Nov 29

Wildscreen’s mission is to convene the best filmmakers and photographers with the most committed conservationists to create compelling stories about the natural world; that inspire the wider public to experience it, feel part of it and protect it.

Films and photographs have an amazing power – they are able to transcend boundaries of language and knowledge – and are one of the most important tools that conservation organisations have to communicate with the public. This is why we are creating our own films and photographs, working with the best filmmakers and photographers to tell the amazing stories of the world’s conservation organisations and the species they work with.

Pangolins

Our most recent film was made with award-winning production company Five Films and kindly narrated by stand-up comedian Sarah Millican. It tells the story of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, an amazing conservation organisation who rescue and rehabilitate wildlife. In the film, a group of pangolins that have been rescued from wildlife traffickers are cared for by the SVT staff, before being taken back to the forest to be released. Watch it here:

pango copy

Pangolins are in trouble. They are the world’s most trafficked mammal, and are also an animal that most people haven’t heard of. If people don’t know about an issue, they are won’t care about it, so sharing this film and your knowledge of these amazing animals is one of the best things you can do to help save them.

Gannets

Earlier in the year we worked with wildlife photographer Sam Hobson to tell the story of the gannet nesting colony on Grassholm Island. Due to the position of the island and the currents surrounding it, the island has become extremely polluted with washed-up plastic. Gannets are frequently caught in the fishing line, packaging and other plastic items that they nest on, often leading to their demise. Due to gannets having nest fidelity, clearing the litter is not an option as this would disturb the breeding habits of the colony, which could affect the entire population.

Our recent photo story with Sam Hobson. telling the story of a polluted gannet nesting islandFortunately, the gannets have some superheroes in the shape of a team of RSPB volunteers who visit the island during the breeding season and attempt to cut as many individuals free as they can. Risking life and limb, the dedication of these volunteers is extremely admirable and the telling of their story generated conversation and raised awareness throughout the UK, hopefully leading to people thinking twice before disposing of their plastic litter irresponsibly.

 

We would love to help even more conservation organisations and endangered species get their stories heard by creating more films and photographs that reach as many people as possible. Please help us to do this by donating to Wildscreen this #GivingTuesday.

Thank you!

May 31

Filmmakers Jennene and Dave Riggs have been filming and editing wildlife documentaries for over 17 years, and have worked with a vast array of species in their careers, from dangerous sharks, orcas and crocodiles to gentle dugongs and bandicoots. The pair are currently working on a new documentary about one of the most endangered bird species in the world, the western ground parrot. We caught up with Jennene who told us all about the species and how filming is going.

Secrets at Sunrise TITLE -®Riggs Australia copy 2

Secrets at Sunrise promo image with western ground parrot. Credit: Riggs Australia

What is your newest film about?

I’m currently producing a documentary called ‘Secrets at Sunrise’ which is the story of the amazing work that a team of people are doing on the south coast of Western Australia to save some of our most endangered native species from the onslaught of feral animals that predate them, and a whole suite of other threats to their survival. The focus of the film, and perhaps the most vulnerable of all these creatures is the western ground parrot which is Critically Endangered and only found in one location.

Why did you choose the western ground parrot as the topic of your film?

The dire situation with the western ground parrot is symbolic of the global issue of species extinctions and how we are losing so many animals and plants every year. We are in the middle of the sixth great extinction and it’s important to raise awareness of this and get people thinking about their own impact on our natural world.

I first heard about the western ground parrot when I was producing a documentary in 2013 on the incredible biodiversity and natural history of the south coast of WA called ‘Remote & Rugged’. During my research for that film I became aware of the wonderful work that volunteers from the community and staff from the Western Australia Department of Parks & Wildlife are doing to save the parrot from extinction, so I organised to go out on one of their field trips and film a sequence to include in the film.

On this first field trip I saw just how determined these people are and was so impressed by their dedication to saving this critically endangered bird. I could see a remarkable story unfolding, one of camaraderie and friendship despite the challenges of working with this incredibly rare bird in such an isolated location.

WGP recovery team -®Jennene Riggs

Western ground parrot recovery team. Credit: Jennene Riggs

Why is the western ground parrot so endangered?

The western ground parrot was never prolific in numbers, but it used to be quite widespread in its range – on the coastal plain from north of Perth to east of Esperance on the south coast (a distance spanning over 1000km) but since European settlement there are a number of things that have caused its decline.

Historically throughout their heathland habitat there was a lot of land clearing for development and agriculture, resulting in a loss of suitable places for them to live. Then much of their remaining habitat has been damaged by wildfire, which further reduced suitable habitat and exposed the surviving populations to predation by feral cats and foxes. There were thought to be only around 140 individuals left, although that was before a devastating series of wildfires tore through their habitat in October and November 2015.

What does the future look like for this endangered bird species?

There is hope! Several years ago some parrots were taken into captivity and these birds have now been transferred to the Perth Zoo. Specialist staff there are working to try and encourage them to breed, and if they’re successful, this could form the basis of a captive breeding program which might enable the reintroduction of western ground parrots into areas they’ve disappeared from in the wild.

Can you tell us more about the film?

My main character in the story is a strong female leader – Sarah Comer – the regional ecologist at Department of Parks and Wildlife. She’s amazing…a dynamic and tireless optimist, determined to see this species and its environment survive and thrive.

There are lots of challenges in filming Secrets at Sunrise – obviously our main subject is an extremely rare bird, so straight up that presents an issue. Coupled with that they are also very shy and secretive. Many of the researchers have stories of how they’d been working on western ground parrots for five or ten years before they actually saw one! Imagine that!!

Because of this, the best way to survey their numbers and monitor them is to listen out for their calls when they move from their nighttime roost to their daytime feeding ground (and vice versa). Their ‘peak calling hours’ are an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset, which means you have to adopt their very unsociable hours.

Jennene Riggs and Anne Morcombe filming

Jennene Riggs and Anne Morcombe filming. Credit: Sarah Comer

Then there are the conditions of the location too. Cape Arid is very remote, a couple of hours drive from Esperance (which itself is an eight hour drive from Perth – the states capital city). The tracks they drive along to get to the birds are rough, bumpy, boggy bush tracks.

Jennene walking along one of the tracks to filming location. Credit: Riggs Australia

Jennene walking along one of the tracks to filming location. Credit: Riggs Australia

Depending of what time of year a survey is, you’ve also got environmental challenges. Obviously in summer it can get scorching hot, and there’s no relief to be had sitting in your tent, its even hotter in there. The flies can get pretty friendly then. You get to about day four of no shower out there, and then things start to get a bit on the nose.

On the opposite scale of that is camping in winter. It’s freezing! Your nose won’t stop dripping while you’re doing the mornings listening surveys and it feels like frostbite’s about to claim your fingers and ears. One trip I filmed we had a thunder and lightning storm centered right over the top of us, and a torrential downpour turned the campsite into a swamp.

It sounds very challenging! What has been your favourite part of filming so far?

Despite all the challenges, I love being out there and feeling so connected with nature. The bond between the researchers is amazing as well. They’ve been doing this together for many years now and they get volunteers from all over Australia and the world coming back year after year to participate and help survey the wildlife because it’s such a special and important thing to be a part of.

As part of the story I’ve also been filming the team conduct ongoing surveys of other species inhabiting the area, and this is secretly the best part of the job because you get these incredibly gorgeous creatures like honey possums, bandicoots, dunnarts, ash grey mice, burrowing frogs, legless lizards, all sorts of invertebrates, and probably least favorite of all but most prolific are bush rats… and to be honest, as far as rats go, they’re pretty cute.

Ash grey mouse. Credit: Jennene Riggs

Ash grey mouse. Credit: Jennene Riggs

The main outcome I’m hoping for with this film is to show how special and valuable our wildlife, national parks and remaining tracts of native bush are, and the lengths that some people will go to in preserving that biodiversity. Some people might think that losing one species from the environment is not such a big deal, but it is. Everything in nature has its place and when something is taken out of that equation it has a flow-on effect. Who’d want to live in a world with no pandas and orangutans, or clean rivers and air, or beautiful heathland with western ground parrots hiding amongst it? Not me!

I’m lucky to have had the support of the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot, who are just as determined as I am that this film is made and broadcast to as wide an audience as possible. They’re a not-for-profit entirely devoted to raising awareness of the wgp and raising funds to help continued efforts to save it from extinction. It’s been fantastic working with them, and inspiring to see their tireless dedication to the cause.

I’d like to think filming is nearly complete, but this story is constantly evolving so we’ll just have to see what happens!

Watch the trailer for Secrets at Sunrise

Like Secrets at Sunrise on Facebook

Discover more parrot species on Arkive

 

May 23

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!

Alexander Rukhaia – Magnificent migrants: safeguarding birds-of-prey in the Batumi Flyway

Alexander founded SABUKO, an NGO in Georgia which protects migrating birds of prey in the Batumi Flyway. Traditionally, individuals migrating over this passage would be at risk of being hunted, but Alexander and his organisation have worked with local people to stop this from happening and, as a result, turning the area into a thriving birdwatching destination.

To find out more about Alexander’s work, visit the Whitley Awards website

Discover more about SABUKO

May 20

It’s our 13th birthday! People who are superstitious will mostly say that 13 is an unlucky number, although others believe 13 to be lucky. We don’t know what to believe but we thought we would celebrate our birthday by looking at 12 (rather than 13, just in case) strange superstitions that include members of the animal and plant kingdom!

Magpies

Certain quantities of magpies mean different things to a superstitious person, and there is even a rhyme to remind them of the fate they may face: one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a story never to be told.

If a superstitious person sees a solo magpie, there are many ways they can overcome the sorrow they may face, some salute the bird, some flap their arms like wings and make a ‘caw’ sound, and others say, “Good morning Mr Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” The reason for this superstition is due to magpies mating for life; therefore a single individual may have lost its mate, or could just be collecting nesting material or food for their nestlings. We thought we should include a picture of two magpies to spread joy and good fortune on our birthday!

Bats

Bats are believed to be harbingers of death and misfortune in many cultures, although in China and Poland they are thought to be a sign of a happy and long life. There are many ancient myths which say different things about bats, including them being trapped souls or witches in disguise. Some people believe that bats drink human blood, but cases of this are extremely rare. Hematophagous (blood-eating) bats, such as the common vampire bat, usually feed on cattle or horses.

Aye-aye

Although it is in fact a Lemur species on Arkive, the strange-looking aye-aye was initially identified as a rodent. Some local Malagasy people believe that if an aye-aye points its middle finger at you, then you will die, and this species is regularly persecuted due to this superstition. The function of the enlarged middle finger of this primate is actually to tap on trees to find hollow areas where insects may be, and to extract any prey items that it finds inside.

Mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which is shrouded by myth and legend. This plant is a commonly seen decoration at Christmas time, and if a person passes underneath a hung piece of mistletoe, they must kiss the person on the other side or they will remain single for another year. Ancient superstitions state that mistletoe can cure any disease and it was considered sacred and magical. Once mistletoe touches the ground, however, ancient cultures believed it to be bad luck rather than good.

Elder

The elder is the focus of a rich wealth of folklore, and has many magical associations. The name ‘elder’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘aeld’, meaning fire. This may have arisen from the practice of using the hollow stems of the elder as bellows to encourage fires. It was, however, extremely bad luck to burn elder wood; if this happened the Devil was said to appear, explaining another local name ‘Devil’s wood’. Conversely it was said to keep the Devil away if planted close to a house. Some of these old superstitions linger today; many modern hedge-cutters refuse to attack an elder for fear of bad luck.

African golden cat

Both wild and domestic cats are the subject of much superstition in many areas of the world, and the African golden cat is no exception. Pygmy tribes in Cameroon carry the tail of the African golden cat when hunting elephants to ensure good fortune, and the skin is used in some areas during circumcision rituals.

Black cats

We bet that these black cats (black leopard morphs) don’t cross people’s paths very much, but domestic black cats certainly do, and this is considered to be very unlucky by some people. Black cats have as much to do with good as they do with bad luck to superstitious people and it is said that if a couple see a black cat on their wedding day then they will definitely have a happy marriage.

Strangely, many years ago, sailors would keep black cats on their ship as a good luck charm, although they would never say the word ‘cat’ as this was considered to be bad luck.

Forest owlet

The forest owlet faces a serious threat as a result of local superstitions. Its eggs are collected by tribes to bring luck in gambling and the animal itself is killed since owls are locally renowned to feed on human souls. Additionally, killing a young forest owlet is widely considered to boost fertility.

Rabbit

In old English folklore, if “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” is the first thing you say on the first day of the month, you will have good luck for the rest of the month, and carrying a rabbit’s foot is also considered to be a good luck charm. They are also considered to be bad luck; however, and in ancient times, people would spit over their left shoulder if they came across a wild rabbit. Rabbits are another animal which are believed to be witches in disguise – those must be some very cute witches!

Striped hyaena

One of the greatest threats to the Near Threatened striped hyaena is the misconceptions and superstitions of humans. Believed to be responsible for killing livestock, robbing graves and the disappearance of small children, the striped hyaena is severely persecuted through baiting, tracking and trapping. In the past, some governments have paid bounties for every hyaena killed, and certain governments still organise killings of wolves and striped hyaenas in places where carnivores are thought to be responsible for child disappearances.

Frogs and toads

Frogs and toads have many superstitions that surround them, such as that touching the bumpy skin of a toad can give you warts, and touching a frog can make you infertile, but these are not true. Warts are caused by a virus that is only transferred by skin on skin contact between humans and touching a frog is not known to affect your fertility. Despite these amphibians being seen as bad luck in these respects, some people actually see them as good luck and consider a frog coming into your house as being lucky. The poor Titicaca water frog is Critically Endangered due to overcollection, as people blend individuals to make a juice that can supposedly cure any ailment. We might stick to OJ!

Black beetles

Black beetles such as the super-rare ground beetle were once referred to as ‘deathwatch beetles’, and if one were to crawl across your shoe or be found within a wall, it was considered to be a sign of impending death. The good news is that you could prevent this from happening by moving the beetle safely outside. Seems like a no-brainer to us!

Are there any superstitions that we have missed from your area of the world? Please share them with us!

Apr 25

Well done to everyone who took part in our #GuessThePenguin quiz for World Penguin Day. You all have great identification skills when it comes to these very handsome creatures!

We can now reveal the answers to the mystery penguins we posted on social media, but we didn’t want to ruin it for those who didn’t see it and still wanted to play the quiz, so we’ve revealed the answers at the bottom of this blog. Can you guess the penguin species just from looking at a photo?

1) CLUE: I live in a very surprising place where you may not know that penguins exist

2) CLUE: this penguin is named after the wife of the explorer who discovered it

3) CLUE: this penguin is named after a distinctive characteristic below its bill

4) CLUE: this is the largest penguin species in the world, reaching heights of over 1m and weighing up to 40kgs

5) CLUE: this amazing penguin can dive to depths of over 170 metres and is the fastest known diving bird, reaching speeds of up to 36 kilometers an hour in the water

6) CLUE: this is the smallest penguin in the world, weighing a maximum of 1kg and only growing up to 40cm tall

7) CLUE: this penguin was discovered during an expedition that took place in 1519

8) CLUE: this penguin is not named after a type of pasta, although it is commonly mistaken for the penguin that sounds like it is!

9) CLUE: look into the eyes of this penguin and you might just guess its name!

…and the answers are:

1) African

2) Adelie

3) Chinstrap

4) Emperor

5) Gentoo

6) Little

7) Magellanic

8) Royal

9) Yellow-eyed

How many did you guess correctly?

Discover more penguin species on Arkive

If you work for a conservation organisation that works with penguins or any other species, you can access hundreds of images by joining the Wildscreen Exchange

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