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.

Mar 5

Heightened conservation measures in Nepal have once again resulted in a year of zero poaching in the country.

After Nepal making a commitment to protect the future of its magnificent and highly endangered species, it has once again succeeded and between February 2013 and February 2014, no rhino, tigers or elephants were poached in the country. Nepal has a history of success in the prevention of poaching, and another poaching-free year occurred in 2011. Worldwide, Nepal has been praised for this outstanding accomplishment, with Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF International, saying, “We congratulate Nepal on reducing poaching to zero within its borders. This achievement serves as a model for WWF’s goal for drastically reducing wildlife crime worldwide – with a combination of brave policy making, determined implementation and robust enforcement.”

Indian rhinoceros

Caption: The Vulnerable Indian rhinoceros is found in scattered populations across Nepal and India

The Nepalese government led the conservation efforts, which included strengthening the protection of wildlife and increasing the enforcement of anti-poaching laws. A wide range of organisations have contributed towards Nepal’s zero poaching success, from small conservation charities, park authorities and local communities to the army and police. “The success of achieving zero poaching throughout the year is a huge achievement and a result of prioritising a national need to curb wildlife crimes in the country”, said Megh Bahadur Pandey, Director General of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. Anti-poaching measures also encouraged the co-operation of boundary officials on the borders between Nepal, India and China, which helped to prevent the trafficking of animal parts into and out of the country. The collaboration between the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police has resulted in the enforcement of wildlife laws throughout the country, both at a local and national scale.

Caption: The Endangered Bengal tiger is a target species for poachers

The work of nine different organisations that have contributed to this great achievement will be honoured by the WWF’s Leaders for a Living Planet Award, whose past winners have included Dr Thomas Lovejoy for his work on forest fragmentation and highlighting conservation as a global priority and Dr Trudy Ecofrey for her work on restoring wildlife on the Great Plains of the United States. Notable organisations that have had outstanding contributions to the cause include Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park, the Nepal Army and Police, Buffer zone management committees of Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation. Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF Nepal, said, “It is a matter of great pride to mark the first World Wildlife Day with the announcement of a year of zero poaching in Nepal. We are committed to work with the government, conservation partners and the local communities to redouble efforts to sustain this success.”

Asian elephant image

Caption: The wild population of the Endangered Indian elephant has severely declined due to poaching

Read more about Nepal’s year of zero poaching.

Find out more about the Asian elephant on ARKive.

Find out more about the Indian rhinoceros on ARKive.

Find out more about the tiger on ARKive.

Discover more species from Nepal on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer.

Feb 14

On the 11th and 12th of February 2014, world leaders and experts gathered at the Zoological Society of London to discuss the drastic increase in global wildlife trade.

The Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, consisted of a series of talks given by experts from many conservation organisations, including the WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The main subject of the conference was the unprecedented and extreme rise in global trade of illegal wildlife products in the last few years. It was agreed that more legislation to combat wildlife trade is needed, as is support to the rangers working to prevent poaching on the ground. Also addressed was the need for education and marketing campaigns in regions where the most illegal wildlife products are bought, mainly in China and Vietnam.

Although animals are the main victims of poachers, the lives of many rangers have been lost in the line of duty

Officials from the 50 participating countries gathered at Lancaster House in London on 13th of February 2014 to sign the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade Declaration, which aims to ensure that signatories support trade bans, renounce endangered wildlife product use in their countries, amend legislation to reinforce the severity of wildlife crime, strengthen and implement wildlife law enforcement and analyse links between wildlife crime and other organised crime. William Hague, the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary, said, “We are at the 11th hour to prevent the wildlife trade destroying some of the most extraordinary species in the world, but today I believe we have begun to turn the tide, if we follow up everything that has been agreed.”

The black rhinoceros is Critically Endangered and there is thought to have been a population decrease of 96 percent between 1970 and 1992 due to poaching

The recent increase in poaching has already claimed its first victim, with the western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) officially declared as Extinct in 2013 after losing its battle with the illegal wildlife trade. The value of rhino horn has increased beyond that of gold, and is now sold for around £36,000 per kilogram. It is displayed as a trophy in some households and is used in traditional Chinese medicine, despite scientific evidence proving it has no medicinal value and is made of keratin, which is the same material as that found in human hair and nails. In South Africa alone, 1,004 rhinos were killed in 2013, and according to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the incidence of rhino poaching increased by 5,000% across the whole of Africa, with a rhino being killed once every 10 hours.

The market value of rhino horn is £36,000 per kilogram

The demand for ivory has also increased recently, and it now has a market value of around £1,200 per kilogram. Incidences of elephant poaching have more than doubled since 2007, with the countries in central Africa losing 65 percent of their forest elephant population between 2002 and 2011. In 2012 alone, 20,000 elephants were killed in Africa to supply the ivory trade.

Kenya lost 85 percent of its elephant population during a period of high demand for ivory between 1973 and 1989

Many suggestions of how to curb the international ivory trade were suggested, including that of Sally Case, Chief Executive Officer of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, who said, “If world leaders are serious about ending the illegal ivory trade, they need to urgently implement an ivory trade ban. This includes closing down domestic ivory markets around the world, especially in China and Japan, and stopping the ongoing debate about legalising ivory trade.” To raise awareness of the plight of elephants, many countries around the world have burned or crushed their stocks of ivory, including France who crushed over three tonnes of ivory in February 2014 which had a street value of over six million US dollars.

Many countries around the world have burned or crushed their stock of ivory to raise awareness of the illegal ivory trade

In 2015, a conference will be held in Botswana to review the progress that has been made since the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade Declaration was signed.

Read the full London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade Declaration.

Find out more about elephants on ARKive.

Find out more about rhinos on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Mar 5

African forest elephants have undergone a 62% decline in 10 years and face extinction if drastic measures are not taken, according to a new study.

Photo of forest elephant bull

Mature male forest elephant

The study was the largest ever conducted on the forest elephant. Led by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), it involved over 60 scientists who surveyed the forests of Central Africa between 2002 and 2011, recording signs of forest elephants as well as human signs such as snares and bullet casings.

The results of the study, published in the journal PLoS One, confirmed the scientists’ fears. As well as suffering a huge population decline, the forest elephant has been lost from nearly a third of its range since 2002, and large areas where the species roamed just ten years ago now have few elephants remaining. Unless urgent action is taken, the species could face extinction within the next decade.

Although we were expecting to see these results, we were horrified that the decline over the period of a mere decade was over 60%,” said Dr Fiona Maisels, a WCS conservation scientist from the University of Sterling and one of the lead authors of the study.

Photo of forest elephant infants

Forest elephant infants

Poached for ivory

The forest elephant is smaller than its more familiar relative, the savanna or African elephant, and is also distinguished by its smaller, rounded ears and straighter, downward-pointing tusks. The two are considered by many to be separate species.

The study found that the main cause of the forest elephant’s dramatic decline is poaching for its ivory. Even large tracts of intact forest have lost most of their elephants, and the species’ decline was associated with areas of high human density, high hunting intensity, lack of law enforcement, and infrastructure such as roads, which allow poachers easy access to the forest.

Photo of forest elephant bull

Forest elephant bull

Research by the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme run by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has shown that the increase in poaching of elephants across Africa is strongly correlated to an increase in consumer demand for ivory in the Far East.

Icon of the forest

Conservationists have warned that urgent action is needed to save the forest elephant. Illegal ivory poaching and encroachment into elephant habitat must to be stopped, and the international demand for ivory needs to be reduced.

Photo of large bonfire of confiscated African elephant ivory

Large bonfire of confiscated African elephant ivory

The latest study has been released to coincide with the 2013 CITES Conference of the Parties, taking place in Bangkok from 3rd to 14th March. Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has already pledged at the conference to amend Thai laws to end the country’s ivory trade. However, further action is still needed.

The WCS is advising that CITES review the enforcement gaps and needs – at all points in the trade chain from the field to the marketplace – that have led to the failure of the current ivory trade regulation system,” said Dr Maisels. “Reducing chronic corruption and improving poor law enforcement, which facilitate poaching and trade, are crucial. It is also vital to improve control of import and sales of wildlife goods by the recipient and transit countries of illegal ivory, especially in Asia.”

Photo of forest elephant herd in bai digging for salt

Forest elephant herd digging for salt

The forest elephant is not only an icon of Africa’s forests, but also plays a key role in their health, by dispersing seeds, clearing trails, and helping to maintain the forests’ biodiversity. Saving this iconic elephant will therefore also be vital for the conservation of many other forest species.

Saving the species requires a coordinated global effort in the countries where elephants occur – all along the ivory smuggling routes, and at the final destination in the Far East. We don’t have much time before elephants are gone,” said Dr Maisels.

 

Read more on this story at BBC Nature News – African forest elephants decline by 62% in 10 years and WCS – Extinction looms for forest elephants.

View photos and videos of elephants on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jan 25

Immediate action on habitat loss is needed to secure the future of the Sumatran elephant, according to WWF.

Photo of Sumatran elephant bathing and spraying water with trunk

Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) bathing

A subspecies of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), the Sumatran elephant has been uplisted by the IUCN Red List from Endangered to Critically Endangered after losing nearly 70% of its habitat and half its population in the last 25 years.

This dramatic decline is largely due to widespread deforestation on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, with much of the elephant’s natural habitat being converted for agriculture, oil palm production and timber plantations.

Rapid deforestation rate

Three subspecies of Asian elephant are generally recognised: the Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) on Sumatra, the Sri Lankan elephant (E. m. maximus) in Sri Lanka, and the Indian elephant (E. m. indicus) on the Asian mainland.

Photo of Asian elephants in deep jungle

Asian elephants in forest habitat

Although Sumatra holds some of the most significant populations of Asian elephants outside of India and Sri Lanka, it has experienced some of the most rapid deforestation rates within the species’ range. As a result of increasing human encroachment, many elephant populations have come into conflict with humans, and Asian elephants are also illegally targeted for their ivory.

Only an estimated 2,400 to 2,800 Sumatran elephants now remain in the wild, and the species has been lost from many parts of the island. Confined to the remaining forest patches, many herds are now too small and isolated to remain viable in the long term.

If current trends continue, it is feared that the Sumatran elephant could become extinct within the next 30 years.

Photo of Sri Lankan elephant herd in shallow water

Herd of Sri Lankan elephants (Elephas maximus maximus), another Asian elephant subspecies

Urgent action needed

The Sumatran elephant joins a growing list of Indonesian species that are Critically Endangered, including the Sumatran orangutan, the Javan and Sumatran rhinos and the Sumatran tiger,” said Dr Carlos Drews, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme.

Unless urgent and effective conservation action is taken these magnificent animals are likely to go extinct within our lifetime.”

WWF is calling on the Indonesian government to ban all forest conversion in elephant habitat until a conservation strategy can be put in place to conserve the species. It also recommends that large patches of habitat should be designated as protected areas, and that smaller areas should be linked with habitat corridors.

Photo of Indian elephant calf

Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) calf

According to Asian elephant expert Ajay Desai, “It’s very important that the Government of Indonesia, conservation organisations and agro-forestry companies recognise the critical status of elephant and other wildlife in Sumatra and take effective steps to conserve them.

Indonesia must act now before it’s too late to protect Sumatra’s last remaining natural forests, especially elephant habitats.”

Read more on this story at WWF – Habitat loss drives Sumatran elephants step closer to extinction.

View photos and videos of Asian elephants on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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