The Changing Faces of Conservation
Trailer for ishamwari
Today I stumbled across a tweet on the Born Free Foundation’s twitter account (@BFFoundation) promoting ‘ishamwari’. Although sceptical, when I read the attached link I found myself desperately intrigued.
After watching several episodes on Youtube, I can see the benefit of such a concept. ishamwari is a 14 episode wildlife documentary series filmed entirely at Shamwari Game Reserve using an iPhone 4. All of the episodes, created by Jesse Desjardins and Andrew Kearney can be viewed on Youtube. It claims to be the world’s first wildlife documentary filmed on this medium.
So why does this matter I hear you ask? Well, when I began this blog I decided that I wanted to bring conservation issues to younger audiences, and one of the biggest challenges here is reaching young people.
There is no denying that in these hard times of recession and unemployment; charity and wildlife conservation are not at the forefront of people’s minds. So how do we change that? The answer for me was to find a way to reach my generation. We are almost all online, where information is only a mouse click away. Gone are the days where we would have to read books, wait for a scheduled television shows or leave it to the professionals to produce the media we consumed. Ok, perhaps we aren’t that far removed from reality, yet.
Truth is when I first started taking an interest in conservation I would have to wait for Born Free’s quarterly newsletter to arrive on my doorstep, but today, it is often said that we want information yesterday. Filming a virtual safari on an iPhone 4 means instant uploading and instant access for audiences.
In 2008, when I was volunteering at Shamwari, I found myself fortunate enough to be involved in some of the projects and present at some of the veterinary treatments being filmed for Animal Planet’s second series of Shamwari: A Wild Life. This was a 26 episode series documenting what it is like to work at the reserve. Each episode was half an hour long. On ishamwari each episode lasts just a few minutes, satisfying our need for immediacy.
I feel that when it comes to conservation, the general public needs to access information, such as videos, to understand the areas of nature that need a helping hand. We want to feel as though we connect with the natural world before we feel any desire to save it.
So if we can achieve this in the time it takes to click on a link, then consider me a new fan of the virtual safari. As long as we know the real thing still exists out there somewhere, of course!
The Voice of Conservation
It’s been with great interest that I have been following the posts and Facebook posts of Shamwari’s second ‘Voice of Conservation’. The Voice of Conservation is a yearly competition run through Worldwide Experience, the company through which I organised my own volunteer project through. (see: http://www.worldwideexperience.com/)
At that time (2008) the Voice of Conservation was not a project that was running, so prior to my visit it was hard to keep up with what was happening at Shamwari. Although Worldwide Experience would send out newsletters over email to those signed up for the service, I was not completely sure what I was going to be greeted by on my volunteering project until I had reached the gates of Madolas (Shamwari’s old student lodge). I had an idea of what animals would be there, but I didn’t know the names and stories of each one, which animals were receiving veterinary care or how each important each species of animal was to the reserve.
As mentioned, this is the second summer that the Voice of Conservation competition has been running and it works as so: people get the chance to enter by sending entries in through http://www.worldwideexperience.com/voice-of-conservation/. The entries are narrowed down to a limited number of finalists, who the public then get to vote for. The winner gets to spend a 1 to 3 month all expenses paid trip to live and work with animals at Shamwari Game Reserve and spread the word about conservation issues there. I kept up-to-date with this year’s finalists though watching video entries on Youtube, and this year’s winner is Katherine Alex.
There were stories I would have loved to have shared during my time at Shamwari. Stories like that of the late Themba the elephant, an orphaned calf that was being hand raised at Shamwari’s breeding centre. I got to hand feed this young calf several times and loved the times where his coarse truck would nudge against my arm or pat down my pockets.
Or stories like the day we darted the African Wild Dogs to be moved to another location. African Wild Dogs (sometimes called Painted Dogs) are very destructive creatures and so the last few were removed from the reserve when I was there to be sold to other game reserves. This particular pack had developed a habit of chasing prey onto the electric fence, realising that it would trap and eventually kill them; but when it came to feeding off these carcasses the dogs themselves would get a shock every time they went in for a bite. So these dogs were leaving a trail of hunted but inedible prey along the fence lines. I got to carry one of these dogs onto a vehicle for moving, and never would I have expected a living animal to smell so bad! But the experience was amazing and I smelt like Wild Dog for a day or so as proof of my work.
Although sharing these stories has had to wait, I am pleased to be able to log on to The Voice of Conservation’s blog (http://www.worldwideexperience.com/blog/voice-of-conservation) and for a few moments each week, be transported back to those hot, grassy plains. I love to hear what’s going on with those beloved characters all those miles away, and I love that each one is given a voice that they so deserve to have. I love that they’re stories are now being told.
For those of you that have never visited Shamwari, The Voice of Conservation is a unique chance to get to know some of nature’s finest creations; some Africa’s most famous animals; some of my fondest memories. I might sound like I’m just desperately endorsing this blog, but well, I am! I think it’s a huge an exciting step forward in conservation for specific animals to be given a voice, and one I hope will make a difference.