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!

Nov 23

Today’s guest blog has been provided by ONCA, a UK-based charity which aims to cultivate environmental and social wellbeing through the arts. All their activities seek to inspire creativity and positive action in the face of environmental change, and to help galvanise the creation of a critical mass of work responding to and exploring these changes.

One of ONCA’s projects is the Remembrance Day for Lost Species which is held annually on 30 November and aims to raise awareness of the current biodiversity crisis, the Sixth Mass Extinction. Matt Stanfield from ONCA explains…

Lost Species Day logo designed by Julia Peddie

Extinction in and of itself is a normal part of life on Earth. What is absolutely not normal is the current rate at which species are going extinct. So serious has this problem become that many scientists now believe that we are living through the Sixth Mass Extinction, the worst period of global species loss since the end of the Dinosaur Age. Shockingly, there are only half as many individual wild animals alive today as there were forty years ago!

bombus franklini by Eti Meacock _photo by Abi Horn

Bombus franklini by Eti Meacock © Abi Horn

Unlike previous mass extinctions, the Sixth Mass Extinction is not due to some meteorite or volcano. It is being caused entirely by humans, and only human action has the power to stop it.

Remembrance Day for Lost Species (also known as Lost Species Day) began in 2010. An international grouping of artists and scientists felt that the Sixth Mass Extinction needed to be marked, as other tragedies are, with a day of remembrance.

martha procession_photo by robin taylor

Lost Species Day procession © Robin Taylor

One question which I am often asked in connection with Lost Species Day is “Why remember lost species?” My answer is that there are three main reasons to do so.

Firstly, I believe that in order to protect and restore the world’s ecosystem, it is vital to understand what is happening to it. Today’s children live in a severely depleted world but are mostly unaware of this, having never known anything else.

Second, many of the stories of species lost to human activity contain lessons to be learned. The stories of recent extinctions have recurring themes, especially those of overhunting and habitat loss, which between them remain by far the biggest threats to wildlife in today’s world.

Last but not least, Remembrance Day for Lost Species places a great emphasis on storytelling as a means of remembering extinct species. Extinction stories are often memorable, with exotic settings, colourful characters and creatures which it is hard to believe ever existed. Animals such as Steller’s sea cow, the upland moa and the Tasmanian tiger may sound fantastical but you wouldn’t even have to go back as far as the Middle Ages to have seen them all.

Thylacine marionette by Ben Macfadyen © Warren Draper

Thylacine marionette by Ben Macfadyen © Warren Draper

In telling the tales of vanished species, thoughts often turn to those species which still cling on. In the future, will Remembrance Day for Lost Species honour the memory of the Sumatran rhino, the Cuban crocodile or the blue whale? Their tales are not yet finished, a chance remains to change their narrative and it is a chance which we have the power to take.

Passenger pigeons by Emily Laurens © Keely Clarke

The hope of Lost Species Day is that, besides providing an opportunity to remember extinct organisms, it will inspire fresh commitments to the protection and restoration of the natural world.

The intention of Lost Species Day has always been for the event to be inclusive, diverse and global in scope. Anyone, anywhere, can commemorate species lost to human activity and commit anew to protecting the planet’s biodiversity as they see fit. This could involve anything from lighting a candle to holding a procession, and much more besides. The fundamental objective is to help people develop an emotional connection to the issue of species loss.

Artistic projects have played a big role in Remembrance Day for Lost Species so far, since the arts are an effective means of getting across the message behind the initiative in a way that truly resonates with people at a deep level.

Thylacine cabaret © Mari Opmeer

If this piece has inspired you to participate in this year’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species on 30 November, find an event near you or to let ONCA know about something which you are planning for this year’s Lost Species Day.

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

 

Apr 18

Arkive and Wildscreen Exchange photographer James Warwick recently visited the Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, which is located in the Central Indian Highlands. This name may not mean much to you but it is, in fact, the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ and is home to the tigers, sloth bears and Indian leopards that are featured in the story.

We asked James to tell us about the places he’d been to in India and share his fantastic images with us – and you!

James: To date, I’ve worked in four National Parks in India; Ranthambhore, Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Kaziranga all of which are all classed as Tiger Reserves by the Indian government’s Project Tiger. As well as providing vital habitat for the surviving Bengal tiger, they are also home to a vast array of other mammals and birds some of which are shown in this selection.

Ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii) on rock, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Ruddy mongoose, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Ranthambhore National Park in south western Rajasthan is famous for its wild tiger population and was once a private hunting ground for the Maharajas of Jaipur. Its name comes from the vast fort that stands in the middle of the forest which is thought to date back to 1110. At 392 km2, Ranthambhore is one of the smallest 47 Project Tiger reserves in India.

Bengal tigress (Panthera tigris tigris) swimming across Lake Rajbagh, Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan, India

Bengal tigress swimming across Lake Rajbagh, Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan, India

Bandhavgarh National Park, situated in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, is one of India’s most popular wildlife reserves and at 438 km2 covers a similar area to Ranthambhore. Bandhavgarh’s tiger population density is one of the highest in India but it is also rich in other wildlife including large populations of Indian leopards and sloth bears.

Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) resting in sal forest (Shorea robusta), Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Sloth bear resting in sal forest, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Kanha National Park also lies in Madhya Pradesh in the Central Indian Highlands about 160 km southeast of Jabalpur. The reserve consists of a core area of 940 km2 which is surrounded by a buffer zone of 1,005 km2. In the 1890s, this region was the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ stories.

Tiger sleeping on rock in forest (Panthera tigris tigris), Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India

Bengal tiger sleeping on rock in forest, Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India

Finally, Kaziranga National Park lies in the floodplain of the mighty Brahmaputra River in the north-eastern state of Assam and is home to around 75% (1800) of the remaining world population of the Indian or great one-horned rhinoceros. There is also a healthy population of Bengal tigers (around 100) but their shy nature and the region‘s tall ‘elephant‘ grasses make them very difficult to see.

Indian rhinoceros wallowing (Rhinoceros unicornis), Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India

Indian rhinoceros wallowing, Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India

The Bengal tiger is found primarily in India with smaller populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar. It is the most numerous of all tiger subspecies but there are fewer than 2,500 left in the wild with poaching to fuel the illegal trade in body parts in Asia being the largest immediate threat to their remaining population.

Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) cub, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Bengal tiger cub, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

Find out about the work that the Wildlife Protection Society of India are doing with tigers on their website

Visit James’s website to see more of his wonderful images

If you are from a conservation organisation, James has very kindly made these images and many others from around the world available to you. If you’d like to get access to the images, join the Wildscreen Exchange, or email us at exchange.info@wildscreen.org.uk for more information.

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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