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Wild Voices Project: the podcast for nature lovers

Wildlife photographers, authors, film makers, fundraisers and change-makers are all coming together to tell their stories — and they’re definitely worth hearing!

I am endlessly inspired by the people who dedicate their lives to protecting nature and wildlife across the globe, and fascinated by their stories. That’s why I became instantly addicted when I discovered the brilliant podcastWild Voices Project‘ by naturalist Matt Williams!

I am already a fan of podcasts and it seems I’m not alone. Figures from March this year show that 23% of people in the UK have listened to a podcast in the past month, and on average, podcast listeners spend 3.6 hours listening to podcasts in a typical week. I personally fall into the category of around that much a day — hungrily drawing on audio inspiration as I work at my desk.

So, given that I’m a bit of podcast addict, here are five good reasons why Wild Voices Project is certainly one to tune in to for all nature and wildlife lovers and those curious about science comms!

 

5 reasons to listen to Wild Voices Project podcast…

 

1. New and surprising people to discover…

Although I’ve spent a long time working in and around wildlife conservation, and I’ve met many fascinating people along the way, there’s always a desire to cast the net wider and find out about the work, issues and lifestyles of nature lovers far and wide. Or those under our noses that perhaps aren’t given the media attention they deserve.

For example, it was a treat to listen to an interview with Skywalker gibbon researcher Carolyn Thompson, (who previously won a Roots & Shoots award) after learning so much about Dr Jane Goodall‘s Roots & Shoots programme over the last few years.

Click the image above to have a listen

 

2. Real voices in their own words…

It is an incredible honour to tell the stories of the people who change our planet, I know this from my own years of blogging. But there’s something quite special about simply framing those stories and allowing the person at the centre to tell it themselves.

From the first episode I listened to — an interview with the wonderful late Dr Alan Rabinowitz that I discovered while further researching the jaguar hero after writing my blog post about him (which you can read here) — to some of the most recent recordings, including an interview with Racing Extinction Director Louie Psihoyos, I have found every podcast inspiring. The authenticity of hearing these conservation heroes telling their own stories in their own words really helps to connect you with their journey.

Click the image above to have a listen

 

3. Voices from very different fields…

“Volunteers, conservation staff, TV presenters, photographers, surveyers, amateur enthusiasts, moth lovers, butterfly netters, dragonfly illustrators, guano collectors and more. They are the people with amazing stories to tell who help wildlife to flourish,” the Wild Voices Project website states. It’s true that a wonderful and diverse range of conservationists are represented on this podcast. And I’ve certainly learnt a little something new about nature from every single one.

Tiffany Francis‘ interview about her book ‘Food You Can Forage‘ was certainly one of my favourite finds. It’s an area I wouldn’t have necessarily researched myself, but after listening to her talk, I genuinely have a new and unexpected interest in foraging!

Click the image above to have a listen

 

4. Doesn’t shy away from debate…

I must admit, I’m impressed with the way that podcast host Matt Williams encourages open and frank debate. Often in the wildlife and conservation world, controversy sparks heated social media arguments, but moving away from the written word gives us a chance to listen more calmly to those who have less popular views. I’ve enjoyed taking the time to listen to opinions that I don’t often hear voiced — or those which would be lost under a stack of heated opposition on Facebook. I was interested to hear Dr James Borrell‘s recent discussion on whether or not we should be focussing on wildlife within country borders (NB: he believes in looking at the wider ecology) and I respect his view that ‘more healthy disagreement is what’s needed to help secure environmental progress’. You can check that episode out below.

Click the image above to have a listen

 

5. New roving reporter…

Ok, this one’s a little cheeky — but I’m absolutely delighted to acting as a roving reporter for this brilliant podcast from time to time! As much as I absolutely love blogging and writing (for my day job at Nat Geo Kids), I’m excited to try out a different format and put my interview skills to the test. Of course I’m used to chatting to my conservation heroes, but it’s certainly a bit different for me to have people listening in! My first foray into this field; an interview with Dr Jane Goodall is live on the podcast now and can be listened to by clicking the link below.

Click the image above to have a listen

 

Do let me know what you think, and if you’ve found any other recommended nature and wildlife podcasts, by leaving a comment in the box below.

kate on conservation wildlife blog logo

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

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

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

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

img_5615

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

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

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

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

articles-five-minutes-with-jonathan-scott-big-cat-man

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

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

Marsh Pride

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

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

img_5614

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

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

dnp05896-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lionesses from the Marsh Pride

Lionesses from the Marsh Pride

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

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

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

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

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

Members of the Marsh Pride, including Scarface

Members of the Marsh Pride, including Scarface

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

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

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

What next?

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

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

kate on conservation logo

 

Learn more The Big Cat People

Learn more about big cats

Want to know more about other big cat species?

Want to know more about Cecil’s the lion?

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

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

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

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

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

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Angela Scott photographing cheetahs for Big Cat Diary

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

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

The Big Cat Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My own collection of Scott’s early books

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

The Big Cat People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacred Nature: Life’s Eternal Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geographical Magazine publishes images from Sacred Nature

Geographical Magazine publishes images from Sacred Nature

Purchase these incredible books here.

kate on conservation logo

 

Learn more The Big Cat People

Learn more about big cats

Want to know more about other big cat species?

Want to know more about Cecil’s the lion?

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National Geographic’s next generation of photographers

It’s no secret that I love photography. I also love ‘conservation education‘, so hearing that the UK edition of National Geographic Kids magazine has announced its overall winner of the National Geographic Photography Contest for Kids 2016 — I had to find out more.

NG Kids magazine UK

I recently covered the Natural History Museum‘s Wildlife Photographer of the Year winners, and find it pretty exciting to think that, one day, one of the children entered into Nat Geo Kids’ competition might find themselves among the elite photographers whose work adorns the walls of the NHM in this prestigious competition. Especially as this year’s overall winner — chosen by judges wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan and renowned National Geographic photographer Reza — belonged to the ‘Amazing Animals‘ category of the children’s photography competition.

Overall winner

Ten-year-old Asher Flenner, from North London, scooped the prestigious award with this photograph of a brown and green anole lizard, entitled Anole on the Netting.

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He snapped the tiny brown and green anole (the size of a child’s thumb) sunbathing on the swimming pool netting while on his holidays in Florida. These little lizards have quite a temper, so Asher had to get close and zoom in without scaring him.

I agree with judge Reza, that the combination of opposing elements that make up this image make it quite fascinating.

“This, for me, is an artwork,” said Reza. “The photographer has chosen to capture these two elements — the plastic net, which is part of modern life, and this animal, which is as old as the dinosaurs. It’s just a genius work.”

“The symmetrical squares make it a very interesting picture,” added Michaela. “It’s aesthetically pleasing and I love that he’s chosen a lizard.”

Category winners

Weird but True

Another fascinating and unusual creature snapped on a manmade surface (this time a car windscreen); I love the strangeness of this snap, titled Hitchin’ a Windscreen Ride and all its minute detail.

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Taken by 12-year-old Thomas Grattoni-May from North Yorkshire, this image was announced as winner of the ‘Weird but True‘ category.

On a family holiday to Alberta, Canada, Thomas noticed this ‘alien-like’ bug on the windscreen of their car, and grabbed his mum’s camera to take a shot. Even after they started to drive away, it clung on, its long antennae blowing in the wind.

Dare to Explore

I absolutely adore this photo by 10-year-old Megan Davies. Called ‘Living on the Edge‘, for me, the picture shows that great wildlife photography doesn’t have to be snapped in exotic foreign locations; as Megan too this shot at the bottom of her garden, in Trefonen.

living on the edge, ng kids

Living on the Edge won the Dare to Explore category. Megan thought this little snail looked like it was exploring when she photographed it on a dewy Autumn morning.

Wild Vacation

Eleven-year-old Joshua Ritchie from Dublin won the ‘Wild Vacation‘ category of the competition with this snap, which wouldn’t look out of place in National Geographic Traveller Magazine.

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Titled Walk On, the image shows neat rows of sandals belonging to Buddhist nuns. The nuns had removed them before going inside to eat their dinner. Joshua snapped the intriguing picture while on an exciting holiday in Myanmar, South East Asia.

Tim Herbert, Editor of National Geographic Kids, revealed: “We had nearly 2,000 entries this year and, once again, I’ve been astounded by the quality of submissions. There are so manytalented young photographers out there!Asher’sphoto of thattiny lizard isan extraordinary shot and a worthy winner, but our judges had a tough task going through all the other wonderful images. Well done to everyone who entered this year’s competition!”

The photos taken by Asher, Thomas, Megan and Joshua will all be entered into the National Geographic International Photography Contest for Kids. Their pictures will be representing the UK and Ireland as they compete against other readers from other editions of National Geographic Kids from around the world.

Best of luck to these talented shutterbugs!

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 — My top 10 picks

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London is one of my new favourite ways to escape city life and immerse myself in the splendour of the natural world.

In March this year I had my first opportunity to visit the annual exhibition (then displaying the finalists of the 2015 competition), and was blown away by, not only seeing the incredible images up close and displayed together so thoughtfully, but by the wealth of wildlife-related issues, crimes and political traditions that they explored. Returning again for the 2016 display, I wasn’t disappointed!img_4804

Upon entering the gallery (situated in a different part of the museum building this year), visitors are greeted with the sentiment that it is the Natural History Museum’s mission ‘to challenge the way that people think about the natural world—by exploring the origins of life on Earth, showcasing our planet’s biodiversity and questioning our impact on the environment to build a sustainable future.’

The entry board so accurately describes the exhibition as a powerful visual reflection of a shared ambition to inspire change. I must admit that it certainly gave me plenty of food for thought as every caption provided an important opportunity for mapping out the relevance of each image to the overall goal of the Natural History Museum, which states that proceeds from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year ticket sales will go towards supporting the work of their 300 research scientists and the care of their 80 million specimen-strong collection.

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My top 10 standout images from this year; the ones that really captured my heart and imagination (though ALL are worth seeing and appreciating for their craft!) are as follows:

10. The pangolin pit by Paul Hilton

wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2016-9Winner of the single image photojournalist award this year, Hilton’s photograph tells a shocking story of the world’s most trafficked animal; the pangolin. Given Appendix 1 protection at CITES this year, the pangolin is killed for its meat (a symbol of status) and for its scales, which are used in traditional Asian medicine. These 4,000 dead pangolins were photographed in shipping container probably destined for China or Vietnam.

9. Requiem for an owl by Mats Andersson

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This sombre snap captures a pygmy owl known to the photographer, alone against the moonlight having recently lost its mate. The photographer describes observing the pair and felt the photograph reflected his own sadness at the loss. Thought to have been targeted by a larger owl defending its territory, this owl was later also found dead.

8. Giant-killer by Ralph Pacewildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2016-1

I love the bizarre look of the battle between this California sea lion and ocean sunfish; the world’s heaviest bony fish. Though this is only a youngster, the sunfish still looks pretty huge! I hadn’t realised that sea lions tackle such large prey until seeing this photo.

7. Hanger-trap by Bence Mátéwildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2016-8

A poignant reminder of the impact that plastic pollution can have on local wildlife. Photographer Bence Máté described seeing this black-headed gull for two more days after this photo was taken, with the plastic hanger still attached to its foot. After that, it seemed to have disappeared.

6. Wild West stand-off by Charlie Hamilton James.

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When viewing this epic photograph my first thought was that it wouldn’t look out of place in a giant ornate frame on the wall of a stately home somewhere. I initially wondered whether it was comprised of many different frames, pieced together in a technique I’ve seen used on the cover of National Geographic Magazine before, but it turns out that it was captured by a camera trap left in location at Yellowstone National Park for six months. This perfect shot was found in amongst the 200,000 images that the camera had captured.

5. Rig diver by Alex Mustard

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I love this picture for the dramatic scale and colours. The sheer number of fish and the imposing, shadowy figure of the cormorant convey a sense of foreboding. It also challenged me to think about an environment in a new light, which is the sure sign of an impressive piece of photojournalism; the oil rig is providing a unique opportunity for shelter and food for sea birds. I’d previously only ever thought of oil rigs as negatively affecting the wildlife around it.

4. The alley cat by Nayan Khanolkar

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Winner of the ‘Urban’ category of the awards, this stunning photo by Nayan Khanolkar, captured using a camera trap, shows a leopard stalking through the shadowy streets of Mumbai. To me, this was a particularly important addition to the exhibition, as it really highlighted human-leopard co-existence. Wildlife being forced to co-exist alongside humans in manmade environments is something that we will continue to see more of thanks to continued urban sprawl. Though the often elusive leopard is one of most persecuted big cats in the world, the city in which it has been photographed here, regards their secretive neighbour with high respect; accepting its place in their lives and culture.

3. The disappearing fish by Iago Leonardo

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This photograph looks so perfect that it almost seems unreal, like a manmade collage. But in fact, the image was captured using natural lighting by Leonardo, who was free-diving around Contoy Island; a protected area that requires special permission to dive. The ghostly, glass-like fish at the top of the frame are called lookdowns, and their impressive silvery scales make them appear almost invisible. I love this image for its composition and the incredible juxtaposition of colours and textures of the two types of fish.

2. Night blow by Audun Rikardsen

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A stunning photograph that captures such a wonderful sense of mood and atmosphere; viewing this dramatic image up on the screen in the dark the exhibition room really made me feel chilly. One can imagine the ferociously icy conditions that photographer Audun Rikardsen must have endured in the six hours he spent in a boat on the nighttime polar water, waiting to snap this perfect shot. His undeterred patience certainly paid off.

1. The aftermath by Simon Stafford

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I’ve chosen Simon Stafford’s image as my favourite of this year’s finalists, as the dramatic shot reveals a rarely-seen side to a story we all know so well. Lots of natural history documentaries make the annual wildebeest migration across the Mara River the subject of their stories, but very few tell the tale of ‘the aftermath’, following a stampede. Here, spotted hyena make the most of the gully full of dead wildebeest, trampled in the stampede: scavenging every morsel of meat, and even bone, leaving just the horns of the deceased wildebeest in their wake. This photography was a worthy winner of the ‘Mammals’ category.

Photo journalism category: Winning photo stories

As well as selecting a single photograph as the overall winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the panel of the judges, lead by author and creative director Lewis Blackwell (Chair of the jury), also select a winning photo essay from the ‘Story’ category of the competition.

This year, there were two joint ‘Story’ winners; Vultures: circling calamity and While the forest still stands.

Vultures: circling calamity by Charlie Hamilton James

wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-vulture-photo-essayThis photo essay examines the wide-ranging threats to Africa’s vulture population; one of the fastest declining groups of animal in the world. Half of all species of vulture in Africa are now endangered, with numbers predicted to fall by another 70 to 97% over the next 50 years. This photo essay tells the story of the vultures, their importance to the ecosystem, the effect of poisoning, poaching and human conflict (such as traffic) and what’s being done to help the species. An important addition to the exhibition.

While the forest still stands by Tim Laman

wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-orangutan-photo-essay

Tim Laman has used his photo story as an opportunity to showcase the lives and cultures of Borneo’s orang-utans and their fight for survival against human conflict, such as deforestation to make way for palm oil plantations. He studies their engagement with their habitat, the way that mothers bond with and teach their young, and their desperate plight to flee the forest fires, which are a common method used to clear the forests to make way for the production of palm oil crops.

Overall competition winner

This year’s overall Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner is Entwined lives by Tim Laman. It features in the above mentioned While the forest still stands photo story and shows an impressive view of a young male climbing high above the canopy top to feast upon figs. It was shot using a GoPro camera positioned in the treetops and triggered from the ground.

wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-orangutan-winnerLewis Blackwell, Chair of the jury’s comment: “A vital story is captured in one remarkable frame as this orang-utan climbs an emergent tree in its ever-dwindling habitat. The story is well-known, but we need outstanding photography like this to bring it across to us afresh. It touches our hearts and our minds – and just might help support actions to stop the destruction.”

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The Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s 52nd exhibition is on at the Natural History Museum now and includes many, many more striking and impressive pictures than the handful I have picked out here.

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Introduction to Wildlife Photography Day Course — Woodbury Wetlands

Sometimes, to really fall in love with nature; to understand and appreciate it, we need to see it, beautifully framed and thoughtfully presented.

It’s great to read a dramatic, well-researched, personality-led article in the likes of say, National Geographic magazine, but when that article is teamed with a bird’s eyes view of arctic wolves on the hunt; red blood penetrating thick white snow, or a herd of wildebeest scrabbling up the muddy edge of a river bank, frantically seeking a sure spot for their feet to fall, to avoid the the snapping jaws of a crocodile… then the story really comes to life.

National Geographic magazine is one of my favourite sources of photojournalism. Such magnificent storytelling visuals, particularly their abundance of wildlife photography, not only connects audiences with natural history, but also serves as a last frontier for recording near-extinct, species; as proven by Joel Sartre’s Photo Ark project (featured in the Oscar-nominated Discovery documentary, Racing Extinction).

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The power of photography in these such cases cannot be contested. I love photography, and ever since visiting the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the National History Museum earlier in the year, I’ve been inspired to get back in touch with using a camera and my own desire to dabble in some amateur wildlife photography.

Shooting on a Nikon D80, and occasionally an iPhone, I have joined a social media group through my work (I work for Discovery Education by day), called Discovery Shutterbugs. It’s a fantastic place to share some of my shots with my colleagues, to receive tips and advice, as well as some much needed constructive criticism!

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I’ve managed to fit in a few ‘nature days’ since moving to London in November. Earlier in the year, around Easter time, I stayed at a beautiful cottage with my partner, in a place called Scarning, in Norfolk. Set amongst the idyllic grounds of Scarning Dale estate, we stayed in the quaint Rose Cottage, which had visits from wildlife everyday, and I took the above selection of photographs, which I have since shared on Discovery Shutterbugs, and on my Wildlife Photography page on this blog.

When I’m not able to escape to the country, I have been finding places of nature to relax in around the City, my favourites being Ravenscourt Park (which is on my doorstep), St. James’s Park and the beautiful, expansive Richmond Park.

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After spending a few months reacquainting with my camera, I enrolled on my first ever camera course: An Introduction to Wildlife Photography. Obviously the title sounded entirely my cup of tea, but also, the day’s course would take place in an area of London I’d never been before; Woodbury Wetlands, and is associated with an organisation that (for my shame) I know little about; London Wildlife Trust.

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Woodberry Wetlands is an incredible patch of land, a short walk from Manor House tube station. The reserve stretches 17 hectares and encompasses reed-fringed ponds and dykes that are abundant with wildlife, including birds and waterfowl, bats and amphibians.

According to its website, “Prior to the building of the new river and reservoirs, the Woodberry Down area was in fact not a wetland at all! On the crest of a hill, the area is rather known confusingly known as ‘down land’, hence the name Woodberry Down. 600 years ago the was rolling grass meadows, pastures for cattle and small woodlands, probably home to dear and wild boar, as well as a number of small hold peasant farmers.”

The reservoirs now on the site were constructed in 1833 to meet the growing demands for drinking water in the then suburban London ‘towns’ of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill. By the 1950s, the reservoirs and New River were being treated with chlorine and sodium phosphate gas to ‘clean’ the water, resulting in them being devoid of any wildlife. By the early 1990s, Thames Water put the Stoke Newington reservoirs up for sale, and after a long campaign by local residents to stop them from being filled in, the reservoirs were saved and wildlife began to thrive as chlorine and sodium phosphate ceased to be used to clean the water.

Woodberry Wetlands was constructed this year and the Stoke Newington East Reservoir was opened to the public for the first time, by Sir David Attenborough, on the 30th April.

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Upon finally discovering and taking my first look around this beautiful setting, it was time to begin the course, run by Royal Photographic Society associate Penny Dixie. An incredible photographer, Penny used examples of her own fantastic work (well worth a look!) to explain camera basics; such as shutter speeds, aperture, white balance and controlling your exposure using histograms.

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Naturally, being a day course, it was a bit of a whistle stop tour of the basics, but few of us in the room were competent enough to need or desire any more than that; most had either heard of some of these controls, experimented with them occasionally, or were so out of practice that a good refresher was needed. I fell into the latter category.

But after a good morning of classroom-based theory, we were ready to try out some depth of field work, and sent out into the reserve to complete the following tasks:

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The results of my day’s work (all very proudly shot with my camera set to manual!) are shown below, please click on any of the images to enlarge. I’d love to know what you think, or any tips or hints you’d give me for improvement. I’m really hoping this is the start of a very rewarding learning curve for me!

The Introduction to Wildlife Photography Day Course will be running again in August I am told, so keep an eye out for information here.

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 — My top picks

I’ve never visited the Natural History Museum‘s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition before, despite a lifelong love of animals and a long term interest in photography.

Growing up in Norfolk, exhibitions like that seemed few and far between. But even without the obvious inspirations, I remember spending summers sneaking round the edges of my parents’ garden taking snaps of the visiting bird life on a disposable pink plastic camera with zebra stripes all over it. The kind with no zoom and a risk of double exposure if you forgot to wind the film on.

imageNothing like the kinds of amazing prints I discovered in the Under 10’s category of this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year gallery, when I finally found myself visiting. What a blessing it is to now live in London!

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Breathtaking. Breathtaking is the word for each of the hundred or so images on display in the darkened room at the back of the museum. Illuminated on screens in several different sections (an unusual way to experience a gallery!). The photographs showcased everything from climate change to urbanisation of species, to aerial landscapes and macro shots of mud in ice.

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I was overwhelmed at the quality of work; particularly from the young finalists. Long gone are the days of disposable children’s cameras with not so much as a ‘zoom-in’ setting, it would seem.

But the overall winner; A Tale of Two Foxes by Canadian doctor Don Gutoski managed to combine technical skills, an important message and ‘the perfect moment’; capturing a powerful, foreboding image of deathly mirroring.

A bleak comment, perceived by the competition judges to the show the greater impact of climate change on native species.

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“This scene is full of symbolic force: the red fox preys increasingly on the Arctic fox as a result of global warming. It is nature, brutal and yet eerily beautiful. Great wildlife photography combines learning with exploration and opportunism and this demonstrates that so well.” Chair of the Jury, Lewis Blackwell.

The scene depicts a scenerio where global warming is altering the placement of the red foxes’ territory; pushing them further northwards into the range of the smaller Artic fox. The result on the food web is that the Artic foxes’ main food source becomes prey to the red fox, making the red fox the biggest competitor, but also the biggest predator – as increasingly, the red fox hunts its smaller cousin.

imageAnother image that evoked a strong sense of the result of rising temperatures and human impact on the environment was Just Jellyfish, a finalist in the Under Water category.

Photographer Thomas P Peschak aligned the shot perfectly to demonstrate an underwater world with an absence of fish foreshadowing what the future may hold if the effects of overfishing and climate change are not kept within grasp. Warmer waters will increase the numbers of Cape box jellyfish, which then feed upon the eggs and larvae of the fish; fish numbers dwindle, which in turn has serious consequences on the fishes’ natural predator: the Cape fur seals.

imageBeing a journalist, the photojournalism category of the competition held several gems for me. Having recently read National Geographic magazine’s exposé on the political dark side of the ivory trade, it was a profound discovery to see the winning story was one by photographer Brent Stirton depicting the story of poaching from the Spoils of War (showing seized tusks), to The Survivor; an aerial shot of the remaining 450 elephants in Chad’s Zakouma National Park.

What interested me about this photo series was the humans at the centre of it. Rather than just depicting the plight of the animals and their surroundings, Stirton told the story of the people whose lives are most affected including those on the frontline of defence and those widowed by rangers who have fallen victim to the ivory trade.

imageThe photojournalism category of the exhibition highlighted another tragic human interference that these gentle giants face; being captured from the wild for use in circuses and ceremonies, as depicted in Emily Garthwaite‘s Chained to Tradition.

imageThe Asian elephant photographed is in ceremonial dress following a six hour procession, parading through bustling streets of large crowds and fireworks during Diwali. A far cry from the lifestyle of their endangered wild counterparts.

Sticking with the photojournalism side of things, I’ve been interested in learning about gorillas and other great apes recently, having watched the BBC series Gorilla Family & Me (featuring Born Free Foundation‘s mountain gorillas) and having researched the work of Ian Redmond and The Trimates for an earlier blog post. So I was intrigued to understand exactly what was going on in Marcus Westberg‘s shot, Gorilla Care.

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My initial thought was that the health check was taking place at a zoo, but on reading the caption, the mountain gorilla in the centre of the room, and her anxious companion (who worriedly watches over the proceedings) are two of four mountain gorillas at the Senkewekwe Centre that have been rescued from poachers and traffickers.

The Centre is now named after a gorilla who fathered the nine-year-old female at the window, watching her companion in the centre of the room have her annual check up.

The four gorillas that reside there have all had traumatic experiences, and for me, the most story-telling element of the picture is the deep felt attachment from nine-year-old Ndeze as she watches helplessly from between the bars of the window. According to the picture’s caption, photographer Marcus Westberg said:

“The deep bonds that exist between these orphans, their carers and [gorilla doctor Eddie Kambale – pictured] is one of the most touching things I have ever had the privilege of witnessing.”

imageThe last photograph of the exhibition that I’d like to highlight is one that brings me full circle to my recent move to the City Neil Aldridge‘s Little Fox in the Big City.

My first night of living in Hammersmith, I woke up in the middle of the night, unsettled in a new environment, and walked into the kitchen to spot a beautiful fox hopping and dancing its way through the car park in the centre of the square court of flats I now live in.

I must have spent about 10 minutes just watching the creature’s manic movements and comical chattering, and felt truly blessed to be watching over at this ungodly hour: probably the only person to witness this fascinating and private ritual.

Having spent my whole life growing up in Norfolk; on the edge of Thetford Forest, I’d never once seen a live wild fox (though roadside casualties aplenty)!), but moving to London I saw a fox the very first night.

The urban fox is a well-established resident, and Aldridge’s striking image captures that entirely.image

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is on at the Natural History Museum until the 2nd May, and includes many, many more striking and impressive pictures than the handful I have picked out here.

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