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.

May 12

Conservationists from around the world were invited to London last week to receive awards for the amazing work they have done with various different species, ecosystems and local communities.

The Whitley Awards, also known as the ‘Green Oscars’, took place at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Thursday May 8th. The ceremony, hosted by television presenter Kate Humble, honours conservationists working in the field whose projects have benefitted endangered species and habitats, as well as local communities. The charity’s patron HRH The Princess Royal presented the winners with their awards, which are worth up to £35,000 to be spent on their respective projects. Additionally, there is the Whitley Gold Award which is worth up to £50,000.

Jean Weiner – Whitley Gold Award donated by The Friends and The Scottish Friends of The Whitley Fund for Nature

Before mass deforestation occurred after 1925, around 60 percent of Haiti was covered in lush forest. Just one percent of these forests remain today.

In 1992, Jean Weiner, a Haitian, founded the Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversite Marine (FoProBim), which is the only non-governmental organisation in Haiti that is dedicated to the protection of marine and coastal environments. The charity aims to encourage local people to manage their environmental resources and therefore create a better future for their families. This project has led to the creation of two artificial coral reefs in Haiti that will help to re-establish fish populations. Other initiatives of the project have included placing mooring buoys to prevent boats from anchors from damaging coral reefs and regenerating mangrove forests that had been removed for charcoal production. In future, it is hoped that Haiti’s first marine reserve will be established and managed by local people. Jean Weiner was awarded the Whitley Gold Award for his 22 years of tireless dedication.

Luis Torres – Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust in memory of William Brake

The dwarf Turk’s cap cactus is an Endangered plant species only found in Cuba

Luis Torres runs a project in Cuba focussing on educating local people about the importance of their native flora and encouraging them to help with its conservation. Around 85 percent of the amazing flora of Cuba is endemic and it is threatened by mining, urbanisation and unsustainable harvesting. The conservation of these extremely rare species is of global importance and the aim of Luis’s project is to ensure that these plants will not become extinct and that their habitats are protected.

Stoycho Stoychev – Whitley Award donated by Fondation Segré

The imperial eagle is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is listed on Appendix I of CITES

Stoycho Stoychev is the Conservation Director for the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB). Thanks to a decade’s worth of conservation efforts, Stoycho has increased the imperial eagle population in Bulgaria to 25 breeding pairs, which is around double the previous population. The establishment of this bird of prey as a flagship species for wild grassland habitats in Bulgaria has helped to gain public support for the species and subsequently bring it back from the brink of extinction. Other threatened species have also benefitted from the conservation efforts of Stoycho and the BSPB, including the European ground squirrel, European marbled polecat and saker falcon.

Tess Gatan Balbas – Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK

The conservation efforts of Tess and her team have increased the Philippine crocodile population on Luzon Island from 12 individuals to over 100

Thanks to efforts from Tess Gatan Balbas and her team at the Mabuwaya Foundation in the Philippines, the Philippine crocodile population on Luzon Island has increased from just 12 individuals in 2001 to over 100 in 2012. The project has increased the support of the local community for the conservation of this endemic reptile and there are now four locally run crocodile sanctuaries aiming to conserve this species.

Paula Kahumbu – Whitley Award donated by The LJC Fund in memory of Anthea and Lindsay Turner

Almost 100 elephants are killed each day in Africa

Paula Kahumbu is the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect and leads the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign that was launched in 2013 to help reduce the amount of poaching of African elephants in Kenya and promote their conservation. The aim of this project is to use the media to change behaviour and empower communities to respond to wildlife crime, drive the development of new legislation and enforcement and reduce international demand for ivory by establishing diplomatic relations.

Fitry Pakiding – Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation

The Pacific population of the leatherback turtle is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Fitry Pakiding is a researcher and lecturer at the State University of Papua and leads a community programme aimed at working towards improving the quality of life of local communities and conserving biodiversity. The project aims to empower local communities to become guardians of leatherback turtles and their habitat, preventing poaching and educating young people about turtle conservation. The project is run in the communities neighbouring Jamursba Medi and Wermon beaches in West Papua which is where the largest remaining Pacific nesting aggregation of this ancient species exists.

Shivani Bhalla – Whitley Award donated by The Garden House School Parents’ Association

There are fewer than 2,000 lions left in Kenya and the population could become extinct in the next two decades without successful conservation

Shivani Bhalla is the Founder and Director of Ewaso Lions, which was established in 2007 to promote human-carnivore coexistence. Conflict between lions and local communities is prevalent throughout Kenya due to this species being known to predate livestock. The project established by Shivani helps to equip people with the tools and knowledge to protect their livestock and empowers young Samburu warriors from local communities by making them wildlife ambassadors. The ongoing monitoring of the wild lion population and verification of the exact range of the species will hopefully help to inform conservation action for the future and prevent the extinction of this amazing animal.

Melvin Gumal – Whitley Award for Conservation in Ape Habitats, donated by the Arcus Foundation

The Bornean orangutan population has declined by over 50 percent in the last 60 years

Melvin Gumal is the Director of the Malaysia Programme at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Melvin initiated the Integrated Conservation and Development Project in Sarawak, Malaysia, which involved local land owners in protected area management for the first time ever. He now works with all local stakeholders to protect a 2,000-square-kilometre area of forest that is one of the last remaining habitats of the rarest subspecies of the Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus. The project aims to educate local people to reduce the hunting of orangutans, increase the amount of protection for areas inhabited by this species and conduct surveys in unstudied areas.

Monica Gonzalez – Whitley Award donated by Sarah Chenevix-Trench

Around 90 percent of umbrellabird habitat has been lost in northwest Ecuador

Monica Gonzalez is the Director of the Foundation for the Conservation of the Tropical Andes (FCAT), which is based in the Mache-Chindul Reserve, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. This area is also home to the long-wattled umbrellabird which is a keystone species within the habitat, playing an extremely important role in seed dispersal and therefore helping to maintain the health of the forest habitat. The aim of Monica’s project is to protect and expand remaining forest fragments by working with local communities, develop sustainable economic alternatives to logging and educate local stakeholders on the importance of conservation. The imminent construction of a highway bisecting the Mache-Chindul Reserve has made conservation efforts in the area extremely urgent and vital.

Congratulations to these amazing, inspirational people from all of us at ARKive, and please keep up the good work!

See photographs of the winners receiving their prizes and of their work in the field.

Find out more about the Whitley Fund for Nature.

Find out more about previous winners of the Whitley Awards and their projects.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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