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Taking big steps for elephants

So far, this month is shaping up to be an important month for elephants. On the 6th October the UK Government announced plans for a total ban on ivory sale, including pieces pre-dating 1947 — and in the days that followed, Action for Elephants UK led a powerful visual protest outside parliament to urge them to enforce the proposed ban.

Under the newly proposed ban the sale and export of almost all ivory items would be illegal in the UK, with ‘some exemptions’ for musical instruments and items of cultural importance, according to the government.

Although a similar ban was proposed in 2015; earlier this year, changes were announced to exclude antique ivory produced before 1947. To ensure this doesn’t happen again, animal rights campaigners staged a demonstration last weekend to urge Environment Secretary Michael Gove, to maintain his promise of a consultation to end the trade of ivory of all ages.

Activists also used the opportunity to raise awareness of the poaching crisis that is pushing rhinos and elephants to extinction.

african elephant in Shamwari

The striking silent protest saw hundreds of campaigners standing silently in London’s Parliament Square, wearing the same shirts and black arm bands for all the elephants and rhinos that have lost their lives to poaching and the ivory and horn trades.

The event was also attended by Save The Asian Elephant (STAE)’s CEO Duncan McNair, Born Free Foundation’s Will Travers, Angels for the Innocent Ambassador Dan Richardson and Director of powerful new documentary ‘Gods in ShacklesSangita Iyer – all of whom addressed the crowds, alongside Action for elephants UK – who organised the protest.

Duncan McNair from STAE leading silent protest for elephants and rhinos – photo by Antony March

After the demo, the speakers delivered a letter to 10 Downing Street representing over 200 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and MPs concerned for elephant preservation.

The Prime Minister was also addressed in a separate covering letter to express thanks for DEFRAs latest announcement on the ban, and to reiterate the need to enforce it.

“[The covering letter] says we will be working to ensure no watering down of a ban by those pressing for exemptions, such as the antiques trade, and also asking the UK government to take further steps to end the global Ivory trade that has decimated the elephants,” STAE’s Duncan McNair (pictured above) explained to me the morning of the protest.

“And to ensure it can stand at the head of nations at the 2018 conference on the illegal wildlife trade.”

He added “STAE welcomes the good news of a consultation on a UK ban on the ivory trade, but must emphasise that we wish to make sure all goes on track through the consultation to a ban, but moreover that government and all of us must exert influence here but abroad too to ensure all the other desperate dangers that threaten Asian elephants – torture, elephant tourism, destruction of their habitat, etc. – are finally addressed.”

“Our government has enormous influence still and should exert it before it’s too late, and should honour the 2015 manifesto pledge to help India to protect its Asian elephants, reaffirmed in David Cameron‘s Joint Statement with PM Modi at the London Summit in December 2015.”

Dan Richardson leads silent protest for elephants and rhinos at Parliament Square

Also concerned with the plight of the endangered Asian elephants (whose biggest threat is not ivory poaching, but the tourist industry, human-elephant conflict, forced contact with man and urban development – something I have written about previously) is campaigner Dan Richardson (pictured at the protest above).

Dan hosted the European premiere screening of feature-length documentary film Gods in Shackles at the Royal Geographical Society on the evening the protest, joined by filmmaker Sangita Iyer, who was born and raised in Kerala, southern India.

Gods in Shackles is an exposé revealing the dark side of Kerala’s glamorous cultural festivals that exploit temple elephants for profit under the guise of culture and religion.

Temples benefit the most financially from captive elephants in India, and the film showed harrowing scenes of elephants in temples chained so tightly that the injuries from their shackles have wounds on top of wounds – and one elephant was shown to be tethered so forcefully, that he couldn’t even put his foot on the ground.

As Dan stated after the screening; “I believe Gods in Shackles is the turning point”

Gods in Shackles offers hope to the thousands of endangered captive and wild elephants in India by exposing the abhorrent torture they suffer – one particularly gut-wrenching scene from the film showed painful and primitive ‘medical care’ given to one female elephant as her eye was pulled open and popped out by a mahout (elephant keeper) to administer eye drops to an injury consistent with a bull hook to the eye.

By highlighting their suffering, Sangita hopes to inspire key stake holders and policy makers to enhance the living conditions of India’s heritage animal.

Although I had some awareness of the ways that festival elephants are exploited, there were several points in the film that I’d never even heard of before – such as male festival elephants being chemically castrated to stop the production of musth hormones, which can make them a danger to the public and themselves.

From 2012 – 2015, 75 people and 167 elephants were killed during the festival season due to elephants breaking from their mahouts’ command.

I was also surprised to hear of ‘celebrity’ elephants, revered in the temple and festival circuits, which evoke a fierce culture of rivalry. One ‘celebrity elephant’ had razor blades hidden in its food after being targeted over the demise of another elephant.

As someone who grew up in Kerala (which is home to 500-600 captive elephants alone), Sangita explained during an audience question and answer series that she sees her role in making and promoting this film as ‘bridging the cultural gap’.

She wants to empower people with resources to make a change to this situation.

Interestingly, one of the locals in Kerala interviewed in the documentary compared India’s deep cultural connection to elephant festivals with that of slavery in the United States; “The US felt that slavery was part of their culture and it took a war under Abraham Lincoln to end it,” the interviewee says to camera. “Indians feel that this [treatment of elephants] is part of their culture too. It’s not.”

When asked whether children in India are being educated about how elephants are treated, Sangita explained that the state government is going to screen Gods in Shackles through the state channel into every single school in Kerala! Which sounds like an amazing achievement in ‘bridging the cultural gap’.

As Will Travers passionately explained; “Just look at Blackfish; we can change the world through film.”

Grey Future

Also screened at the Royal Geographical Society that evening was the short film ‘Grey Future’, which looks at a future world in which elephants and rhinos have been declared extinct. This powerful piece can be viewed below:

The film’s Writer / Producer Carla Fraser was on hand at the panel talk to advocate the powerful of film, and encourage others to share their conservation messages through this medium.

Find out more about Gods in Shackles, and how you can support campaigns to educate the suffering by visiting godsinshackles.com

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Jaguar journey: following the jungle cats’ paw prints to save the species

The jaguar; a most elusive, yet powerful big cat. Stealthy and strong, it hunts like a true warrior, yet lives almost like a phantom; ghost-like in the rainforests of South America.

Compared to the prolific press that Africa’s big cats — the lion, leopard and cheetah — are granted, the jaguar is rarely seen gracing the covers of magazines, receiving week-long coverage on prime time BBC broadcast slots, or taking centre stage in its own feature-length docufilm.

Despite being the world’s third largest cat, possessing such iconic features as its beautiful rosette-covered coat and bone-crushing jaws (the largest of any big cat), the magnificent jaguar and its vulnerability to the continued threat of deforestation remains a largely unsung story.

But for the last 30 years, one man has made it his mission to save these big cats. Dr Alan Rabinowitz, Chief Scientist at Panthera and the man who established the world’s first jaguar reserve, is himself somewhat of an overlooked entity here in the UK…

 

Discovering the jaguar

Some time in my teens, when I would rush home from high school to try and catch as many wildlife documentaries on National Geographic Channel as possible before the 6 o’clock news and the firmly established family TV time that followed; I fell in love with jaguars.

The Nat Geo documentary that first piqued my interest in the big cat was titled ‘In Search of the Jaguar’. The film followed the story of Dr Rabinowitz — and showcased his quest to a secure 5,000 mile pathway for the jaguar to move from Mexico to Argentina.

The protected pathway would be an invaluable conservation effort to allow the big cats to move freely and diversify their genes.

In search of the jaguar - jaguar journey

Shockingly, estimates at the time (around 2006) suggested that one and a half billion acres of jaguar habitat had been taken by man, leaving the surviving population isolated in small pockets. Back then, it had also recently been discovered that all jaguars shared the same DNA — so a method of sewing together these pockets was necessary to allow movement for more diverse breeding.

Known as the ‘Jaguar Corridor’, the pathway — spanning 18 countries — is intoxicatingly referred to as a ‘necklace’ in the documentary, and each potential new territory sourced by Rabinowitz is referred to as a ‘gem in that necklace’.

The imagery of the emerald forests of Brazil, the burning amber flashes of the elusive jaguar slinking in and out of view and this elaborate necklace of geographical gems has always made it stick in my mind.

That and the fact that Rabinowitz was himself fighting against the odds of a serious illness during this film; yet choosing his quest to save the jaguar over slowing down to save himself.

 

Intermission

As the formidable jungle cat slips in and out of view in its rainforest habitat in real life; so my interest in jaguars has slipped in and out of my consciousness over recent times.

In the years that followed my initial discovery of wildlife warrior Rabinowitz, I would read countless stories and memoirs about people who had entwined their lives with African big cats. I would come to understand the complex social structures of lion prides and marvel at the cuteness of baby cheetahs on BBC’s Big Cat Diaries; I’d even end up travelling to South Africa to see how these big cats find ways to share a continent, and catch a fleeting glimpse of a lone leopard on the horizon. But the Latin American jaguar; this most mystic and spiritual of cats would remain a quiet, secretive, yet powerfully present interest of mine.

Towards the end of last year, exactly 10 years after first viewing ‘In Search of the Jaguar’ I took a chance on following the big cat myself. Perhaps not in quite the same way as Dr Rabinowitz and his team, but through my own journey.

Historically, these animals are interwoven in ancient civilisation as mystic creatures of great spirituality; prowlers of ancient imaginations, paid testament to through elaborate carvings and etched onto the walls of temples: their spirituality and strength make them an iconic feline.

jaguar temple statue

It is perhaps this very spirituality and strength then, that guided me at the end of last year.

Picking up a copy of National Geographic Kids magazine’s September issue, I took in the beautiful jaguar image staring back at me from the cover and flicked through the copy, taking note of facts about jaguars snatching up prey, such as caiman and capybaras, by uniquely using the winding tributaries of the Amazon basin to their advantage.

Poring over information about their skull crunching canines and their skilful swimming abilities rarely seen in big cats, I used the article as my main preparation for chasing down a job at this most esteemed of natural history media brands. I referenced the article several times in my job interview for the publication; and after a securing a second meeting, I was offered a job at the company.

Within my first few weeks, I was tasked with researching jaguar facts for a promotional ‘jungle survival guide’, which would be released with National Geographic publications across the globe, in many different languages. My first real project with the company, and it featured jaguars!

National geographic lego expedition jungle guide

If signs come in threes, the next one definitely felt like one worth seeing — or rather, listening to. When one of my new colleagues recommended listening to a podcast called RadioLab, as it featured and in-depth look at trophy hunting for rhino horn, it didn’t take long for me to look around and find an episode about zoos.

I was curious to see the journalists’ handling of the issues surrounding captivity, and shocked at the coincidence that, quite unexpectedly, the final segment in the broadcast featured one Dr Alan Rabinowitz (a name I had first heard through Nat Geo many years ago); tracing his life’s work back to being a child, and encountering a lone jaguar in the Big Cat House at the Bronx Zoo

The powerful RadioLab story (which can be listened to by clicking on the player link above) focusses on why Rabinowitz connected so much with the jaguar (owing to a severe stutter throughout his childhood, which left him feeling voiceless — a symptom he could recognise in the pitiful yowling of the Bronx Zoo’s jaguar).

The severity of Rabinowitz’ stutter was barely touched upon in that earlier Nat Geo documentary, so hearing about the extremity of the speech disorder and the impact it had on the course of Alan’s life gave a whole new dimension to the story; and a whole new perspective on his connection to the jaguar.

The coincidence of re-discovering a human-wildlife story that had fascinated me so much as a teenager, and learning of such a significant side of the story — the influence of communicating with animals on learning to overcome a stutter — certainly reignited my interest in finding out what has happened to the jaguar population now, and how Rabinowitz’ all-important ‘Jaguar Corridor’ has made a difference.

 

Jaguar journey

In Search of the Jaguar ends with a tantalising concept: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an overwhelming challenge? For this wildlife warrior, that chapter has yet to be written…”

Just over a decade on, it’s safe to say that that next chapter is an exciting one! Dr Rabinowitz is now Chief Scientist of Panthera; founded in 2006 as the only organisation in the world that is devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species (including tigers, lions, jaguars, snow leopards, cheetahs, pumas and leopards) and their ecosystems.

The Panthera Team take on the formidable forests of the jaguar’s range – on foot! Photo by: Veronica Domit Photography

Along with Dr Howard Quigley, Head of Panthera’s Jaguar Program, Alan is currently undertaking a three-year quest to journey by foot(!) through the 10 counties that make up the spine of his now well-established 18-country ‘Jaguar Corridor’, sharing his experience along the way of the progress being made—  and of course the jaguars he encounters!

On their journey deep into the jaguar’s range, together with Panthera’s scientists and partners, they hope to continue to shine a light on the developments in the jaguar’s population and range, as well as the challenges in places where jaguars are most at risk — so that they can continue to develop and implement global strategies to best protect the cat.

I’ve signed up to ‘join the journey’ and receive regular updates about the team’s progress and was delighted to read about the efforts to explore the powerful cultural connections that locals have to Latin America’s iconic big cat.

‘The Journey of the Jaguar is showing that humans and jaguars are coexisting’ one of their most recent email newsletters reads.

This sounds like an incredible achievement when there is often so much conflict between local populations and predators (such as in the case of last year’s poisoning of multiple lions from the Maasai Mara’s Marsh pride).

I contacted Dr Rabinowitz to find out more about his experience and how the local people are able to live alongside the big cat, when so often predators are seen as a threat.

“My best experience has been to see the enthusiasm of local people and local governments to the idea of an integrated jaguar corridor,” Alan explains.

“Also to see local people feel strongly about wanting to bring jaguar culture back into the lives of their children and the schools.”

Alan Rabinowitz - jaguar journey

Dr Rabinowitz on his epic ‘Journey of the Jaguar’. Photo by Veronica Domit Photography

Hearing of the desire to educate local children about the beauty and importance of jaguars as part of their learning in the classroom is immediately something that resonates with me.

“I realise more than ever that the future rests in the hands of the young,” Alan continues. “My hopes are that this journey creates a permanent platform and a permanent movement for saving the jaguar, saving jaguar culture, and making sure that the world’s third largest cat does not go down the road of the tiger, lion and leopard.”

And for a man who has faced (and overcome) so many challenges in his life, what has been the hardest part of the jaguar journey so far?

“The worst experiences, as always, are to see dead animals.” he tells me. “Jaguar skins, jaguar teeth, and other animal parts. And learn of the fear some people still have about jaguars.”

 

Join the journey…

You can follow the footsteps of Dr Rabinowitz and the Panthera team at: journeyofthejaguar.org and see regular updates and images on Twitter and Instagram.

The expedition is also being used to spread the word about The Stuttering Foundation, which is of course is an organisation close to Alan, and one whom he is promoting along the route by wearing the foundation’s patch.

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Wetnose Day 2017: A good reason to get tongues and tails wagging!

September holds a very special event on the animal lover’s calendar… I’d like to tell you all about Wetnose Day.

In support of animals in desperate need in the UK, Wetnose Day is the animal-focussed equivalent of Red Nose Day, and sees fundraising events and crazy challenges taking place up and down the country on September 29th – October 1st 2017 — as well as plenty of ‘poses with noses‘!

Posing with noses at the PR launch of Wetnose Day 2017

Wetnose Day was established in the year 2000, to help promote the issue of animal welfare and to raise much needed funds to cover essential food and medical treatments for animals in desperate need in the UK.

It serves as an annual event to draw attention to the year-round work of Wetnose Animal Aid; which helps the lesser well known rescue centres and small groups are the country that get little publicity.

Sir Paul McCartney lends his support to Wetnose Animal Aid

Wetnose Day aims to encourage schools, workplaces, vets, groomers, dog clubs, riding schools (in fact everyone!), to pose with a nose and raise over £100,000 for dedicated rescue centres nationwide and the animals they care for.

Celebrating Wetnose Day 2017 with dog rescuer Gary Edwards, author of ‘Tales of an underdog

Many of these vital rescue centres need support, as there is no government aid, or lottery grants or any other financial assistance, and many do not have £5,000 worth of funds to be become Registered Charity.

Andrea and Gavin Gamby-Boulger set up the unique not for profit organisation having themselves run a boarding/dog rescue centre for 13 years in Norfolk; they sold the kennels to set up Wetnose Animal Aid.

Founder Andrea Gamby-Boulger speaks at the PR launch of Wetnose Day 2017.

Since then Wetnose Animal Aid has raised close to £50,000 and given to small animal rescues centres all over the UK, as well as organising award events to celebrate those otherwise unsung heroes across the UK who dedicate their lives to care for abused, sick and unwanted animals.

“Our team is committed to raising funds to help the animal rescue centres who do wonderful work caring for sick animals, including wildlife, but never get the recognition they truly deserve,” Wetnose Day Founder Andrea Gamby-Boulger says.

“As an ex-kennel owner, I know how stressful it is to care and rescue animals and work 24/7 with no holidays — and to be called out at a moment’s notice.”

The cause has received strong support from leading celebrity and animal campaigners, such as Paul McCartneyBrian May, Tom Hardy, Chris Packham, Paul O’Grady and Amanda Holden, which enabled them to raise thousands of pounds for small and medium-sized animal sanctuaries; ensuring food costs were covered and veterinary treatment went ahead for animals in desperate need.

Britain’s Got Talent’s Pippa Langhorne and her sing-a-long pooch, Buddy, performing to promote Wetnose Day

“Society in general has, for a number of years, been under severe financial stress, which in turn has seen animal welfare suffer as some people may no longer be able to afford to look after their pets,” Andrea explains.

“Wetnose Day plays its part in highlighting animal welfare in the UK and providing vital help and financial support for small animal welfare groups who are at the forefront of animal rescue and care. The knowledge and skills these animal rescue teams have is phenomenal and now is the time to help them.”

Find out how you can get on board to help fundraise — or buy your very own ‘wet nose’ by clicking here.

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‘This is our world’ – last chance to walk among nature’s giants!

An elephant towers above my head; just a few footsteps away a mother giraffe stands protectively over her young calf. From this vantage point I can see a closely camouflaged lioness stalking a skittish zebra. I’m not on safari in Africa though; I’m standing in the Royal Horticultural Halls in central London, surrounded by lifesized acrylic paintings of animals in their natural habitats.

The astonishing ‘This is Our World’ exhibition was comprised of a collection of work by acclaimed British-born artist Omra Sian.

Incredibly, some pieces spanned more than six metres in height and seven metres wide!

The exhibition focused on educating, informing and inspiring visitors from all walks of life about wildlife, conservation and climate change, and was curated by not for profit organisation Art World Conservation.

Each artwork was accompanied by a poignant description of the endangered species depicted and the reason they are threatened – so it was no surprise that the exhibition was hosted in partnership with the Born Free foundation and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

It’s honestly hard to not feel overwhelmed standing among such detailed and textured scenes showcasing the heart of the African Savannah, the icy Arctic Circle, the lush Amazon Rainforest and the dramatic scenes found deep in the ocean.

Apparently this is the first time the acrylic-on-canvas paintings have been displayed collectively — due to public demand!

There really is a power in seeing these images of some of the planet’s most iconic wildlife species standing side-by-side, as the exhibition title suggests; it really gives a sense of one world, which belongs to us all.

High-definition paintings include the endangered black rhino, majestic lion, towering Rothschild giraffe and elusive great white shark, and information throughout the exhibition (which has also hosted talks from leading wildlife charities and conservationists) offered the chance to learn more about efforts to protect wildlife from threats including climate change and the illegal wildlife trade.

The Artist

Artist and conservationist Omra Sian has been a professional artist for over 30 years.

He spent over 10 years meticulously researching and creating this unique body of work, and travelled around the world to study his subjects in their natural habitats.

Omra hopes that the imagery will both inspire and educate visitors to learn more about conserving the planet and why it is paramount we all do so.

He says: “I once read a quote that said ‘life begins when you come out of your comfort zone’ – so I made sure I stayed out of mine to create this collection.”

“The collection makes people challenge the way they think about the natural world. It is the IMAX of wildlife art and the images painted are scientifically correct.”

“It really was a labour of love! To create canvases on this scale required me to climb up and down scaffolding up to 40 times a day, or paint whilst lying on the floor for hours at a time, so each piece really does represent a huge amount of physical and mental dedication, as well as investment of time.”

“The event will inspire, educate and inform visitors – young and old – about the world we live in; the creatures and habitats we share it with and why they are so important to conserve. Often the simplest of changes by many people can make an enormous difference and this event is about inspiring those changes. Educating children is paramount as they are the future, and I hope the painting will inspire them to learn about flora and fauna, as I did when I was a child”.

A child’s depiction of the Siberian tiger painting shown above is displayed at the end of the exhibition.

It is hoped that this collection can be taken around the globe to education and inspire everybody to conserve the planet for a sustainable future.

Good news if you aren’t able to make it to London for its final days!

 

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Chris Packham campaigns against ‘inglorious 12th’ shooting at Crush Cruelty protest

IMG_20170813_150930_375

This past weekend I attended the Crush Cruelty march from Cavendish Square to Downing Street — centred around protecting and supporting British wildlife.

Almost a complementary demonstration to May’s ‘Keep the Ban’ protest against Theresa May’s suggested free vote on lifting the fox hunting ban (the biggest protest of the general election time), this weekend’s march expanded out further, to put badger culling, driven grouse shooting and the dwindling numbers of hen harrier into the spotlight also.

Images from May’s Keep the Ban protest

Growing crowds (perhaps even bigger than the previous march) gathered at Cavendish Square to hear rallying speeches from the likes of writer and environmentalist Mark Avery, former Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, IFAW‘s Philip Mansbridge, Born Free Foundation‘s Mark Jones, Nigel Tolley of Badger Trust and representatives from Hunt Saboteurs, before setting off through a busy central London spreading the word to the masses.

Natalie Bennett, Former Green Party Leader speaks at Cavendish Square

Mark Jones of Born Free Foundation addresses crowds ahead of the march

The thousands that marched chose the date especially to coincide with the so-called ‘glorious 12th’; referring to the start of the red grouse shooting season taking place in areas of upland moorland over the next few months. A practice know as ‘driven grouse shooting’.

To allow for the perfect conditions for grouse to thrive (so they can ultimately be shot for this cruel and unnecessary practice, which is masqueraded as ‘sport’), predators such as foxes and birds of prey have their numbers ‘managed’ in preparation.

The march ended opposite Downing Street, with a powerful opening speech about the impact of driven grouse shooting and the plight of hen harriers (which have declined in huge numbers due to illegal shooting) from wildlife presenter and passionate campaigner Chris Packham.

Chris Peckham delivers anti grouse shooting speech

Actor and vegan campaigner Peter Egan was next to address the crowds, followed by Born Free Foundation CEO Will Travers, representatives from Hunt Investigation Team and League Against Cruel Sports, and Badger Trust CEO and author of Badgered to Death, Dominic Dyer – showing how many NGOs really did come together to form a Crush Cruelty coalition!

Will Travers addresses the crowds outside Downing Street

Born Free’s Will Travers addresses the crowds outside Downing Street

Dominic Dyer speaks to the huge crowds

Dominic Dyer speaks to the huge crowds

Re-Christening the day the ‘Inglorious 12th‘, further anti-grouse shooting protests took place on moors across the country, including a large protest walk at Ilkley Moor. The day also saw protests outside Tesco stores across the country (including my hometown in Norfolk), calling for Tesco to sever ties with Hogwood ‘Horror Farm’ — a pig farm in Warwickshire that supplies pork to the supermarket chain — known to house over 15,000 pigs in appalling conditions.

The most glorious thing about the 12th August was the mass movement of people standing up for animals.
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Jane Goodall – Special interview: Roots & Shoots 2017

I hate hearing that ‘We’ve borrowed the Earth from our children’; I hate it because it’s a lie. We’ve not ‘borrowed’, we have been stealing, and we’ve made so many mistakes and it’s not the young peoples’ job to put it right. We have to work with them to fix it… we’re holding your hand so that together we can make it better.” 

Dr Jane Goodall’s words from March’s Roots & Shoots Awards ceremony rang in my head as I entered the regal surroundings of Windsor Castle; where Roots & Shoots Annual Summit was taking place for a fourth consecutive year.

Jane Goodall Windsor Castle

Roots & Shoots is a youth-driven initiative to assist young people in setting up and working together on self-chosen projects centred around people, animals and the environment. Its success speaks for itself, with at least 100,000 active groups of all ages initiating projects all over the world!

Knowing the difference in ages between the recipients of the Roots & Shoots Awards (largely projects created by primary and secondary schools) and the global delegates at the Annual Summit (most around university age), I wondered how much Jane’s sentiment or optimism would change around those more aware of the momentous tasks that lie ahead. The truthful answer? It didn’t change a bit!

Meeting the global delegates at Roots & Shoots Annual summit

Meeting the global delegates at Roots & Shoots Annual Summit, photo courtesy of BESUREIS

Before watching presentations by delegates from 22 different countries (of the 100 that Roots & Shoots programmes are now present in – a milestone met three weeks ago!), I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr Jane and find out more. Easing into the afternoon of the fifth and final day of the summit – which Jane admits is one of the busiest weeks of her calendar – we sit in an impressive lounge room in George’s Hall over tea and take all things Roots & Shoots and the future…

What is the inspiration behind Roots & Shoots?

Dr Jane Goodall: I was learning all about the problems facing the planet and as I was travelling around raising awareness about the chimps and the problems in Africa I was meeting so many young people who were either depressed, or angry, or just apathetic. And when I talked to them, they more or less said the same thing: ‘we feel this way because you’ve compromised our future and there’s nothing we can do about it’. And of course we have compromised their future, but I think there’s something we can do.

So it all began with 12 secondary school students in Dar es Salaam from nine schools in 1991 – and they wanted me to fix all the problems that were around, but I said: “No I can’t, I’m not Tanzanian, but go and get your friends who feel the same [and] we’ll have a meeting” and from that the programme was born, with its main message: ‘every individual matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference every day.’

Do you still find that those who are secondary school-age [often considered ‘the golden age’ before you lose teenagers to apathy and distraction] are still involved now?

Oh, that’s my key target audience, because you get them just before they go away – ok some go to university, but a lot won’t – so it’s your last chance to actually catch them while they’re in one place.

Jane Goodall and Kate on Conservation

Sharing positivity with Jane Goodall over educating and empowering future generations

How would you encourage children to think of their impact on the environment?

Tell them to join Roots & Shoots! Seriously! And then, it depends how old the child is, but for older children — then you start asking questions… I’m going to eat a certain kind of food; “ok, did it harm the environment when it was made? Did it involve cruelty to animals, like in intensive farms? Is it cheap because there was child slave labour?” What do you wear is the same thing: “How was it made? Where did it come from?” And then think about the effect that all these little choices have.

I know so many parents who say: “of course I recycle, my children make me!”. Some kids will literally read every ingredient on a label to see what’s in it — and if it has something in it that’s bad, like palm oil, they won’t let their parents buy it. And if you put millions of those kinds of ethical choices together, you move towards a better world.

 

How do the projects differ across the globe?

Well, in some places they live near the ocean – so they tend to do projects like, they’re especially worried about plastic bags, or maybe they want to help turtles guard their nesting sites and watch while the little ones go back into the ocean when the eggs hatch. Sometimes they’re groups living in the Amazonia jungle, and then they’ll do something perhaps to help whatever kind of endangered primate lives there. Everywhere they’re doing tree planting, everywhere they’re collecting garbage, trying to clean up the world.

It really just depends – like in Asia there’s a lot of concern about the palm oil plantations, but that’s spilled across, because we need to find out which products have palm oil in them, so that we can avoid them, and in order for that to happen you have to persuade the government to enforce labelling. So there’s huge projects in America and Australia to get the government to insist that products have labels saying what’s in them.

Chowbent primary school roots and shoots

Roots & Shoots projects in action at Chowbent Primary School


Are there any specific aims or goals for Roots & Shoots for the year ahead? 

Just going on growing, and also working on global campaigns so that the kids can feel really involved with each other. Recycling cell phones or planting trees can be a global campaign… where they can network on social media.

What is your favourite part of working on the Roots & Shoots programme?

The enthusiasm and energy of young people once they know the problems and you empower them to take action. They’re just imaginative and filled with energy – and so excited about what they do.


Listen to an extract of my interview with Dr Jane Goodall here and learn how recycling old mobile phones can reduce the need to mine for coltan, which can have devastating effects on gorilla habitats, and the children forced to mine for coltan.

Interview conducted on behalf of National Geographic Kids Magazine – keep an eye out for the rest of the interview in future issues of the magazine.

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David Attenborough’s Big Butterfly Count 2017: collecting my results

Today I took part in the final day of The big butterfly count 2017; a nationwide survey endorsed by Sir David Attenborough to assess the health of our environment.

big butterfly count

Launched at the London Wetland Centre in July, the survey — which saw more than 36,000 people take part last year — uses butterflies’ quick reaction to change in their environment as an indicator for biodiversity. Declines in butterfly numbers can act as early warning signs for other wildlife losses.

Following the advice of the big butterfly count’s website, I found a sunny spot and stood for 15 minutes with my survey sheet and eyes peeled, monitoring all the butterflies that came into view. As Sir David Attenborough explains in the video above, buddleia is an invasive species, but its flowers hugely attract butterflies.

In the 15 minute time slot, I spotted eight Red Admiral butterflies (photographed above)…

two orange and brown Commas (pictured above)…

a Large White butterfly (identified by the black tips at the top of its wings and a black spot)…

and one Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (note the tiny dots of blue at the base of its wings).

The official data collecting days of the big butterfly count were 14th July to 6th August, though sightings from this period can be logged online or through the app until the end of the month. Butterfly ID sheets are still available to download online here.

big butterfly count certificate