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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?

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Reflecting on a gentle nature

Lately, I have found myself in a reflective state of mind. Reflecting on my work, my goals, the small successes of the campaigns I’ve joined (Sea World agreeing to end the breeding of its captive whales); the near misses (the slow progress of the UK government in deciding whether to close the domestic trade in ivory); and the complete misses (never getting to see Tilikum free of his Sea World enclosure, CITES not delivering lions with Appendix I protection, etc.).

I suppose it can weigh heavy.

In need of a little pick-me-up, my thoughts went to the beginning —in fact, before the beginning —to the chain of events which began the ripple that would eventually flow into the creation of this sea of words; articles; posts.

It begins with the memory of murdered photographer Julie Ward, whose book, ‘A Gentle Nature’, I won in a raffle many years ago.

Below is a vlog I made a few years back, explaining who Julie Ward is and a little bit about her tragic story.

 

This is the book mentioned, which captured my interest in the Born Free Foundation and wildlife photography and was one of the inspiring factors which made me travel to South Africa to volunteer.

gentle nature

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I had chosen to volunteer at Shamwari Game Reserve because it is home to two Born Free Foundation sanctuaries for rescued big cats, and one of these rescue centres was opened in Julie Ward’s memory.

Shamwari friends with Kate

Celebrating a job well done with my fellow Shamwari volunteers at the Born Free Foundation”s Julie Ward Education Centre.

Since that vlog was filmed, a further development arose in the Julie Ward murder case, where new DNA evidence brought detectives a step closer to finding her killers.

The following video shows a news report from BBC News in the East of England. I must apologise for the quality of the video and give pre-warning that to get the most from the video, it will require viewers to turn the volume to full. It was recorded on simple digital camera by my ever-supportive parents, and emailed to me during my year in Australia, so that I could watch it online from overseas.

 

Back in 2013 I even designed my own mini Go Go Gorilla to send out to Born Free‘s Julie Ward Education Centre at Shamwari.

The basic elements of my design were my Shamwari work t’shirt from my time as a volunteer there, the Born Free Foundation logo, and an image of Julie ward herself. Such were the reaches of their influence.

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It’s wonderful to reflect on my own locality, and how where I grew up ultimately had an influence on ‘how’ I grew up. There are so many wonderful figures who have inspired my path into gentle nature and compassion conservation.

Those that I’ve followed throughout my life are: the late Joy Adamson (writer of the Born Free autobiographical tale of Elsa the lioness, and its sequels) and George Adamson (Joy’s husband, who had a lifetime of incredible conservation work in his own right, rehabilitating captive lions, such as Boy and Christian back into the wild) and the late Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna (who founded the Born Free Foundation with their son Will Travers, and whom played the roles of Joy and George Adamson in the Born Free movie).

I would also, like many people, have to cite David Attenborough in my list of conservation heroes whose footprints I would love to walk in. I am so grateful that, in blogging, I have found a way to honour those idols and to continue to grow in the shared goals; in all their triumphs, near misses, and total knock-outs.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Angela Scott photographing cheetahs for Big Cat Diary

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

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

The Big Cat Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My own collection of Scott’s early books

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

The Big Cat People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacred Nature: Life’s Eternal Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geographical Magazine publishes images from Sacred Nature

Geographical Magazine publishes images from Sacred Nature

Purchase these incredible books here.

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Rescuing lions — an exclusive interview with Captured in Africa

One of the things I love most about blogging is having the opportunity to talk to experts and professionals in conservation about the incredible and inspiring work they are doing.

I recently wrote a post titled Bred for the bullet, which delved into the dark and only recently publicly highlighted industry of trophy hunting, or ‘canned lion hunting’.

Cecil the Lion

The now infamous Cecil the lion

As a brief catch-up, canned hunting refers to lions born and raised in captivity for the sole purpose of being shot for large sums of money. Prices for these canned hunts start at about $17,500 and go as high as $50,000, and the lions involved are always killed within an enclosed area, or whilst sedated, meaning the kill is guaranteed – the lions literally have no escape (see ‘canned’).

Over the last couple of years, I have joined campaigns and demonstrations against this awful practice, attending the premiere of the Born Free Foundation film Blood Lions and marching through the streets of London to deliver a petition to South Africa House as part of the Global March for Lions.

One of the regular faces (and speakers) at these such demos is lion campaigner and conservation champion Paul Tully, pictured below. Paul kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about canned hunting and what organisations, including Captured In Africa Foundation (founded by Drew Abrahamsson and for whom he now works), are doing to help rescue and relocate lions that fall into this brutal industry.

Paul Tully

Paul Tully gives a rallying speech at the Global March for Lions, Trafalgar Square, London

How and why did the foundation start?

Captured In Africa Foundation was established by my colleague Drew Abrahamson to support rescue / relocation work, but to also support our various conservation partners in the field.

Over the years, Drew has become a key individual in the fight for Africa’s lions and big cats. Having carried out and facilitated many rescues and relocations of both wild & captive lions, Drew has somewhat become one of the go-to professionals when dealing with issues affecting big cats — whether it’s a wild lion or leopard requiring intervention (to possibly be relocated, for example), or a captive bred lion in need of a safe home (many are horribly bred for the tourist petting industry, so situations often call to get them out of where they are and to a far safer environment of an ethical sanctuary).

The foundation also uses it’s position of working with leading conservationists and non-profits on the ground and include our various contacts and efforts within the tourism industry, to ensure that funds, equipment and even advice is channelled responsibly and to the people who need it most. I can’t tell you the amount of times people ask us where best to travel to that doesn’t allow hunting, or people searching for an ethical volunteer project for example. So the foundation is a fantastic well-rounded organisation to help the public.

“It’s a passion to help wildlife, not a job”

 

What is your role at Captured in Africa?

My main role is at Captured In Africa is as Sales and Marketing Manager for the safari side of the company (we have a big emphasis on responsible tourism and conservation), my role has now also taken on our foundation, which I was happy to take on and help free of charge really — it’s a passion to help wildlife, not a job. Selling safaris is also a passion, I love it because I get to do two amazing things in one with Captured In Africa. What we do at Captured In Africa and what we do at the foundation is one, there’s no separating them as they both channel into each other to ultimately benefit the wildlife we help and support.

 

What has been the most interesting or insightful project that you have been a part of?

I’ve been in the background helping where I could help on previous relocations, but the most interesting project for me personally was our latest relocation of a rescued circus lion from Spain; Natacha. Mainly because it was the first project to fall under the Captured In Africa Foundation umbrella — although Drew has been carrying out such rescues and relocations for some time now, to see everything come together, the public support and enthusiasm to help this one lion, it makes you think: imagine what our foundation could do for all lions and Big Cats?!

© Drew Abrahamson / www.capturedinafrica.com

© Drew Abrahamson / http://www.capturedinafrica.com

How many rescues or relocations have the team carried out? Have these all been Big Cats?

Big Cats is the focus of the foundation, it’s the same as our safaris, where we advocate and raise awareness of Big Cat issues. Big Cats are where our hearts are, and rightfully so. Species such as elephants and rhinos are in the spotlight due to poaching and the ivory / horn trade, however, Big Cats have almost gone unnoticed for quite a while.

I think that’s why Cecil the lion was such a large widespread issue… lions were suddenly in the spotlight and most of the world didn’t even realise that lions were in such decline and under such threats as land loss, poaching, conflict with humans and hunting. 20,000 lions left in the whole of Africa, someone has to do something about that — the Captured In Africa Foundation hope to do just that.

Drew: There have been 15 rescues to date. Not all have made it & some are in the beginning stages as well as in the near future. They have all been Lions.

“I couldn’t just sit back and see others battling to save wildlife do it alone, they need support.”

 

 Why is there a need for these relocations?

Drew: The need comes from either a volunteer realising the lion they have cared for is in danger, so they want to ‘rescue’ it and make sure it goes to a safe home, or the lions being confiscated by authorities. In the case of wild lions relocations, it’s out of necessity as the current reserve would have reached their carrying capacity. So instead of culling, they would rather find a safe home.

There are also many private ownership issues [Big Cats kept as pets] that are often not even spoken of in South Africa, yet we know they happen. Last year, for example, an image was circulated of a tiger cub at a home just outside Johannesburg — it received a lot of attention, which resulted in no action, sadly. But it’s still legal to own such animals. CIA Foundation will only intervene when the cat has been confiscated and sometimes locally with regards to trying to negotiate the with owners to hand the Big Cats over to a sanctuary.

Drew Abrahamson speaking at event

Drew Abrahamson talks about the main issues affecting big cats. © Drew Abrahamson / http://www.capturedinafrica.com

 What organisations do you work with to carry out the rescues?

Drew: The local relocations have been self-driven, however, the foundation has a close working relationship with various sanctuaries in SA. As far as international goes, we work closely with Four Paws International and Born Free Foundation on different cats issues, but not necessarily rescues. In Spain we also work with CJ and Luis at Chelui4Lions on the confiscation cases.

 

And back to Paul, What does doing this work mean to you?

Being mainly based in England, I’m not always physically there to support these rescues and relocations, but it’s often not about that. I recently wrote online that you don’t need to be in Africa to help African wildlife (or anything for that matter), you can help where your skills fit best… you just need that feeling of wanting to right the wrongs in this world.

If I can play a part by backing up my colleague Drew, marketing a rescue, facilitating communications between parties, organising fundraising campaigns, anything… to play any kind of role means a great deal to me… I couldn’t just sit back and see others battling to save wildlife do it alone, they need support. So I’m proud to be able to do that.

Captured In Africa Foundation will have a positive impact on big cat conservation for sure, it takes a lot of time and effort, but when you have great support, we can all achieve so much good for Africa’s wildlife.

For more information about Captured in Africa and their latest news, check out their blog here.

 

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Join me for a unique World Wildlife Day adventure!

This World Wildlife Day (TODAY!), I’m taking a special trip to Kenya… Do you want to come too?

I’m going to visit the world’s only salt-mining elephants. If I’m completely honest – I didn’t know until yesterday that there was even such a thing as a salt-mining elephant; so to have the chance to discover more about these animals and their behaviour in their natural environment is pretty extraordinary. And I get to do it without leaving my chair!

I’m having a live, 360-degree immersive tour of the dark caves of Mount Elgon in Kenya, guided by wildlife expert and conservationist Ian Redmond OBE. And you can come too!

vEcotourism elephants

Apparently the tour will be taking guests deep underground, to see the world’s only underground elephants (known as troglodyte tuskers), as they feel their way through the pitch-black caves using their trunks.

Ducking under the bats roosting overhead to explore the mysterious crevices and discover the rarely seen behaviours of these incredibly rare creatures; I think it’s going to be a rather unique experience.

vEcotourism elephant caves

The tour is taking place at 3pm (GMT), at live.vecotourism.org. If you can’t make that one, there’s second chance to take the #WorldWildlifeDay tour at 8pm (GMT) – but as they are both LIVE, it’s important to arrive on time and climb aboard with your headphones turned up: there won’t be another chance if you miss it!

I’ve always wanted to visit Kenya and I love elephants. Last year I held a fundraising event to raise money for the Born Free Foundation’s Europe elephant sanctuary for rescued captive and circus elephants, and I’ve previously interviewed the makers of the moving documentary Elephant in the Room about the impact on elephants of living in zoos; but to actually celebrate these animals living naturally in the wild is a positive rarity for me – and seems like the most fitting way to celebrate World Wildlife Day!

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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.

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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

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

3

In the spirit of Elsa, Christian and Cecil

‘Animal activist’ is never a title I’ve given myself, but it’s one that’s been applied to me on a few occasions recently and suppose in many senses of the word, it’s true.

I never intended to caught up in the world of politics – governmental nor organisational, but I’m beginning to understand that the deeper you delve, the harder it is to bury your head in the sand.

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Saturday night I attended ‘An evening for the lions’ at St Pancras Church, held by the wonderful charity Lion Aid. The event was a mixture of music, poetry and celebrity speeches, interspersed with video messages from prominent conservation figures, including the likes of BBC Wildlife Magazine’s number 1 conservation hero; and star of the late producer; Bill Travers’ documentary series The World of Animal Behaviour: Jane Goodall.

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Understandably the story of Cecil was a driving force of the evening; a vehicle for raising the issues of trophy hunting and canned lion hunting — practises that have long been happening, and equally long been protested against (I campaigned against this very issue in April this year) — and Cecil’s story provided a great introduction to rousing speeches from the likes of Game of Thrones star James Cosmo and Born Free Foundation’s very own Dominic Dyer; a regular voice in the ‘animal activism’ world.

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Cecil is, of course, not the first lion to capture the world’s imagination, but such individuals that play so wonderfully into the hands of ‘compassionate conservation’ approaches, like that adopted by Born Free Foundation (focussing on the individual cases to highlight population need) only come around once in a blue moon, and in a bittersweet way, they provide a brilliant means by which to help children understand some of the things that are happening in the world — something I am very proud to be a part of in my job.

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There are two other such individual lions who spring to mind for having captured the world’s imagination and driven the conservation message in ways most animal campaigners pray for: Elsa, of Born Free fame — her infamous rehabilitation from hand-reared cub to Joy and George Adamson’s global beacon of hope that once-captive animals can learn how to be wild —and Christian, ‘the Harrods lion’; famous for his wild reunion with former owners Ace Bourke and John Rendall.

Four and a half decades later, the moment captured by Born Free actor — and Born Free Foundation co-founder, Bill Travers, for his documentary: Christian: The Lion at World’s End, went viral on social media.

Having met John Rendall at Pride in the Park last year, it was fantastic to see him again at the inspiring Lion Aid event last weekend, for which he shared memories of his time with Christian and the formidable force that was George Adamson’s life and spirit.

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Hearing the heartfelt calls for action, teamed with the beautiful ‘Draw out the lion in you’ artwork on display, created by children and the odd celebrity, I found myself reconnecting with the roots of why conservation is so important to me, and forgetting all the about the ‘politics’ of animal activisim.

I’ve really enjoyed exploring the link between a love for wildlife and creating ‘animal art’ recently, having visited a long admired artist, Pollyanna Pickering’s, Summer exhibition earlier in the year and holding my own World of Wildlife exhibition in July, which contained artwork created over the last 10 years (pictured below).

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Going back to these roots and thinking about spreading conservation messages creatively, rather than politically, has been an exciting experience and one that definitely seems to inspire me.

Entries to the children's art competition, held as part of my exhibition

One of the young visitors to my exhibition last month, submitted a wonderful ‘zentangle’ lion drawing (shown above) to the 10 – 16 year old category art competition, judged by Will Travers. Following the exhibition she also created a zentangle re-imaging of the Born Free logo.

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Katie Parfett’s work and new interest in Born Free Foundation really touched me, and I decided to do an ‘artwork exchange’; sending her one of my original drawings in exchange for permission to hang copies of her (featured) pieces in my house; as my way of celebrating World Lion Day.

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The satisfaction of such a pure way of exchanging interests; away from internet logins and NGO (non-governmental organisations) disputes, has also seen me return to a former project I worked on in my mid-teens — a Big Cat study inspired by BBC’s Big Cat Week that turned from a simple after school project into a 200-odd page study complete with hand-drawn diagrams and eagerly collected photography and illustrations.

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Inevitably, with about five-planned pages to go, my GCSEs took over and the project got shelved. Ten years later, I feel both compelled (thanks to Lion Aid’s evening for lions) and inspired (thanks to a renewed interest in artwork) to finally finish it. And if the politics of being an ‘animal activist’ become distracting, I can always turn to the words of Virginia Mckenna in her autobiography, The Life in My Years:

“I have a second family, many of whom I have travelled with the past quarter of a century. My Born Free family. Elsa, the lioness, is the true mother of this family. We are her children, her descendents, her messengers, carrying her story and her spirit with us into people’s minds and hearts. Or trying to. Some people welcome us. Some are confused. Others stare, uncomprehending. Others show their contempt. Or laugh. It is of no consequence.”

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