Mar 1

The snow leopard is one of the most elusive creatures on the planet, living in one of the most hostile environments on Earth. Here Wildscreen Exchange and Arkive contributor Craig Jones shares with us his experience in tracking and photographing this mysterious and endangered big cat in the Himalayan mountains.

This incredible expedition took us to one of the most wonderful and impressive places on Earth – “The roof of the world” as it’s known, it had been over fifteen months of planning. Precarious climbs, steep falls, bone-chilling cold and heart-warming sights, just some of the words that come to mind from this incredible trip to the Indian Himalayas searching for the elusive snow leopard. Nothing was promised with such a rare big cat but I always believe in what you give to nature, nature will give back to you.

We flew from London to Delhi, delayed 24 hours due to heavy snowfall in the Himalayas. Once landed you really feel the extra altitude almost straight away but your body adjusts just as quick. From there we headed to Leh, largest city in the Ladakh region of North India, situated at an altitude of 3,500m.

We spent the mandatory two days acclimatising in Le, adapting to the height. The massive 17th-century Leh Palace, modeled on the Dalai Lama’s former home; Tibet’s Potala Palace, overlooks the old town’s bazaar and maze like lanes. The people were extremely friendly and it’s an amazing place full of so many different cultures and people.

After two magical days in Leh we left civilisation as we knew, heading to Hemis National Park in our quest to find the snow leopard. The team packed our vehicles with the massive amount of gear and equipment we’d need. The nerves started to bite a little at the thought of seeing one of the world’s rarest big cats as fresh snow started to fall. Hemis National Park was established in 1981 and is the largest National park in the south Asia region and home to one of the highest densities of wild Snow leopards anywhere in the world.

As we headed along narrow roads towards the national park passing mules and other animals along the way, the landscape changes dramatically with steep sided mountains and long drops to the valley below you. The size and remoteness just overwhelm you at first, it really does. We travelled for around an hour by road until we could no more, it was on foot from here on in.

My heart was racing, everywhere I looked I could see rocks that were almost the identical colour of Snow leopard fur and when you look so intensely at things your eyes often play tricks with you so I was double checking every little rock I saw and focused on as we walked into this truly inspiring place.

Once inside the park we turned the first corner and there was a small family of blue sheep feeding. Our guides pointed at them and we stopped and got out the cameras and nervously set up hoping these stunning animals would stay. Blue sheep are a main prey item for snow leopards and form the majority of their diet. It’s a good sign when you come across them as there maybe snow leopards in that area watching.

Once they had passed through we packed up and carried on our steady walk to our base camp. We slowly climbed up and were surrounded by steep mountains either side of us as we walked. It was incredibly impressive and something that I find hard to explain in words. Once we got to our little camp the snow was coming down heavy and the sun was slowly disappearing behind the dense snow clouds. That evening was filled with great excitement as we had our first evening meal and planned the next days events. We made our tents as comfortable as we could and went to sleep. I didn’t sleep well that first night, I never do when somewhere new.

Before dawn, I was up and decided to go out with my guides and trackers high up on the ridges overlooking our camp. The place just blew me away with its scale, you were completely dwarfed by the sheer scale of the place as the mountains seem to encase you inside this most beautiful of landscapes.

Over the days our routine didn’t really change as the guides were scouting for snow leopard signs and possible sightings from first light until last light. We visited the junction of Husing Nala and Tarbung Nala including the high ridge lines, hiked up the main Lato Nala vantage point and spent the day scanning the Kharlung and adjoining areas. It became very apparent from the moment we entered this beautiful yet hostile terrain that it would be very difficult to see a snow leopard.

On one such day while we were waiting, a lone lammergeier was soaring above our heads against the bluest of skies you could have ever imagined. Later from nowhere a rare Himalayan griffon vulture also soared above us often crossing the same flight path as the bearded vulture.

After the first few days had passed we were having breakfast and heard shouting outside our dining tent. I got up and went outside and the guides told me there had been a sighting of a Snow Leopard on the mountain overlooking our camp. Everyone then made a scramble to their tents, I can’t describe those few moments as it seemed like a blur now looking back, and we soon got all our gear and were out on the small path adjacent to our camp.

Our guides were looking through the powerful telescopes and each one of us, in turn, looked through to see this amazing big cat. First, he went over the ridge and out of sight, then he returned and just lay down in the morning sun without a care in the world. He didn’t move a great deal and spent the next several hours just sleeping and lazing around, before getting up and walking back over the ridge and that was the last we saw of him. We’d had no further sightings for days then this and words can’t express how we all felt at seeing one of the world’s rarest cats and also one of the most beautiful ones.

Over the next few days we all walked and trekked over frozen rivers and steep valleys and ridges, each day returning to our little camp, seen in the bottom left-hand corner of the image below, nestled in between the mountain ranges of the Indian Himalayas. Where we stayed was hard for me to describe due to its remoteness and beauty, this image I hope goes some way in conveying that.

During one hike to a vantage point, we visited the homestay of one of our guides, Gurmet, high up around 4500m above sea level, the oxygen seemed to be disappearing the higher we got. Gurmets sister lived there with her husband and children, on arrival we were invited inside for a warm drink, amazed at how wonderful the rooms looked and the kitchen etc. I also made a friend there, he was the nephew of Gurmet and loved seeing his face in my camera, I showed him the ones I took of him to which he was fascinated.

It was our last day in Hemis National park and we set off before our gear and mules, and had only been walking for ten minutes when noticed some commotion and shouting, as we got closer our guides told us another snow leopard had been spotted not too far from where we were.

Following our guides, my heart was racing, everyone was sort of dumbstruck that on the day we were leaving our luck shone once more. We were soon off track and almost vertical up a really steep hill. The snow leopard was on the mountain opposite but was near impossible to see, so we quickly got sorted our tripods and cameras, scanning the mountain.

How they spot these elusive big cats I have no idea, they are almost invisible to the naked eye due to their fur pattern and colour which is identical to the rocks and cliffs in which they live. Upon looking for a few minutes I saw him and said “wow” out loud. Sitting there all majestically, fur in tip-top condition he was just stunning.

We lost light that afternoon, behind the mountains and had to drag ourselves off that mountain and say goodbye not only to him but to this incredible place that had been our home over the last several days. I was really sad to leave and I said goodnight to him as we carefully made our way down to the path and walked out of Hemis National park to our awaiting transport. It was cold and tough going at times but these big cats are special and live in one of the most testing environments anywhere in the world. Perfectly adapted to that life they are true masters of this place and they demand your total respect.

See more of Craig Jones’s photography on the Wildscreen Exchange

Jan 11

I’m Roberto Isotti, a conservation photographer, Arkive and Wildscreen Exchange contributor and PhD in zoology.

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I’m based in Rome (where I was born). I began my professional activity in the Eternal City and even though I have travelled to six continents, I still maintain a deep connection with the city of Rome, that is forever full of charm and inspiration.

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I am currently working on a project entitled ‘Wild Rome’ which is a way for me to mix the love for my city and the great passion for nature that drove me to conservation photography and still leads my everyday work.

Wild Rome is a long-term project that tells the story, often hidden, of wild animals living in the city. The idea is to highlight the species that live next to us, often nearly ignored by people. The link between a big metropolitan area, such Rome, and its wildlife is not so easy to catch, but Rome is a surprisingly green city with lots of wildlife.

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In Rome there are:

  • 4 million citizens
  • 19 mammal species
  • 121 bird species, 78 of them nesting
  • 16 amphibian species
  • 10 reptilian species
  • 5,000 insect species

With this project, we aim to tell the stories of the wild citizens of our city who are often seen, but people are not fully aware of. Through photography and storytelling, we will show animals for what they really are, without judgment or hierarchy: non-human individuals with unique characteristics, neighbours with whom we share the city.

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Wild Rome focuses on the biodiversity hosted in our city in a new light, with the hope of creating empathy for unpopular species, showing their hidden beauty and their function within their ecosystems. This will create a tangible connection between people and the animals that have decided to call an overpopulated city like Rome home.

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Please share this blog and help Roberto to inspire people to care for the future of the wildlife of Rome.

Visit Roberto’s website to see more of his amazing photographs and find out more about his Wild Rome project.

 

Aug 1

Clare James is a wildlife photographer and conservation photojournalist. Here Clare discusses her time at the Sibuya Game Reserve, home to the Sibuya Rhino Foundation.

A lone Rhino in the early morning mist on the river plains is a special sight. The dawn brings new light and hope into the world.

A lone rhino in the early morning mist on the river plains is a special sight

Whilst teaching wildlife photography out in South Africa, I became aware of the enormity of the poaching issue, affecting numerous species of flora and fauna. South Africa is still teeming with wildlife compared to many other regions on this planet. This will soon change if poaching continues at the current rate.

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Clare photographing rhinos in Sibuya Game Reserve

Last year, I spent six months out in the bush filming and photographing wildlife away from the clutches of civilization, spending a few months at Sibuya Game Reserve. Spending time out in the bush filming, getting to know the men on the Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) who work long hours in order to protect these beautiful prehistoric creatures was extremely special. White rhino are now the main target of criminal organisations, who stop at nothing to get their hands on the horn, rhino horn is currently one of the most lucrative commodities in the world, it is used as a status symbol in Vietnam and an aphrodisiac in China, alongside providing funding for certain terrorist groups.

Whilst filming I was delighted to meet a young rhino affectionately known as Binky, who had been born a week earlier and over the months watched her grow into a fine young rhino, under the protective eye of her beautiful parents. I got to know some of their unique personality traits and habits. Inevitably I became extremely close and attached to this beautiful family. Seeing Bingo, Binky’s father, protect his family was very touching.

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Binky’s family

 

Bingo’s protection turned out to not be enough, as less than a year later, poaching had claimed their lives. Poachers had infiltrated the reserve and using chainsaws cut away the base plate of three rhinos including Bingo and the two female mothers. Bingo survived the initial attack, fighting for the first few days then also went on to a more peaceful place, leaving little Binky orphaned. Having both mother and father ripped away, Binky and another newborn rhino, Courage, whose mother’s life was also taken that day are left alone in this world.

Through human brutality they have been torn apart. We have to continue fighting this war for the rhino’s sake. The rate of poaching can be slowed and stopped if more people stand together. My heart bleeds with the memories of the happy family which I spent so much time with a year ago.

Binky in Sibuya Game Reserve

Binky in Sibuya Game Reserve

Please share this story to support Sibuya Rhino Foundation in their mission to protect their remaining rhinos so that the little ones have their chance to reproduce and keep this special species alive for future generations.

Save our rhinos!

Save our rhinos!

Visit the Sibuya Rhino Foundation website to find out more about the amazing work that they do

Find out more about rhinos on Arkive

See more of Clare’s beautiful images on her Clare James website

May 9

We recently caught up with with our friends at Voices for Nature who were keen to tell us about the unique and innovative work that they are doing to save Brazil’s rainforests and what the future holds for their organisation.

What is Voices for Nature?

We are a not-for-profit organisation based in Oxford, UK. Our aim is to inspire and engage people to protect and conserve Brazil’s rainforests through conservation story-telling. We believe that stories are powerful tools for learning and catalysts for change. We use literature, theatre and film to engage people in conservation and give a voice to nature.

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Aerial view of a tree in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest

Voices for Nature was formed in 2014 by Sigrid Shreeve, an environmentalist and campaigner who has worked in Brazil over many years. Voices for Nature employs students and young graduates offering them the opportunity to be creative and engage with conservation.

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Sigrid Shreeve

Sigrid is the author of the novel ‘Jabujicaba’ which was written as an engagement tool under the penname ‘Rosa da Silva’. In the novel, Brazil is bankrupt due to the effects of climate change and the Amazon is up for auction. The royalties from ‘Jabujicaba’ support rainforest conservation through Voices for Nature’s partners the World Land Trust, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Isle of Wight Zoo.

What does Voices for Nature do?

Voices for Nature is an arts organisation which connects people with conservation. Our work is based on the eco-thriller ‘Jabujicaba’, which forms the basis of various initiatives. These include:

The Jabuji debates – a national debating competition for sixth formers in the UK. The competition is run by Voices for Nature and the debates are hosted by Eton College. The First Jabuji Debates final was in March 2016 with participating schools from London, Berkshire and Kent. The event consists of workshops, mini-debates and a public final debates.

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Debaters with Sigrid Shreeve

Forum theatre – we are producing a play entitled ‘The Amazon Auction’ with pupils from Wheatley Park School near Oxford, which will will be performed in Oxford Botanic Gardens in June 2016. As part of the performance two teams will ‘pitch’ to the audience to convince them to support their bid in a mock auction of the Amazon Rainforest. Performers will play roles of characters from the novel ‘Jabujicaba’.

Documentary film – Voices for Nature supports original conservation documentary filmmaking. We were executive producers of the documentary Uncharted Amazon, which was shot in an endangered part of Peru’s Amazon. We will be screening Uncharted Amazon as part of the Oxford Festival of the Arts in June 2016 and also running campaign film workshops for young people together with the charity Film Oxford.

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Voices for Nature workshop

Rainforest Movie – we have a big screen movie under development based on the novel ‘Jabujicaba’. The movie is a cross over between Apocalypse Now and a rainforest Erin Brockovich. The lead role with be played by the actress Yrsa Daley-Ward and the movie is part of our outreach and educational work, linking to the Jabuji Debates. The movie has been entered into Richard Branson’s #VOOM2016 to raise profile and help fund development.

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View over REGUA site in Brazil

Find out more about Voices for Nature

Visit the Voices for Nature website

Watch the Jabujicaba trailer

Vote for Jabujicaba to win #VOOM2016

Follow Voices for Nature on Twitter or Facebook

Visit the Arts Festival Oxford website to attend a free film workshop or attend a screening of ‘Uncharted Amazon’

Jul 29

Denise Spaan is the Field Station Coordinator and Conservation Education Manager for The Little Fireface Project which was set up to help protect the slow loris in Indonesia. We caught up with Denise to ask her more about this fascinating species and the important work being done to conserve it.

Can you tell us a bit about The Little Fireface Project? Who are you and what do you do?

The Little Fireface Project (LFP), named after the Sundanese word for loris, is the world’s longest-running loris conservation project, starting in 1993 under the auspices of the Nocturnal Primate Research Group of Oxford Brookes University. Our research was highlighted in the award-winning 2012 film Jungle Gremlins of Java.  Little Fireface Project, or Proyek Muka Geni, is working to save the slow loris (locally known as ‘kukang,’ ‘muka geni’ or ‘oches’) through ecology, education and empowerment. We work in West Java, Indonesia, to collect ecological and behavioural data on one of the last remaining populations of Javan slow lorises. Also in West Java, we work with the local community and schools to promote awareness of slow lorises and the importance of conservation. Conservation requires a multi-faceted approach and we are working to do whatever we can to conserve these species!

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Denise Spaan giving a presentation regarding the work done by the Little Fireface Project in Tasikmalaya © Wawan Tarniwan

My name is Denise Spaan and I am the Field Station Coordinator and Conservation Education Manager for LFP’s field site in West Java. I am in charge of the day-to-day management of running a field station (e.g. finances, scheduling, etc.), organising volunteers and establishing education programmes within the schools surrounding the field site and the broader community. Additionally, I am doing research on the behavioural ecology and distribution of the Javan slow loris to help in reintroduction programmes. Moreover, I perform market surveys to assess the availability of slow lorises in animal markets across Java. As field station manager I find it important to be involved in all aspects of our work in West Java to help promote the conservation of the slow loris.

What makes slow lorises special and what are the issues they face?

Slow lorises are a unique group of primates found throughout South and Southeast Asia. They are small, nocturnal primates, and their vice-like grip, snake-like movements, shy nature and, most remarkably, their venomous bite, make them unique amongst the primates. To many people, they are undeniably adorable, whilst to others they are nature’s answer to over 100 diseases. Their slow movements make them easy prey to expert hunters who literally empty the forests of these shy primates, which are amongst the most common mammals seen in Asia’s illegal animal markets, but amongst the rarest spotted even in Asia’s best protected forests.

Javan slow loris Dali gauging on a gum tree © It's A Wildlife

Javan slow loris Dali gauging on a gum tree © It’s A Wildlife

What is The Little Fireface Project doing to protect slow lorises?

We aim to save lorises from extinction through learning more about their ecology and using this information to educate people, including law enforcement officers. We hope this will lead to empathy and empowerment, whereby people in countries where lorises exist will want to save them for themselves.

We study slow lorises at our field site in West Java. We fit our focal slow lorises with radio collars. A team of trackers and volunteers go out each night to follow them and record their behaviour. At the moment, we are interested in studying infant dispersal and the sleeping site preferences of slow lorises. This information is very important to help with the reintroduction of lorises from rescue centres.

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Denise Spaan and Dendi Rustandi performing behavioural observations on the slow lorises

Education is a vital part of our work. Every Saturday we go to the school near our field station to teach environmental education. We focus on teaching the children about lorises and other nocturnal animals in a fun and creative way. For example, we recently made dioramas with the children that featured a slow loris, a common palm civet and an owl in a night-time forest scene. At the end of the session our head tracker Dendi went around with a head torch fitted with a red filter. We use red filters in the forest during our observations and by letting them look into their dioramas through the red light, the children saw the forest as we see it at night. He then told the children how we observe the lorises. We try and connect the knowledge we gain from studying the lorises in the wild to the classroom sessions. Additionally, we have started running a weekly nature club session led by education volunteer Charlotte Young. The aim of the nature club is to educate the children about slow lorises in a creative way by taking them out into the forest. In the last lesson the children were taken to a beautiful stream and asked to draw it on a postcard, thereby seeing a familiar environment through new eyes. We attempt to connect all these activities with teachers in the UK through our Connecting Classrooms scheme via Education Through Expeditions.

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Children shining red light into their diorama with the same head torches we use in the field to get a glimpse into what it is like to observe slow lorises at night

Twice yearly, the Little Fireface Project hosts a village festival. In July we hosted the Loris Pride Days.  This was a week-long array of events (e.g. parade, football tournament, school visits) which aimed to promote our conservation message within the entire local community and ensure that everyone in our area knows how special lorises are and that they have a stake in the future of this species. Our next event will be a major talent show and fun fair, featuring our special loris mascots as the masters of ceremony!

The lorises around our field station are found in an agroforest or mosaic environment. They are found in and amongst farms and crop fields, and it is therefore really important not only to educate children but also adults. Slow lorises are extremely valuable for farmers as they are highly insectivorous and prey on the insect pests. We therefore visit farms and just through living with these people, we build rapport. We tell the farmers of the importance of lorises to their farms, and we also exchange information about our cultures! We provide many materials we believe will be useful in the day-to-day lives of people, but also hope that such items will build pride for the loris. For example, we hand out lovely loris bandanas, pins and calendars. We have also hosted a movie night featuring our very own movie ‘Don’t Let Me Vanish’, in which lorises are portrayed as forest protectors.

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The Java team went to the local gas station to hand out flyers and calendars to help spread awareness

Find out more about The Little Fireface Project.

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