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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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Time to teach Natural History classes? Calls for a new GCSE

There’s nothing like waking up to sunshine creeping through the window and the sound of early morning birdsong.

I love the hustle and bustle of chaotic London; it’s become my home over the last four years —but when it comes to downtime, I only want to get back to nature.
Kate on conservation sitting outside

April has been a wonderful month. It began with a week-long trip to the countryside; no phones, no internet, not even so much as a SatNav or a watch!

Now, I’m usually someone who loves technology — my job in children’s educational media is so dependent on sharing information online, and of course I love my gadgets for blogging — but making a deliberate effort to put all that aside and make room for nature is also really important to me.

I grew up in Thetford, East Anglia, so am well-versed in exploring the early signs of spring in the trees and plants of Thetford Forest. I kicked off last April with a trip to Scarning Dale, near to Thetford, and loved it so much that I had to return again this year.

A truly idyllic setting, it provided the chance to watch the birds through the window, to see tadpoles hatching in the pond at the bottom of the garden, and to take the relatively short trip to the North Norfolk coast to see colonies of Atlantic grey seals lazing at the sea’s edge with their growing young.

The changing attitudes to Natural History study

To lose myself even more in my countryside surroundings, I prepared for my trip by visiting my local secondhand book shop in London, which has one of the best Natural History sections of any book shop I’ve known!

I picked up a book called ‘Animal Lover’s Book’ by Enid Blyton, thinking that her comfy — somewhat twee — writing style that I remembered from my childhood would provide just the right level of cosy nostalgia for a trip back to where I grew up.

The book is a complete gem! Beautifully illustrated, full of information on British wildlife, quaint poems and boasting ‘full colour plates’ mixed throughout its chapters; there’s a kind of charm that’s hard to find these days.

Printed in 1957, it was of course wonderfully dated, in just the way I was looking for, but one of the things that really struck me was the level of effort and detail that had gone into providing additional information for children wanting to learn more about British wildlife.

“I am sure there will be children who want to know a few more technical details than are given in the main story,” assumes the author, “and these notes are mainly for them.”

I’m trying to imagine seeing something similar in modern day children’s books.

The author goes on to provide further facts and illustrations of every animal included in the book; badgers, foxes, mice, newts, lizards, deer, rabbits, hares, moles, shrews, etc, etc.

The illustrations show male and female sketches of the species’, and information includes everything from the family names of each species to the number of subspecies belonging to those families that reside in Britain. Pretty impressive for a children’s storybook!

My trip down memory lane brought home the changes in attitudes towards the natural world even more, when I returned from my holiday to read a Guardian article published at the start of April, which highlighted the view that:

“a majority of children no longer climb trees or play by streams and ponds, have become largely unfamiliar with even common wildlife, and are leading enclosed lives that are potentially harmful for their emotional and physical development.”

The article draws attention to a recently launched petition calling for the development of a GCSE in Natural History, referencing the fact that words such as ‘acorn’, ‘adder’, ‘ash’, ‘beech’, ‘bluebell’, and ‘conker’… (the list goes on), have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary to make way for words such as ‘analogue’, ‘broadband’, ‘bullet-point’, and ‘chatroom’. My, times really have changed since Enid Blyton wrote that book!

Calling for a Natural History GCSE

The petition, started by nature writer and radio producer Mary Colwell, emphasizes the UK’s outstanding nature writing, art, poetry and film, and how integral to our culture and heritage this has been.

Of course, I completely agree with the concept that “it is vital to understand the contribution nature makes to our lives physically, culturally, emotionally and scientifically both in the past and today”, as written in the petition’s blurb.

natural history GCSE petition

It reminds me of working with Discovery Education to promote the incredible documentary Racing Extinction. After working with a team to edit the film into manageable, self-contained clips suitable for classroom projects (mainly aimed at secondary school students; i.e. those preparing for their GCSEs), I delivered an assembly to primary school children to introduce them to some of the endangered species present within the documentary.

A simple set of questions where pupils had to choose the correct answer between ‘manta ray’ and ‘polar bear’ provided a great ice breaker for getting pupils to think about the environments that these animals might live in and the characteristics / adaptations they may possess.

Kate on Conservation racing extinction assembly

To focus on British wildlife, as well as the exciting exotic animals seen in Racing Extinction, I invited Dominic Dyer of Born Free Foundation to talk about the wildlife that children can experience in their own daily lives. And it captivated them.

The experience of directly educating children in this way about the incredible natural world around them really cemented in me the desire to continue working in children’s education.

I have been fortunate enough to spend the last six months doing just that — creating primary school resources for National Geographic Kids, including a wealth of material about animals and the natural world.

These free lesson resources provide information about wild animals from across the globe, and I really hope that they are able to one day contribute to a stronger Natural History study within the school curriculum.

Nat geo kids website animals resource

If you would like to sign the petition to see a Natural History GCSE introduced into the school curriculum, please follow the link here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/176749

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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.

craig-redmond-speaking-of-nature

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!

screen-shot-2017-01-15-at-17-58-37

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

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A homage to the memory of Tilikum, and a promise to myself

Tilikum-Seaworld-580-2.jpg

It’s easy to think, after all the media coverage of ‘2016: the year of death’, that it was the worst start to a year that we have had in this country for a while; kicked off by the passing of David Bowie on the 10th January, two days after his 69th birthday. 

Though I felt terrible sadness at the loss of a musical hero, who will tie quite deeply into this story later (more on that to come), I remember the previous year starting off far worse. 

On the Wednesday 7th January 2015, at approximately 10.30am I had just finished signing off that week’s Primary School news bulletin at Discovery Education when my BBC breaking news alert pinged. The story read that the office of a satirical French newspaper had been stormed by gun men. Returning to work after their Christmas break, heads full of January thoughts and imminent news deadlines (just like mine), the editor and staff at Charlie Hebdo barely had time to register what was happening, let alone react. 

One eyewitness account said that someone thought the gunman was a person staging a ‘joke hold up’ and laughed, before gun shots and screams broke the mood. Ten journalists and two policemen were killed that morning.

Journalists and news editors, people like myself, were angry. They killed the messengers. The public was outraged ‘they killed the cartoonists, they killed the funny guys!’ was one quote that stuck out to me. If memory serves, the Big Issue penned that one.

‘We won’t let terrorists win’, ‘pencils are stronger than bullets’, ‘Je Suis Charlie’ were some of the protest slogans I remember reading. 2015 had started with a very literal bang, and for one moment in time; we all stood up, stood together

and gave a shit.

charlie-hebdo

What does this have to do with the passing of Tilikum, I hear you ask? 

The mood of Britain was rocked and on edge. People gathered in their masses four days later at Trafalgar Square, pledged their allegiance to France, shouting their right to free speech. The streets of London felt alive with the absolute opposite of apathy. 

Six days later; one weekend on from London’s Unity March, and once again London’s streets were filled with angry people of all ages, exercising their right to speak up and be heard. This time it was a different kind of terrorist in the firing line. A terrorist that uses ropes, hoists, imprisonment in glass tanks, and funds their work with a cashflow from unsuspecting tourists. We stood once again on the steps of Trafalgar Square, and this time called out ‘Je Suis Tilikum’.

IMG_6832Me, at the anti Sea World protest in 2015

“I would rather die standing, than live on my knees”

Empty the tanks; close down Sea World; stop the slaughter of dolphins at Taiji Cove. These were our messages that day. Riding a wave of protest that my fellow journalists; slaughtered at their day jobs, had created. We rode that wave for Tilikum, a whale who hadn’t ridden a wave himself in 32 years at that point. 

I was 24 years only at the protest. Tilikum was 34. He has 10 more years on me. And I thought about that a lot. All the great things I’d done in my life. 

Tilikum came to Sea World in 1992, when I was two years old. I was probably just getting to grips with walking a few steps and talking a few simple sentences back then. All the things I’ve done in my life since then… and Tilikum has been in the same tiny part of Sea World‘s Florida park, in the same tank, swimming in the same circles with the same view, day in, day out. All. That. Time.

A wild orca can swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild. A wild killer whale with 10 extra years on me should have a hell of a lot more life experience.

kate snowdon photoA wild orca I encountered in South Africa

I encountered Tilikum once. In real life, in person. Summer 1999, and I was nine years old, on a family holiday to Orlando. These were the days before social media ruled the Internet, before I could sit and read National Geographic from cover to cover, before Blackfish was a documentary that existed to be watched and shared hundreds and thousands of times. 

It felt like an innocent day of family fun, and my overwhelming feeling was that I loved this incredible killer whale and the way he could perform with his ‘carers’ so carefully and gently. I don’t think you can get away with that level of naivety in today’s Information Age. Tilikum was driven mad by his captivity and is now known to have killed three people.

Including his Sea World trainer, in the pool, in front of an audience.

001A family holiday snap from 1999.

Dominic Dyer addressed the crowds back at Trafalgar Square in January 2015, and quoted the words of Charlie Hebdo’s murdered editor “I would rather die standing, than live on my knees”.

I felt the fire in my belly and I vowed to stand for that poor, disturbed, incredibly intelligent orca that I’d seen behind the glass all those years ago.IMG_6843See Dominic Dyer’s full speech and my coverage of the march that day here. 

“Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim”

There’s a second part to this story. Fast forward one year from the empty the tanks protest, to January 2016. Almost a year to the exact day, David Bowie passed away after a private battle with cancer. 

About a week on, we were back on the streets of London again, this time protesting outside the Japanese embassy.

A crowd, as big as the year before, marched through the streets once more with the message: empty the tanks; close down Sea World; stop the slaughter of dolphins at Taiji Cove.

These three causes are completely interlinked; Taiji Cove is where wild dolphins are rounded up in Japan every year and killed by spears for meat consumption, or the most handsome specimens are captured to be sold into a life in tanks at marine parks like Sea World. 

imageFor those who know little about the annual dolphin slaughter at Taiji, Japan, I would highly recommend watching the Academy Award-winning documentary; The Cove. 

As powerful as Blackfish, this tells the story of the other marine mammal that’s most commonly associated with captive performances alongside human trainers; the bottlenose dolphin. 

Significantly, just before the credits on this powerful documentary roll, the song ‘Heroes‘ by David Bowie concludes the film. 

“I, I wish you could swim. Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim”

I’m reliably told that the artist, knowing the activist film makers were on a low budget, charged as little as he could get away with for the licensing of the song to be used in the film. Despite his affection for Japan, he risked his reputation with the country for the cause of the dolphins.

See my full coverage of the 2016 march here. 

As January kicks off once again with a personally significant loss; this time the passing of creature whose gaze I once met through thick glass many years ago, I vow to stand up once again, and let my voice be heard.

The annual Taiji dolphin drive slaughter is in full swing once more its season running from September to March, and once again the waters of the Cove will run red with blood, and the ‘lucky’ dolphins who survive the massacre will be sold on to marine park shows across the world to face the same fate as Tilikum. Driven mad in a tiny glass prison.

I promise, to Tilikum, that as long as marine mammals are kept in tanks, I will continue to stand against it.

I will stand, until they can swim free. 

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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.

living on the edge, ng kids

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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Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 — My top 10 picks

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London is one of my new favourite ways to escape city life and immerse myself in the splendour of the natural world.

In March this year I had my first opportunity to visit the annual exhibition (then displaying the finalists of the 2015 competition), and was blown away by, not only seeing the incredible images up close and displayed together so thoughtfully, but by the wealth of wildlife-related issues, crimes and political traditions that they explored. Returning again for the 2016 display, I wasn’t disappointed!img_4804

Upon entering the gallery (situated in a different part of the museum building this year), visitors are greeted with the sentiment that it is the Natural History Museum’s mission ‘to challenge the way that people think about the natural world—by exploring the origins of life on Earth, showcasing our planet’s biodiversity and questioning our impact on the environment to build a sustainable future.’

The entry board so accurately describes the exhibition as a powerful visual reflection of a shared ambition to inspire change. I must admit that it certainly gave me plenty of food for thought as every caption provided an important opportunity for mapping out the relevance of each image to the overall goal of the Natural History Museum, which states that proceeds from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year ticket sales will go towards supporting the work of their 300 research scientists and the care of their 80 million specimen-strong collection.

nhm-wildlife-photographer-exhibition

My top 10 standout images from this year; the ones that really captured my heart and imagination (though ALL are worth seeing and appreciating for their craft!) are as follows:

10. The pangolin pit by Paul Hilton

wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2016-9Winner of the single image photojournalist award this year, Hilton’s photograph tells a shocking story of the world’s most trafficked animal; the pangolin. Given Appendix 1 protection at CITES this year, the pangolin is killed for its meat (a symbol of status) and for its scales, which are used in traditional Asian medicine. These 4,000 dead pangolins were photographed in shipping container probably destined for China or Vietnam.

9. Requiem for an owl by Mats Andersson

wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2016

This sombre snap captures a pygmy owl known to the photographer, alone against the moonlight having recently lost its mate. The photographer describes observing the pair and felt the photograph reflected his own sadness at the loss. Thought to have been targeted by a larger owl defending its territory, this owl was later also found dead.

8. Giant-killer by Ralph Pacewildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2016-1

I love the bizarre look of the battle between this California sea lion and ocean sunfish; the world’s heaviest bony fish. Though this is only a youngster, the sunfish still looks pretty huge! I hadn’t realised that sea lions tackle such large prey until seeing this photo.

7. Hanger-trap by Bence Mátéwildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2016-8

A poignant reminder of the impact that plastic pollution can have on local wildlife. Photographer Bence Máté described seeing this black-headed gull for two more days after this photo was taken, with the plastic hanger still attached to its foot. After that, it seemed to have disappeared.

6. Wild West stand-off by Charlie Hamilton James.

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When viewing this epic photograph my first thought was that it wouldn’t look out of place in a giant ornate frame on the wall of a stately home somewhere. I initially wondered whether it was comprised of many different frames, pieced together in a technique I’ve seen used on the cover of National Geographic Magazine before, but it turns out that it was captured by a camera trap left in location at Yellowstone National Park for six months. This perfect shot was found in amongst the 200,000 images that the camera had captured.

5. Rig diver by Alex Mustard

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I love this picture for the dramatic scale and colours. The sheer number of fish and the imposing, shadowy figure of the cormorant convey a sense of foreboding. It also challenged me to think about an environment in a new light, which is the sure sign of an impressive piece of photojournalism; the oil rig is providing a unique opportunity for shelter and food for sea birds. I’d previously only ever thought of oil rigs as negatively affecting the wildlife around it.

4. The alley cat by Nayan Khanolkar

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Winner of the ‘Urban’ category of the awards, this stunning photo by Nayan Khanolkar, captured using a camera trap, shows a leopard stalking through the shadowy streets of Mumbai. To me, this was a particularly important addition to the exhibition, as it really highlighted human-leopard co-existence. Wildlife being forced to co-exist alongside humans in manmade environments is something that we will continue to see more of thanks to continued urban sprawl. Though the often elusive leopard is one of most persecuted big cats in the world, the city in which it has been photographed here, regards their secretive neighbour with high respect; accepting its place in their lives and culture.

3. The disappearing fish by Iago Leonardo

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This photograph looks so perfect that it almost seems unreal, like a manmade collage. But in fact, the image was captured using natural lighting by Leonardo, who was free-diving around Contoy Island; a protected area that requires special permission to dive. The ghostly, glass-like fish at the top of the frame are called lookdowns, and their impressive silvery scales make them appear almost invisible. I love this image for its composition and the incredible juxtaposition of colours and textures of the two types of fish.

2. Night blow by Audun Rikardsen

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A stunning photograph that captures such a wonderful sense of mood and atmosphere; viewing this dramatic image up on the screen in the dark the exhibition room really made me feel chilly. One can imagine the ferociously icy conditions that photographer Audun Rikardsen must have endured in the six hours he spent in a boat on the nighttime polar water, waiting to snap this perfect shot. His undeterred patience certainly paid off.

1. The aftermath by Simon Stafford

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I’ve chosen Simon Stafford’s image as my favourite of this year’s finalists, as the dramatic shot reveals a rarely-seen side to a story we all know so well. Lots of natural history documentaries make the annual wildebeest migration across the Mara River the subject of their stories, but very few tell the tale of ‘the aftermath’, following a stampede. Here, spotted hyena make the most of the gully full of dead wildebeest, trampled in the stampede: scavenging every morsel of meat, and even bone, leaving just the horns of the deceased wildebeest in their wake. This photography was a worthy winner of the ‘Mammals’ category.

Photo journalism category: Winning photo stories

As well as selecting a single photograph as the overall winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the panel of the judges, lead by author and creative director Lewis Blackwell (Chair of the jury), also select a winning photo essay from the ‘Story’ category of the competition.

This year, there were two joint ‘Story’ winners; Vultures: circling calamity and While the forest still stands.

Vultures: circling calamity by Charlie Hamilton James

wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-vulture-photo-essayThis photo essay examines the wide-ranging threats to Africa’s vulture population; one of the fastest declining groups of animal in the world. Half of all species of vulture in Africa are now endangered, with numbers predicted to fall by another 70 to 97% over the next 50 years. This photo essay tells the story of the vultures, their importance to the ecosystem, the effect of poisoning, poaching and human conflict (such as traffic) and what’s being done to help the species. An important addition to the exhibition.

While the forest still stands by Tim Laman

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Tim Laman has used his photo story as an opportunity to showcase the lives and cultures of Borneo’s orang-utans and their fight for survival against human conflict, such as deforestation to make way for palm oil plantations. He studies their engagement with their habitat, the way that mothers bond with and teach their young, and their desperate plight to flee the forest fires, which are a common method used to clear the forests to make way for the production of palm oil crops.

Overall competition winner

This year’s overall Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner is Entwined lives by Tim Laman. It features in the above mentioned While the forest still stands photo story and shows an impressive view of a young male climbing high above the canopy top to feast upon figs. It was shot using a GoPro camera positioned in the treetops and triggered from the ground.

wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-orangutan-winnerLewis Blackwell, Chair of the jury’s comment: “A vital story is captured in one remarkable frame as this orang-utan climbs an emergent tree in its ever-dwindling habitat. The story is well-known, but we need outstanding photography like this to bring it across to us afresh. It touches our hearts and our minds – and just might help support actions to stop the destruction.”

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The Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s 52nd exhibition is on at the Natural History Museum now and includes many, many more striking and impressive pictures than the handful I have picked out here.