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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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The Dominant Male: Guest post by young conservationist Bella Lack

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

orangutan looks on with a solemn expression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orangutan anger!

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

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

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

Blog post first published on www.callfromthewild.com.

 

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

 

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British Zoos — their politics and history: guest post by Shubhobroto Ghosh

This latest guest blog post was written by the author of ‘Dreaming In Calcutta and Channel Islands’, which recounts the writer’s voluntary ‘zoo checking’ work for the Born Free Foundation in North East India from 1997 to 1999. Shubhobroto, who now works and resides in New Delhi, is also responsible for the Indian Zoo Inquiry, supported by Zoocheck Canada. Originally from Calcutta (Kolkata) and educated in Kolkata, Guwahati (Assam), Jersey, Bangalore and London — Shubhobroto shares this exact from An Investigation of British Zoos: A Journalistic Perspective.

An Investigation of British Zoos: A Journalistic Perspective

It is conceivable and common that people have gardens and spend time pruning their rose bushes in England. But some go further than that. They keep exotic animals and spend time chasing tigers, lions, gorillas and chimpanzees. This remarkable breed of people constitute the private ownership of zoos in UK.

The conservation role of zoos had not arisen until the 1960s and that too only under pressure due the environmental movement egged by pioneers like Rachel Carson and Jacques Cousteau.

1984 was the year when the thought of zoos as benign places of entertainment was seriously challenged in the UK. Pole Pole, an African Elephant that had starred in the film ‘An Elephant Called Slowly’ with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna died in London Zoo and gave rise to the whole debate on the ethics of keeping animals in zoos.

Pole Pole at London Zoo with Virginia and Bill

Pole Pole at London Zoo with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna

Today even some captive animal institutions like the Cornwall Monkey Sanctuary admit that captivity is harmful for animals. The fact that zoos might actually be awful prisons for animals is revealed by several experts and organisations in UK and around the world that are increasingly questioning the role played by collections of captive animals.

They suggest that zoos in many ways represent a threat to endangered species and are just profit making businesses that have nothing to do with conservation.

Zoos have been around for thousands of years since people started collecting animals as symbols of power or curiosities. Individuals collected animals as status symbols and zoos signified the domination of man over nature. The birth of the ‘modern zoo’ ostensibly changed the ideology behind the concept. Zoos turned into scientific institutions. Or did they?

captive zoo rhino

One of the institutions that exhibited animals during the imperial period was the Tower Menagerie of London. In a 2004 book and TV serial, Daniel Hahn exposes the ghetto conditions in which animals were held at the Tower Menagerie in London from 1235 to 1835.

The imperialistic nature of zoos was also a factor behind the founding of the London Zoo in 1826 by Sir Stamford Raffles. London Zoo collected animals from all imperial outposts during the heyday of the British empire.

With the passage of time and the gradual extinction of the empire, the nature of zoos changed with trusts and charities running collections of animals for public show. Zoos seemingly changed from places of eccentric curiosity and personal whim to rigidly controlled institutions.

But the most famous zoos in UK, Howletts and Jersey, were both started by private individuals to serve their personal aims and whims. Until 1981, when the Zoo Licensing Act was passed, anyone could start a zoo in UK. And since Jersey and Howletts have both done remarkable work due to the eccentricities of their owners, their institutions testify that zoos in UK are very much dictated by priorities set by the people who run them.

Pole Pole the elephant

Pole Pole prior to his life at London Zoo with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna

Zoos in UK claim a stake in conservation education and recreation. Animal welfare The death of The elephant Pole Pole made front page headlines in UK and gave rise to Zoo Check, now the Born Free Foundation, which constitutes the biggest challenge to the zoo community in UK.

London Zoo put on a new image after its threatened closure in 1991. ‘Living conservation’ became the theme of London Zoo and as the leader of the British zoo community London Zoo claims that reintroduction of captive zoo animals is one of the main aims of UK zoos. But is reintroduction of zoo animals really successful? Is there a significant commitment on the part of the zoo community to aid reintroduction projects?

With the threatened closure of London Zoo in 1991, these questions mushroomed in Britain. There seemed to be a strong public debate on the ethics of keeping animals in captivity in an urban place like Regent’s Park. In a country like Britain, the anti-zoo movement had already started with the formation of Zoo Check, a campaigning lobby started by actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers.

london zoo poster at making nature exhibition

In 1991, as London Zoo languished, Zoo Check flourished. London Zoo survived with generous donations from wealthy businessmen but questions were increasingly being raised if these large sums of money were simply wasted to prolong a worldwide anachronism.

London Zoo’s shaky state of existence was undoubtedly one of the motivating factors in the consideration of this subject as a suitable topic of investigation. Another important factor was the involvement of Western NGOs and zoos in spreading the zoo message in developing countries.

London Zoo had donned a new garb of ”Conservation In Action’ and presented itself as the self-proclaimed bandleader of the British zoo community. British zoos started funding zoo activities in many countries in Asia, including India. But one overriding question remained : why keep animals in captivity in Europe and America from Asia and Africa. One of the reasons given by the western zoo community for conducting captive breeding programmes was that Third World countries are unstable, economically and politically to look after their own animals so for the good of the animals they must be captured and taken to zoos in Europe and America.

Chester Zoo A3 Poster - UK's no1 Wildlife Attraction

People have a lot of fun watching animals in zoos, especially children. Lions roar and monkeys swing and bears pace. But is what we see at zoos a distorted picture? Are the animals a travesty of nature? Do they behave abnormally? Does captivity restrict their lives and cause premature death?

There seems to be a growing body of research suggesting that the behaviour of zoo animals is abnormal and many animals go mad due to the effects of captivity. ‘Stereotypic behaviour’ in zoo animals has become a major issue concerning animals in captivity. In recent years, Dr. Georgia Mason and Ros Clubb of Oxford University have published papers suggesting that large animals like elephants and polar bears suffer in captivity. Their findings have been published in the world’s leading scientific journal, ‘NATURE’. The zoo community however is insistent that these researches are flawed and the papers are sexed up for publicity and dramatic effect.

Monkey in zoo

There are more zoos now in UK than ever before and the Federation Of UK Zoos claims that this is a sign of the failure of the anti-zoo lobby in Britain and everything is fine in zoos. The Federation Of UK zoos also claims that the British zoo community is progressive and is pushing for improvement regardless of the anti-zoo lobby. But perhaps the most striking example of the failure of the British zoo community comes from the Cornwall Monkey Sanctuary in Looe, Cornwall. Specialising in primates, particularly Woolly Monkeys, this institution seems to be the only captive facility in UK that accepts that captivity for animals is insidious and destructive.

This place, started by guitarist Leonard Williams, provides the most stringent criticism of animal captivity from within the captive animal community itself. Animals are held in captivity in Cornwall because they cannot be set free and not because they claim a stake in conservation. This unique zoo, is the subject of the article, A Zoo With a Difference : The Monkey Minds Of Cornwall. This centre shows that animal conservation in captivity in zoos can be questionable at best and — at worst — a con in the name of conservation.

 

Shubhobroto Ghosh

Shubhobroto Ghosh is a former journalist with the Telegraph newspaper whose work has also been published in The Statesman, New York Times, The Hindu , Montreal Serai, BBC, Sanctuary Asia and Nature India online. He is the former coordinator of the Indian Zoo Inquiry project sponsored by Zoocheck Canada and has attended the Principles and Practice Training course at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. He did his Masters thesis on British zoos at the University of Westminster. He has worked at the Wildlife Trust of India, TRAFFIC India and is currently Wildlife Projects Manager in India for World Animal Protection. He has contributed to several books, including ‘The Jane Effect’, a biographical tribute to Jane Goodall by Marc Bekoff and Dale Peterson and ‘Indira Gandhi : A Life In Nature’ by Jairam Ramesh. He is the author of the book, ‘Dreaming In Calcutta and Channel Islands.’

For more information on the Indian Zoo Inquiry: http://www.zoocheck.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Indianreport1.pdf

 

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10 Tips to Ensure Responsible Wildlife Photography: guest post by Max Therry

Wildlife photography is a brilliant way to encourage others to appreciate the natural world in all it’s splendour. But what happens when we turn our own hand at wildlife photography, and how can we ensure we’re not negatively impacting the flora and fauna we’re so desperate to celebrate? The week, guest blogger and photographer Max Therry discusses the dos and don’ts of photographing animals in the wild.

photographing camels

An Ethics Guide to Responsible Wildlife Photography: Top 10 Tips

Getting great shots of wildlife is an amazing feeling, but how can you do it in a responsible way?

Thousands of photographers enjoy getting out into the wild and photographing wildlife and nature in all their glory, but some are doing untold damage to the animals and environment they live in. Often their actions are completely unintentional, but the consequences to wildlife can be huge.

This article provides a few tips and guidelines on how to capture great images ethically without harming the wildlife and environment we love.

1. Don’t Bait or Feed Animals

Some photographers will put down food to lure an animal out in to the open so they can photograph them. The problem with this is that it can change the way that wildlife behaves and interacts with humans — you actually reward an animal for acting unnaturally. It can also cause them to get sick if you are giving them food that they are not used to. Wild animals that are regularly fed by humans may even become overweight due to constant feeding with unsuitable food.

2. Don’t Take Photos of Dens or Nests

Nesting and den photography involves getting very close to birds and mammals in their homes. This can cause terrible stress to the animal, and can make them abandon their young within the nest or den. The disturbance can also cause the animal to move their family to a dangerous location in order to escape from the intrusion.

Never be tempted to take photos of nests and dens like this, no matter how good a shot you think you’ll get.

3. Never Chase or Provoke an Animal

Unscrupulous photographers have been known to chase animals until they’re too tired to run anymore, all to ensure they don’t escape before they get the shot. The chased animal is unbearably stressed, and left too tired to escape from a predator or to go hunting for food.

tourists photographing tigers

Photo by Arnab Mukherjee. Source  

4. Don’t Crowd an Animal

Photography group tours and visitors to wildlife parks may end up crowding and getting too close to an animal. Often they are only after a good photograph, but the animal becomes stressed. Crowding may also provoke a response out of the animal, such as snarling, which is something naive or unethical photographers want, in order to get a ‘good’ photo.

Keep a safe distance from the animal, and if you’re with others who are going too close, try to politely ask them to back off. If they don’t, then try to report the abuse to park authorities.

5. Don’t Use Flash 

Nocturnal animals are sensitive to light, and if you use a flashgun it can temporarily blind them. Even using a flashgun during the day can upset the wildlife, so it is best avoided. There are ways to photograph nocturnal animals that avoids using flash – try looking on the internet for tutorials on photographing wildlife in low light.

6. Don’t Use Playback of Calls to Attract Birds or Animals

Studies have shown that this can cause stress in wildlife. The results suggest that animals or birds responding to these calls may suffer as a result of serious energy expenditure, social system disruption and even pair break-ups.

Using call playback during breeding season could distract adults from nest or den guarding or defending territory, and could have huge consequences on breeding success.

7. Don’t Handle Amphibians or Reptiles for Photographs

This applies to all wild animals, and is illegal. Apart from stress, it can cause huge problems for reptiles and amphibians, because they can get infected with bacteria and fungi from your hands, and their skins can dry up if they are taken out of their natural environment. Also, if a snake has just eaten, handling it will cause it to regurgitate its food.

Some photographers have even refrigerated quick moving amphibians in order to slow them down for photographs. This can cause death or sickness, and should never be done.

8. Avoid Off-Roading in Sensitive Habitats

Grasslands, sandbanks and salt flats, etc. can be damaged if you drive off-road on them. This can be disastrous for ground nesting birds and lots of plants, insects and snakes, not to mention causing destruction to the habitat itself. Also be aware that this applies if you are on foot. Don’t leave the footpath or designated trails.

9. Keep the Noise Down

It might seem like common sense, but people, (especially groups) can make a lot of noise and disturbance, even if they think they’re being quiet. Other photographers who have waited patiently for hours in a hide can understandably get quite upset when other photographers turn up, start being loud and scaring off the birds or animals.

Try to keep your movements and noise to the minimum. Some of the ways you can achieve this include: choosing your camera settings beforehand, so you won’t be switching them in the middle of a good shot; bringing a small tripod and wireless release that would let you stay still for a long time; using zoom lens which allows reaching far without moving physically.

Don’t talk loudly on your mobile phone, or have loud ringtones; don’t shout or play music. Being quiet and discreet will increase your chances of actually seeing wildlife.

10. Look Out for Signs of Distress

Most of us don’t want to cause distress to any animal or bird, but may do so unwittingly. If you are photographing an animal and it appears to be distressed, stop shooting and move away immediately.

A good example of doing this without realizing would be seeing a bird in a tree, and moving closer to get a better shot. The bird then begins to fly around you, calling. This means you are likely near its nest and causing it distress. If something like this does happen, you should go elsewhere straight away. It might be legal to get close to some bird species near their nests, but that doesn’t mean it’s ethical.

Most Importantly — Use Common Sense!

Generally, if you have to ask yourself any questions about whether a shot you want to take is ethical, then it probably isn’t. On a more practical level, make sure you take home everything you brought with you, including batteries, litter and any uneaten food you may have left from lunch. Don’t be tempted to leave the leftovers for the wildlife. An image is never, ever going to be worth the disturbance, distress or life of an animal, and we must put their welfare, and that of their habitat first.

 

Max Therry

Max Therry is a 28-year-old photographer, with hopes of pursuing his passion for all genres of photography as a full-time career. He runs the blog site PhotoGeeky.com, and has contributed to a number of photography websites, including: Picture Correct and A World to Travel. 

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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/

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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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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.

 

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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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Volunteering with the Zambia Primate Project — Guest post by Tom Hicks

The Zambia Primate Project is one of the operations run and sponsored by the Born Free Foundation. Based in the Kafue National Park, the project focuses on the rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction of Vervet monkeys and Yellow baboons throughout Zambia.

The project is run by Cosmos Mumba, an immensely talented Zambian conservationist (see video below). In 2015 he was nominated for the 2015 African Conservationist of the Year award by the Tusk Trust. Cosmas is a leading light in the conservation of primates and works very closely with Dr Cheryl Mvula from the Born Free Foundation.

Together, the Zambia Primate Project and the Born Free Foundation work tirelessly to conserve both the habitat of the vervet and baboons, and the wild populations.

They seek to achieve this through education, in-situ work and a welfare programme for those primates in need of intervention and rescue. In August 2016, I was granted the remarkable opportunity to work in-situ at the release site in the Kafue National Park, where the team work closely with Game Rangers International.

I arrived at Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and was greeted by Cosmos, who was waiting to take me to Lilayi. This is the location of Game Rangers International’s elephant orphanage. The orphanage is now also a refuge for rescued and confiscated pangolins, whose population has dramatically decreased over past years. They are always looking for volunteers and donations, so I would encourage anyone to find out more about there work by clicking here.

img_5136

The release camp in the Kafue National Park

Cosmos and I then set off on the 4-hour drive west to Kafue, where I would be staying at the release camp. My eyes were opened to the work and commitment exuded by the team, made up of Cosmos, Mathew, Dalisou and Caribou. They live in camp for most the year.

We visited the release site of a troop of Vervet monkeys who were reintroduced into the wild in February 2016. Each individual monkey has a story to tell, sadly usually of tragedy. They are rescued, rehabilitated and reintroduced back into the wild.

The team can recognise individuals within the troop by name. Immediately I was inspected by the lead males of the troop, grunting and softly barking while they all circled me. Cosmos and his team found this very amusing, as did I; it’s something that must happen to every volunteer. I felt as if the troop were sizing me up and deciding whether or not they liked me.

With introductions out the way, I was allocated Blacky to observe; one of the adult females in our focal studies. This formed the bulk of my job for the month. I would monitor individuals in the troop and note each minute what behaviour they were performing. This meant we could gather enough data to allows us to track individuals progress and identify any health issues.

img_5137

Working with the team at Kafue

The process of rehabilitation is often very hands on, as the primates being treated are usually in poor health — both mentally and physically. This, in turn, builds an exceptionally strong bond between the team and the troop.

Although this could lead to problems when it comes to encouraging the troop to evolve and become completely independent; the operation here is conducted to the highest degree of professionalism, and no such issues were evident.

img_5138

The team’s bond with the Vervets is extremely strong. Cosmos personally views them as his family. This was first demonstrated to me upon my encounter with Mysozyo, who is an adult female.

She was rescued from terrible conditions: chained outside a shop and used as a status symbol.

She was in extremely poor health when Cosmos first met her, and he cared for her through rehabilitation and reintroduction with the troop.

When I first saw her, however, she wasn’t alone. Mysozyo had mated earlier in the year with one of the lead males in the troop and had given birth to a truly “born free” infant, which Cosmos named Ndiase, meaning Gift.

This marked a huge step for the troop as it shows they are capable of wild natural behaviour.

img_5139

Image title: Born Free, Photographer: Tom Hicks

Now that I have returned from my time in Zambia, I have had time to reflect on just how impressive and successful the whole operation is.

I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the team; as an aspiring conservationist, I feel I have learnt an infinite amount from actually working with the team on the ground, rather than simply learning the theory behind it.

I would encourage anyone to get involved with charitable organisations such as these, whether it be donating your time, or as a beneficiary. It is hugely rewarding, and sadly still very much needed.

My connection with the troop and the team is one that I treasure immensely; it has inspired me to train to run the London Marathon in support of Born Free Foundation later this year — if you’d like, you can sponsor me here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Tom-Hicks3

Finally, to Game Rangers International, Born Free Foundation and the Zambia Primate Project, I can only say thank you for the opportunity. I feel incredibly grateful for the immense benefit I have gained from the experience and education you offered me. I sincerely hope to take you up on the offer to work together again.

If you would like to enquire about the chance to work with the Zambia Primate Project then find them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/ZambiaPrimateProject

Or through the Born Free Foundations website: http://www.bornfree.org.uk/campaigns/primates/campaign-action/zambian-primate-project/
tom-hicks

Tom Hicks is a student of Wildlife Conservation a University of the West of England. He is a passionate supporter of Born Free Foundation, having worked with them as part of his work placement in Zambia, detailed here. Tom will also be running the London Marathon in 2017 in support of Born Free FoundationTom also volunteers with vEcotourism.org, helping the conservation-themed Virtual Reality company by providing support on Twitter and Facebook. To find out more about Tom’s professional and campaign work, visit: https://twitter.com/ConservationTom/

 

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