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King update: Born Free’s rescued lion cub starts a new life

Imagine a lion cub, rescued from physical abuse and the confines of a filthy cage in a Paris apartment, feeling the South African sunshine on his back for the first time and the dry grass beneath his paws.

King the lion at Shamwari

King at Shamwari

That is the story of beautiful King the lion. Now successfully re-homed by International wildlife charity Born Free at their big cat sanctuary in South Africa’s Shamwari Game Reserve; King’s story captured interest (and hearts) back in April, when an appeal was launched to raise the funds to deliver him back to his ancestral home of Africa, and highlight the issue of the illegal wildlife trade. For those of you who’d like to read the first part of King’s story, take a look here.

Born free foundation's king the lion cub

King, back in April, before his big move

The one-year-old lion cub was rescued from an apartment in Paris last summer where he was being kept illegally as an ‘exotic pet’ in appalling conditions.

After his rescue, he was temporarily homed at Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre, Belgium, awaiting his big journey back to African soil and lifetime care provided by Born Free.

A home fit for a King…

On July 5th he travelled from Belgium, to London Heathrow airport under the care of Born Free’s expert team. In his Born Free branded wooden container, King then flew to Africa, courtesy of Kenya Airways.

Born Free Foundation elsa toy on kenya airways stall

Katrina Hanson, Kenya Airways’ Area Cargo Manager, said: “We were delighted to assist in King’s amazing relocation to Born Free’s Big Cat Rescue Centre at Shamwari in South Africa. We have worked with Born Free for many years carrying rescued lions from Europe to Africa so they can enjoy being a lion. These relocations have been a great success and we do all we can to make it as stress free as possible for the lions.”

After a short internal flight, King touched down in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, before travelling the short distance by road to Shamwari and to his new home at Born Free’s Jean Byrd Centre. Shamwari, where I was fortunate enough to gain a 3-month volunteer placement back in 2008, has been home to Born Free’s two Big Cat Rescue Centres for more than 20 years.

King the lion returns home to Africa

“So many people responded to our appeal to bring young King to Shamwari, and now he has arrived!,” said Virginia McKenna OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder and Trustee. “Thanks to everyone whose hearts were touched by his story, he now takes his first steps on African soil, and can begin his happy new life. May it be a long and peaceful one.”

The exotic pet trade

The sad story of King before he was rescued highlights the plight of millions of captive wild animals around the world that are kept as exotic pets.

I’m proud to support Born Free, who oppose the keeping of wild animals as pets. They state: \Wild animals, whether they have been taken from the wild or bred in captivity, have extremely complex social, physical and behavioural needs and are, therefore, particularly susceptible to suffer when kept as pets.

Dr Chris Draper, Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, adds: “It is staggering that, in 2018, lion cubs are still finding their way into the pet trade in Europe. We are concerned that King’s case is the tip of the iceberg, and that a great many wild animals are being kept illegally as pets across Europe and elsewhere. This situation needs to be addressed urgently, and we hope that by introducing the world to King – his plight, his rescue and his rehoming to lifetime care – Born Free can draw attention to this important issue.”

***

I’m so glad to know that for King, the tale ends happily, but like many of the people who have reacted to this story; I find it shocking to think that wild animals are being kept privately in people’s homes. In the case of King, his owner’s warped sense of pride in posting pictures of the lion cub (and the abuse he suffered) on social media was his own downfall. Thank goodness that the right people saw his posts and reacted accordingly.

I am, however, concerned about the many wild animals whose owners are not foolish enough to post their mistreatment online. How many others are stuck in an existence like the one King had?

Please consider supporting Born Free’s petition to restrict the trade in, and private keeping of, dangerous wild animals in Great Britain: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/221050

To donate to King’s lifetime care, visit www.bornfree.org.uk/king, call 01403 240170 or text KING to 70755 to donate £10.

 

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How can music support children and wildlife to live in harmony?

“When we pay attention to nature’s music, we find that everything on the Earth contributes to its harmony.”

Many of us who spend our lives looking to our planet’s incredible wildlife and nature will know that there’s a truth in the above quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan.

lion-safari-afika-landscape-40756

Our natural world is so full of intricate melodies, delicate harmonies and dramatic crescendos — which is why in recent years we’ve seen wonderful composers such as Hans Zimmer creating the breath-taking score of the documentary series Planet Earth II, and the likes of Philip Glass composing for the fascinating docufilm JANE.

Children and wildlife in harmony

Knowing that music, the natural world and human nature are so intrinsically linked, I was delighted to discover an exciting event taking place next Monday 11 June 2018, which will see a coming together of  the wildlife charity Born Free Foundation and internationally acclaimed pianist and conductor Panos Karan (responsible for establishing the charity Keys of Change); in a performance of music written by one of the great masters of Romantic composition, Frederic Chopin; Children and wildlife in harmony.

I’m excited to explore the musical journey as Panos performs Chopin’s 24 formidable and evocative Études. How wonderful to allow Chopin’s delicate thoughtfulness and graceful composition to be the soundtrack to thoughts of the future of our planet.

Panos Karan at piano

Panos will also speak about his charity Keys of Change, which uses music to improve the lives of young people living in extraordinary circumstances around the world, and Born Free Foundation President Will Travers OBE will be hosting the evening, while representing Born Free’s Global Friends programme.

The special event has been created to raise funds for both these important charities; the Global Friends programme — which supports schools and communities alongside the charity’s wildlife projects in Africa and Asia — and Keys of Change musical education programmes — which run from Ecuador and the Amazon, to India and tsunami-stricken Fukushima.

Both Keys of Change and Born Free believe that children are the future. Panos Karan, the Founder of Keys of Change, has seen the transformative impact of music and a personal engagement that music can have on individuals. Born Free has seen the same impact when children are encouraged to appreciate, understand and respect nature. What the world needs now is more kindness. And that’s what Keys Of Change and Born Free can deliver.

Helping local communities and wildlife live together…

I imagine Panos commanding the piano to flow between moments of light delicacy, through building layers of emotion, to reach purposeful places of darkness. The kind of emotion and drama that Chopin is synonymous with tells so many stories, that it seems perfectly conceivable that our planet’s delicate balance between human-wildlife conflict and human-wildlife compassion could easily be one of them.

The Global Friends communities supported by Born Free live in locations close to, or surrounded by wildlife. Many children in Global Friends Schools have not had the opportunity to go and see wild animals living in their natural habitat and indeed, some members of the community regard wildlife as a threat.

DbOQDgrXkAE5ymp

Born Free work to help find practical solutions to reduce conflict and increase empathy for the thousands of individuals who live in Global Friends communities.

The intention of this exciting event, therefore, is to help Keys Of Change raise the resources it needs to reach to and support traumatised communities while at the same time building and reinforcing the Born Free Global Friends Programme.

According to Born Free President, Will Travers; “Panos has a remarkable story. He is incredibly talented, but not wealthy as he puts his heart and soul into bringing music to people who’ve never had that experience. People in prison, people ten hours up a dirt track from the nearest town, people whose lives have been shattered by disasters like the Fukushima nuclear situation. Born Free also works on the edge – in communities that may not have water, electricity, modern communications, or no more than the occasional vehicle passing through. These are the communities that are getting left behind and that surely cannot be right.”

I love the idea of these two incredible charities coming together as a force for good.

As the force of Chopin’s incredible Études fills the Codogan Hall in London next Monday, I hope to share this experience and global vision with you. It’s my birthday after all — and this sounds like an ideal celebration!

For more information and to buy tickets visit: bornfree.org.uk/events/

 

 

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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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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.

 

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World Book Day 2018: My recommended Natural History reads!

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

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

Fiction: The Absence of Wings, written by Mark Stewart

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

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

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

The Absense of Wings can be purchased here:
http://markdestewart.wixsite.com/thescreamingplanet/the-absence-of-wings

Follow Mark Stewart on Twitter: @pendragonmist.

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

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

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

Animated Nature book by Richard Bonfield

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

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

Animated Nature can be purchased through Amazon here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tania Esteban chats about her role as a Digital Researcher for BBC’s Big Cats, Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II

Tania Esteban behind the camera

I’m sure that, like me, Thursdays for many of my blog readers have meant one thing this January — Big Cats!

The BBC’s natural history programming has started 2018 on a high, with this exciting new series exploring the secret lives of wild cats. This past Tuesday viewers were treated to a rare insight into an international project that’s battling to bring the Iberian lynx back from the brink of extinction through captive breeding and improving wild habitats.

I was fortunate enough to chat to Tania Esteban (whose work can be discovered at TRE Productions) about her work behind the scenes on the series, which involved researching, setting up shoots, storyboarding, and translating for the crew (Tania credits being bilingual as major advantage in securing her role on the project).

Listen to the full interview on the SoundCloud link below.

After discovering her film A Lion’s Tale through Twitter back in 2016 (it featured on my Top 5 ways to beat Blue Monday post in January 2017), I was incredibly excited to chat to Tania about the film; her first big steps into her career in documentary-making; and the amazing work she’s done with the BBC since completing her Masters in Wildlife Filmmaking…

Kate: ‘Big Cats’ was your first project for the BBC, what did you do for the series?

Tania: It was my first foray into the BBC because it was work experience. At the time I was editing A Lion’s Tale, which was good timing, so I applied for the BBC work experience pool. I thought; “I’ll just apply and see if I get it” — it’s usually quite tricky because so many people apply and I knew I may or may not get it. I was at university when I got the call and they said: “We’d love to do a quick interview with you if you’d like to do work experience”, and of course I said; “yeah, I’d love to!”

The reason why was mainly because I could speak Spanish and they sent me to Spain to do a recce of where they were going to film the Iberian lynx for the third episode, on the conservation element of it. So I was very excited because this was my dream project — I wish I could have worked on it for longer. But I spent a month and a half working on it; doing lots of research and getting to learn the ropes of production. We’d just learnt everything on the [Masters] course, so it was fresh in our minds and a good chance to see whether I could do this in the real world of work.

What did the work experience involve?

I helped the main researcher and assistant producer — the lovely Sara [Douglas]. We went out to Spain and actually flew into my home province — which was hilarious; I told the team that I could show them all the best tapas bars. I did a little bit of filming on an Osmo [a type of handheld camera] — so that’s kind of field notes and getting a general scope of the area so that the producer can look and think ‘right, we’re going to film here and we’d like to do this…”.

I did a lot of translating; liaising with the scientist and finding out key facts that would feature heavily in the story. It was my job to work around the language barrier and make them feel comfortable with the team and ask questions about where we could place the cameras and gain their trust — which I love doing, because I love talking to people. 

BBC big cats

What did you enjoy most about working on Big Cats?

I really enjoyed finding pure science, learning how to set up shoots and the storytelling element and thinking about different camera angles and story boards to help the production.

It was very high security and we had to put protective clothes on so we didn’t spread any disease to the animals and they hosed us down, because they’re critically endangered these lynx. And they’re so beautiful; very small animals. I’d never seen them before so that was very exciting. 

It was really inspiring for me actually, because I never realised how many passionate conservationists there are in Spain. I was quite blinded to that in a way because I’d grown up there, but I’d never really had the opportunity to meet any of these people, such as Miguel who features on the programme.

The conservation work is incredible and I’m very glad that — from the perspective of a half Spanish woman — the conservation work that the team is doing is now coming out and being seen. It was brilliant to see that and to start my BBC role and my work as a researcher on a programme that features big cats — as I was obsessed with big cats at that time, after working on my film ‘A Lion’s Tale’.

What’s it like behind the scenes? Did you learn things that weren’t in the final programme? 

Yes. You see all these things behind the scenes and you’ve got your team there; so you find out all of this knowledge and information that embellishes a sequence. And even if that doesn’t make the final cut, you still have that knowledge with you and you still have that bond that you’ve made with these people. I think it’s very important to keep up those relationships where ever you travel in the world, because you never know.

Like the connections you made during the production of A Lion’s Tale; the likes of Ian Redmond, Virginia McKenna and Will Travers. How did that come about and where did you get the idea for the film?

I was studying the Wildlife Filmmaking MA course in Bristol after completing my Zoology course. I’d know for so many years that I wanted to do this particular MA course; since I was 14 and I saw it advertised. So I planned all my A Levels and GCSEs to get to Bristol and do this course. So when I got it I was ecstatic! And as part of our final year projects we had to choose a story we were passionate about; I wasn’t too sure what that would be — I knew I really liked big cats, but wasn’t sure what the story would be. Then Ian Redmond came in [to the university] and gave an inspiration talk — as always. He was talking about vEcotourism and he said this one sentence — that it was the 50th anniversary since the Born Free film was made and I went; “that’s the story!”

A Lions Tale film poster

Click the image to watch A Lion’s Tale

How did you get to work on the filmmaking side?

I’d recently read how lions had declined by nearly 70% over 20 years, and it’s just terrible when you think about how their numbers have plummeted. People always think that lions are so numerous, and they’re really not anymore — so I thought that’s the connection. So I went up to Ian [Redmond] and said “I’m a huge fan and I’ve got this idea for a film I’d like to make with Born Free; could you maybe put me in touch with Will Travers and Virginia McKenna if they’d be interested. And that really got the ball rolling and I got in touch with Will. Will was absolutely incredible — and I’m such a huge fan of his, so I was terrified of meeting him — and of course Virginia has always been such a hero of mine; as I’m sure she is of yours, and many people. She’s got this incredible presence. I even did a presentation about her when I was at school; I was 10 years old and we had to talk about our biggest heroes, and I chose her.

Everyone who I’ve spoken to who’s met Virginia McKenna has said she has such a positive air about her, and she’s so passionate and she ‘does’. She’s an activist — she acts upon her word.

virginia mckenna at home

Virginia McKenna portrait by Tania Esteban

So once the ball was rolling, I spent six months setting up the shoot and liaising with them constantly and then doing all the storyboards, doing all the research; talking to Victor — who’s one of the rangers out in the Kenyan Born Free offices — and then crowd-funded it. It was just a bizarre, really incredible year of planning this dream shoot and I thought: “right, I’ve got 10 days to actually shoot it, just a tiny percentage of a production.”

Actually getting out there was incredible because I got to fulfil a childhood dream of filming a story about one of my absolute heroes and an animal that’s very dear to my heart.

A Lion's Tale film poster

When I started editing it, I want the piece to be very much a memoir of Born Free and of Virginia McKenna as well, because she has dedicated her whole life to conserving wildlife. And her son [Will] is one of the most hard-working people I’ve ever met. He never stops. He’s seriously incredible.

What was it like going to the 2016 ivory burn in Kenya for the film — to witness the biggest ever stockpile of ivory to be destroyed?

That was something that I was unsure as to whether it would come off. A lot of people asked “what’s the connection?” and I said “well, there is a connection”, at the very end — there was a different ending that I didn’t use, it’s a personal copy that I keep — it’s Virginia McKenna saying: “it’s not just about elephants and lions; it’s about the whole eco-system; it’s about the whole of nature — protecting it. It got me really emotional actually.

Being at the ivory burn was one of the most overwhelming, powerful things I’ve ever filmed. You’re so focussed as a camerawoman, thinking: “I’ve got to get this shot, and I’ve got to get that shot — I’ve got to get the president as he comes out to light the ivory, and I’ve got to roam around with my gimbal to try and get some of the shots of the rangers and the burning flames…” and then you look up and see this 50-tonne pile of ivory going up in flames. It was the smell actually, more than anything and you could hear the ivory crackling because bits of it were hollow — it was so powerful.

Tania Esteban film the 2016 Kenyan ivory burn

That’s why in the film I used Virginia’s voice, Will’s voice and Victor’s in the film, to narrate it. I wanted them to give a voice to all those people who had been working together to reach this moment. It’s all about emotion in the storytelling. That’s what I tell a lot of people — especially in conservation — because nobody wants to be lectured anymore. You’ve got to get them emotionally or visually arresting images to try and do these amazing people justice.

Just being there was amazing and I’m so grateful to Ian and Will and Virginia for giving me that opportunity to make a dream film.

Amazing! I know you’ve become a bit of a drone specialist; how has that come about?

Drones are amazing! I got started with them about 2 years ago when I saw a video on Vimeo that someone shot in Scotland on a Phantom 2 — a very old type of drone — and I just thought “god, it really does open up a whole new world!”. It was only then that it was beginning to get more commercial and anyone from the general public could start to buy consumer drones and give it a go. So I bought a secondhand one to see if I could actually fly it before I start taking it seriously — and it was terrible, the drone was quite terrible, but if you can fly a bad drone and a smaller one, then you don’t have to worry about the bigger ones.

I remember flying a drone over my house in Spain, and the mountains there have always inspired me, so just to see it from above and being able to take pictures was incredible — a whole new perspective. And that’s where it all started really. I realised it could add a whole new perspective to my storytelling. 

Tania Esteban holds a drone camera

I was at the BBC at the time and I thought: yes, I’m going to do this. It’s quite a lot of money, it costs quite a few thousand pounds to train yourself to get the license and get qualified, but I knew that it would perhaps open up more opportunities for me to go out on location and also to enhance my own videography and film work.

The conservation element of it is quite interesting, because you can use drones for aerial surveying — such as for monitoring orang-utan nests and tree distribution and species. In the forest it was incredible to pan up the trees that just go on and on, and it gives a good indication of the health of the forest when you see ferns on the trees, etc. And I’m always concerned about the welfare of the animals I’m filming — when I filmed elephants in the forest I didn’t get anywhere near them. So it’s exciting; you’ve got small drones like the Spark, which you can fit in your hand, and because of the size of it, the motors don’t make as much noise. That’s very exciting for wildlife filmmakers.

I recently went to Iceland, which is the most drone-able country — the way the landscape changes is like turning the pages of a children’s story book — and the new series I’m working on now heavily features a lot of drone work, so I’m going off to Canada very soon to go fly my drone. My first paid internal gig with my drone.

Exciting! And it’s always important to think about the welfare of the animals. So, tell me about your work on Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II. What did you do for them?

That came about two months after I finished work experience on Big Cats and I’d finished editing A Lion’s Tale. The film came out at the start of November and at the end of November the BBC got in touch and said “would you like to do digital research for Planet Earth II?” Umm, yeah!

Digital research encompasses all the online aspects: all the video clips, all the behind the scenes pictures and all the social media clips and exclusives that people see online. And I was a part of the team that did all the different additional bits to support the Blue Planet II team. Which is probably why I was very active on social media about it, saying “check this out!” and all the random .gifs you probably saw about it.

Tania tweets about Blue Planet 2

We did some digital exclusives for Snapchat for America, which was interesting. My job was to look into all the archive which wasn’t used for Planet Earth, so I got to see all this amazing footage which wasn’t used on the main episodes and edit up clips for the digital platform.

We crafted these different stories with this incredible footage that wasn’t used on the series. Some of it was breath-taking, I hope its used for something in the future. 

For Blue Planet II I did the equivalent, but also got to do some additional interviews with some of the filmmakers involved and the conservationists — so that was good, as it meant I got to do some more camerawork.

I was so desperate then to move on to production — and I saw that Wild Metropolis was commissioned and so I came up with loads of story ideas and pitched it to the series producer and he said “ok, you can be one of our researchers” — which was great, as I could move on to production which was what I wanted, as it’s pure research. It’s been my favourite project to date. A lot of people don’t see these ‘mega cities’ from around the world as wildlife hotspots, but some of the stories we’ve found: wow! It’s coming out in October time, so keep an eye out for that!

What advice would you give to people who want to go into filmmaking and start a career like yours?

You have to be really passionate — and slightly crazy — about wildlife and natural history. I did the science route, zoology and I studied urban bat ecology for a year and did my dissertation on it and then I specialised in filmmaking, because that’s what I wanted to do. You don’t have to do that, I know plenty of people who didn’t, but I think it just gives you this filmic grammar if you specialise in filmmaking.

So yeah, just get out there, find your own stories — the world has opened up now, anyone can own a camera that shoots 4K now. Talk to people about their experiences, travel — it opens up a whole new perspective of your own life, as well as your career. Keep filming and get on social media. .

Tania with Victor and Born Free team after filming A Lion's Tale

Networking is about 60% of everything that we do. I also believe that if you can specialise in a certain area of wildlife filmmaking: gimbal work, long lens work, drone work, time-lapse, thermal — like you saw in Big Cats, the thermal imagery — there’s so many different niches that you can specialise in, I think you should go for it and pick one that you enjoy. I also believe in developing your own style; don’t just copy.

And always remember your roots; the reason you’re doing why your doing your filmmaking work — to make a difference, to inspire people, which is especially true of wildlife work

 

kate on conservation logo

Want to know more about wildlife filmmaking?

 

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Finding my story: gentle nature

We all have stories that shape us. Tales of triumph, or tragedy — or both — which serve to remind us why we do what we do, or why we’ve chosen to walk down the paths that we find ourselves on.

I have been influenced and my decisions inspired by gentle nature. More than once on this blog I’ve listed the story of Suffolk photographer Julie Ward as the inspiring figure behind my decision to volunteer at Shamwari Game Reserve in 2008.

Exactly a decade on from my gap year trip, and two decades since Julie was murdered in the Maasai Mara in 1988, I find myself in the most unexpected situation. I always believe in ‘reading the signs’ and serendipity seems to follow me. But this feels like a perfect nod of encouragement at a time when such things are needed.

This week started with ‘Blue Monday‘, the so-called most depressing day of the year. I must admit, every year it does indeed creep up on me. Last year I took the bull by the horns and wrote a blog post; “Top 5 Ways To Beat Blue Monday” and felt suitably inspired. This year, my partner and I booked an impromptu hotel stay in Canterbury — one of my favourite cities — and packed up the car, bundled up the baby and took ourselves off.

Kate in Canterbury

No blog post was written, but some well earned family time was underway after a busy start to January spent planning a major event for our little London business.

Now, most people know I’m a massive book nerd. I read, admire and pore over as many wildlife and conservation books as possible (I’ve even started a hashtag of my recommended reads on Instagram; check out #kateonconservationreads). So it was only natural that I would go book hunting in the charity shops and secondhand bookshops of Canterbury.

Audubon's elephant book

My first purchase of the day was Audubon’s Elephant, a book that explores John James Audubon’s struggle to publish The Birds of America. This felt particularly exciting, given that I’d just written a blog post about the Audubon Society and my time with Audubon Sarasota for National Bird Day and my latest guest post came from a brilliant and enthusiastic birder.

Zafara book

The next book to catch my eye was Zarafa, the tale of the first giraffe to arrive in France. Much like the wonderful book; Jumbo by W.P. Jolly, this book promises an in-depth study of captivity management and animal transportation in the 1800s through the real life story of a much-loved, significant ‘celebrity’ animal.

Having written about Jumbo the London Zoo elephant and his shipment to America just recently, the promise of an equivalent tale of a giraffe being transported from Africa to Europe — and the trials and public reactions en route — was too good to leave sitting on the shelf.

gentle nature book 1998

The most incredible find of the trip however, and what feels like the crown jewel in my visit was walking into one of the most incredible Oxfam bookshops and casting my eyes through the ‘collectibles’ section, only to see sitting on the shelf, a hardback copy of gentle nature!

I treasure my paperback re-print from the year 2000, complete with an additional preface written by Born Free star and Co-Founder of the Born Free Foundation, Virginia McKenna. It was, after all, this copy that I won in raffle by the charity, and here that I first read about Shamwari Game Reserve‘s big cat rescue centre (including the Julie Ward Education Centre), which I would go on to volunteer at 8 years later.

But sitting on the shelf in front of me was an entirely different cover design that I was sure must be from the original 1998 print run.

“This has got to be a 1st edition” I told my partner, excitement dancing inside.

“It’s not that it’s particularly old, it’s just that you never see this kind of thing in secondhand shops. People buy these books because they care.”

I leafed through the front pages to see whether it was an original 1998 print, knowing that regardless, it would have a story attached.

It would have belonged to someone who cared about wildlife, about conservation; someone wanted to see wildlife free and not behind bars.

Someone who wanted to support the family of a young female photographer who grew up in the county next to me, and whose unsolved murder in the Masaai Mara must have touched them.

“No way!” my heart raced faster. This book has been signed!

Sitting there on the page in front of my was an message from Virginia, signed off with ‘Every good wish, Virginia McKenna‘.

To think that back in 1998, when I was eight years old, one of my biggest role models was holding this very book, sharing a special moment with its former owner. I suddenly felt a part of something.

“This is incredible.”

There were more messages and signatures inside the book, most poignantly from Julie Ward’s parents. As a new mum myself, I ran my fingers over the words penned by Julie’s mother, Jan. For Julie.

Needless to say, I purchased the book and it is instantly one of my most treasured possessions.

I have never met Julie’s parents, I wrote a letter to them once as a child; after following Julie’s story in the news. It was a letter writing task at school, and I chose to write to them, to tell them I wanted to go to Africa when I was older and take pictures, because I loved the wildlife photography I’d seen of Julie’s and because she was the only woman I’d heard of at the time who was from the part of England I was, and who had been brave enough to go on an adventure to Africa alone.

Despite her tragic story, she had shown me that young women could be brave and go on adventures, even if they’re from a rural county, rather than a big exciting city.

It was a piece of school work, so the letter was submitted to my teacher and never sent.

But to know that there’s a little bit of the spirit of Jan, and her love for Julie in this wonderful book — it feels like the message has been transferred the other way. From her pen to my eyes.

canterbury street

I said that my goal this year was to reacquaint with my passion for photography as a way to tell the stories of wildlife, to highlight the difference between freedom and captivity, and to share the tales of conservation efforts — and I feel like my spontaneous decision to get in the car and do something different this week was a well-timed reminder that I’m walking the right path.

kate on conservation logo

Learn more about Julie Ward

Want to know more about the Suffolk wildlife photographer and her legacy?

Want to know more about the Julie Ward Education Centre at Shamwari Game Reserve?

Want to know more about Born Free Foundation?

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Reflecting on a gentle nature

Lately, I have found myself in a reflective state of mind. Reflecting on my work, my goals, the small successes of the campaigns I’ve joined (Sea World agreeing to end the breeding of its captive whales); the near misses (the slow progress of the UK government in deciding whether to close the domestic trade in ivory); and the complete misses (never getting to see Tilikum free of his Sea World enclosure, CITES not delivering lions with Appendix I protection, etc.).

I suppose it can weigh heavy.

In need of a little pick-me-up, my thoughts went to the beginning —in fact, before the beginning —to the chain of events which began the ripple that would eventually flow into the creation of this sea of words; articles; posts.

It begins with the memory of murdered photographer Julie Ward, whose book, ‘A Gentle Nature’, I won in a raffle many years ago.

Below is a vlog I made a few years back, explaining who Julie Ward is and a little bit about her tragic story.

 

This is the book mentioned, which captured my interest in the Born Free Foundation and wildlife photography and was one of the inspiring factors which made me travel to South Africa to volunteer.

gentle nature

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had chosen to volunteer at Shamwari Game Reserve because it is home to two Born Free Foundation sanctuaries for rescued big cats, and one of these rescue centres was opened in Julie Ward’s memory.

Shamwari friends with Kate

Celebrating a job well done with my fellow Shamwari volunteers at the Born Free Foundation”s Julie Ward Education Centre.

Since that vlog was filmed, a further development arose in the Julie Ward murder case, where new DNA evidence brought detectives a step closer to finding her killers.

The following video shows a news report from BBC News in the East of England. I must apologise for the quality of the video and give pre-warning that to get the most from the video, it will require viewers to turn the volume to full. It was recorded on simple digital camera by my ever-supportive parents, and emailed to me during my year in Australia, so that I could watch it online from overseas.

 

Back in 2013 I even designed my own mini Go Go Gorilla to send out to Born Free‘s Julie Ward Education Centre at Shamwari.

The basic elements of my design were my Shamwari work t’shirt from my time as a volunteer there, the Born Free Foundation logo, and an image of Julie ward herself. Such were the reaches of their influence.

photo(9)

It’s wonderful to reflect on my own locality, and how where I grew up ultimately had an influence on ‘how’ I grew up. There are so many wonderful figures who have inspired my path into gentle nature and compassion conservation.

Those that I’ve followed throughout my life are: the late Joy Adamson (writer of the Born Free autobiographical tale of Elsa the lioness, and its sequels) and George Adamson (Joy’s husband, who had a lifetime of incredible conservation work in his own right, rehabilitating captive lions, such as Boy and Christian back into the wild) and the late Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna (who founded the Born Free Foundation with their son Will Travers, and whom played the roles of Joy and George Adamson in the Born Free movie).

I would also, like many people, have to cite David Attenborough in my list of conservation heroes whose footprints I would love to walk in. I am so grateful that, in blogging, I have found a way to honour those idols and to continue to grow in the shared goals; in all their triumphs, near misses, and total knock-outs.

 

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Top 5 ways to beat ‘Blue Monday’…

Apparently today is the most depressing day of the year. Cold January Mondays, can be a miserable time as it is, without the thought that statistics are against us, as well as the rainy British weather.

I figured it would be a good time to escape the January blues and indulge in the beauty of nature, and some of the incredible conservation heroes working hard to secure a future for some of our planet’s rarest wildlife.

Here are a few of my top suggestions for getting through the day.

1. Try out Gorilla Safari VR

A free app for your phone or mobile device, Gorilla Safari VR was developed by vEcotourism.org and released by the Born Free Foundation over Christmas.

If you’ve not tried it yet, the app — available on Android and iOS — begins at Born Free Foundation’s headquarters in Surrey and takes users on an immersive adventure (either using a VR headset or as a 360-degree video experience on your device), to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Meet Eastern Lowland Gorilla patriarch, Chimanuka (star of BBC’s Gorilla Family & Me), and explore his native habitat with Ian Redmond OBE as your guide.

Gorilla Safari VR

I wrote an entire post on this app last month, so feel free to take a look back over that for a full introduction, or visit vEcotours website at: http://www.vecotourism.org/news/announcing-gorilla-safari-vr/

2. Watch A Lion’s Tale

The realm of Natural History film making is in a fantastic position at present. We finished 2016 on the high of the amazing Planet Earth II, with its ground-breaking footage and camera techniques; we’ve had a host of great wildlife shows presented by Gordon Buchanan, and currently you can catch the fascinating BBC series ‘Spy in the Wild‘ narrated by David Tenant. Spy in the Wild uses some impressive robotic animals fitted with hidden ‘spy cameras’ to film a very intimate and unusual look into the lives of a range of animals, from alligators and elephants to African wild dogs. 

But there are many other amazing Natural History films available that you won’t find from switching on your television. Independent filmmakers are posting some incredible results online, including ‘A Lion’s Tale‘ by Tania Esteban.

This film looks at the legacy of actress turned conservationist Virginia McKenna, who famously played Joy Adamson in the 1966 film ‘Born Free‘. Fifty years on, A Lion’s Tale attempts to look at what that legacy means among today’s wildlife conflicts, returning to Kenya (where Elsa the lioness was once released to roam free) to visit the Born Free team and the Kenya wildlife service rangers to explore their work on the frontline of conflict and education.

A Lion’s Tale saw its public release online this last weekend, catch it here:

For more info about the film: treproductions.co.uk/

Official webpage: taniaesteban.wixsite.com/alionstale

3. Explore ‘Speaking of Nature’ case studies 

Another impressive independent film project to have received its launch onto the World Wide Web is that of film maker Craig Redmond. His project ‘Speaking of Nature‘ was released on the 5th of January and has gradually been doing the rounds on social media.

I discovered it this weekend and spent an entire morning working my way through the six stories that comprise this project.

Each story focusses on a different conservationist; Badger Cull – Dominic Dyer, Badger Trust;  Primate Pet Trade – Dr Ros Clubb, RSPCA; Hunting and Trapping of Migrating Birds – Fiona Burrows; Committee Against Bird Slaughter; Wildlife Crime – Mark Jones, Born Free Foundation; Industrial Fishing – Wietse van der Werf, The Black Fish; Gardeners of the Forest – Ian Redmond, Ape Alliance

There is a written introduction to each conservationist, exploring their role and the plight of each animal they work with (or rather, for the protection of) and video footage of two-part interviews with each chosen person.

Grab a cup of tea, nestle in and prepare to be inspired.

craig-redmond-speaking-of-nature

For the full stories, visit: https://craigredmond.exposure.co/speaking-of-nature

4. Discover GreenWorldTV

Something to get excited about for 2017 — a brand new television channel dedicated entirely to wildlife and environmental news!
Although GreenWorldTV hasn’t quite ‘landed’ yet, it’s coming. And I for one, can’t wait.
GreenWorldTV will launch in 2017 as the UK’s very first conservation, animal rescue and investigative wildlife online TV Channel and intends to bring a selection of educational and truthful wildlife TV shows, films and shorts to the world. Stay tuned – the channel will launch at www.greenworldtv.com
Check out this trailer for an idea of things to come, and give yourself something to look forward to:

You can sign up to Green World TV YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfsRp0AAJQII4EIfZeVoeRw

5. Have flick through National Geographic Kids Magazine

Ok, so I’m cheating a bit here, because – as some of you will know – I recently started working for National Geographic KiDs magazine. Their February issue (on sale now), is the first issue I contributed to.
It’s a great little uplifting read – lots of fun for children, but also, I’ve found, it’s a nice easy read on an early morning commute.
Simple language, great photography; some fun and unusual facts about big cats and a really interesting feature on polar bears (do you know how big a polar bear’s paw is?).
Plus, it’s bright and colourful and easily digestible. Definitely the kind of thing that cheers me up in January!

screen-shot-2017-01-15-at-17-58-37

Visit www.ngkids.co.uk or pick up a copy in your local newsagents.

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Remembering elephants as CITES starts

I’d like to say the first time I saw elephants in the wild, the ground shock and the earth rumbled. It didn’t. In fact, it was the most natural feeling in the world, to see a small herd sweep through the bushes and thorny acacia trees.

It didn’t feel like a surprise, to have these beautiful giants walk into my life because it felt like me walking into their lives was the surprising part. The earth beneath my feet, and the plants, and even the hot, dry, slightly dung-scented air, belonged to these creatures not to me. It was far more humbling than epic.

Elephant's Journey, photograph by Kate SnowdonYesterday, the 17th CITES meeting began in Johannesburg. CITES; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is a meeting between governments to reach international agreement on wildlife trade. Launched in 1975 to protect wild animals, it takes place every three years with representatives from most of the 182 Member Countries discussing whether to tighten or loosen trade restrictions on specific species.

There are roughly 5600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants already protected by CITES, which lists threatened species in three appendices, according to how threatened they are by poaching, habitat destruction and international trade. A simple break down of these is as follows (please see here for full explanation):

  • Appendix I lists species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants. They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, for instance for scientific research.
  • Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. International trade in specimens of Appendix-II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit or re-export certificate. No import permit is necessary for these species under CITES. Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.
  • Appendix III is a list of species included at the request of a Party that already regulates trade in the species and that needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. International trade in specimens of species listed in this Appendix is allowed only on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates.

This year’s meeting is the first to be hosted by an African country since the year 2000 and a record number of proposals, resolutions and decisions are expected to be made — with elephants, lions and rhinos high on the agenda. In my last blog post I looked at the debate surrounding the trade in rhino horn (i.e. whether or not it should be legalised), and today I want to talk about elephants. (Look out for my next blog on the protection status of African lions. I have previously written about the trophy hunting industry here).

Remembering Elephants

This is week seemed like the best time to stop and think about elephants. To really appreciate their beauty and their place in Africa and Asia, and indeed on this planet that we are fortunate enough to share with them. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to do this than at the book launch of an incredible book of wild elephant photography, called Remembering Elephants. Founder of the Remembering Elephants project, Margot Raggett (pictured below), explained that all of the photographs that appear in the book were gifted by the photographers, allowing it to be sold with 100% of profits donated to Born Free Foundation, to help such elephant projects as:

  • helping rangers in Kenya in their fight against poaching
  • volunteers in Mali
  • the veterinary unit in Malawi
  • the Ethiopian Elephant Sanctuary.

remembering-elephants-2Knowing the importance of the evening and the context of the book, it was particularly poignant when Born Free Foundation co-founder Virginia McKenna explained that the level of protection that these animals receive will be determined by the 182 Member Countries at CITES over the next few days, and the European Union has officially announced it will not support the Appendix 1 ban on elephant ivory trade. Last week, however, Britain announced its decision to ban all sales of ivory that cannot be proved to be over 70 years old. Virginia took the opportunity to call for a ban on ALL ivory sales in Britain, including in auction houses, stating: “The chink in the armour is easily exploited. It is easy to label something as antique.” 

Virginia addressed the audience to express her concern that at the rate at which elephant numbers are declining (in the early 20th century there were thought to be 3-5 million wild elephants, compared to an estimated 450,000 – 700,000 African elephants and between 35,000 – 40,000 wild Asian elephants alive today), these such photographs may be the only way we can see elephants. A selection of the photographs included in the book can be seen below:

Next to take the stage was Ian Redmond OBE, who I’ve worked alongside on previous projects (and blog posts!) relating to vEcotours. Ian was introduced as seeing himself as ‘a naturalist by birth, biologist by training, and a conservationist by necessity. This certainly came across when he spoke about the difference between the two different types of African elephant (savannah elephant and forest elephant; distinguishable by more rounded ears and brownish tusks that point down rather than outwards), yet how incredibly integral both species are to their environments and eco-systems.

I have heard Ian Redmond call elephants the ‘gardeners of the forest’ before, but thinking of them carving the landscape; be it by dispersing seeds in their dung (also a brilliant plant fertilizer), churning up and deepening water holes with their trunks or trampling down vegetation, allowing a variety of plants to grow; I truly understood the sentiment in his statement that “when you save elephants, you don’t just save elephants”.

remembering-elephants-14

Ian talks about the world’s only underground elephants, that mine for salt in caves near Mount Elgon. Find out more here: http://www.vecotourism.org/news/take-a-tour/salt-mining-elephants-of-mount-elgon/

He spoke of the underground elephants of Kitum Cave; the loss he felt at a young male, Charles (pictured above) being poached there; and how those on the ground, poaching these animals are simply desperate people, trying to make money  and how the real ‘bad guys’ are the ones buying and using these products. It was hard not to appreciate that demand for ivory ornaments and elephant parts as traditional Asian medicine really is the root cause of driving elephants to the brink of extinction.

Finally, we were left with a story that demonstrates the power of these animals, compared to that of humans, as Ian described his recent encounter in Mount Elgon, which left him rolling backwards underneath an elephant!

Ian had brought a special friend along with him for the event, one who I was introduced to at the end of the night; Archie the Elephant. Archie (the fluffy little guy sitting on my shoulder), has his own Facebook page, where updates of his adventures traveling around the world with various field biologists, conservationists, etc. will be documented to raise awareness of global wildlife issues and help tell the stories of different species and environments. The idea is, if you ‘like’ Archie’s page, you’ll learn about all sorts of wildlife stories. As someone who works in educational media, I think this is a great idea for kids! (and adults alike, really!).

remembering-elephants-21

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos

Yesterday, two days after the Remembering Elephants book launch, and coinciding with the opening day of CITES, hundreds of people took the streets of London to voice there disappointment in the EU’s decision not to back the Appendix 1 listing of elephants, to call for a FULL ban in Britain on the sale of ivory, and show CITES, and the world that we want the poaching of elephants and rhinos to end. Similar marches took place in more than 130 countries around the world.

global-march-for-elephants-and-rhinos-2Please take a moment to listen to this passionate speech from campaigner Dominic Dyer delivered outside South Africa House, which articulates the demands of those demonstrating, and the desperate situation that elephants are facing, far better than I can.

The march, organised by Action for Elephants UK finished at Downing Street, where a number of speakers voiced the significance of elephants and rhinos to our world, our need to protect their conservation status, and the desire for a full ban on ivory sale in the UK.

Knowing that Andrea Leadsom, Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change will be attending the CITES meeting in Johannesburg later this week, a letter was delivered to Prime Minister Theresa May outlining these demands and signed by hundreds of significant figures spanning across environmental experts, television personalities and leading religious figures. The letter can be seen here in the hands of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who will soon be releasing a film on the realities of the ivory industry.

global-march-for-elephants-and-rhinos-33Virginia McKenna also delivered a passionate plea outside Downing Street, holding up a child’s painting of elephants and declaring that ‘when we have children caring about these animals, caring about these issues, we must win’. I really hope that the world’s governments are paying attention!


Some of the people at the march, giving their support to elephants and rhinos by calling for Appendix 1 protections status at CITES were:

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