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.

Dec 12

The illegal trade in wildlife is not only driving many endangered species to extinction, but is also posing a threat to national security, according to a new report.

Photo of a large bonfire of confiscated African elephant ivory

Confiscated African elephant ivory being burned

The report, commissioned by WWF and entitled ‘Fighting Illicit Wildlife Trafficking: A Consultation with Governments’, estimates that illicit trade in wildlife is worth at least US$ 19 billion a year. This makes it the largest illegal global trade after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

This trade not only poses a threat to wildlife, but also strengthens criminal networks, undermines national security, and threatens ecosystems and global health by increasing the potential for disease transmission and the spread of invasive species.

Photo of Bengal tiger, posterior view

Poaching, particularly for the traditional medicine trade, is one of the main threats to the tiger

Wildlife crime has escalated alarmingly in the past decade,” said Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International. “It is driven by global crime syndicates, and so we need a concentrated global response.”

He added that, “It is communities, often the world’s poorest, that lose the most from this illicit trade, while criminal gangs and corrupt officials profit. Frontline rangers are losing their lives and families that depend on natural resources are losing their livelihoods.”

Criminal networks

According to the report, around 100 million tonnes of fish, 1.5 million live birds and 440,000 tonnes of medicinal plants are traded illegally each year. An estimated 30,000 elephants a year are being slaughtered for their tusks, while the number of rhinos poached in South Africa between 2007 and 2011 rose by 3,000% and the price of rhino horn has risen to a staggering US$ 60,000 per kilogram.

Photo of southern white rhinoceros eating grass

The white rhino, under threat from a soaring demand for its horns

Unfortunately, current efforts to stop this illegal trafficking are woefully inadequate, and much of the trade is being run by powerful and sophisticated criminal networks with a broad international reach. The profits are being used to purchase weapons, fund civil conflicts and finance terrorist-related activities, putting national security and government stability at risk.

An example of this was seen earlier this year, when rebel groups from Chad and Sudan entered northern Cameroon and slaughtered 450 elephants for the purpose of selling their ivory to buy weapons for local conflicts.

High profits, low risk

The report says that criminal groups perceive the illegal trade as being low risk due to the absence of effective law enforcement, prosecution or other penalties. Consumer demand is also rising with the increasing ease of buying illegal wildlife products over the internet, and the potential profits for criminals can be very high.

The demand for illegal wildlife products has risen in step with economic growth in consumer countries, and with the ‘easy money’ and high profits to be made from trafficking, organized criminals have seized the opportunity to profit,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Photo of dead, illegally traded green turtle

Illegally traded green turtles

Although the illegal wildlife trade is often seen by governments as an exclusively environmental problem, conservationists argue that it needs to be treated as a matter of national urgency.

Last month, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, upgraded wildlife trafficking from a conservation issue to a national security threat. “It is one thing to be worried about the traditional poachers who come in and kill and take a few animals, a few tusks, a few horns, or other animal parts,” she said. “It’s something else when you’ve got helicopters, night vision goggles, automatic weapons, which pose a threat to human life as well as wildlife.”

Cooperation and accountability

The WWF report says that a systematic approach is needed to fight the illicit trade in wildlife. As well as greater international cooperation, more resources are needed, together with a tougher response from authorities, and the use of modern intelligence and investigative techniques to identify and prosecute the criminals involved. It will also be important to raise greater awareness of the issues among consumers.

Finally, countries need to be held publicly accountable for their response to the illegal trade. A number of reporting initiatives have already been set up to highlight those countries failing in their international commitments, including the WWF Wildlife Crime Scorecard and Elephant Trade Information System.

Read more on this story at WWF and BBC News, and read the WWF report – Fighting Illicit Wildlife Trafficking: A Consultation with Governments.

Find out more about wildlife crime at TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Find out more about endangered species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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