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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.

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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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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!

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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.

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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!

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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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Shamwari Report page 3Shamwari Report page 4Shamwari Report page 5Shamwari Report page 6Shamwari Report page 7Shamwari Report page 8Shamwari Report page 9Shamwari Report page 10Shamwari Report page 11

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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: Dr 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 famous 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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