Sep 22
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Guest blog: Where the Wild Things Aren’t

It’s World Rhino Day today. To celebrate and discuss, Dr Emma-Louise Nicholls (Deputy Keeper of Natural History of the Horniman Museum and Gardens) shares her insider knowledge and experience in rhinoceros conservation, after her recent return from the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia.

The Sumatran rhino’s problems began the moment someone, a name now lost to history, first decided rhino horn should be used as a medicinal ingredient. This idea was passed down from generation to generation until, over 2,000 years later, the use of rhino horn is deeply ingrained in people’s minds and cultures. These ancient remedies, now commonly referred as ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’, are still used today, primarily in China and Vietnam. Contrary to popular western belief, rhino horn is not (ironically- until very recently) used as an aphrodisiac, but rather to treat a large number of ailments including fever, hallucinations, and headaches.

Rhino horn is largely made of keratin, however; and you’d feel just as better if you ground up and swallowed your own fingernails. Nevertheless, hunting these animals for their horns decimated Sumatran rhino populations throughout Southeast Asia and, as the issue of habitat loss also began to raise its ugly head, the combined impact of these two sustained pressures led to the collapse of wild populations. As a benchmark; in the 1980s it was estimated there were around 1,000 Sumatran rhinos in the wild. In 2017, that number is estimated to be around 100.

Sumatran rhinoceros © Gareth Goldthorpe

Until recently, these remaining wild populations were split between Indonesia and Malaysia. Unfortunately, there are now only two known individuals of the Bornean rhino left (a different subspecies), which live in a private research facility in Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia. On a positive note, these two remaining individuals are a male and female; generally accepted as the two primary requirements of a breeding programme. However, even if intensive breeding of their would-be sibling-offspring wasn’t an evolutionary no-no, in a cruel twist of fate Sumatran rhinos that haven’t produced offspring by a certain age often develop cysts in the uterus and can become unable to conceive anyway. As is the case for Iman, the last known remaining female Bornean rhino.

The largest known wild Sumatran rhino populations, holding on with all 12 toes in Indonesia, are now restricted to three national parks, all on the island of Sumatra. Having separate populations is good for genetic diversity, and if a natural disaster or disease should wipe out one population then the species will still persist due to those that were isolated from it. If, for example, a large tsunami hit the northern edge of Java (heaven forbid) where Ujung Kulon National Park is located, it could well wipe out the entire Javan rhino species, as there are no other populations anywhere in the world. On the other hand, if numbers of Sumatran rhino are so thin in each of the three parks that male and female rhinos won’t find each other, then short of joining Sudan on Tinder, making babies in the wild becomes exceptionally difficult, meaning perhaps bringing them together is the better option. Faced with this unenviable quandary, a lot of conservationists feel the answer is in a captive breeding programme with the aim of repopulating the wild habitat with captive-born rhinos.

The dense habitat preferred by the Sumatran rhinoceros is difficult for conservationists to penetrate in search of the elusive species. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

Scientists find the key

The first known record of a Sumatran rhino to be born in captivity was in Calcutta, India in 1889. Although the specific details are irritatingly lost to history, rhino experts seem to feel there is enough evidence to substantiate the story. Nearly 100 years after India perhaps unintentionally made rhino history, the need for a captive breeding programme became urgent and so between 1984 and 1996, 40 of the approximately 1,000 Sumatran rhinos persisting in the wild at the time were captured (from both Indonesia and Malaysia) to form a worldwide collaborative captive breeding programme. The wild-caught rhinos were split up between Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the United States, and the UK who all tried their hand at breeding these enigmatic animals.

Thirteen years later, the pitter patter of tiny rhino feet was still absent from zookeepers’ ears and so in 1997 scientists at Cincinnati Zoo led by Dr Terri Roth (Vice President of Conservation and Science, and Director of the Centre for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife; CREW) turned to endocrinology and ultrasonography. A long and complicated story of science, frustration, grumpy rhinos, and no mating unravelled until Dr Roth and her team finally discovered that Sumatran rhinos are in fact induced ovulators. This means that a female won’t come into oestrus until she has had ‘special time’ with a male, after which, she obviously needs to gain in order to conceive. This was an exceptional breakthrough, and one that resulted in the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in 112 years when Ipuh, one of the last three rhinos surviving from the original project initiated in 1984, successfully mated with a female called Emi, and with that a heavy hairy miracle was born. With all of their new found expertise in rhino romance, the CREW team managed to help Ipuh and Emi produce two more babies- a female called Suci in 2004, and a male called Harapan in 2007.

Born in 2001 at Cincinnati Zoo, Andalas was the first Sumatran rhinoceros born in captivity in 112 years and as such, represented a huge breakthrough for his species. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

Meanwhile in Indonesia

As scientists in Cincinnati were working on unravelling the mysteries of the Sumatran rhino’s reproductive requirements, on the other side of the world the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary was completed in Sumatra, Indonesia, and in 1998 opened its doors to its first residents; two females, Dusun and Bina, and one male, Torgamba. Two more females, Ratu and Rosa, arrived in 2005. Yet despite being spoilt for choice on the dating scene, Torgamba sadly wasn’t up to the task and the breeding programme appeared to be failing.

Fortunately for Sumatran rhinos, in 2007 Dr Roth and her rhino specialist team gave the programme’s first born male, Emi and Ipuh’s first calf Andalas – now six years old, to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in a bid to save the day. It turned out to be worth their heartache as in 2012 Andalas became a first-time father and the number of Sumatran rhinos in the world went up by another one. One is a significant number when there are so few remaining, and Andatu, Andalas’s son, made history when he became the first baby rhino born at the SRS.

Andalas is obviously enjoying his new life as chief baby-maker as he and his ‘partner’, Ratu, successfully bred again and in 2016 had a girl called Delilah. By 2014, Harapan (Andalas’s younger brother, born at Cincinnati Zoo) became the only Sumatran remaining outside of Indonesia and Malaysia and so the Cincinnati team decided to let him follow in his brother’s footsteps and sent him too, to the SRS in Indonesia.

Now five years old, Andatu was the first rhinoceros born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia. His parents are Cincinnati Zoo-born male Andalas, and wild-caught female Ratu. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

The future

Hunting and habitat loss have decimated wild numbers of rhinos to a point where physiology is now their main problem (although the aforementioned issues also persist). The need for induced ovulation, as well as the fact that cysts can develop in the uterus if females remain unmated, both mean that with so few rhinos in the wild, many females are likely to become unable to conceive. The stability of wild Sumatran rhino populations remains in question and captive breeding programmes used to boost numbers in the wild seem to be the most viable way of increasing their numbers to a level where they’ll regularly be able to breed naturally in the wild again.

In 2017, now armed with an entire crash (the official, not to mention delightful, collective noun for rhinos) including both males and females, the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary is on a path paved with hope and optimism. Andalas and his rhino team are undoubtedly working hard to produce more bundles of joy, and with the high levels of expertise and dedication witnessed first-hand at the SRS, there is definitely hope for the Sumatran rhino yet.

Although each animal lives semi-wild in its own 10-20km2 enclosure of primary forest habitat, their health is monitored daily by their keepers. Here Harapan is having his temperature taken as he nonchalantly hoovers up some carrots. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

Find out more about the Sumatran rhinoceros on Arkive

Visit the International Rhino Foundation website

Follow Dr Nicholls on Twitter

 

May 18
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Guest blog: Underhogs by Durrell’s Daniel Craven

Daniel Craven is Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust‘s Volunteer Manager, based at Jersey Zoo since 2001. A former professional footballer, Daniel is a lover of travel, animals and conservation. Durrell’s Underdogs is his first film and was made with the fantastic team of Dean Maryon, Bex Bohea, Shaz Syed and Marc Mitchell. It is an official selection at the 2017 Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York. This is his story.

Daniel Craven © Craig Jones

Daniel Craven © Craig Jones

My journey to India to make a film about the smallest and rarest pig in the world is one I will never forget. It was a wild ride but nothing compared to the epic journey of survival the pygmy hog, an animal once thought to be extinct, has had to go through.

‘Durrell’s Underhogs’ traces the origins of Gerald Durrell and ‘The Durrells’, in India, before joining up with conservationists Durrell inspired and who today are giving the pygmy hog a fighting chance. My journey started in Jamshedpur where Gerald was born. There I discovered more about the life of Gerald’s father, Lawrence Durrell, an ambitious and gifted civil engineer who ran the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway before working for TATA steel, as I learned more about his father it became clearer where Gerald’s drive to save species from extinction came from.

Pygmy hog © Craig Jones

The ‘underhog’ is fighting for survival © Craig Jones

The pygmy hog is one of the rarest animals in the world. It’s a typical Durrell project – a so-called “little brown job”.

These nest building bullet shaped mini pigs struggle for survival alongside the big mega fauna of tigers, rhinos and elephants that share its habitat and hog the limelight. Raising awareness, conservation support and funding to save this little hog is tough. It’s a real “under-hog”.

Pygmy hogs build and live in nests made of the grasses found in their vulnerable grassland habitat © Craig Jones

Pygmy hogs build and live in nests made of the grasses found in their vulnerable grassland habitat © Craig Jones

The Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) has been running since 1996 and is made up of a team of partners; Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, IUCN SSC Pigs Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group, Ecosystems India, Government of Assam, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Arriving at the PHCP centre in Guwahati, Assam was fantastic. It’s one of the only places in the world to see pygmy hogs.

Hogs are bred at the centre to be released into the wild. It’s like a kindergarten for baby hogs with hoglets learning the basics from their mothers and siblings in a controlled, supportive and natural environment.

Mother and hoglet © Craig Jones

Mother and hoglet © Craig Jones

The second stage is more like being at university. Support is gradually taken away from the older hogs and they are expected to stand on their own four feet! This environment is similar to the wild areas where they will be released. Before graduating, the hogs must know how to feed themselves on insects, roots and tubers, similar to what they would seek out in the wild.

Baby hogs or hoglets are about the size of a computer mouse with legs! © Craig Jones

Baby hogs or hoglets are about the size of a computer mouse with legs! © Craig Jones

The project team, keepers and support staff that have been running the programme for the last 20 years are a breed apart. They share the same unwavering commitment to conservation as Gerald Durrell. They’re proud of the work they are undertaking to save a species from extinction. And step by step, they’re winning that battle. Massive restoration work has been done in Barnardi Wildlife Sanctuary to revive an area of grassland habitat where they once roamed. This beautiful area bordering Bhutan is the very park where the hogs were rediscovered in 1971 and can once again call their home.

The Durrell team enjoy a light moment during the catch-up and transportation of the hogs © Craig Jones

The Durrell team enjoy a light moment during the catch-up and transportation of the hogs © Craig Jones

Witnessing the 100th hog released back into Bornadi was a great example of how scientific evidence together with dedication, planning and hard work can pay off.

Pygmy hogs © Craig Jones

Pygmy hogs © Craig Jones

Durrell experts know how to save this species and they are doing it with the continued support of people who care about this remarkable little creature, thanks to them this “Under-hog” species has a fighting chance. If you would like to give pygmy hogs a helping hand, please consider donating to Durrell or becoming a member.  The documentary ‘Durrell’s Underhogs’ can be viewed through the Durrell website www.durrell.org/underhogs

To watch Durrell’s Underhogs film, visit their website

Find out more about pygmy hogs on their Arkive species profile

 

May 16
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Guest blog: interview with Michel d’Oultremont, subject of short film ‘The Wait’

Arkive would like to introduce The Wait, a short film from production company Contra, which follows the journey of a wildlife photographer on a hunt to document the elusive European bison in its natural habitat of the Romanian mountains. The story details how it can take weeks to capture a shot, and the patience required to wait for this moment.

We have been speaking with Michel d’Oultremont, wildlife photographer and subject of the film, to learn about his motivations for wildlife photography.

Who are you and what is your profession?

Hello, my name is Michel d’Oultremont, I’m 25 years old and I have been a wildlife photographer since the age of 10 – I have had the great fortune of starting very young with an unconditional love for wildlife!

Michel d’Oultremont

Michel d’Oultremont

 

We found The Wait to be very emotive. Can you tell us more about your relationship with the natural world and why you wanted to photograph the European bison?

My relationship with nature is very special – I spend hours and hours in the wild trying to find and observe wildlife. It’s a way of life for me! Since the WWF (Worldwide Wildlife Fund) has started to reintroduce wild bison into the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, it has been a dream of mine to explore this region and to see these spectacular beasts. I’ve always been quite drawn to big animals like bears and muskox, so the bison is the next logical progression of that passion!

European bison © John Ford

Your creativity with the landscape shows through your work, do you have a specific image or style in mind before you begin shooting?

It all depends – I like to capture the animal in its natural habitat, so often I have to relocate to find the best light and environment. Once I’m set up, I wait for an animal to pay me a visit: a nature photo is a meeting – you just have to wait for it to happen. Although sometimes I do think more about the image and I try to realise it in any way I can.

What do you want to say with your photographs, and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?

It may sound stupid, but I try to capture beauty in my photographs, to show the beauty of wildlife. So I try to take photographs that highlight this beauty and make for aesthetically pleasing pictures. When I manage this it is a real pleasure, but it doesn’t happen very often – maybe four or five times in a year.

Short-eared owl fight over a mouse during winter in France, no bait used © Michel d’Oultremont

Is focusing on a reintroduced species of particular importance to you? Do you feel any extra pressure when capturing images of a rare creature?

This type of project is very important because it allows wildlife to come back to its stomping ground. The work of the WWF is very important – they make the reintroduction of wildlife into the mountains possible! I don’t seek out rare animals especially, I photograph everything that happens to pass in front of my lens so it’s more that I am opportunistic.

This picture was taken in Belgium right next to my house, this nice owl decided to nest in a tree that I know very well, a real treat to be able to observe them naturally  © Michel d’Oultremont

Which animals and landscapes would you most like to photograph if you had no constraints?

That’s a really difficult question, there are many species I dream of photographing, like the Persian panther or the Siberian tiger. I would also love to go to the Canadian Arctic to see Polar Bears! There is still a lot to see, and that’s what’s great!

The Wait conveys a sense of solitude and at times loneliness, what is the longest and hardest time you have spent waiting for a subject?

I have had to wait several weeks before finding the subject and light I’ve been hoping for! But this isn’t restrictive because there are always things happening. The most difficult conditions I’ve experienced are without a doubt winter in Norway, where I was caught in a huge snow storm, but I love that these difficult conditions bring a sense of poetry to the images.

“I stayed at a location in Sweden for a week waiting for the singing black grouse. One morning the whole area was frosted, the sun was reflected on a cloud and in the drops of water, which gives these incredibly magical colours!” © Michel d’Oultremont

What is one thing you may recommend in wildlife photography?

The best advice, I think, is to know and research the species well, and do everything you can not to disturb the wildlife.

Top three items you never travel without?

The three things I always travel with – apart from my photographic equipment, of course – are my binoculars that I always take with me, my knife for quickly making a natural shade, and my notebook to try and write down everything I experience in the field.

Romanian Mountains © Michel d’Oultremont

Romanian mountains © John Ford

We’d like to thank Michel for speaking with us. If you’d like to see more of Michel’s work you can visit his website, or find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also visit The Wait website to watch the film and read more about the team behind it.

Apr 27
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Guest blog: human-elephant conflict in the Himalayas by Avijan Saha

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

Apr 14
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Guest blog: interview with Cyril Dion, co-director to new environmental film ‘Tomorrow’

This week Arkive has been celebrating the US premiere of the environmental documentary Tomorrow, (Demain le Film). We’ve been featuring a guest blogs throughout the week, with documentary contributors discussing the global issues featured in Tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s US premier is in San Francisco TODAY! 14th April 2017. Find the Tomorrow Facebook or visit the website for a full run-down and trailer.

“Without question, this is absolutely the best and most creative film on the future of humanity and the environment.” – Paul Hawken, leading environmentalist

Tomorrow trailer

Tomorrow trailer

Who are you?

Cyril Dion. Almost 39. French. Married with two kids. I’m a filmmaker, writer, poet and ecological activist.

I also wrote and co-directed Tomorrow, it is my baby! It took me five years to make this project a reality, and I never thought it would take me to 17 countries and more than 120 cities.

I have always tried to find ways to express myself artistically and to be as useful as possible to people and the planet. First, I was an actor, then I studied and practiced natural medicine. I organised Israeli-Palestinian congresses including the very first two world congress of Imams and Rabbis for peace. I co-founded and directed an ecological NGO for seven years, created and ran a magazine, wrote three books, and now directed a movie.

Problems facing your field of expertise from an environmental/sustainability perspective?

Basically, a part of humanity could disappear by the end of the century if we keep on living as we do, especially in the western world. A few years ago, a study conducted by one of NASA’s lab showed that civilisations usually collapse when two factors combine: when we destroy natural resources faster than they can restore themselves, and when social inequality become unbearable.

We currently experience both problems. Unfortunately, this study is not the only one. Hundreds of them have been published all around the world warning us of the dangers of climate change, mass extinction of species, pollution, exploitation of people and nature.

Climate change effects include sea levels getting higher, ice melting at the poles, and extreme weather events like hurricanes and droughts becoming more common. Many animals are also struggling to survive as their habitats change.

If the current rate of deforestation continues, it is thought that the world’s forests will be gone in just 100 years.

Do you have any suggested solutions to the problems Tomorrow confronts?

I can build on what I have learned while travelling the world for the film. We need to shift from a material-oriented society where making money, buying stuff and creating economic growth is the main goal, to a world where we are living meaningful lives; being in harmony with nature and with each other is our priority. The good news, is that we have the know-how to gather everything we need: food, shelter, healthcare, money, great job, and community we can rely on.

One particularly interesting way could be to replicate what nature does and adapt it to our human organisations: circular processes, efficiency in networks, creating no waste, restoration abilities, nurture a very high level of diversity. Diversity is the key, if you have a forest with only one type of tree, when disease strikes, the whole forest is gone. But if you have different type of trees, some variety will resist more than others and the ecosystem has much better chances of surviving. It is what we call resilience.

Concretely, this means that we must not encourage monocultures, whether it is in agriculture (growing only one kind of crop on huge fields), in economy (having just a few big businesses trusting the all world with their food, clothes, furniture and so on), in energy (relying on fossil fuels), etc. It is too fragile.

We need to develop greater autonomy and diversity everywhere: organic food systems, local renewable energy, strong local economies with a lot of diverse independent businesses and to link all these territories to each other to have millions of local, ecological, economies interconnected.

Cyril has presented Tomorrow across the globe, including screenings at screened at the UN in NYC and at the European Parliament, during the COP21 in Paris.

Please describe your personal feelings on the importance of conveying Tomorrows message, and what impact you hope for it to have upon its audience?

We may face the biggest challenge human race has ever experienced. So, to me, nothing could be more important than empowering people to fix our ecological, social and economic problems! To do so, we tried to do something different from scary, depressing, and catastrophic documentaries pointing fingers at culprits.

I think Tomorrow is the first 100% solution-oriented documentary about ecology, economy, education, democracy… It carries another vision for the future. It is also trying to tell a story, our story: young parents preoccupied by the future of their children, trying to find new ways to make the world a better place. We wanted the movie to be pedagogical but as the same time moving and pleasant to watch with a lot of music, nice photography.

It has been released in more than 20 countries already and had a lot of impact in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada where it has been seen by almost two million people… It’s been screened at the UN in NYC, at the European Parliament, during the COP21 in Paris.

We continuously receive hundreds of messages of women and men telling us what they’ve been doing after seeing the movie. We even opened a section on the French website called « the day after tomorrow » to collect these stories and actions. People start permaculture gardens, change their electricity supplier, move their money to local or ethical banks, start new jobs to be useful to their community or to the planet, some businesses are being launched, some local governments are taking actions… It would take a book to tell everything! So I hope it will happen in the US also.

 Final words to convey to the audience?

Just that we have the power to change the world if we want to.

You can follow Cyril and his work on Twitter, Facebook or on his website. All that’s left now is to say thank you to Cyril and the many other who worked tirelessly on Tomorrow to share with us a message which many would consider the most urgent problems facing our planet to date. We hope you all go out and watch it!

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