Lindsey Paretti’s debut film Blood Island has been nominated for two Wildscreen Panda Awards: Emerging Talent and Shorts. This 12-minute film tells the story of chimpanzees in Liberia which were infected with hepatitis and underwent testing in order to ‘unlock the mysteries of human diseases’. The experiments lasted for three decades before ending in 2007, however the remaining chimps – raised in captivity and still infected – were transported to remote islands in the West African country. Blood Island tells the powerful story of the chimpanzees, their captors and the people still fighting to save them.
We spoke to Lindsey about how she found making her first film and the recognition it has received.
Blood Island is your first production as a filmmaker but you have previously worked for almost 10 years as a journalist. What made you decide to put down a pen and pick up a camera?!
I picked up a camera, an iPhone actually, while I was living and reporting in Cairo during the Egyptian revolution. There were days when thousands of people were out protesting but state TV channels were broadcasting footage of empty streets. A lot of times you could only find out what was really going on by being physically present at any event, and even then it was chaotic with so many conflicting agendas and narratives. I realised that I had to go back to the basics of a journalist as a witness. Video evidence seemed both the most accessible and least controvertible way to show what was happening. It’s still why I love film; films have the power to reach everyone regardless of language or background.
The story behind the chimps and their banishment to remote islands is shocking, how did you first hear about it and come up with the idea for the film?
Actually it was right here in Bristol. I was looking for an idea for my master’s film when I attended a conservation talk at Bristol Zoo. The topic of the talk had nothing to do with the chimps, but I just heard someone say “blood chimps” and “Liberia” toward the end and it immediately piqued my interest. When I got home and started researching the story I just kept unearthing more and more surprising layers.
We heard you only had 2 and a half days to film in Liberia! How did you find filming in the country and did you have to contend with any interesting situations or unexpected curveballs?
I was actually terrified during the entire planning and filming process that it might not come together. Working to tight deadlines as a journalist definitely helped me to get what I needed on location, but the humidity did play with the cameras and mics. The drone stopped working (we ended up just using it handheld for some of the shots). It certainly wasn’t ideal but in other ways I was really lucky, especially with how strong the human and chimp characters turned out to be.
How does it feel to not only have won a BAFTA for your debut film, but also have two nominations for the ‘Green Oscars’ of natural world storytelling?
Pretty surreal. I was a volunteer at the last Wildscreen when I was just starting my MA in Wildlife Filmmaking in Bristol. I absolutely loved it and it was amazing hearing from the best people in this craft about their work, but I had no idea then I’d be returning as a nominee. It’s wonderful being embraced by BAFTA and the wildlife film industry here in Bristol. I’m just taking it as a sign we should keep pushing for more environmental impact stories on screen.
We are running an environmental film competition with Earthwatch Europe for 14-17 year olds; what advice would you give to a budding wildlife filmmaker just starting out?
Judging by the work of the young natural history photographers I’ve seen I don’t think they need my advice! I guess I’d say everyone has a different path to follow so use your own strengths to pursue your passion. Be generous, share your skills and don’t be afraid to reach out to people for help. I think we could take inspiration from young people – at that age you think you can change the world. We’re all going to need some of that passion and conviction if we hope to make a difference.
You can find out more about this incredible story by watching the entire film below:
Lindsey Parietti will be speaking at Wildscreen Festival 2018, held in Bristol later this year: join host, Emanuelle Biggi, as he meets Lindsey and other emerging storytellers to discover what drives them to use their work to inspire stewardship of our wild things and wild places.
Rise Of The Warrior Apes is the award-winning wildlife documentary and a Panda Award nominee at this year’s Wildscreen Festival. The film, by James Reed, tells the twenty-year story of the largest and most powerful chimpanzee society ever known. Through the extraordinary lives of four unique chimps we experience an intense political drama and bloody conflict in the African jungle. Using previously unseen footage, and witness testimony from the scientists who have observed and filmed them since 1993, the film reveals a story of unbreakable friendship, fierce rivalry and unparalleled ambition that gave rise to the warrior apes of Ngogo.
John Mitani, a primate behaviourist and university professor, is one of the scientists featured in Rise of the Warrior Apes. John has studied the chimpanzees of Ngogo for over 20 years, after his first visit in 1995, and shares with us some of his experience.
John Mitani, University of Michigan Professor, in the Ugandan forest, home to the Ngogo chimpanzee community
During your years studying primate behaviour, what separates the chimpanzees from the other primates groups you have studied?
I started my career 40 years ago studying the two Asian apes, gibbons and orangutans. Gibbons live in small, socially monogamous groups, and orangutans often roam the forest by themselves. This limits the number and types of social relationships they can form.
Chimpanzees are quite different as they live in relatively large groups, ranging anywhere from 20 to 200 individuals, called “communities.” Male chimpanzees live in their natal communities their entire lives and form strong long-lasting social bonds with each other reinforced through a variety of behaviors, including grooming, helping each other in fights, and sharing scarce and valuable resources such as meat obtained in hunts.
Beyond this chimps also display a suite of unusual behaviors not often found in other primates. These include the previously mentioned hunting vertebrate prey, tool-making and use, and quite shockingly, killing other chimpanzees.
What were you looking for when you first followed the Ngogo community?
I had been conducting fieldwork with chimpanzees at the Mahale Mountains National Park for several years prior to visiting Ngogo in 1995. I was working with one of the pioneers in the study of wild chimpanzees, the late Toshisada Nishida.
I had every intention of continuing to work with Nishida, as he was a mentor, colleague, and dear friend, who taught me the ways of wild chimpanzees. I wanted to come to Ngogo because it was in Kibale National Park, one of the world’s legendary primate field sites, established by another friend, Tom Struhsaker. I just wanted to see the place. But after only a few weeks at Ngogo, I realized that there was something very strange there. There were a lot of chimpanzees, and they were everywhere! As things turn out, there were well over 100 chimpanzees in the Ngogo community. This was an order of magnitude larger than any other chimpanzee community that had been described before.
So the first question to address was how did so many chimpanzees manage to live together? And by doing so, would they reveal secrets of their lives that had not been documented elsewhere?
The initial challenge of studying the Ngogo chimpanzees was that they were not used to human presence. They would run away every time we would encounter them, it took considerable time to habituate them so that we could follow and observe their behavior. In those early days there were times I wondered if habituating them was the best use of my time. In retrospect, though, it was fun, stimulating, and ultimately rewarding.
What is your favourite aspect of your research?
Behavioral research on chimpanzees has been, and always will be, an observational science. So I enjoy spending long periods following chimpanzees and watching what they do. Occasionally, patience pays off with an “aha” moment that leads to a new discovery.
But now, having studied wild chimpanzees for nearly 30 years, I relish some magical, almost spiritual-like moments that are hard to describe. Imagine this: I am out alone with a large party of chimpanzees. There is an abundance of food, and there are perhaps 40, 50, maybe even 60 chimpanzees together. And it’s a glorious, dry, sunlit day. The chimpanzees have settled down to rest and socialize. Everywhere I look, there are chimpanzees on the ground. A few adult males groom. Moms relax and begin to doze off as their kids start to play. Some of the youngsters wrestle, laughing noisily in the process. Others chase each other in small saplings and then drop to the ground with a thud. I have experienced countless times like this, and as I survey the scene, I am overcome with utter joy.
I am astonished that the chimps permit me to be a part of their world, and I feel that I am the luckiest person on Earth. Moments like these may be the most important reason I continue to study chimpanzees at the ripe old age of 64!
“I am astonished that the chimps permit me to be a part of their world”
What has been your most surprising observation? We have been able to document many surprising findings based on our study of the Ngogo chimpanzees, and it’s hard, if not impossible, to decide which observation has been the most astonishing. One obvious candidate is the split that has recently occurred.
Toward the end of Rise of the Warrior Apes we allude to the fact that the Ngogo chimpanzee community had grown to an astronomical size, with over 200 individuals. Since 2015, and during 2016 while James Reed filmed part of the documentary, males from two subgroups started to fight with each other in the same way members from different communities do. Like many other animals, chimpanzees are territorial. For three years as this was happening, some males would continue to move back and forth between the two subgroups. This stopped earlier this year; males from both sides now show a clear allegiance to one group or the other.
The defining moment that signalled a split in the Ngogo chimpanzee community occurred earlier this year in January 2018 when males from one group killed a young adult male from the other group. Because chimps are territorial, intergroup encounters are hostile, but sometimes hostilities escalate to the point where someone falls victim.
Why did the initial split occur? That’s an issue we are currently grappling with now. It’s complicated as it involves, ecological, demographic, social, and genetic factors. It’s also a story that deserves a follow-up documentary! Stay tuned.
Why is your research important and what are the applications to what you have found?
Chimpanzees fascinate scientists and non-scientists alike, in part due to their evolutionary relationship with us. Along with their sister species, the bonobo, chimpanzees are humankind’s closest living relatives. We shared a common ancestor with them sometime between 6 to 8 million years ago. Because of this evolutionary relationship, we share many features in common with them, anatomically, genetically, and as I’ve alluded to before, even behaviorally. Our research on the Ngogo chimpanzees continues to shed new light on wild chimpanzee behavior, often in surprising ways that reduce the gap between them and us.
Chimpanzees are endangered everywhere they are found across the African continent. Sadly, research on them continues to show, time in and time out, that they are extremely vulnerable and at risk, with populations declining. Happily, the story from Ngogo is different and indicates that when living in specific ecological conditions, chimpanzees can live a very long time, thrive, and actually increase in numbers. We will have to identify areas similar to Ngogo and work hard to protect them and chimpanzees so that our children, our children’s children, and generations into the future continue to share this planet with these fascinating creatures.
“An increased understanding of chimpanzees is likely lead to more interest in protecting and conserving them”
What impact to do you hope Rise of the Warrior Apes has upon the field of primate studies?
Primate field research is a small and esoteric discipline. Not many are lucky to be able to do what I do. If the discipline is to grow and thrive, we must educate the public about what we do, why we do it, and why it’s important. Knowledge is power, and an increased understanding of chimpanzees is likely lead to more interest in protecting and conserving them.
There are multiple ways to engage the person on the street to learn about chimpanzees and other primates. Films like Rise of the Warrior Apes are perhaps the best way to teach the public about these animals because wildlife documentaries attract broad attention from people worldwide. So my first hope is that the film will translate in greater understanding of chimpanzees. This is bound to help the study of primates for the reason mentioned above.
Rise of the Warrior Apes was made by James Reed, a brilliant young filmmaker and master storyteller. All the credit for the film goes to him and to the Ngogo chimps. The film has already received some critical acclaim, and my second hope is that this will provide more opportunities for James to do what he does best, namely make and direct extraordinary wildlife films that educate the public. In doing so, he will be able to contribute to primate and animal behavior studies and conservation in a significant way.
This sounds incredibly exciting, we look forward to seeing what is released next – thank you John for your time!
John Mitani, alongside James Reed, will speaking at Wildscreen Festival 2018, held in Bristol later this year. You’ll be able to hear more of his work with The Ngogo Chimpanzee Project and James’ experience filming this amazing community.
What comes to mind when you think of the word “drones”? It’s usually not conservation. Increasingly, however drones are being used as vital tools for conservation. Drones can provide stunning images of landscapes and wildlife from formerly impossible locations. However, a lot of questions arise when you think about how to use drones for conservation.
How does it work? Does it affect animals? How do you get started? If these are some of your burning questions then allow us to clarify.
Can you tell us the story behind the creation of your organization?
Serge: Conservationdrones.org started in January 2011 when I met with Lian Pin Koh, a conservation ecologist and we began discussing the issue of forest loss in Southeast Asia. It is difficult to monitor a species like the orangutan. We thought it would be amazing to monitor species from the air. Piloted planes and helicopters were expensive to use so we settled upon the use of drones, since they are more cost-effective.
Bornean orangutan infant hanging from tree
Annika: Well, our co-founder Laurens de Groot used to work for Sea Shepherds. They were in Cape Cross, Namibia where a massive seal culling occurs every year. Laurens and the others were detected and had to get away. In 2012, Laurens and others returned to Namibia and used drones to document the seal culling. It worked quite well and because of its success Laurens decided to further pursue the use of drones for conservation.
How did you settle upon using drones for conservation?
Serge: Well, helicopters and planes are not always available when you need them. Furthermore when using helicopters you must fly relatively low; this is quite a risk, because if there is a glitch with the engine there is very little time to react. On the other hand using drones only requires effort and funding and does not put the life of individuals at risk. By using drones for conservation, you help encourage other conservation groups to use drones for this purpose.
Annika: The use of drones offers a lot of opportunities that traditional methods cannot. Drones are a versatile tool that can be used for scientific research and data collection.
What are the benefits of using drones for conservation?
Serge: Drones are a great tool that allows you to capture high resolution imagery from a variety of sensors (RGB cameras, NIR cameras, thermal cameras) by flying over an area. Since drones do not have the availability restrictions of planes and helicopters, you can use them with greater frequency. Additionally, it is more cost-efficient.
Annika: Drones are a new way of looking at conservation. It allows you to gather data in an efficient manner and they are much cheaper than using a helicopter or plane. Additionally, poachers are not used to a drone, which provides an advantage.
What would you say to people who are skeptical about the use of drones for conservation?
Serge: I would start by asking them, which aspect of drones causes them to be skeptical. Based on that I can explain to them how drones are used for conservation and then we can see if they remain skeptical. More generally I would tell people that because the learning curve for operating drones (particularly fixed-wing systems) can be steep, operators receive extensive training. After the training they are able to operate these systems in a safe manner. While there used to be an association of drones with the military, I think this perception is changing quickly. Drones are no longer solely for the military; they are now commonly used for humanitarian work, research and conservation.
Annika: Drones provide an additional method of creating a network for fighting wildlife crime and learning about species. It’s all about working together.
How can amateur filmmakers learn to properly use drones for wildlife filmmaking? What are the best practices?
Serge: I recommend they look into small companies that offer thorough training for operating drones. By doing this you reduce the risk of the loss of your drone. It is important to do flight training so you can properly operate the drone in the field. Get the proper qualifications and be aware of safety measures. Safety is key.
For best practices, in case anything should malfunction it is vital to have a fail-safe system. You can program the drone to land by itself or come back to a designated start point if something goes awry. You can also set up a geo-fence which is a pre-determined area in which the drone is programmed to operate. If it goes outside this area it will either land or return to a starting point. Despite the drones ability to fly on autopilot, it is still very important to know how to operate it well.
Annika: Foremost, to properly use drones one must be well-trained in how to fly a drone when in close proximity to animals. Learn how to safely fly drones when near birds, since birds sometimes identify drones as birds of prey. Herd animals will also become spooked if one of their members starts to get agitated. It is always important to keep your distance from the species being studied or observed. If an animal becomes agitated because of the drone’s presence it is best to move away from the animal.
How do you maintain a safe environment for the species being filmed?
Serge: You should not fly drones too close to the species being studied. This is especially true for birds who might perceive drones as a predator and attempt to attack it. During your first flight you should fly fairly high and gauge the impact of the presence and/or noise on the behavior of the species. In this manner, you can determine which height is appropriate. You should also use a drone that has redundancy in its motors so that it will land by itself if it loses one of its engines rather than simply crash.
Annika: In order to maintain a safe environment, it is important to do your research on the species in order to understand how it will react to a flying apparatus. Doing your research assists in providing the best approach for filming.
What have been the most meaningful successes of your organization?
Serge: I think the most meaningful successes have been the ability to detect orangutans and chimpanzees in remote areas. Also at the Chitwan National Park we trained WWF members and Nepali rangers to use drones in their anti-poaching efforts of rhinos. Recently we have also been successful in detecting habitat change which is a key component of conservation work.
Juvenile chimpanzee hanging in branches
Annika: In collaboration with an anti-poaching team, we assisted in the capture of rhino poachers operating in South Africa and in Malawi, we used one of our drones to guide rangers to the camp of suspected poachers. We also used drones to monitor and detect illegal fishing vessels in the Mediterranean with our project partner The Black Fish. We collected evidence that will be presented to the European Commission.
One of our recent projects involves using drones to protect elephants traveling along the Kasigau Wildlife Corridor in Kenya. Drones would be used to detect poachers, collect evidence, and increase the chance of catching poachers. It would create a network to defeat a network.
What do you see as the future of your organization?
Serge: We want to continue to use drones to do conservation work. We also want to link up researchers and conservationists with the information they need in a successful way. We are working with universities to create data collection centers of the footage from drones. One goal is to create software that will look through all the film and immediately pinpoint the footage, which includes a specific species of interest.
Annika: We are constantly looking for new technologies that will assist us in the fight against wildlife crime. We want to keep growing and we will try any method to stop poaching.
The conservation work being done by Conservationdrones.org and The Shadowview Foundation highlight the versatility and utility of drones for research, data collection, and the prevention of wildlife crime.
Keep up the good work!
William Lazaro, Social Media Intern, Wildscreen USA
ICYMI: Arkive has compiled some of the biggest and most interesting headlines from this week.
Article originally published on Friday, Jun 12, 2015
U.S. grants new protections for captive chimpanzees
Young eastern chimpanzee
On June 12th the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared that all chimpanzees both in the wild and captive are endangered. Poaching and habitat degradation are the main factors affecting wild populations.
Article originally published on Saturday, Jun 13, 2015
Questions about black rhino sent to Botswana
Black rhinoceros drinking
Botswana asked Zimbabwe to supply it with 10 black rhinos for its Moremi Game Reserve. Botswana received 5 black rhinos that apparently originated from South Africa not Zimbabwe. Some experts are against mixing Zimbabwean rhinos with the South African ones, since they are genetically distinct.
Article originally published on Sunday, Jun 14, 2015
“Critically endangered” dusky gopher frogs released into wildlife refuge in Mississippi
Dusky gopher frog metamorph
Wildlife officials have release 1,074 dusky gopher frogs since May. Every frog, which is released, has a tracking device attached to its leg so their progress can be monitored. The dusky gopher frog has been on the list of endangered species since 2001.
Article originally published on Monday, Jun 15, 2015
France bans the world’s leading herbicide from garden stores
Monarch butterfly resting on a flowering plant
France has banned Roundup, a herbicide since it contains glyphosate, which is potentially a carcinogen. Glyphosate has been linked to the decline in monarch butterflies. The chemical kills milkweed which is the monarch caterpillar’s only food source.
Article originally published on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2015
Mind meld: Social wasps share brainpower
Common wasp feeding
Researchers found that as wasps become more social, the brain regions responsible for complex cognition decreases in size. Researchers hypothesize that wasps make up for this decrease by working together and “sharing brain power”.
Article originally published on Wednesday, Jun 17, 2015
Finding more ammo than animals in huge African rain forest
Forest elephant bull
Scientists undertook an expedition into Cameroon’s Dja Faunal Reserve hoping to find chimpanzees, western lowland gorillas, and forest elephants. Instead however, they found poaching camps and gun cartridges and few signs of animals.
Article originally published on Thursday, Jun 18, 2015
All kangaroos are left-handed
Red kangaroo photo
It was previously thought that “true” handedness, which is predictably using one hand over another, was unique to primates. However, researchers found that kangaroos show a natural preference for their left hands when performing daily tasks. This feature was especially apparent in eastern grey kangaroos and red kangaroos.
ICYMI: Arkive has compiled some of the biggest and most interesting headlines from this week.
Article originally published on Friday, Apr 17, 2015
Your name here: auctioning the naming rights to new species to fund conservation
Titan beetle climbing branch
Ecologist, Mary Lowman was on a mission to save Ethiopia’s church forests so she needed an innovative way to fundraise. Thus began the process of auctioning off new species’ naming rights which includes several different new species of beetle.
Article originally published on Saturday, Apr 18, 2015
Approving a hunt is a misguided solution to bear problem
American black bear and cinnamon morph black bears
On Wednesday (Apr 15), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a plan to legalize bear hunts in Florida, specifically targeting the black bear. The rationale is that their population has rebounded and that there has been an increase in human-bear encounters.
Article originally published on Sunday, Apr 19, 2015
Sea lion pup taken from Dockweiler Beach parking lot, witness says
Young California sea lion
A witness saw four people harassing two sea lion pups; the pups were not injured. The suspects then took one of the pups and put it in their car and drove away. The whereabouts of the pup are unknown at this time.
Article originally published on Monday, Apr 20, 2015
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are mysteriously vanishing
Kemp’s ridley turtle hatchlings
In 2010, nest numbers for Kemp’s ridley turtle fell by 35 percent at primary nesting beaches with slight increases in 2011 and 2012. 1n 2014, however the nest total was the lowest in eight years. While the BP oil spill may be a factor, other researchers suggest that colder water temperatures might have affected their populations
Article originally published on Tuesday, Apr 21, 2015
Judge recognizes two chimpanzees as legal persons: a first
Hercules and Leo, the chimpanzees have been determined to be people in New York courts. Both chimpanzees were being used for biomedical experiments. Now, they will spend the rest of their lives at an animal sanctuary.
Article originally published on Wednesday Apr 22, 2015
Elephant contraception? How a vaccine is replacing sharpshooters
African elephant family
Elephants used to be killed by the hundreds in South Africa to keep their numbers below a certain threshold. At Greater Makalali, however, the vaccine PZP has cut the rate of increase of the population by half, its success has led to its adoption in other South African wildlife reserves.
Article originally published on Thursday, Apr 23, 2015
Could Bees Be Addicted to Pesticides?
Honey bee asleep during cold weather
It appears that bees prefer to eat pesticide –contaminated plants. Neonicotinoids may act like drugs to make “foods” containing these substances more rewarding. Previous research has shown that neonicotinoids scramble the memory and navigation function in bees.