Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: okapi

Nominated by: Tusk Task Force

Why do you love it? 

Even though the okapi resembles the striped markings of a zebra on its behind, it is actually closely related to their tall cousins, the giraffe. Due to their common remarkable DNA, the okapi and the giraffe are the only living members of the family, Giraffidae. Okapis are only found in the northeast forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and their name actually means “the forest giraffe” for they rely on forests to survive. Like their cousins they have long tongues that can go from 14 to 18 inches but unlike giraffes, they are about the size of a zebra. The okapi is the symbol of the DRC and provides important biodiversity benefits to all the other species where it roams.

What are the threats to the Okapi? 

Since the okapi is only endemic in the DRC, their numbers have gone down tremendously since the discovery of their species in 1901 by humans. The okapi has been a protected national treasure of the Congo since 1933 but they are now listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Major threats include habitat loss due to deforestation and human settlement. Extensive hunting for their bushmeat and skin have also led to the decline in their populations. The most recent and dire threat on the okapi is the presence of illegal armed groups around protected areas, inhibiting conservation and monitoring by conservation groups, especially in the Virunga National Park. There are only 10,000-25,000 left of them in the wild, primarily in the Ituri Forest in the DRC.

What are you doing to save the okapi?

Tusk Task Force has recently included the okapi as one of its four target species (along with the elephant, giraffe, and the rhino) to defend because of their close relationship to the giraffe so they are partnering with the Okapi Conservation Project (OKP) to protect okapi populations. The OKP was established in 1987 which developed the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in 1993 to protect the species. In June 2012, a gang of militant poachers attacked the headquarters of the Reserve killing six guards and OKP staff in addition to 13 of the species.

Due to wildlife trafficking, Tusk Task Force is committed to help defend the okapi and its park rangers from further violence on a three-prong approach against wildlife terrorism:

Advocacy: 1. Build public awareness through consulting, education, public relations, and research; 2. Influence public policy channels by supporting legislation supporting okapi conservation on the international, national, state, and local levels; 3. Ally and consult with other advocates and NGOs on their targeted okapi conservation campaigns; 4. Deliver public policy advocacy resources to advocates and/or individuals at the grassroots level through our Tusk Ambassadors™ program; and, 5. Support global advocates on all levels, aligned with our mission, promoting okapi conservation.

Intelligence: 1. Provide a comprehensive repository of intelligence on the subject of wildlife terrorism including the DoW or DATA on Wildlife™ (Database of All Terrorist Activities on Wildlife) with regards to okapi population; 2. Compile, analyse, provide, and share intelligence of okapi casualties to all advocates and NGOs; 3. Promote data-driven and knowledge-based approach to help us address solutions to alleviate okapi mortality rates; 4. Authenticate with intelligence sources to confirm information regarding general and specific wildlife terrorism events on the okapi; and, 5. Corroborate each source of intelligence we acquire using “triangulation” or “five points” methodology to make sure that the source is as accurate as possible.

Protection: 1. Allocate tactical and operational resources to wildlife park rangers protecting the okapi; 2. Execute direct and in-direct force protection programs through our Tusk Defenders™ program; 3. Partner with other NGOs to help with their anti-poaching and okapi conservation efforts; 4. Ally with technology firms to enhance innovative tools to combat poaching of the okapi; and, 5. Collaborate with other NGOs to support a vibrant wildlife economy instead of a violent extinction economy that includes humanitarian aid to communities affected by wildlife terrorism.

Tusk Task Force observes the World Okapi Day on October 18 every year.

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Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: ground pangolin

Nominated by: David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Why do you love it?

Pangolins are the MOST trafficked mammals on the planet but hardly anyone knows about them. Although they look reptilian they are mammals and extraordinary ones at that. They eat mainly ants and termites which they detect by scent and can eat up to a staggering 23,000 insects a day!

They use their strong front claws to dig into nests and mounds and use their extremely long, sticky tongues (they can be as long as the pangolin itself) to get the insects. The tongue is attached way back inside the body between the pelvis and the last set of ribs. When not in use the tongue rests in a special pouch inside the pangolin’s throat. A special muscle closes their nostrils and ears to stop the insects attacking them. Stranger still, pangolins don’t have teeth but keratin spikes in their stomachs work with small stones or sand they have swallowed to grind the food up. Being such prolific eaters means that pangolins are an important form of pest control, often eating insects that negatively impact on crop production.

Covered in tough scales they look a bit like pine cones and roll into a protective ball when threatened. They can also use the erect scales on their tails to lash out at predators – they also hiss, puff and expel a foul scent to defend themselves.

They have one baby a year which is called a ‘pangopup’.

What are the threats to the ground pangolin?

Their main predators are leopards, hyenas, lions and humans. Over a million pangolins are believed to have been illegally captured and sold in the last decade alone. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in some Asian countries; some also believe that their scales can be used to cure a range of illnesses. They are also vulnerable to loss of habitat due to an increase in agriculture. In Africa they are eaten as bushmeat0 and used for traditional African medicine.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that pangolin scales (made of keratin) have any medicinal benefit. Due to declining numbers in Asia, where they have suffered a 90% decrease over the last 20 years, attention has now turned to African pangolins to supply illegal markets putting our ground pangolin in grave danger.

What are you doing to save it? In 2016 the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) established a new pangolin protection programme in Zambia where there has been a dramatic increase in the number of pangolins confiscated from illegal traders.

The programme supports local awareness campaigns and funds wildlife crime prevention as well as supporting a specialist rehabilitation unit to help return seized animals back to the wild.

Find out more about DSWF’s pangolin programme.

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Aug 15

Vanishing Kings – Lions of the Namib is a film created by Will and Lianne Steenkamp that has been nominated for a 2016 Panda Award for Cinematography (Small Crew). We were still on a high from the amount of hard work that the public and conservation organisations had put into raising awareness of World Lion Day on 10 August when we heard sad news from Will about the feline stars of his film. Here Will tells us the story of the creation of the film and how the recent news has affected him and his team.

Our film “Vanishing Kings – Lions of the Namib” was the beginning of an incredible journey.

Namib Desert, location of Vanishing Lions film Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

Namib Desert, location of Vanishing Lions film Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

For two years we followed a unique pride of desert-adapted lions in the remote and breath-taking Skeleton Coast Park of the Namib Desert. The three lionesses of this pride had given birth to a cohort of five male cubs, an extraordinary phenomenon in the desert. We followed their remarkable and challenging journey on their way to adulthood…

The Musketeers playing together Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

The Musketeers playing together

By the end of the film, the five young brothers known as the ‘Five Musketeers’, had just left their mothers and formed an independent strong coalition of nomads. With so few adult male lions remaining in the desert, the opportunity to breed presented itself sooner than expected. And after a short nomadic life they joined a pride of lionesses that had no pride male. But with their newly acquired kingdom came serious danger. These lionesses lived a life ‘on the edge’, close to some of the rural villages. And this was the beginning of a dangerous saga for the five males…

The Musketeers on the move Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

The Musketeers on the move Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

Upon completion we took ‘Vanishing Kings’ on a roadshow to the rural villages that come in regular conflict with desert lions. With it we were hoping to educate and inform the local communities and show a different side of the lions that they know. As wildlife filmmakers we have always wanted to do more than just make beautiful, compelling films through which we raise awareness. We want to actively contribute to conservation, play our part, and make a difference on the ground albeit small. And the Musketeers needed our help.

Vanishing Kings being shown to local people in Namib Desert Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

Vanishing Kings being shown to local people in Namib Desert Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

With their new kingdom, the ‘Five Musketeers’ got in conflict with the villages and became the focus of a pilot project looking at mitigating human-lion conflict in the Kunene region of the Namib. With this project we learnt which methods are or aren’t effective here in the desert. Apart from our filmmaking we began to play an active role in addressing this human-lion conflict more than ever before and we set up The Desert Lion Conservation Foundation to help raise funds and form part of a pro-active management system.

For several months we worked closely alongside Dr Philip Stander with the rural community members that were affected by the Musketeers. The farmers brought their livestock back to the corrals every night, which reduced losses considerably. The Foundation was able to employ a well-trained lion guardian who was to form part of a specialised rapid response team. Although this pilot project had success, we tragically lost one of the Musketeers after an incident at a small cattle-post. It was a great loss and we were determined to provide a better future for the remaining four males.

Despite the traumatic event the four Musketeers remained in the conflict area. And after another two months the situation had become unmanageable. Just as plans were in place to relocate the males to the safety of the Skeleton Coast Park, three of the males were poisoned…

Poisoned male Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

Poisoned male Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

Now there is only one surviving Musketeer. Out of a coalition of five male lions he has become the symbol for the rate at which we are losing lions, not just in the desert, but all over Africa.

With our Foundation we are hoping to get the help needed for this iconic kind of lion. We as human beings encroach this planet, we are all responsible for their decline, and it is time to act. May the last remaining Musketeer be one of many lions that we are able to provide a future for…

One of the Musketeers, standing tall Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

One of the Musketeers, standing tall Credit: Will & Lianne Steenkamp

If you want to know more about the Desert Lion Foundation and keep up to date with their work you can follow them on Facebook or go on their website.

Watch the trailer for Vanishing Kings – Lions of the Namib.

Find out more about lions on Arkive.

May 27

The Whitley Fund for Nature holds an annual ceremony where pioneering conservationists around the world are honoured with an award recognising their achievement and given £35,000 (US$50,350) to continue their projects. We were lucky enough to be invited along to the ceremony to meet the finalists and find out more about their work. Each day this week we will release an interview from each of the winners on the Arkive blog and our Youtube channel. ENJOY!

Juliette Velosoa – Saving the Critically Endangered side-necked turtle and its freshwater habitat

Juliette works in Madagascar for Durrell Wildlife Trust, saving the Critically Endangered side-necked turtle. The population of this ancient species has drastically decreased over recent years due to overexploitation and habitat loss. Since 1998 Juliette has been working to save the side-necked turtle, known in Madagascar as ‘rere’, by encouraging community-led resource management, nest protection and wetland restoration.

Find out more about Juliette’s work on the Whitley Awards website

Discover more about Durrell Wildlife Trust

Visit the Arkive profile of the side-necked turtle (also known as the Madagascar big-headed turtle)

Apr 12

Jamie Unwin is a conservation photographer, Wildscreen Exchange contributor and zoology student at the University of Exeter. After creating a highly successful film on elephant poaching in Malawi, Jamie enlisted the help of coursemate Hannah Pollock to create their own conservation organisation, Stand Up for Nature (SUN). SUN’s aim is to use education to bring about cultural evolution to conserve wildlife. Their first mission was to use a bicycle-powered cinema designed and constructed by Jamie to take this film to communities that had not yet seen the film.

The pair have just finished their first and very successful bicycle powered cinema project in Malawi, and over 6 weeks they reached over 14,000 people with the film and took 336 children into 6 protected areas to see their country’s wildlife for the very first time.

Malawian children watching poaching education video

Malawian children watching poaching education video

Jamie and Hannah have now returned to England and were keen to share their amazing experience with us.

Jamie – what was it like to return to Malawi?

J – Meeting all those people that I had spent many memorable moments with a year ago was special for me, last year was an eye opening experience and it provided me with an introduction as to what was really happening to Africa’s elephants. Tears of joy as well as moments of great sadness were shared with some incredibly inspirational people.

Hannah – what was it like seeing an elephant in the wild for the first time?

H – Having never seen an elephant in the wild before I was somewhat on a similar playing field to the children that we brought into the parks. Unfortunately, my first experience with a wild elephant was under the worst of circumstances, on Christmas day we received word that a poached elephant had been found and so we joined the ranger patrol as they went off to find it and establish a cause of death. As I witnessed my first wild elephant dead at the hands of a poacher it simply reinforced in my mind how important the project was and the true severity of the problem.

Jamie's last visit to Malawi alerted him to the extreme poaching problem in the country

Jamie’s last visit to Malawi alerted him to the extreme poaching problem in the country

Thankfully I had further encounters which were incredible, the most memorable was when we were observing a herd of elephants playing in a lake. As we sat watching, 3 males decided to come and investigate us, we remained quiet and still as they approached so that they wouldn’t be startled. Deciding that we posed no threat and also that in fact we weren’t that interesting they went about stripping the nearby trees of their leaves and had lunch right in front of us.

Jamie – how did you feel when you joined the rangers during a night raid to catch a poacher?

J – No one will ever understand the real brutality of the situation in Africa unless you have worked with one of the rangers. They put their lives at risk day in and day out, to keep Africa’s wildlife safe.

Late one night we had a call from an informer that a poacher had been seen carving up bush meet. The land cruiser was quickly assembled with 10 rangers in full camouflage, I was placed in the back and told to make sure I had nothing that would omit light. I set to work duct taping all parts of my camera to make sure none of the dials or the screen would give any light signal which would alert the poacher of our position. We were dropped a couple miles from the poacher’s location, this is where our back up stayed in case we encountered trouble. We walked quickly and silently with nothing but moonlight guiding the way until Richard, the head ranger, signalled that we were nearly there, he discussed a quick plan with the rest of the men. I joined Richard’s group and we proceeded to walk quickly towards the suspect’s location (a small mud hut with a grass roof), one ranger had unclipped hand cuffs from his belt and held them open and ready.

Sat by a fire was a man cooking the legs of a bush pig, before anyone had time to react and with no exchange of words, the handcuffs were placed on the individual and he was lifted onto his feet and walked back the way we came. The rangers had already called for backup and as we reached the main track the land cruiser arrived and we swiftly piled into the back, poacher and evidence included. We then drove back to camp the interrogation began the following morning.

Hannah – due to the time constraints incurred by running the project over your Christmas holidays, was it fun to have a 19hour working day? Describe what an average day would involve?

H – We certainly worked long hours out in Malawi but this was essential as there was a lot to get done. A typical day would involve us waking up around 5am so that we arose with the sun ready to start the day. Daily activities included visiting schools to show the film and leading discussions, meetings and interviews with a variety of organisation representatives and figureheads, bringing the children into the parks, shadowing individuals and learning what work was being done by those at the forefront of wildlife protection and of course lots and lots of driving as we covered an extraordinary distance, most of which was off-road.

Evening film showing in Malawian village

Evening film showing in Malawian village

Most of our evenings over the six weeks were spent showing the film to communities – we would arrive around 6pm as the sun was setting and set up the bicycle powered projector then begin as soon as it became dark. The community showings tended to last longer as more people got involved and we kept them going for as long as there were questions/comments. By the time we returned to wherever we were staying that night and had cooked and eaten dinner it was usually nearing midnight.

From the second we arrived in Malawi we had every moment scheduled, we had one afternoon scheduled off in Mzuzu for travelling but upon being asked by a school student to show the film at his youth club we couldn’t say no. Seeing the response we got, the smiles on the children’s faces as they saw the wildlife and experiencing first-hand the warmth of the Malawian people was incredible. Malawi truly is the ‘warm heart of Africa’. I can safely say we all slept very well on the aeroplane home!

Malawian school children during trip to national park to see local wildlife

Malawian school children during trip to national park to see local wildlife

Hannah and Jamie – it’s sad to see so many conservation projects end once the project leaders have left the country, was this the case with yours?

H & J – The last thing we wanted was to just turn up in Malawi, stay for six weeks and then just disappear again with no long term plan in place, that wouldn’t have helped anything. In order to avoid this, we worked with local educators throughout Malawi, giving the communities a lasting figure head once we had gone. A wildlife guardian network was established, a proportion of which is being managed by ‘Children in the Wilderness’ and various ‘Wildlife Clubs’ of the Department of Parks. The story book ‘The Elephant and the Mountain’ was also given out to children to remind them of the wildlife they had seen. Most importantly the project has now been handed over to Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, the British High Commission have funded a similar bicycle powered cinema to stay in Malawi and the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust will be continuing to visit communities and schools to show the film alongside their outreach work. We hope to return in the future to see the project flourishing.

So what’s next?

H – Kenya! Jamie is already in Kenya filming for the next project and we aim to run the bicycle powered cinema across Kenya in August 2016!

Jamie and Hannah - founders of Stand Up for NatureJamie and Hannah - founders of Stand Up for Nature

Jamie and Hannah – founders of Stand Up for Nature

The film can be viewed here.

Find out more about Stand Up for Nature on their website.

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