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National Geographic Kids Magazine: Secrets of the Spotted Eagle Ray

Nat geo kids magazine Kate on conservation

This past week I reached a career milestone — my first feature published in National Geographic Kids Magazine!

I’ve been working at Nat Geo Kids for the last eight months, and although I’ve written articles for the website, editorial for the magazine and launched the new school’s primary resources service, this has been my first opportunity to write a first-person feature. In this case, it was about Mote Research Laboratory‘s work to tag and monitor Spotted Eagle Rays.

Spotted eagle ray feature in nat geo kids magazine

At the start of the summer, I was fortunate enough to be sent to Florida, to research conservation stories on location for National Geographic Kids. One of the location’s I visited was Sarasota on Florida’s Gulf Coast, which is home to Mote — an independent, not-for-profit marine research organisation dedicated to understanding the population dynamics of manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and coral reefs and on conservation and restoration efforts related to these species and ecosystems.

mote turtle patrol

My partner and I spent an entire day with the team at Mote — beginning with a 6am turtle patrol along the beach, looking for fresh crawl marks made overnight by female sea turtles coming on shore to lay their eggs.

Though at first we only found a couple of ‘false crawls’ (where flipper marks showed the female had returned to the water without digging a nest; perhaps because the area was not quite right, or perhaps because the timing wasn’t), we did eventually find a nest site containing eggs (verified by the Mote team gently digging round the area, recording, then covering the eggs back over with sand). It was an exciting start to the day, and one which hopefully will have a full feature of its own in the magazine!

Mote marine turtle hospital

Our second stop of the day (after some much needed breakfast on the go!) was a visit to Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital. Having cared for all five species of Sea Turtle found in the Gulf of Mexico, including Florida’s most frequently seen species; loggerheadsleatherbacks and green turtles, it was a real treat to experience the expertise of Mote’s hospital team.

We were given a tour of the hospital, which has admitted around 600 sick and injured sea turtles in the last 20 years, and saw turtles recovering from surgery (above left), one receiving care for a pretty deep wound on its underside from a boat’s propellor (top image above) and one waiting for surgery to remove several clusters of tumours (above right). This poor female was having her tumours treated in a special facility for turtles suffering from fibropapilloma tumours, because scientists are still learning how this disease is transmitted among turtles.

spotted eagle ray research boat

The final part of our day consisted of joining Senior Biologist Kim Bassos-Hull on one of Mote’s research boats. Though I didn’t really know what I was looking for at first, there was plenty to see – from pelicans diving to catch fish, to dolphins bobbing out of the waves ahead. The research team logged every marine animal we passed, noting down what the animal was, and taking a reading from the GPS device to determine the exact coordinates that the animal was seen from.

First one, then two, spotted eagle ray’s came into view and the boat’s crew sprang into action. The spotted eagle ray is a type of fish with a flat body and wing-like fins for gliding through the water. Like their stingray cousins, eagle rays defend themselves using stinging spines with a barbed tip. This particular species can be identified by a bright white spot pattern on their back.

We had the opportunity to see one of the creatures join the important monitoring programme after being caught, tagged and released. Hopefully it will help with collecting data about migration and breeding patterns of the species — which remain a relative mystery.

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Now, I wouldn’t want to detail exactly what happened on the boat that afternoon; if you want to find out, you’re going to have to pick up a copy of National Geographic Kids Magazine this month! ;).

 

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Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Awards on World Wildlife Day

Yesterday was World Wildlife Day, an important day in the calendar for promoting campaigns and causes concerning wildlife across the globe.

I had the absolute pleasure (and honour!) of attending the Jane Goodall institute‘s Roots & Shoots Awards 2017. Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots is a youth service program for young people of all ages to foster respect and compassion for all living things; to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs and to inspire individuals to take action to make the world a better place for people, other animals, and the environment.

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I have huge respect for Dr Jane Goodall, one of Lewis Leakey and National Geographic‘s ‘primates‘ (she studied chimpanzees, while Dr Dian Fossey studied gorillas and Dr Brute Galdikas studied orang-utans), and it was amazing to see the way that she is still inspiring and encouraging children today.

I arrived at the Barbican, where the Roots & Shoots Awards were held this year (thanks to sponsors Love Nature) to a room full of school displays by the Roots & Shoots winners, absolutely bubbling with energy! Children of all ages showed off their skills as gardeners, greenhouse-builders, photographers and documentary makers.

Humberstone Junior Academy Roots and Shoots

Humberstone Junior Academy explained their focus on wildlife, including how they had adopted a pangolin with Born Free Foundation

I took a good couple of hours to speak to all the children about their schools’ initiatives and the eco-friendly activities they have devised. Below are a few examples of the amazing work I saw — but there were certainly many more, equally impressive displays and models (I just didn’t have enough space on my phone to photograph them all!)img_5853Humberstone Junior Academy Roots and Shoots masksChowbent primary school roots and shoots

Sir Jonathan North Community College Roots and Shoots

After viewing the room of beautiful exhibits, it was time for lunch in the Barbican Centre‘s greenhouse conservatory, before moving on to the auditorium for the much anticipated award ceremony and the handing out of prizes! Winners received a trophy, a cuddly Jane Goodall ‘Mr H’ monkey, a book and a free subscription to National Geographic Kids Magazine.

Roots and shoots award presentation

Roots and shoots award presentation humberstone junior academy

Congratulations to all the schools who won these prestigious awards. It was a real treat to see such happiness and celebration! Additionally, I got to present two very talented winners the award for ‘Outstanding Photograph‘ on behalf of National Geographic Kids:

National geographic kids photography award roots and shoots

Rachel from the University of Salford (pictured above) won with this fantastic photograph of three Barbary macaques.

National geographic kids photography award roots and shoots

The second winner was Claudia from James Allen’s Girls’ School, who won with the beautiful photograph below.

National geographic kids photography award roots and shoots

Her award was collected by her teacher, who said she was very proud of Claudia’s work. Claudia will have the chance to be an National Geographic Kids reporter for the day!

National geographic kids photography award roots and shoots

The day concluded with a heartfelt speech delivered by Dr Jane Goodall herself, encompassing the message behind Roots & Shoots of inclusion, tolerance and love and respect for the planet and one another. She praised the teachers who guide and encourage their students in programmes like Roots & Shoots and the people like her mother, who never crushed curiosity or stopped her from making mistakes and learning all the life lessons she need to become a scientist.

Jane Goodall Roots and Shoot address

“I hate hearing that ‘we’ve not inherited the Earth from our parents, we’ve borrowed it 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 have been stealing, and now we’re holding your hand so that together we can make it better.”

Listen to more of Jane’s speech by clicking here.

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My top 5 ways to fend off ‘Blue Monday’…

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

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

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

1. Try out Gorilla Safari VR

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

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

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

Gorilla Safari VR

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

2. Watch A Lion’s Tale

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

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

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

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

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

Official webpage: taniaesteban.wixsite.com/alionstale

3. Explore ‘Speaking of Nature’ case studies 

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Discover GreenWorldTV

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

 

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

5. Have flick through National Geographic Kids Magazine

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

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

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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.

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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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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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Primate poaching, problems and protection

I can’t get Racing Extinction out of my head. I think that’s the point of a documentary like that, of course, and it must be working, as I keep coming back to it in my mind.

Racing Extinction

Having also recently watched the powerful film How to Change the World, in which Greenpeace’s Bob Hunter constructs the idea of ‘mind bombs’ (the 1960s equivalent of a viral image or video) to instil a message and influence a state/change of mind; I understood the tactic that Director Louis Psihoyos has employed in Racing Extinction.Racing extinction empire state building

But whilst National Geographic photographs of snow leopards and whales illuminating the Empire State Building or lions and clown fish clambering over the Vatican have captured imaginations all over the globe, the mind bomb that’s gone off in my head is: “what was the chimpanzee feeling when he came back and gave Jane Goodall a hug?’

The poignant moment manages to capture the human-like affection that primates are capable of expressing and makes me acutely aware of how we are not that different to our sentient Great Ape counterparts.

Dr Jane Goodall was selected as number 1 on BBC Wildlife Magazine‘s conservation power list this summer, for her lifetime’s work with chimpanzees – including drawing attention to the tragic impact of the wildlife trade.

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Through her organisation; the Jane Goodall Institute, BBC Wildlife explains that she spends 300 days a year on speaking tours that take her across the globe. But who is this slight, grey-haired woman with such youthful eyes and smile that they almost betray her years of wisdom?

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Everyone seems to have seen the David Attenborough clip  where he shares a special bonding moment with silverback gorillas in 1979, the iconic footage gets shared and re-shared for its absolute magic, but somehow despite this — the plight of Great Apes goes largely overlooked nowadays, in comparison to big cats and critters of the Arctic.

In the 1960 and ’70s, it was different. Under the provision of Dr Louis Leakey; an paleoanthropologist and archaeologist concerned with understanding human evolutionary development, National Geographic funded three separate primate research projects over the two decades, fronted by three extraordinary women: the Trimates

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The Trimates: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas were commissioned to study primates to establish their position in human evolution. Goodall researched chimpanzees, Fossey: gorillas and Galdikas: orangutans.

Goodall began conducting her initial study in Tanzania in 1960, and made significant discoveries with regards to their behavior, social structures, and was the first to discover that chimps used tools (such as sticks, to fish termites out from inside branches and tree trucks), which was a characteristic believed to be exclusive to humans before her work, and one of the things that separated us from our ancestors.

The second Trimate, Dian Fossey set up a research camp in Rwanda in 1967 to begin her study of gorillas. Her story (and its controversies) is documented in the 1988 film, Gorillas in the Mist.

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I watched Gorillas in the Mist for the first time this week, to understand more about Fossey’s work and the circumstances surrounding her murder in 1988.

The thing that struck me most about the film was the relentless fight she faced against poachers. Although hunting had been illegal since the 1920s in the national park she resided in in Rwanda, the law was rarely enforced by park conservators, who were often paid a low salary and bribed by poachers.

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The scene in which the first silverback that Dian had contact with, Digit (called so because of his having a pose-able thumb – or fifth digit – a feature of apes), is killed by poachers is harrowing. Brilliantly acted by Sigourney Weaver, one can only imagine the pain that Dian felt when her beloved Digit was discovered with his head and hands removed by poachers to be made into gorilla hand ashtrays and medicine in the Asian wildlife trade.

The real-life photograph (shown above) was taken by Fossey’s student, Ian Redmond. Now Ian Redmond OBE; a supporter of Born Free Foundation, a contributor to Born Free’s Wildlife magazine, and someone whom I recently listened to at The Service for All Animals, speaking with Virginia McKenna in memory of elephant Pole Pole.

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It always astounds me when these things somehow come together and link in. Perhaps it’s telling of the fact that those involved in the animal rights movements are prolific, dedicating their lives to a cause. Or maybe it’s also a sign that the number of people at the forefront of anti-poaching, anti-wildlife trafficking campaigns are few in number?

I hope it’s the former.

Or perhaps I just seek it. In the summer this year, I visited Lizard’s Point in Cornwall as part of a music mini tour with my partner, and what should I stumble across but a sculpture commissioned in support of the Dian Fossey Organisation and its work with mountain gorillas, raising funds for the cause.

I photographed it at the time, not really knowing much about the organisation or its work, but feeling certain that I would in time. And here we are.

Gorilla

So what of the third Trimate, Birute Galdikas?

Her National Geographic cover story was published in 1975 detailing her work with orangutans in Borneo.  Despite being told by her professors that studying the primates would be impossible, due to their elusive and wary natures, she has continued her work over four decades and today is well-known for her rehabilitation efforts through Orangutan Foundation International.

As with the other two primate pioneers, however, Galdikas’ work is also not without its criticism.

Despite this, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering these amazing ladies’ stories and the education that they bought to the world about our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.

It seems national treasure, Sir David Attenborough,  is one of the only Great Ape champions to have escaped such criticism and controversy, but it’s worth noting that the story neither begins nor ends with him alone.

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Like this? Read about my meeting with ‘Trimate’ Jane Goodall here.

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Want to know more about the threats faced by primates today, and what’s being done to help them? Check out: http://www.bornfree.org.uk/campaigns/primates/

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So you want to change the world?

I have never been afraid of being an island. In a sea of trends, fashions and hash tags, I have often stood still — believing in the things that have gradually anchored from my childhood to become the core for who I am in adulthood.

It hasn’t mattered to me advocate unfashionable (sometimes anti-fashionable) beliefs alone; in fact I enjoy the challenge: to seek out those who harbour enough empathy to re-align their moral compass somewhere in the direction of recognising the beauty of wildlife and power of the natural world.

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“Revolution will not be organised”
Announces the slogan of the recently released docufilm “How to change the world”. The story of Greenpeace co-founder Bob Hunter explores the mission that Greenpeace’s crew undertook in sailing to a nuclear test zone; how Hunter manages to consecutively drive the group apart, then re-assemble the organisation before standing between a whale and a harpoon, and in front of an Arctic ship carrying seal carcasses.

But I know enough to realise that great things can happen when you irradiate borders to embrace an ally. It’s just that letting other join you can mean watering down: compromising — or worse, leaving yourself exposed. And that’s where being ‘the island’ has an advantage: where being cut off can feel like king.

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“Like much of the world, George Dante knows that the African elephant is under siege. A booming Chinese middle class with an insatiable taste for ivory, crippling poverty in Africa, weak and corrupt law enforcement, and more ways than ever to kill an elephant have created a perfect storm. The result: some 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year, more than 100,000 between 2009 and 2012 and the pace of killing is not slowing.” National Geographic magazine.

I feel fortunate, however, in that my cautiousness has served me well. The bridges that I’ve built have connected me to those individuals who continue to encourage and inspire me on my way to really understanding the depths of my desire to make a difference. And to the revolutionaries — the best of the best — ‘anti-fashion’ simply means ‘forward thinking’.

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Vivienne Westwood was amongst the panel at the premiere of ‘How to change the world’: “When Greenpeace was doing all this [pointing at the screen], when all this was happening, I was at home raising my children; wondering what all these hippies were talking about,” she mused. “But then I heard about the Arctic, about Shell and about predictions for the future population rates — how it’s not sustainable — and I woke up. Something has to be done.”

But as an independent, or surrounded by companions or allies, there is so much that needs reviewing, reforming, redirecting that it can be hard to keep yourself from drowning in all the issues you want to see made better. I’m only just beginning to understand how to stop myself from sinking.

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From a reading of St Francis, by Will Travers at ‘A service of celebration for all animals’, 17th October.

“He explained that it’s easy to love animals towards which we feel love and admiration, but we must also love, in his words; ‘wicked and ferocious animals, animals which we find sickening and repugnant, ones which we are spontaneously tempted to crush beneath our feet. Love should not be solely reserved for the things that are dear to us, even slithering reptiles which will never raise their voices in song or sing hymns praising creation’.”

I think the key is to do. To do together, to do as an individual, to do as a team, to do as a crowd: whether captain or crew mate, I think if you put your views into practise, you can be firm in keeping those morals anchored down, whilst holding your head above water.

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‘They did exactly what they were supposed to do: they proved that the Black Mambas: a nearly all-women anti-poaching unit created to protect the reserves rhinos, could keep poachers out of the park. Still, says Mkhabele, “It would have felt good to shoot the guys who keep trying to kill our rhinos.”

“They say women can’t work on the bush. So I am very proud of us here, because we are working in the bush. Without guns, as women. It means we are strong”.’ Nkateko Mzimba, 24 year old member of the Black Mambas. TIME magazine.

A 25 year old woman, I choose to surround myself with this kind of knowledge: to be a part of this world, sink or swim, because I believe in power of education and the power of ‘preserving’ over ‘conquering’. Maybe it helps to be comfortable with being an island, but maybe it brings with it a previously little understood notion; that to stand alone one has to learn how not to be conquered, or invaded by single-track opinions and ignorance.

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“The most important role, however isn’t in the reserve, but in teaching the value of wildlife to residents of impoverished townships surrounding Balule and Kruger National Park where many poachers originate. Many locals see wildlife sanctuaries as the preserve of white and wealthy tourists. They resent the fact that they cannot graze their cattle in the reserves, or hunt game freely like their forebears did.
That’s where the Black Mambas come in. They may not be able to stop poachers with pepper spray alone. But they can stop them with education.”

To combat ignorance is the biggest battle. I try my best to overcome my own ignorance by listening to as much — and as many people — as possible. I find my patience for different viewpoints and different interpretations increases as my desire to understand where lack of knowledge (or lack of understanding) comes from increases also. I believe without doubt that education is the key to feeling empowered enough to be the lone ship on the horizon — the Greenpeace of the ocean, if you will.

And if education spreads far and wide enough, I see no reason as to why this island cannot be surrounded by an entire fleet looking to change the world.

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