1

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

Advertisements
0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National geographic kids rhinos up article

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

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

Well done Frankie!

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

 

Want to know more about rhino horn poaching?

3

Shouting to stop elephant extinction as CITES starts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Elephants

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

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

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

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

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

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

remembering-elephants-14

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

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

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

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

remembering-elephants-21

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos

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

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

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

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

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


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

5

‘Should the global trade of rhino horn be legalised?’ Debate review

In a packed out theatre room in the Royal Institute of Great Britain, I attended my first ever formal debate this time last month; ‘Should the global trade of rhino horn be legalised?’

As was so rightfully and significantly acknowledged at the end of the evening, the debate was far more than exploring whether or not to commodify an essentially useless (to humans) animal product, but was about our relationship with the natural world.
rhino and calf

A rhino and calf. A photograph I took at Shamwari Game Reserve

To contextualise the debate, rhino horn has a similar street value to heroine; it is used largely for traditional Asian medicine, believed to have properties that provide headache relief in China, and increasingly as cancer treatment in Vietnam. In some countries it is also used ornamentally, as a status symbol. In literal terms, it is made of keratin, the same substance that is found in human hair and fingernails, and likewise, it can regrow.

I hesitate to use the term ‘renewable resource’, as expressed in the debate introduction by ecologist Craig Packer, as I’m not sure the tone should have been set by immediately talking in terms of harvests and exploitation, but nonetheless, the idea behind the trade would be that by ‘shaving’ the horns off of living rhino and monetising them without killing the animal, it would allow for regrowth, meaning a continuing supply of horn (and money for the rhino breeders) in attempt to meet demand.

Representing the case for legalising the trade in horn was rhino breeder and ex-property tycoon John Hume, and arguing against legalising the trade; Will Travers, president of the Born Free Foundation.

On first appearances, both of these characters appear to be at complete odds with one another; Will Travers wore a black suit and a tie that featured miniature embroidered rhinos, with shoes shined and a small ribbon pinned on his jacket, which I recognised as part of Born Free’s World Wildlife Day campaign. John Hume addressed the audience in his red checked shirt, and a pair of jeans — a more casual approach, and even the debate chair, Craig Packer, fresh from a flight from America, arrived in cargo trousers and sandals. I would be lying if I said first impressions didn’t matter to me, and I very much felt there was a deliberate tone to each person’s dress.

image

But despite differing styles, Packer — who himself is known for his research on lions and the impact of trophy hunting on their population numbers — was quick to address in his introduction that both Hume and Travers were there for the sake of the rhino, both having interest in preventing the species from going extinct, and increasing rhino numbers in South Africa.

Though, to me, it seemed that they were very much on different ends of the spectrum (one advocating wild populations, the other advocating protected numbers in captive circumstances — owing to ‘wild’ areas in South Africa being targeted by poachers), their mutual concern about the boom in rhino poaching over the last decade was a welcome one. The figures quoted during the debate were 15,000 white rhino exist in South Africa today, and only 5,000 black rhino. The dire severity of the case was somewhat summarised by Packer’s statement: “Most of the world doesn’t care. We are in the room are the minority — we are the ones who care enough to come here and talk about this.”

rhino at Shamwari

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”

Opening the debate, Will Travers addressed the importance of this question with regards to this year’s CITES meeting at the end of this month. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. This debate is particularly topical, as there was rumour this year of South Africa presenting the case that trade in white rhino horn should be downgraded globally from Appendix I* to Appendix II, allowing horn to be exported out of South Africa.

*Currently white rhinos are listed as Appendix II for the population of South Africa and Swaziland and for the exclusive purpose of allowing international trade in live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations and hunting trophies.

After considering all angles, under the premise that legal trade could mean more funds, and therefore better protection for living rhinos, and that legal profit could equate to US$717,000,000 per year, South Africa chose not to present the case at CITES this year. As Travers thought-provokingly explained, “On first glance it looks like ‘win, win, win’, but if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. [Changing the annotation of the Appendix II listing in Swaziland and South Africa to include the legal sale of horn] gives the message that this animal product is back on the market, and the demand will only increase.”

There were two case studies presented to illustrate this:

i) Trade in wool from the live sheared vicuña (a llama/alpaca-like member of the camel family found in South America) was legalised under certain conditions, but figures show that in 2015, 90% of the export was still illegal (i.e. not meeting these conditions), with more numbers than ever poached for their hair. 

ii) Since the opening of bear bile farms, to extract the bile of Asiatic black bear to be used in traditional Chinese medicine, the surplus ‘stock’ of this product has begun to make its way into products such as toothpaste and cleanser — ‘new product developments’, which show that as available stock increases, as does demand!

moonbear3

The realities of Asia’s bear bile farms

Added to this, Travers declared that poachers are ‘entrepreneurs’, stating; “if you legally sell [horn] at $30,000 a kilo, they’ll sell at $25,000 — it’s a huge assumption that the legal market will replace illegal trade.”

So, if South Africa have chosen not to present the case at CITES, why is the debate still relevant? Well, whereas South Africa have decided against legalising the trade in horn, Swaziland — with its population of just 73 rhinos — wants to seek CITES approval instead. To do this they will require the support of two-thirds or more of the delegates present and voting.

Swaziland doesn’t have the greatest track record to date, it previously shipped 11 of its 36 wild elephants to zoos in America, due to ‘over-population’. Travers concluded, “There are no simple solutions — legalising it will not make it better, it will only make it worse.”

image

“I think I have the recipe”

Second to take the floor, John Hume, ‘custodian’ to 1403 rhinos, 940 of which he has bred (making him the most successful rhino breeder in South Africa). Hume bought himself a game reserve after making his money in property, and lost his first rhino to poaching in 2007, 15 years after introducing them to the property. He now trims the horn (or rather, recruits a vet to remove then from the rhinos, under anaesthetic) as a deterrent to poachers; if there is no horn on the rhino, there is no reason to poach them.

The potentially very valuable side effect of this, is that he currently has a stockpile of 5 tons of rhino horn — as much as the collective amount of all the other private rhino owners in South Africa. On top of this, the South African government has 22 tons of horn stockpiled, which John explained is more than what is currently on the market. Thinking of the value of horn per kilo, at US$30,000 dollars, the dual narrative of conservation and business is hard to ignore.

There are currently 6200 privately owned rhinos in South Africa, meaning a further 550 per year could be bred by these private owners. The worry is, however, that they would be kept in captive conditions (so not really wild rhino numbers, after all) and private owners may not all have the same high standards of care (or financial means to provide it) — it would be the ideal scenario to enforce a regulated minimum standard, but as Packer declared ‘If we look at the examples of bear bile farms or the lion trophy hunting industry, we simply don’t regulate the standards of care’.

rhinos-farmed

Hume’s main point in this debate was that making the trade in horn illegal is not stopping it, it’s pushing it underground. “If the law doesn’t help the rhino, it should not be in place. When are we going to save the rhinos instead of the horns?” he added. “Rhinos need your local support to save them — I think I have the recipe.”

I’m currently reading Craig Packer’s book, Lions in the Balance, which examines similar issues relating to lions, and Packer challenges the conservationist to consider the survival of the species over the survival of the individual. I was willing to at least open my mind to different schools of thought over this issue and was waiting for Hume’s recipe to include all the good ingredients of a well considered plan. But it simply didn’t. It was no more complicated and considered than: ‘let’s take the risk, because the current law hasn’t caused the poaching to stop, and this way we can make money legitimately from the trade and put it back into this same system of ‘conservation’, at the standards that we have set.’

The future of African Wildlife…

It genuinely worried me that this was being considered as a legitimate option. If the numbers of rhinos being poached every year continue at the rate they are currently, the entire population could be gone in 15 years. A far more beneficial tactic would be to educate, inform and inspire the people of Africa at large to value this animal in it’s whole, live form, with no bits hacked off, and no consolation prize of captive-only populations. As Will concluded:  “The future of African wildlife lies in Africa, it’s up to them, with our support, to lead the charge.” I really hope Swaziland’s CITES proposal doesn’t set the tone.

Keep up to date with this year’s CITES meeting here: cites.org

 

2

Saving rhinos the Black Mambas’ way: Anneka Svenska interview

The Black Mambas are a nearly all-women anti-poaching unit created to protect the rhinos of the 400km² Balule Nature Reserve, and keep poachers out of the park.

Aside from the fact that the unit is made up almost entirely from women; the surprising thing about the Black Mambas is: they do it unarmed.

black-mambas.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smart

Presenter, film maker and founder of Green World TV, Anneka Svenska last week released a 10-minute film of the Black Mambas and their work – having recently returned from South Africa with Producer Nigel Marven to create the documentary short on behalf of UK-based charity: Helping Rhinos.

Anneka Svenska dismantling snaresI’m a big supporter of independent films, having blogged for the St Albans Film Festival in the past (where I met Save Me videographer and camera man / editor of the official World Animal Day video 2015, Michael Dias) and interviewed fellow former Uni of Herts student Amanda Gardner, the Producer and Assistant Editor of the incredibly moving short documentary, The Elephant in Room. Despite her crazy week of interviews with The Daily Mail and BBC Radio 5 live, I caught up with Anneka to find out more…

“We want to inspire change all over the world in communities; to group together and stop the world’s wildlife head towards extinction.”

 

Where did the idea of filming with the Black Mambas come from?

Producer and Zoologist Nigel Marven and I were made aware of the work the Black Mambas do through supporting the charity Helping Rhinos. We did some research and realised that these ladies, despite being unarmed women have achieved some amazing things such as a 76% reduction in poaching in their reserve in just two years. It’s such a simple concept – employing poorer communities to take part in ranger projects. The Mambas simply have a visible presence, no weapons and this alone can deter poachers to choose not to poach in that area.

Anneka-Nigel-and-Michael-meet-Jade-and-The-Mambas

What was the main motivation for the film?

To spread the word that anyone can make a change. With so much corruption throughout the world, not just in African countries, the wildlife is losing, as people are more interested in money than protecting the animals. However, small uprisings of people all over the world are happening. Not just the Black Mambas, but elsewhere too. We wanted to show that anyone could make a difference. We want to inspire change all over the world in communities to group together and stop the world’s wildlife head towards extinction.

What was the best part of filming?

It was meeting the rhino orphans. Bitter sweet as it is wrong that they have ever ended up in an orphanage to start with, but to bottle feed the babies was out of this world. My favourite part of the trip was hearing the beautiful sounds that rhinos make. It reminds me of the smaller Frankenstein out of Carry on Screaming. It is such a very sweet sound. You must try and look it up on YouTube just to hear it. I cried the first time I laid eyes on a rhino orphan.

Feeding baby rhino - the best experience

What was the worst part of filming?

Finding the snared buffalo and realising that it would have taken four weeks to die. These animals are adapted for drought conditions, so it must have suffered dreadfully. I was also told that some locals want to kill all of the wildlife, as they feel that it belongs to the white man and not theirs anymore, so it’s important that everyone feels that they are guardians of these animals. The Bush Baby programme, which the Black Mambas have started at local schools, is helping with this, by empowering and educating the children. Also The Black Mamba programme is allowing the communities to protect their native wildlife and feel part of the equation.

buffalo caught in snare the worst part of filming

“They walk with bravery and every day their lives are in danger from not just the poachers, but the wild animals they protect.”

I first heard about the Black Mambas last year, after reading an incredible piece about them in TIME Magazine (which I referenced in an earlier reflective blog post). Being a self-confessed advocate of school education, I was keen to question Anneka more about the education programmes that the Mambas are involved in, and whether TIME’s philosophy that: “They may not be able to stop poachers with pepper spray alone. But they can stop them with education” was one that could actually be realised…

Anneka in the classroom

How effective is education as a defence against poaching?

Many of the children are very poor and only eat at school. I was told that some of their families poach for bush meat to feed the families.

I think an effective defence would come from several things: you have to empower the children to protect the wildlife by making them feel that it’s theirs to protect. You have to educate them as to why the animals are so important to the future of the planet. Also, their culture is very different than the white settlers. It is very difficult to break tradition that has been in families for generations and many families have been moved off wildlife reservations for the animals, and this has caused resentment. You can only offer them employment in tourism and ranger programmes to make up for this. So education and employment needs to go hand in hand, with good leadership to wipe out any corruption.

Eventually as jobs are provided and Africa develops, the old ways will change anyway, as they have done in the UK and other countries. Africa is predicted to have a huge population increase and towns will expand and develop over the next 50 years – this means all ways of life will change anyhow. The importance of keeping land for the animals will become an even bigger priority.

Were any of your expectations or initial ideas about the Black Mambas challenged?

Yes, I didn’t realise that they were 100 per cent unarmed until I was out there. They are very vulnerable, but so very brave. They walk with bravery and every day their lives are in danger from not just the poachers, but also the wild animals they protect.

Siphiwe made a valid point that she is glad they are not armed, as many people she knows would use weapons incorrectly if given that power, so they are pure to the project if they remain unarmed.

Nigel Marven and Anneka Svenska with two of The Mambas

Nigel Marven and Anneka Svenska in the classroom with two of The Mambas

Finally, when and where can we see the documentary?

Its live now, on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFBXNePubjg

rhinos

Many thanks to Anneka Svenska. Please check out this fantastic documentary and don’t forget to like and share!

0

Rhino Conservation (again)

Following my last blog post on rhino conservation, a post came up on a blog that I am subscribed to (Worldwide Experience’s very own Voice of Conservation) reiterating the message of just how high the number of rhinos killed by poaching this year has reached (see: here).

So it was with great interest that I receive a link from one of my blog readers (thank you Stevie) to an article about the use of stem cells to potentially boost population numbers in the future. click here to read more.

I would like to ask for YOUR opinion on whether you feel this is a positive step forward in conservation or whether science is going to far? I can’t help but think that this is like something from the pages of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and may be a step too far? But with money and conservation efforts being poured into projects such as the plight of the rhinos, could this be the answer to all us animal lovers’ prayers?

My thoughts remain divided on this, particularly after an online conversation I had with Voice of Conservation Katherine Alex who set the topic of the week on her Facebook page as:

WEEKLY CONSERVATION QUESTION: Do all animals deserve to be saved? How do you choose which to save?
Remember: Extinction is a natural process.With that in mind, is this new method of saving rhinos a step forward or a step back in conservation? Thoughts in the little box below please.
0

Rhino Conservation

It is with great sadness this week that I have been reading article such as this one;  stating that at least 51 rhinos have been killed this year for their horns.

I have come across many articles about rhinos lately, and it’s no surprise to me that they are often in the spotlight given the fact that they have such a history of being poached and hunted. Whenever I hear another sad story about how these huge, powerful creatures are the subject of human attack I find it nearly impossible to comprehend.

A mother and Calf at Shamwari

Several times at Shamwari I had close encounters with rhinos. There are both types of African rhino present at Shamwari Game Reserve; the more common white rhino, and the rare black rhino. During my 3-month stay I only saw black rhinos twice. The two can be distinguished from one another by their size (white rhino is larger) and the shape of their nose (black rhinos have a more pointed shape; where as white rhinos have a more square nose).

The Black Rhino that I encountered

Black rhinos seemed to be the more timid of the two from my experience; the times that I encountered them they simply ran away from our vehicle when we got too close. White rhinos on the other hand were a much scarier kettle of fish! Not only was our vehicle chased in the day, but twice I was in a group than got followed by several of these powerful creatures whilst on a bush walk (just a group of us on foot, with nothing between ourselves and the animal). There was also one specific night drive where a particularly grumpy white rhino tried to charge into the side of the vehicle that I sitting on! Even as we sped up to drive away it kept pace for a good few minutes. It’s not an exaggeration to say my heart leapt into my throat and stayed there until we’d finally broke away from this grumpy male.

Being Charged!

But even after these experiences my respect for rhinos has not wavered. If anything it has increased. Through getting up close like this I have been able to see the size and power of rhinos and most impressively the speed that they can run despite their huge size (I expected them to be clumsy, lumbering  beasts).  That said, they can be a little on the clumsy side when fighting…

One other rhino incident at Shamwari that is difficult to forget is the day we had went to watch the Shamwari vet and his team remove two males from the Bushman’s River after they’d toppled off a cliff during a fight and drowned. This was a sombre day (to lose two perfectly healthy males through their own clumsiness) but this was a great opportunity for education (we got to perform an autopsy ) and a reminder of just how delicate life is (even in the biggest of creatures). Life in a game reserve really does hang in the balance and with so many threats towards animals such as rhinos; it highlights how important conservation work towards maintaining population numbers of species really is.