May 18

Daniel Craven is Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust‘s Volunteer Manager, based at Jersey Zoo since 2001. A former professional footballer, Daniel is a lover of travel, animals and conservation. Durrell’s Underdogs is his first film and was made with the fantastic team of Dean Maryon, Bex Bohea, Shaz Syed and Marc Mitchell. It is an official selection at the 2017 Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York. This is his story.

Daniel Craven © Craig Jones

Daniel Craven © Craig Jones

My journey to India to make a film about the smallest and rarest pig in the world is one I will never forget. It was a wild ride but nothing compared to the epic journey of survival the pygmy hog, an animal once thought to be extinct, has had to go through.

‘Durrell’s Underhogs’ traces the origins of Gerald Durrell and ‘The Durrells’, in India, before joining up with conservationists Durrell inspired and who today are giving the pygmy hog a fighting chance. My journey started in Jamshedpur where Gerald was born. There I discovered more about the life of Gerald’s father, Lawrence Durrell, an ambitious and gifted civil engineer who ran the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway before working for TATA steel, as I learned more about his father it became clearer where Gerald’s drive to save species from extinction came from.

Pygmy hog © Craig Jones

The ‘underhog’ is fighting for survival © Craig Jones

The pygmy hog is one of the rarest animals in the world. It’s a typical Durrell project – a so-called “little brown job”.

These nest building bullet shaped mini pigs struggle for survival alongside the big mega fauna of tigers, rhinos and elephants that share its habitat and hog the limelight. Raising awareness, conservation support and funding to save this little hog is tough. It’s a real “under-hog”.

Pygmy hogs build and live in nests made of the grasses found in their vulnerable grassland habitat © Craig Jones

Pygmy hogs build and live in nests made of the grasses found in their vulnerable grassland habitat © Craig Jones

The Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) has been running since 1996 and is made up of a team of partners; Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, IUCN SSC Pigs Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group, Ecosystems India, Government of Assam, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Arriving at the PHCP centre in Guwahati, Assam was fantastic. It’s one of the only places in the world to see pygmy hogs.

Hogs are bred at the centre to be released into the wild. It’s like a kindergarten for baby hogs with hoglets learning the basics from their mothers and siblings in a controlled, supportive and natural environment.

Mother and hoglet © Craig Jones

Mother and hoglet © Craig Jones

The second stage is more like being at university. Support is gradually taken away from the older hogs and they are expected to stand on their own four feet! This environment is similar to the wild areas where they will be released. Before graduating, the hogs must know how to feed themselves on insects, roots and tubers, similar to what they would seek out in the wild.

Baby hogs or hoglets are about the size of a computer mouse with legs! © Craig Jones

Baby hogs or hoglets are about the size of a computer mouse with legs! © Craig Jones

The project team, keepers and support staff that have been running the programme for the last 20 years are a breed apart. They share the same unwavering commitment to conservation as Gerald Durrell. They’re proud of the work they are undertaking to save a species from extinction. And step by step, they’re winning that battle. Massive restoration work has been done in Barnardi Wildlife Sanctuary to revive an area of grassland habitat where they once roamed. This beautiful area bordering Bhutan is the very park where the hogs were rediscovered in 1971 and can once again call their home.

The Durrell team enjoy a light moment during the catch-up and transportation of the hogs © Craig Jones

The Durrell team enjoy a light moment during the catch-up and transportation of the hogs © Craig Jones

Witnessing the 100th hog released back into Bornadi was a great example of how scientific evidence together with dedication, planning and hard work can pay off.

Pygmy hogs © Craig Jones

Pygmy hogs © Craig Jones

Durrell experts know how to save this species and they are doing it with the continued support of people who care about this remarkable little creature, thanks to them this “Under-hog” species has a fighting chance. If you would like to give pygmy hogs a helping hand, please consider donating to Durrell or becoming a member.  The documentary ‘Durrell’s Underhogs’ can be viewed through the Durrell website www.durrell.org/underhogs

To watch Durrell’s Underhogs film, visit their website

Find out more about pygmy hogs on their Arkive species profile

 

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 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

 

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