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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.

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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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A compassionate voice to educate

I first met Sharon Bull at a march against the Taiji Cove dolphin slaughter in early 2015. I admired her for standing in front of the huge crowd, gathered in Trafalgar Square, and speaking so passionately, poetically and unashamedly about her journey to becoming a wildlife campaigner, and why ‘compassion’ to others – albeit human or animal, has become her key to inner happiness.

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It was quite an honour to be asked to share a guest blog post on her website, A Compassionate Voice.

Admittedly, it was hard for me — as someone who knows a little about a lot of wildlife-related issues (or perhaps even, a bit about a few…) — to choose a viable topic.

I know I have a lot to learn, and I’m genuinely excited about doing so! In fact, all learning excites me, so education became my starting point…

My Guest Blog started a little like this:

The biggest battle a conservationist or animal rights campaigner has to fight is against ignorance; sometimes well intended ignorance at that. I say that not with anger, or jest, or any hint of superiority; I say it because it’s the straightforward truth.

I say it because I’ve spent most of my life being both well intended and ignorant.

A more important point to focus on however, is how to improve education and access to information to empower people to learn what the bigger picture looks like (often related to money, politics and corruption) behind some of the commonly acceptable practices that involve animals.

I am fortunate enough to work in part of the Discovery Communications family; which, at the end of last year, released the incredibly thought-provoking documentary; Racing Extinction.

Racing Extinction takes a candid look at the threat of the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction, and the global warming conditions that are likely to ignite it.

By looking at the historical scientific evidence that caused the previous mass extinctions (including the most famous; the dinosaurs), film maker Louis Psihoyos (Director of The Cove) suggests that our planet’s current rise in temperature means we are sitting on a ticking time bomb.

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By examining issues such as the carbon emissions of farming and city traffic, the environmental impact of overfishing and the rise in the ocean’s acidity levels, Psihoyos sets about finding ways to reduce humans’ impact on the planet, and effectively slow down the clock that we started.

So what does this have to do with ignorance? Read the full post here to find out!

 

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Revisiting Sir David Attenborough’s Great Ape playmate

In the wake of Sir David Attenborough’s 90th birthday celebrations, the BBC has curated a fantastic collection of programmes from Sir David’s incredible, extensive catalogue of work, available on BBC iPlayer. The collection includes the brand new programme; Attenborough at 90, which sees a number of colleagues, friends and admirers of Sir David come together to celebrate his milestone year.

Of course, the birthday broadcast included one of the most celebrated (and remembered) moment of David’s on-screen history, which is…

NB: Since the making of these films, the practice of human interaction with wild gorillas is no longer permitted, due to further understanding of the human diseases we may pass on to them. 

Born Free Foundation supporter and ambassador of vEcotourism.org, Ian Redmond OBE, was on hand for the programme, filmed in front of a live audience, to reminisce the famous gorilla introduction between Sir David and the gorillas.

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As Dr Dian Fossey’s research assistant, it was Ian who took David and the BBC crew to meet the gorillas. The incredible moment has been the subject of a new BBC Earth article, which goes on to explain what happen to the gorillas after that magical moment; written by Ian.

 “There is the unforgettable moment when Pablo, a playful youngster in Group 5, sits in David’s lap and sprawls back wriggling, making David grimace slightly despite his evident delight – I suspect that was because gorillas do have rather bony bottoms!” — courtesy BBC Earth.

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Ian Redmond observing the gorillas. Photo taken by DR Dian Fossey, courtesy of Ian Redmond.

Happily, Poppy, the then two-year-old infant who played alongside Sir David Attenborough, is now an elderly matriarch in the Susa Mountain Gorilla Group, which can be visited, virtually, at close range on the flanks of Mount Karisimbi, courtesy of vEcotourism.org. For full details and more information, click here or the picture below:

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UK Blog Awards 2016 — Kate on Conservation, Highly Commended!

Energy. Energy was flowing (even more so than the free Prosecco) as some of the best storytellers, communicators and leaders of trends gathered together in Westminster for the UK Blog Awards 2016 on Friday.

The UK Blog Awards provide a unique opportunity for individuals to be recognised for their social media achievements through blogging; they provide recognition with a chance to network and be inspired by other industry bloggers, as well as connect with new audiences.

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What a surreal honour it was to find myself among such a high calibre of writers — not to attend lecture or panel talk, as I often do, to hear the words of those more wise and worldly thank myself — but as an equal; myself a Finalist in this prestigious competition.

This year’s Finals were particularly special, as the UK Blog Awards introduced a new section, expanding beyond its fashion, beauty, lifestyle, marketing and PR norms to include Green & Eco (under which conservation falls), so even this in itself feels like positive progression in my eyes.

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For me, this was the most important part of the evening — that so many important issues had the opportunity to be showcased. There were so many fantastic and meaningful blogs to discover!

I’m an avid follower of blogger Wildlife Kate, who blogs about her Staffordshire garden and the wildlife that visits there, so I was honoured to find myself in the Finalist list alongside her. Kate also keeps a blog for Michael Drayton Junior School about using wildlife to learn, which was Highly Commended in the Education Category! Well done Kate!

Meeting fellow blogger Wildlife Kate

Meeting fellow blogger Wildlife Kate

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My aim has never been to be a ‘blogger’, the goal when I started this was to be a campaigner and educator, spreading the word on things I felt weren’t receiving the coverage they should have been, and to inspire younger people to take an interest in the need for conservation.

By admitting my own misconceptions and ignorance at times (I’ve visited SeaWorld, petted a lion, seen elephants perform in Indonesia…), I have hopefully struck a different note, a passive voice who speaks from experience, but has now become knowledgeable enough to trust: and my blog follows that journey into knowledge and education.

I began my blogging as part of a university course, which required that I create four different types of post during the semester. I was asked, when I pitched my idea to the class, whether there would be enough to write about on the topic of conservation to fill the semester. Five years later, I continue to write regular updates on the site, have met some of my biggest idols and inspirations to discuss world-changing issues, and have done my best to spread the word on compassionate conservation; that is, to use cases and examples of individuals to promote a bigger conservation message.

Even so, the surprise that this one-time reluctant blogger felt when UK Blog Awards’ host for the evening, Kate Russell, announced I’d been Highly Commended by judges Miranda Johnson (Environmental Correspondent for The Economist) and Iain Patton (Founder and Director of Ethical Team) was tremendous! Especially to be recognised alongside the incredible work of Wildlife Gadget Man Jason Alexander, and category Winner: Make Wealth History!

Highly commended

What an honour! This truly is a one-woman site, with posts being constructed in my spare time around busy working hours. It’s entirely not for profit, no sponsors or advertising revenue, so to go so far in this competition sincerely means a lot to me, and gives a further purpose to all those hours dedicated to bringing important conservation and wildlife issues to light.

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Thank you so much to all those who voted for me in the earlier stages of this competition, and to all those who’ve enjoyed being on this journey with me —who’ve found information, comfort, or even challenge in some of the posts I’ve written (I try to blog from the heart, with honesty and integrity — I understand that people may not always agree with my views, and as with many issues and solutions, there are various schools of thought as to ‘best practice’ when it comes to conservation).

As humans though, it is our responsibility and indeed duty to maintain and protect our planet’s wildlife and its environment. It is our duty to sustain the areas of nature that we, as a species, have largely caused the decline and endangerment of. Although putting our efforts into conservation sadly cannot reverse the destruction that our planet has already undergone, we can however, preserve and repair that which we are left with.

Imagine a world where a lion’s roar can never be heard rumbling across the plains of Africa.

Imagine that those plains once filled with colourful birds, galloping antelope and chattering monkeys will one day lie quiet and desolate.

Imagine that the only way our children or grandchildren may see those animals is from pictures in a book. Only we can make the choice of whether we continue to have these beautiful animals in our world, or whether we will stand back and watch them disappear. I want my blog to become a source material for documenting all the positive ways we are making change, and to become a diary of the turning points in conservation during my lifetime.

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Racing Extinction: The ultimate race against time…

Today, the force of nature documentary that is Racing Extinction gets its UK dvd release.

I know I’ve raved about Oscar-nominated Racing Extinction on this blog before, but I have a special attachment to it, having worked on the Discovery Education school resources to accompany the film, and therefore having been invited to the UK premiere.Racing Extinction dvdRacing Extinction takes a candid look at the threat of the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction, and the global warming conditions that are likely to ignite it.

By looking at the historical scientific evidence that caused the previous mass extinctions (including the most famous; the dinosaurs), film maker Louis Psihoyos (Director of The Cove) suggests that our planet’s current rise in temperature means we are sitting on a ticking time bomb.

Racing Extinction

By examining issues such as the carbon emissions of farming and city traffic, the environmental impact of overfishing and the negative change to the ocean’s acidity levels, Psihoyos sets about finding ways to reduce humans’ impact on the planet, and effectively slow down the clock that we started.

‘Better to light one candle than curse the darkness…’

Racing Extincition comes with a very important and empowering ethos — that by working together to make change, we can all play our part in reversing some of the damage and destruction our planet has faced.

It is perhaps this message of hope, and the practical suggestions that we can ‘StartWith1Thing’ to really make a difference, that has made the film so popular. After being aired on the Discovery Channel across the globe, Racing Extinction became the most watched documentary of the last three years!

racing extinction quoteI recently had the opportunity to deliver a whole school assembly on the #StartWith1Thing movement, joining with one of the partners of the film: the Born Free Foundation, to inspire the next generation of ‘wildlife warriors’.

Assembly Claires CourtOne of the things that makes me so passionate about the Racing Extinction film and movement at large, is the time and care it has taken in using the opportunity of the documentary release to educate.

There are many things that I, myself, discovered for the first time while watching and researching this film (I’ll avoid giving too much away here, though), and by helping to create school resources that fit into the secondary school level National Curriculum, I felt like Racing Extinction is really making a difference.

For those who are interested in how Discovery is using Racing Extinction in the classroom, an on-demand virtual field trip is available here:

Racing extinction virtual field tripThe hour-long lesson fleshes out some of the important and relevant issues raised in the film, and challenges students to consider three areas where they can make a change, by asking:

What do you consume?
What do you dispose?
How did you consume your energy?

Racing Extinction is available to buy or download here.

racing extinction dvd package back

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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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What’s it like to work at a game reserve in South Africa?

Volunteering report: Shamwari Game Reserve & Born Free Foundation’s big cat sanctuaries

Before there was blogging…

Or perhaps at least before sites such as WordPress made the platform available to all (blogging was regarded as something more like a social media site, anyone remember BEBO? – Blog Early, Blog Often), I look a gap year after completing my A-Levels, and headed off to South Africa alone, a mere two weeks after my 18th birthday.

There were no ‘insta feeds’, photo filter apps; iPhones were for the extremely well off, and camera phones were such poor quality and required such a hard to come by blu-tooth connection before you could download your snaps that it made far more sense to own a stand alone digital camera. I don’t know whether they were better or simpler times, but I do know you had to be a lot more selective over the photos you felt were worth editing, and a lot more determined if you were going to find a platform for your work.

Naturally, a journal-keeper and documenter of things; I had to write about the experience.

I kept a diary of every day spent travelling and working, and wrote a summary report on the benefits of volunteering abroad, for my local education authority as a means to inspire others from my not-so-privileged hometown to aspire to such an adventure themselves, after I successfully applied for a £250 grant towards the otherwise self-funded £5,000 trip. (Mostly achieved through part time work in retail, and the unspent funds gained from the sale of an extremely rare ‘beanie baby’ card about 9 years prior).

The report was part of my grant agreement and I poured over it for days after I got home; carefully cutting borders from print-outs of my own photography at the reserve (before blogs, borders and ‘WordArt’ meant you were serious about your work and its presentation…) and painfully minding my handwriting, so as not to screw up the clarity of a word, and have to cross it out which would have certainly spoiled the piece!

Although I do not hold exactly the same views as I did back then (I read the report now and look at the photographs with a much wiser, more informed understanding), I thought it would be quite nice to share the little-seen, rarely read, ramblings of a just-returned from the adventure of a lifetime, determined to change the world 18-year-old version of myself. Enjoy!

Shamwari Report page 1

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