Apr 27

In this guest blog, wildlife photographer and Wildscreen Exchange contributor Avijan Saha discusses his experience with human-animal conflict in West Bengal, India, where an ancient Asian elephant migratory route has been blocked by a 20-kilometre-long fence, and the implications it has caused for both wildlife and human communities.

My name is Avijan Saha, I am from Siliguri, West Bengal, India. By profession, I am a photographer and since 2008 I have been working in West Bengal on human-elephant conflict issues with forest officials, NGO’s and nature activists. I try to raise awareness with my photographs. I believe that photography is one of the most creative tools to tell a story – one frame at a time.

 

Avijan Saha

The foothills of the Himalayan Mountains are an ancient migratory route for Asian elephants. In this landscape there is plentiful water due to the meeting of various different rivers and their tributaries, providing the elephants with the hydration they need to continue their lengthy journey.

Herd of Asian elephants at Mechi River bed, Indo-Nepal border

Human-elephant conflict in the Darjeeling Terai has a century-old history and was first recorded in 1907 when a herd of at least 30 elephants migrated into Nepal after crossing the rivers Teesta, Mahananda, Balason and Mechi.

The area from the Mechi River to the Sankosh River is divided into two elephant distribution zones extending across 1,659 square kilometres of forest, comprising five protected areas – Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara and Gorumara National Parks and Chapramari and Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuaries. A large part of this area lies between the Torsa River in West Bengal and the Sankosh  River and is referred to as the Eastern Dooars Elephant Reserve (EDER).

Herd of Asian elephants in Kolaveri Forest, India

Crop raiding by elephants turned into a serious issue in the Kurseong forest division in 1980 after a herd of around 60 elephants were chased away from agricultural land into the nearby Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. In 2005, the Forest Department reported that around 70 elephants from Mahananda were causing extensive damage on the outskirts of the sanctuary and in bordering Nepalese villages, which was affecting more than 50,000 people.

Human-elephant interaction at Kolaveri Forest, Indo-Nepal border

Kolaveri, a small patch of forest on the banks of the Mechi River, is now the last refuge for the elephants on the Indian side of the border. An 18 kilometre stretch of very fertile agricultural land in the Jhapa and Bahundangi districts of Nepal draws around 100 elephants from the Sanctuary each year, especially during the maize (May-July) and rice (October-December) cultivating seasons. Elephants are continually disturbed and tortured by humans as a consequence of new agricultural activities in their former habitat and face further pressures from farming as land is altered for grazing livestock and the collection of firewood. As a result, there has been an increase in both elephant and human casualties.

Cattle grazing also become a threat for these giants

In 2016, the Nepalese government erected a 20-kilometre-long fence, called tarbar, from upper to lower Nepal to protect their cultivated land, resulting in the Kolaveri elephants being forced to scatter into neighbouring Indian villages. Though the herd was not able to cross the tarbar, one tusker tore down a part of the fencing, causing further animosity. In this bid to stop elephants from entering their territory, the Nepalese government blocked a century-old migration route, which has altered natural behaviour and has increased, rather than decreased, incidences of human-elephant conflict.

This is a trans-boundary conflict situation that needs immediate resolution between India and Nepal. A joint action plan must be formulated, implemented and maintained at both national and local levels to prevent further damage from occurring to humans or wildlife.

Find out more about Asian elephants on Arkive

See more of Avijan Saha’s amazing photographs 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.

 

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

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