May 9

We recently caught up with with our friends at Voices for Nature who were keen to tell us about the unique and innovative work that they are doing to save Brazil’s rainforests and what the future holds for their organisation.

What is Voices for Nature?

We are a not-for-profit organisation based in Oxford, UK. Our aim is to inspire and engage people to protect and conserve Brazil’s rainforests through conservation story-telling. We believe that stories are powerful tools for learning and catalysts for change. We use literature, theatre and film to engage people in conservation and give a voice to nature.

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Aerial view of a tree in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest

Voices for Nature was formed in 2014 by Sigrid Shreeve, an environmentalist and campaigner who has worked in Brazil over many years. Voices for Nature employs students and young graduates offering them the opportunity to be creative and engage with conservation.

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Sigrid Shreeve

Sigrid is the author of the novel ‘Jabujicaba’ which was written as an engagement tool under the penname ‘Rosa da Silva’. In the novel, Brazil is bankrupt due to the effects of climate change and the Amazon is up for auction. The royalties from ‘Jabujicaba’ support rainforest conservation through Voices for Nature’s partners the World Land Trust, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Isle of Wight Zoo.

What does Voices for Nature do?

Voices for Nature is an arts organisation which connects people with conservation. Our work is based on the eco-thriller ‘Jabujicaba’, which forms the basis of various initiatives. These include:

The Jabuji debates – a national debating competition for sixth formers in the UK. The competition is run by Voices for Nature and the debates are hosted by Eton College. The First Jabuji Debates final was in March 2016 with participating schools from London, Berkshire and Kent. The event consists of workshops, mini-debates and a public final debates.

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Debaters with Sigrid Shreeve

Forum theatre – we are producing a play entitled ‘The Amazon Auction’ with pupils from Wheatley Park School near Oxford, which will will be performed in Oxford Botanic Gardens in June 2016. As part of the performance two teams will ‘pitch’ to the audience to convince them to support their bid in a mock auction of the Amazon Rainforest. Performers will play roles of characters from the novel ‘Jabujicaba’.

Documentary film – Voices for Nature supports original conservation documentary filmmaking. We were executive producers of the documentary Uncharted Amazon, which was shot in an endangered part of Peru’s Amazon. We will be screening Uncharted Amazon as part of the Oxford Festival of the Arts in June 2016 and also running campaign film workshops for young people together with the charity Film Oxford.

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Voices for Nature workshop

Rainforest Movie – we have a big screen movie under development based on the novel ‘Jabujicaba’. The movie is a cross over between Apocalypse Now and a rainforest Erin Brockovich. The lead role with be played by the actress Yrsa Daley-Ward and the movie is part of our outreach and educational work, linking to the Jabuji Debates. The movie has been entered into Richard Branson’s #VOOM2016 to raise profile and help fund development.

Regua view

View over REGUA site in Brazil

Find out more about Voices for Nature

Visit the Voices for Nature website

Watch the Jabujicaba trailer

Vote for Jabujicaba to win #VOOM2016

Follow Voices for Nature on Twitter or Facebook

Visit the Arts Festival Oxford website to attend a free film workshop or attend a screening of ‘Uncharted Amazon’

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.

Feb 26

We’re thrilled to kick off our first Arkive’s Conservation Heroes series with the incredible Dr. Laurie Marker, a woman who founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia, Africa dedicated to restoring the wild cheetah. In this interview, Dr. Marker shares why she started a nonprofit, an average day-in-the-life at CCF, and her one dream for cheetahs. What is it? You’ll have to read on to find out! Dr  Laurie Marker and CCF Resident Cheetahs Finally, Dr. Marker and CCF have offered loads of ways that you can support the conservation of cheetahs right this very minute. If Dr. Marker’s story inspires you (or you just love big cats!), please click on the “Wish List” link here at the end of the interview and pledge to take one conservation action to support Cheetah Conservation Fund. Together, we can rally around the world to support conservation!wish list button

So, after working with cheetahs since 1974, you finally moved from the US to Namibia in 1990 to develop the CCF base. What was it that inspired you to save cheetahs over any other species?

When I started working with cheetahs in 1974, nobody knew anything about them and they weren’t breeding well anywhere. There weren’t many cheetahs in captivity and people were taking them out of the wild; wild numbers were declining. Questions I had helped us understand not only how special the animal was but also understand the basic biology, the genetic makeup, and the population of each individual. I’m still fascinated by cheetahs and trying to find out more each day about how we can save them.

Cheetah photo

A curious juvenile cheetah

Everyone knows that the cheetah is the fastest land mammal on the planet, can you tell us any other interesting facts?

Well, cheetahs are very wonderful in the way they run; every part of their body is built for speed. Their semi non-retractable claws are very usable as cleats for traction running. Moreover, they are very aerodynamic with their small head and enlarged arteries, lungs, and heart. They’ve got a very flexible backbone and, as they run and hunt, only one paw touches the ground at any point in their stride, but there’s two points in the stride when no paws touch the ground. They just keep going and their tail is like a rudder for balance to stabilize and go around sharp curves rapidly so they don’t roll over and spin out.

Cheetah mid-sprint

Your recent call to arms was extremely inspiring, how does CCF intend to ‘save the cheetah from extinction’?

I would say the next step is get more and more people engaged and actually scale up the programs that are already successful. There are only 10,000 cheetahs left in the world so our strategies rely on maintaining them in Namibia which has the largest remaining population. We need to provide economic alternatives to the farming communities, so that they find the cheetah as an economic friend to them versus a loss of their livestock. We’ve created a program that I call “Future Farmers of Africa” where in Namibia, we have integrated programs of wildlife, livestock and grazing lands throughout most of the areas where cheetahs are found. So there is a political landscape of trying to help guide policies in these rural African communities, helping support capacity building and training more and more not only good farmers, but good conservation scientists in Africa as well. Raising awareness in our western world where people sometimes have the disposable incomes that Africa does not have, and helping them realize that potentially their assistance is going to actually gain them a lot by helping get Africa out of poverty and saving the cheetah at the same time, is a focus as well.

Dr. Marker working on cheetah in field

Dr. Marker working on cheetah in field (Photo courtesy of CCF)

 What has been your best moment since starting the Cheetah Conservation Fund?

Probably one of the highlights right now is the fact that our organization that I started 25 years ago is a quarter of a century old at this point. We have doubled the Namibian cheetah population and I’ve got programs going throughout most of the cheetah range countries. Conservation scientists are aware, the governments are aware. So a good moment only means I have more to do to have another good moment, because that good moment really lasts about a second.

 What is an average day for you at the CCF base in Namibia?

We’ve got a lot of animals since we have a sanctuary so there are orphan cats that need to be cared for every day and we have a lot of school children that come in regularly. We have livestock guarding dogs and goats which are breeding; they need a lot of care. Farmers might also call you up and need a lot of help that could take a whole day or more than a day then your whole day changes. We’ve got a wilding program going on which asks where is the cheetah today. You’re tracking it and maybe they’ve killed a kudu so we say let’s go find its kill and track down what the habitat looks like. At a community level, probably spending your time getting ready to go into a community so that you’re prepared with the kinds of paperwork they need or slide presentation. You make sure that your pictures and the story you’re telling is something they can fully relate to when it comes to livestock care. So I would say that there’s international communications that go on on a regular basis and you know we’re a hopping crowd so I’ve got a very good staff of professional biologists, ecologists, veterinarians and geneticists all working about 100 miles an hour.

CCF Facilities

The Cheetah Conservation Fund Centre in Namibia, Africa (Photo courtesy of CCF)

Your story is extremely inspirational and encouraging for aspiring conservationists. Do you any advice to someone that would like to start their own charity or conservation project?

I ask myself why did I start a charity to begin with? I think that joining partnerships with organizations that are doing conservation work is really important. Sometimes you just need to jump off the deep end if you have an idea and know that potentially you might fall, but you can pick yourself back up and figure out what it is you’re going to do. Running a conservation organization deals with a business. It’s running a business from a perspective of getting funding and utilizing that donor’s funding properly so that you can show the results from that donation. My one dream is to see the cheetah living on earth for future generations and that’s going to take everybody cracking down and changing the way that they live and think. So there’s a whole behavior change around the entire world that has to be encouraged and our motto for the next 25 years is “Change the World to Save the Cheetah”.

Suzi Ezsterhas

Dr. Marker feeding a cheetah (Photo courtesy of Suzi Ezsterhas)

How can the general public help your organization and cheetahs as species?

I would say go to our website, give us a call, send an email, but we actively encourage people to take an active role in doing something and we need funding to be able to do the work that we need to do. Adopt one of our orphan cheetahs, sponsor one of our livestock guarding dogs so that we can keep doing more. We’ve got programs that are successful and we need the funding to scale them up and we need people to be aware of the fact that the cheetah is Africa’s most endangered big cat. We need to hold on to what we have and try to grow those populations.

From reading about Heroes to becoming one yourself

Inspired to take action to support Dr. Marker and the cheetahs of Africa? Please click on the button below to make a pledge today to take conservation action – actions that range from sharing Dr. Marker’s story socially to help spread the word further, to donating or even planning to volunteer time with Dr. Marker at the CCF centre in Namibia! Every action matters, please consider making a pledge today! 

Take Action

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