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

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.

Jun 8

This year the Society of Biology’s amateur photography competition is inviting budding photographers to think creatively about forests, grasslands, deserts and watery environments, fitting in with the theme ‘Home, Habitat & Shelter’.

Entries can focus on any of the world’s amazing ecosystems, although as today is World Ocean’s Day we thought we would give potential entrants some inspiration from one of nature’s most mysterious and varied environments. Occupying approximately two thirds of the Earth’s surface and containing around 95 percent of the Earth’s water, the world’s oceans provide numerous habitats for a wide range of species. The oceans are divided into five distinct areas: the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern (Antarctic) and Arctic.

Oceans are divided into five layers, and each layer is designated depending on its depth, physical characteristics and biological conditions, and the richness of life within each zone can vary considerably. Oceanographers categorise the open ocean as the pelagic zone, while the far depths, including the oceanic trenches, are described as hedalpelagic. At depths between 6,000 and 11,000 metres, there is a very low density of marine-life due to the harsh physical and chemical conditions.

But even at great depths and with no direct access to sunlight, creatures have evolved to survive and thrive. The giant tube worm lives around strong flowing hydrothermal vents, which are cracks on the ocean floor from which very hot, mineral-rich water flows into the surrounding ocean water. These vents are usually found near volcanically active places and the surrounding water is heated by the magma beneath the Earth’s surface.

Giant tube worm plume – a deep-sea species

The giant tube worm lives inside thin, tube-like structures made from chitin (a hard, protective material found in the outer skeleton of some invertebrates) and can grow up to two metres long. It has an impressive, haemoglobin-rich, red plume which is extended when it is undisturbed. The highly specialised body is divided into four sections, each of which plays a role in gas exchange, structure and support, and absorption of nutrients. Like other worms, it does not have a digestive tract and relies on a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in its body tissue. The bacteria perform chemosynthesis, a process by which organic molecules are produced for the worm to feed on.

Giant tube worm specimen

The remoteness of the hydrothermal vents prevents scientists from studying the ecology and biology of this species and others that live in these deep-sea areas. So although it is clear to see they have adapted to thrive in harsh oceanic environments, other biological features such as reproduction and feeding habits are relatively unknown.

If you have been inspired to think about a creature that has developed to flourish in a unique environment or you have simply been struck by the beauty of a creature in its natural habitat, why not enter the Society of Biology amateur photography competition. Photographs could focus on biological research which helps to answer the complex question of why and how different organisms survive in diverse environments; or, could simply capture the beauty of an animal in its natural habitat.

Further details on entering the photography competition are available on the Society of Biology website

May 7

How do you prepare for a Skype interview with one of the world’s leading wildlife photographers – or photojournalists (a big difference as you’ll soon read) – Steve Winter, whose breathtaking images of big cats around the world have resulted in positive conservation gains for species?

At ARKive, it’s a no-brainer. You turn to your audience of incredibly passionate nature fans who are bursting at the seams with meaningful questions on all things wildlife imagery and conservation. A few weeks ago, we asked you to send us the one burning question you would ask if you were about to Skype with Steve Winter. He is currently in the throes of capturing emotive images of the illegal tiger trade in India. Working with author Sharon Guynup, Steve has chronicled everything from the tiger black market to tiger sanctuaries ill-equipped to handle today’s sophisticated poachers.

A tiger photographed inside Bandhavgarh.

A male tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park, India
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

We randomly selected five of your questions and each of them buzzed through my head in advance of the interview last week as I patiently waited for Steve’s Skype name to turn from translucent to green. It turned green, he called, and the interview was on…

“If you don’t tell the story, all the pretty pictures in the world won’t do a thing.”

Rafael asked, “How did you wind up on the wildlife and conservation photographer path?”

While Steve was very happy to answer this question, he was adamant about making one thing very clear from the beginning. “I don’t want the label ‘wildlife photographer’. I more consider myself a photojournalist with a conservation concentration. Being a photojournalist, you have to tell the story of the photography, the people, the environment and the animals. If you don’t tell the story, all the pretty pictures in the world won’t do a thing. All the incredible beautiful parts of the wild and species we work with doesn’t make a difference unless you tell the story.”

I had never heard this concept explained quite so elegantly before and I couldn’t help but completely agree with Steve.

Tourists at the Tiger Temple in Thailand view a “tiger enrichment” show. Young tigers entertain tourists daily, but adults rarely leave tiny, decrepit cages and are often beaten. There is documented proof of sales to tiger farms in Laos that illegally traffic tiger parts. (Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

Tourists at the Tiger Temple in Thailand view a ‘tiger enrichment’ show. Young tigers entertain tourists daily, but adult tigers rarely leave tiny, decrepit cages and are often beaten. There is documented proof of sales to tiger farms in Laos that illegally traffic tiger parts.
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

So, how did Steve end up sitting atop the back of an elephant in India taking pictures of one of the world’s most threatened big cats? He explains, “I got a job with Merck Pharmaceuticals photographing species in the Costa Rican rainforest and it changed my life 180 degrees. I didn’t know anything about being a wildlife photographer and I viewed what I was doing as photojournalism. I always wanted to be a National Geographic photographer but never thought in a million years I would be a wildlife photographer. I started as a photojournalist and having a concentration on the natural world happened in Costa Rica while working for Merck. It’s where it all began.”

“Camera traps are so worthwhile because you can put them places you can’t go.”

Sascha asked, “When is the best time of day to photograph a tiger?”

Just as Stefano Unterthiner answered in our last wildlife photographer interview, Steve said, “It’s the same as most wildlife photography – early morning and late evening but also whenever a tiger is moving. Tigers are cats so they sleep most of the time and they will be moving by the time you’re allowed to go find them in the tiger parks and up to the time you are forced to leave the tiger parks at dusk.”

Steve then went on to explain more about his technique in capturing powerful images of such an elusive species. “It’s one of the reasons camera traps are so worthwhile because you can put them places you can’t go. For a normal story, depending on the species, a camera trap will encompass 10 to 20% of the images, sometimes more for the rarer animals. They give you an opportunity to investigate and understand an animal’s movements and behavior. With that knowledge, which is given to you by scientists, researchers, and local people, you’re able to find locations similar to where you might set up a blind or hide. I use camera traps and a wide angle lens at a close-up, intimate location similar to where I would focus my long telephoto lens if I was using a standard camera. Using the camera trap, I center on a spot in the frame using an infrared beam to get the animal front and center. I know exactly where the animal is going to be.”

Mirchani Tigress cubs at the Patpara Nala waterhole and fence traps.

A camera trap captures 14-month-old sibling cubs cooling off in a watering hole. Bandhavgarh National Park, India.
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

Camera traps were the tool of choice used to capture the incredible, iconic Hollywood cougar image which, Steve shared, took 15 months of trials and preparation to achieve!

“There are just so many moments out in the wilderness that transcends anything in your life.”

Claudie asked, “For you, personally, what is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen in a tiger?”

Steve didn’t hesitate a moment before answering, “Everything.” He then continued to say two of the most profound statements of the entire interview, in my opinion.  “There are just so many moments out in the wilderness that transcends anything in your life. It brings you closer to the whole universe, not just the animal.” He went on to tell the story behind the cover image for his new book, Tigers Forever, a pictorial and factual tribute to the tigers of India and Southeast Asia, the life they live, and the threats they encounter every single day. “The cover picture of my book, Tigers Forever, marked a moment in nature for me. I waited 24 days for the image, much of it on top of an elephant and the other part in a jeep. Just the fact that everything came together…it really was a moment, just 10 seconds! I got five frames and one of them was the moment.”

Tigers Forever cover photo

A wary three-month-old cub briefly investigates our intrusion before ducking behind his mother. This tigress gave birth in the same remote cave where she was born.
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

He then described the transcendental experience of seeing a tiger in the wild. “You look into a tiger’s eye and it’s primeval. It takes you back to caveman times in your brain because it’s an absolutely amazing animal to me. I don’t like to have favorites because they are all special and have their own uniqueness to them. You become close to any species you work on for months or even years.”

“Just like an old western movie on horses, branches try to knock you off the back of a running elephant.”

Azhurel asked, “What’s your scariest encounter?”

Luckily, Steve shared that he hasn’t encountered any scary moments while working on tigers in India. However, he did recall a very scary moment while on assignment in Kaziranga National Park, India.

“I was on an elephant photographing rhinos but we were attacked by a rhino. The elephant tried to defend himself and was bit by the rhino. The elephant turned 180 degrees away and ran towards the forest. In the commotion, we lost the gun.” The rhino continued to chase the elephant, with Steve on top, for at least 300 yards into the forest and the only way the rhino relented was after repeated jabs with a long bamboo pole that Steve’s camera was attached to.  “Just like an old western movie on horses, branches try to knock you off the back of a running elephant!”

“It’s vital that we help when we can to bring the public to the story.”

Bernie asked, “In your words, how does wildlife photography support species protection and conservation?”

And in Steve’s own words, he answered, “How can you work on something without wanting your pictures to make a difference, support education, and give people a reason to care?  As a wildlife photojournalist, you don’t want the conversation to end on the pages of National Geographic magazine. You want the conversation to begin. Telling the story is important but in the end you want it to go further. Fundraisers and giving images to scientists and organizations you work with helps. It’s vital that we help when we can to bring the public to the story. That’s what protects the species.”

A male tiger crosses open grasslands in early morning. Bandhavgarh National Park, India.

A male tiger crosses open grasslands in early morning. Bandhavgarh National Park, India.(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

“In India, it’s difficult and I’m doing what I can there. Our book, Tigers Forever, shares the story with the public and our 10 years of efforts there. The book isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning.”

So, why not start your own journey now! Have a look at the ARKive tiger page with nearly 200 images and film clips as well as a full biological fact-file. Or, learn how the kids of India are doing their part to make a difference for tigers. Finally, you can pick up your own copy of Tigers Forever with 10% of the proceeds donated to Panthera, the world’s largest big cat conservation organization.

Liana Vitali, Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

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