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


ConSewvation: Sewing for a cause

I have a confession to make. I’ve unashamedly become an Instagram addict lately. My new favourite social media platform, it’s perfect for sharing wildlife photography, animal art and my favourite natural history book purchases! And, as I’ve recently discovered; shopping!

From the gorgeous canvas print that now resides over my bed to the beautiful hand-drawn Lion King fan art I’ve placed in my daughter‘s Disney-themed nursery, I’ve discovered a fantastic marketplace of individuals and Etsy shops offering unique gifts and animal-themed goodies that I just can’t get enough of. Enter; ConSewvation.


After discovering these beautiful one-of-a-kind crocheted elephants on Instagram, I fell in love with both the products and the purpose of ConSewvation.

Motivated by a mission to make these cute cuddly elephants — sold for use as ornaments or children’s toys — to raise funds for her dream of working in the field of conservation; creator Sasha Cole has not only got some serious sewing talents, but an undeniable passion for wildlife that shines through in her craft.


“I want to go back to Cambodia and work in Phnom Tamao Wildlife Centre,” Sasha tells me. “I did a behind the scenes tour there last year and fell in love with the place. It takes care of animals rescued from cruel captive situations and rescues those that have had attempts on them to be smuggled out of the country. Any animals that can be released back into the wild, they do.”

“I fed lucky the elephant when I was there, so she is my idea behind the elephants.”


Each elephant is unique (Sasha says she never makes the same thing twice!) and I adore the attention to detail. With bespoke characteristics (such as the passport stamp material in the ears of her latest creation, seen below), they really do make for a perfect gift with a personal touch.

consewvation elephant pale yellow design with passport stamps in ears

A self-declared one-woman handicraft shop, Sasha’s recent trip to Cambodia has also ignited her desire to study Zoology as part of an online course by United for Wildlife.

“I have put all of my efforts into sewing to raise funds for my re-training in Zoology and Conservation. Every penny you spend goes back into ConSewvation and helping me to pursue my dream of saving those who can’t speak for themselves,” she says.

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center houses the wildlife conservation efforts of Wildlife Alliance; a leading organisation in the direct protection of forests and wildlife in tropical Asia.

As well as caring for and rehabilitating animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, Wildlife Alliance delivers a comprehensive approach for tropical rainforest protection through direct on-the-ground interventions with government rangers and local communities — directly addressing the causes of deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade.

“We build rangers’ professional capacity and provide full support for their livelihoods. This enables them to focus completely on their duties to take strong action and creates a culture of Zero Tolerance for Corruption,” they state.


A quick read of Consewvation’s blog, and it’s entirely evident why Lucky the elephant was the inspiration behind this lovely Etsy shop: “On the car journey to the centre we were handed a book full of heart-wrenching stories of the animals we were to meet later in the day. First up we had Lucky, one of the world’s most charming and trusting elephants,” she recounts of her time Phnom Tamao. “Being able to get up close with her in person, even feeding her directly into her mouth, made me wonder why anyone would want to hurt such gentle giants.”

With such a compassionate creator and such care in their creation, I chose the little yellow elephant with cute elephant and rainbow details in its ears as the ele that would mark my first Etsy purchase. Luckily, my daughter loves it as much as I do.Baby-Ada-And-consewvation-elephant-design-yellowWe named the little guy ‘Sunshine‘ (as this little bright yellow elephant will bring rainbows to the nursery on rainy days), and to be safe around its small parts (ConSewvation recommends designs are best for ages 3 and up), he’ll be waiting on the shelf for when my little girl is old enough to hear about where this little elephant came from and how he’s helped!

Sasha Cole ConSewvation with elephantFollow ConSewvation’s makes here:
Instagram: @consewvation
Facebook: /ConSewvation
Twitter: @consewvation

Or follow her blog for updates on her studies, creations and fundraising!

Blog: https://consewvation.wixsite.com

I’m sure that Lucky will bring you luck with your fundraising, Sasha!


kate on conservation logo


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Rhino’s Up: One six-year old’s fight to protect the last Northern White Rhinos

Working in conservation and education will always feel like a blessing to me. To see how children react to the issues facing the natural world around them, and to discover time and time again how they seem to intrinsically care about the environment and the wildlife they share it with — it truly fills me with hope and positivity.

One such story that’s started August off on a positive note is that of six-year-old Frankie and his fundraising mission for Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Frankie (pictured above) is on a mission to save rhinos after discovering that there are only three northern white rhinos left in the world.

He decided to launch a fundraising project called ‘RhinosUp to raise £48,000 – the amount that a poached rhino horn might fetch on the black market.

His plan is to create a living sculpture in the shape of a northern white rhino out of bee-friendly plants. Frankie hopes his flowerbed — made in partnership with Fauna & Flora International — will encourage people to think about the plight of rhinos and spread the message that poaching has to end.

Read the full story (and watch Frankie’s video) on National Geographic Kids’ website here.

National geographic kids rhinos up article

Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s CEO said: “I am making a special trip to the UK to meet with Frankie. I am amazed at what this formidable young man has managed to achieve at such a young age.”

“If only the world were made of more people like him, we would not be facing the extinction crisis that we currently are. The northern white rhinos need all the help they can get, and what Frankie is doing will make a huge difference in how we protect them and for the survival of the species.”

Well done Frankie!

For more information on Frankie’s ‘RhinosUp’ project, and to donate online, visit www.rhinosup.com


Want to know more about rhino horn poaching?


A new Born Free adventure

Wow! What a month! Where do I even start to unravel my latest goings on? Life is certainly a funny game, filled with unexpected twists and turns; sunrises creeping up over horizons you hadn’t even noticed existed behind the entangled thickets of everyday life.

This last month has certainly been one of those such scenarios. Busy throwing myself into my many projects; my 9-5(ish) of writing for magazines, blogging for Livelikeavip.com, the odd music review, the odd careers-related post and even keeping an eye on the St Albans Film Festival — which is very close to my heart — it can be a little hard to keep up with myself sometimes.

But following a fantastic night in London celebrating Born Free Foundation’s 30th Anniversary ‘Wild Night at the Movies‘ event, I have been overwhelmed by the response my review post on the evening received –  including from the likes of journalist Kate Silverton (who chaired the interview with Born Free Founder Virginia McKenna on the night) and Will Travers OBE; CEO of the Born Free Foundation. photo(9)But who knew that Tweeting my blog post out to the masses would result in an incredibly inspiring and motivational meeting in a private member’s club off of The Strand, London, where I would find myself talking through my lifelong journey of supporting the Born Free charity: how it’s influenced my greatest adventures (my gap year spent volunteering in South Africa), my creative talents (my only art exhibition was themed on Africa Wildlife), my travel activities (I spent time in Australia volunteering for Conservation Volunteers Australia) and my career ambitions (my first job out of university was working for Discovery Communications), with Will Travers himself?!

With fantastic support and encouragement, the result of our meeting was that I will revive my Kate on Conservation blog, with the full support of the Born Free Foundation — receiving direct information and (hopefully) a few exclusives, to bring my lovely readers my genuine thoughts and perspectives on conservation issues across the globe from a compassionate supporter’s perspective. I can’t tell you how excited I am!

In the meantime, I’ve been pretty reflective on my relationship with the charity thus far… here’s a little look back on the journey I’ve had to reach this point of blogging with Born Free Foundation:

DSC_0098 Growing up, the stories of Joy and George Adamson’s life with animals captivated me!

DSC_0001So many inspiring thoughts and words on the pages of these beautiful books.

DSC_0127I’ve been a Born Free ‘adoptive parent’ for many years. Beginning with lions Raffi & Anthea in 1996.


Using the Born Free Foundation as the basis for my end of primary school project; 2001.

DSC_0130I began fundraising for the charity in my early teens, beginning with collecting used stamps and loose change, selling raffle tickets, etc. Before applying for ‘Get More Involved’ packs.

DSC_0131I remember holding a tap top/bake sale of goods from my front lawn when I was about 14. On refection, it may have been a little more effective if I didn’t live in the bottom of a cul-de-sac…

DSC_0132(Above and below): Some of my early fundraising initiatives. Designing my own (rather crude-looking now) Born Free stationary and calendar.

imageA little look inside my homemade calendar…

DSC_0139Following Born Free updates over the years (some of my hoard, which runs from 2002 – 2014!)image2008, aged 18, I made the life-changing decision to volunteer at Shamwari Game Reserve, home of the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries.

DSC_0141The letters I received at the beginning and end of my volunteering trip.DSC_0128Celebrating Born Free’s milestones over the years – 21st anniversary, 25th, and this year’s 30th year of the foundation!

DSC_0142The latest collection of literature I’ve been given in the last month – a bit of background reading for my blog posts to come!!