education tool, whilst it may well have contributed or is still contributing to the plight of wild killer whales (but this is a whole other section of my project, which I won’t bore you with!).

Ben Stockwell, Galapagos Conservation TrustBen Stockwell completed a degree in physical geography, focussing his dissertation on keeping killer whales in captivity, before going on to complete a Masters in Conservation Ecology. Working for Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, he gained experience in community engagement and urban conservation and is now working for the Galapagos Conservation Trust as the Communications and Membership Assistant.

 

Find out more about whale and dolphin conservation here: http://uk.whales.org/

4

Goodnight Sudan: the world’s last male Northern White Rhino has died

Sudan tribute from Helping Rhinos

Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino has passed away.

on 19th March 2018 Sudan took his last breath, following age-related complications. These complications caused both degenerative changes in his muscles and bones, combined with extensive skin wounds.

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

Remembering Rhinos founder Margot Raggett and Ambassador Dan Richardson with Sudan, the last male northern white rhino

Helping Rhinos stated “His condition worsened significantly in the last 24 hours; he was unable to stand up and seemed to be suffering a great deal. The veterinary team from the Dvůr Králové Zoo, Ol Pejeta and Kenya Wildlife Service made the decision to euthanize him.

The Northern White Rhino is a sub species that we have literally witnessed the extinction of. Sudan was one of only three known northern white rhinos left in the world; the remaining two females are his daughter, Najin and granddaughter, Fatu.

Photographic portraits of the last three northern white rhinos.

Photographic portraits of the last three northern white rhinos.

I spoke to Simon Jones, Helping Rhinos, CEO who said: “Losing Sudan is of course tragic, not so much for Sudan himself, he was an old man and had lived a good life, but his death represents the loss of the last male of an iconic species. It is humans that have caused such a demise of the northern white rhinos, and it is humans that can ensure we create a legacy that Sudan would be proud of. Let us make sure this is the last time we bid farewell to the last of a species”

With this sad news, we must remember that he had a death denied to so many rhinos — at the age of 45, he died of old age. Safe and dignified.

He did not have his horn hacked from his face.

He did not die in a pool of his own blood, butchered by poachers for a lump of keratin.

He was old and loved and noticed.

Let’s make a future where all rhinos count.

kate on conservation logo

Learn more about rhinos and the horn trade

2

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.

kate on conservation logo

Want to pledge a donation?

 

0

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

Learn more about big cats

Want to know more about lions?

Want to hear more from the people working with big cats?

Want to learn about the plight of tigers?

0

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

4

Gordon Buchanan: Animals, cameras and family values

The groundbreaking new series Animals With Cameras is back on our screens for its second instalment, and as I read through social media reactions to this innovative style of natural history filmmaking (for those who have yet to watch, species of animals — including chimps, penguins, meerkats and cheetahs — are fitted with cameras to record unique footage of their hidden lives); it seems a good time to share some of series host Gordon Buchanan‘s thoughts on his 25 years of filming wildlife.

“I’m going to end up losing my job to these guys,” Gordon joked as he showed an early preview clip of the series to the audience of his Animal Families and Me tour on its final night.

Concluding the 19-date tour in London, the audience at the Royal Geographical Society were treated to a whistle-stop tour of Gordon’s filmmaking career and the amazing animals he’s shared it with.

Lily the black bear from 2011’s series Bear Family and Me was the first of these animals that audiences were reacquainted with. As an inexperienced mother, Lily abandoned her daughter Hope, but touchingly the pair reunited later in the year.

Of course the Animal Family and Me series are well-known for exploring the sociology and complex relationships of animals, but it certainly added flavour to hear of Gordon’s own relationship (and misconceptions) of the black bears.

“When I first saw the bears — these big animals coming towards you in the forest — I was terrified.” He spoke of arriving in Minnesota to film the series and joining biologist Lynn Rogers, who is known for his habituated relationships with wild black bears.

Gordon Buchanan with bear

Gordon Buchanan with Lily the black bear

“Lynn explained that the black bears were happy with their ‘partnership’ with humans, but that doesn’t really help when one of these animals first comes up and rests its huge paws and head on your shoulders for the first time.”

Perhaps the most astonishing story then, was how deepening his understanding of these bears lead to the utter trust that later becomes evident in his photographs and videos. So much so, that his (then) young children were able to encounter the bears themselves, under careful supervision (especially from a nervous Mrs Buchanan — as his footage showed!).

One of the recurring themes of the evening was understanding just how vulnerable wildlife is — despite the great size and power of many of the species mentioned — and how fragile their environments are.

I was impressed at the time taken to mention the fearless hard work of the rangers putting their lives on the line to protect elephants and other species from poaching (one very poignant image Gordon shared was a tribute to the most recently killed rangers) and at the way he championed the work of The David Sheldrick Trust, who rescue and raise orphaned elephants and other animals in Kenya.

Gordon shares an image of Satao 2’s super tusks.

One of the elephants that left an impression as huge as his size was Satao 2, featured in the Elephant Family and Me series. Satao 2 was killed by poachers in March 2017, just a few months after the series first aired, due to his prized super tusks (shown above).

“Satao should have had no worries [in the wild], he was a ‘supertusker’. But because of his teeth, his ivory, he was more vulnerable than much smaller elephants.”

As with the new series, Animals with Cameras, much of the footage attained during Gordon Buchanan’s impressive career as a wildlife cameraman was the first of its kind.

“We were dropped off on the tundra to study Artic wolves, and just sort of left there on this vast, isolated landscape,” he reminisced of the series Snow Wolf Family and Me. “No one’s ever studied wolves in the Artic that late in the year, other than us, because of the weather,” Gordon explained.

“Even our back-up plans had risks. But we were able to do it because the weather in the Artic is changing.”

gordon buchanan talks about arctic wolves

Artic wolf Scruffy becomes acquainted with the BBC team

As we move towards understanding these animals better, I’m interested to hear the way we speak about them evolve. So I was fascinated that Gordon deliberately chose to speak about the wolf ‘family‘ and not ‘pack‘; something which he purposefully acknowledged.

“It’s not a pack, it’s a family; the responsibility of each member to the pups is clear. Every member of the family would bring food to the pups — even if they were hungry themselves.”

Seeing the wolves in this way certainly challenges their long established image of folklore villains. I get the impression that dispelling this misconception was one of Gordon’s aims.

He explained to the Royal Geographical Society audience that in observing artic wolves he learned that there was something ‘incredibly wolf-like about us‘. Discovering these such parallels between animals and humans was touched upon again when he spoke of the Grauer’s gorillas he encountered in Gorilla Family and Me.

Gordon and team filming silverback Mugaruka for Gorilla Family and Me.

“You couldn’t help but look at them and see something of ourselves in them,” he explained. “Mugaruka and Chimanuka [the silverback stars of the series] are like the Gallagher brothers of the gorilla world,” he joked. “Although they grew up together, they grew apart”.

It was great to hear Gordon Buchanan cite the late filmmaker Alan Root as one of his biggest influencers and inspirations (first proclaiming that he is deliberately not going to say Sir David Attenborough, as his merits are unquestionable and there’s a value in recognising some of the other amazing wildlife filmmakers out there).

As well as learning a little bit more about each of these endearing animal characters, the sense of needing to protect and conserve them was strong. If there’s one thing that natural history filmmaking is teaching us today, it’s that it’s not enough to simply fall in love with our planet’s amazing animals, we must also find ways of fighting for them.

kate on conservation logo

 

Learn more about wildlife filmmaking

Want to know more about gorillas?

Want to know more about vEcotours?

0

Travel, adventure, parties and… natural history! – Guest post by Adventure Ed

Starting the year with a focus on achieving success in 2018, young adventurer and bird specialist Eddie Williams, aka Adventure Ed, from California offers his perspective on making conservation cool and reaching new audiences with his one of a kind YouTube channel.       

adventure ed title card I have started a Youtube Channel that combines travel with environmental education in a way you may have never seen before.

Before I explain the details, I want you to ask yourself this question: How are you unique? I believe this is a question everybody should ask themselves. Though it is extremely cliche, everyone is unique in his or her own way, and if you realize your uniqueness, not only will the world be more colourful, but you will remember your purpose in life.

I am unique, like everyone else. I am a 27-year old guy who likes doing the things that most guys my age like doing. I like working out, watching football, going to the beach, and going to parties with my friends. Like many others, I enjoy the outdoors, but my fondness for nature is not average. Nature has dictated the course of my life so much that I now work as a wildlife biologist with a focus on birds. Not only do I study birds but I am also a keen recreational birder (birdwatcher). In case you do not know about the hobby of birding, it is when people actively observe birds in their habitats.

2018 year of the bird adventure Ed

Birding, as you might imagine, has some solid stereotypes. People think it’s “too simple” or “boring” or “awkward”. People joke that birding is for a dork still living in his or her parents’ basement or for a strange hippy lost in his or her own world. These stereotypes are not only often given to birders but also to people who actively observe and appreciate nature in general.

Back to the original question: how am I unique?  Well, I am a 27-year-old birder. The vast majority of birders are much older and many are senior citizens.  But I like to think that is not the only way I am unique because I believe that I defy the stereotypes of birders. I may enjoy a bit of weirdness and awkward humour, but like I said earlier I am just like everyone else at the end of day. I am no nature nerd, but a nature stud… Okay, that was a joke, as I don’t want to brag too much about my beautiful plumage! (Another bird joke). Throughout my entire life I have wanted to share my passion of nature and birds with other people and show that it is not for dorks or hippies but is really cool and interesting. My love of nature has become contagious and I have found that people can appreciate anything as long as you make it cool.

For example, in my early twenties I spent two and a half years traveling, studying, teaching, and doing ecological fieldwork in Australia and Central America. I met thousands of younger travelers who had never heard of birding or had assumed the usual stereotypes. But after an introductory bird walk and hitting up a beach party with me, pretty much every person I met learned to appreciate birding. My personal belief is that there would be more young birders in the world if they were properly exposed to birding.

adventure ed twitter bird pic

Just like anyone who travels I fell in love with the vagabond life. I visited many tourist destinations throughout the tropics that were developing rapidly and thought about the environmental impacts of the tourism industry in these places. I wondered how many of the other young travelers attending the beach parties actually thought about their environmental impacts.

I never really watched Youtube until a while after I came back to the USA and I discovered an entire community of travel vloggers sharing the world with each other. I realized that Youtube was a way to reach out and spread a message to people all over the world no matter what the size of the audience. It’s a potential way to make a difference in the world and a creative outlet to embrace one’s uniqueness. So I decided to start my vlog channel that combines travel with environmental education. It is called Adventure Ed.

Adventure Ed will show you my adventures around the world where I go birding, do other outdoor activities, and explore the young traveler party life. I will give budget travel tips, educate about birds and natural history, and give a perspective on environmental issues surrounding the places I visit by interviewing locals.

My ultimate goals are two-fold. The first is to get millennials more in touch with nature and expose the hobby of birding to people who have never been exposed to it before.

The goal is not to convert everyone into a birder but rather to make them appreciate the hobby and the general observation of nature. By using myself as an example and defying the stereotypes I hope that younger people see that nature is cool. Most young people think that partying is cool, so it is one way I will relate to my target audience. I encourage everyone to go out and have fun like the cool kids (in a legal and controlled manner) as long as they take time to appreciate the natural world around them.

The second goal is to educate about environmental issues surrounding tourism. I want tourists who are going to beautiful destinations to party to realize their potential environmental impact. Instead of ridiculing young party-goers, I join them, and advise that they consider their impacts.

Yes, this is a radical way to do environmental education, and that is my full intent. My main target audience is millennials, but there are aspects of this channel that will interest everyone.  If you do not like watching the beach parties, then maybe you will love the footage of exotic wild animals and learning fun scientific facts.

I started my channel a few months ago and my following is currently very small. I am brand new to videography and my videos are rough around the edges, but I am working hard to improve my skills. Fortunately I have a job schedule in which I work long stretches overtime and receive long breaks, which allows me to travel frequently and film content. This winter I am visiting Thailand, Panama, and Vietnam, where I hope to have a lot of fun and see a lot of cool wildlife.

If you are interested in learning about budget travel, nature, and environmental issues, I suggest you take a look at the channel. If you like the content, all I ask is that you click the subscribe button.  My goal for the end of 2018 is to get to 1,000 subscribers.

 

Subscribe to Eddie’s YouTube Channel and help him reach 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year by clicking here.

Adventure EdEddie is a 27-year-old wildlife biologist from California who specializes in birds. His YouTube channel combines travel, environmental education, and pure fun. He provides budget travel advice and shares his passion and knowledge of science and nature. He explores both the natural world and party life, two activities not usually associated with each other. He says his ultimate goal is to get more millennials in touch with nature.