Royal Geographical Society

Netflix’s ‘Our Planet’: ‘Planet Earth’ revisited, but with a stronger, clearer eco-voice.

Politics is inescapable these days, it seems. Take something as seemingly benevolent and benign — and beautiful to behold — as Our Planet, the new, eye-filling nature series from Netflix, narrated by the ubiquitous Sir David Attenborough.

At the time of Netflix’s original announcement, Our Planet was to be similar and yet different to such distinctive, ground-breaking natural history programs as Planet Earth and Blue Planet. And, as the great unwashed are about to learn Friday, it has largely succeeded. There are moments of real, eye-filling majesty and genuine grandeur, backed by the swelling symphonic score of film composer Steven Price. Overbearing, yes, but it fits this kind of program. It’s easy to forget now but when the original Planet Earth came out, the loud, overblown music was by George Fenton, fresh off an Academy Award for Gandhi and its follow-up Cry Freedom, both films directed by Attenborough’s brother, the late Sir Richard “Dickie” Attenborough.

©Gisle Sverdrup/Silverback/Netflix

©Gisle Sverdrup/Silverback/Netflix

The familiar visual paean to nature and the natural world that made Planet Earth and Blue Planet must-see viewing in countless households around the world is there for all to see in Our Planet, and on a Netflix budget to boot.

This time, though, there’s a noticeable difference, and not just the subtle shift in tone. Our Planet, eight episodes in all, is more eco-aware and socially conscious. It strikes a cautionary tone  — a warning. Not alarm, exactly, but still. Our Planet is no longer nature programming that focuses on nature-for-nature’s-sake, to the exclusion of any environmental message beyond a polite, almost apologetic request that we be more careful with the Earth’s dwindling natural resources. Please remember to turn off the lights on your way out, and try not to wreck the climate during your drive home.
There’s a sadness, a feeling of regret tinged with genuine fear of an uncertain future as we’re reminded, time and time again, that polar bears and elephants might not be with us much longer.

And not just polar bears and elephants, either, but bees, hummingbirds, ocean-going reef sharks and everything in-between.

Our Planet opens with a close-up view from space — reminders of 2001: A Space Odyssey —  of the moon, with the Earth rising gradually behind it. Since Neil Armstrong made his first step for man and giant leap for mankind, on July 20, 1969, Attenborough tells us, the human population has doubled, while wildlife numbers have dwindled some 60 percent during the same time. 

©Ben Macdonald/Silverback/Netflix

©Ben Macdonald/Silverback/Netflix

Our Planet isn’t strident. It doesn’t harangue us with a lecture from the bully pulpit, though there are certainly those eco-crusaders out there who would prefer to shake every last one of us — not without reason — into waking up.

Attenborough has not left BBC for Netflix, as some in the media suggested at the time. (Looking at it from both sides of the media divide, these things are easy to misreport, especially given today’s frantic get-it-first-before-you-get-it-right climate of competition in information.)

Attenborough may be 92 (he turns 93 next month) but he’s committed to several more big projects for BBC, including Frozen Planet II, Blue Planet III and Planet Earth III.

Similarly, he has left the door open at Netflix. He was signed after-the-fact to narrate Our Planet as a one-off, to give the expensive — even by Netflix standards — program instant gravitas and global credibility. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the current TV landscape is such that Netflix can reach more viewers in a single week than BBC can over the course of an entire year.

That instant access to the global village is one reason Attenborough needed no convincing to exchange Broadcasting House in London for Netflix in Los Gatos, Calif.

In his later years, he has readily admitted to anyone who’ll listen that his raison d’être in later life is to convince anyone and everyone he can that our home world is in trouble and needs our help.

©Jamie McPherson/Silverback/Netflix

©Jamie McPherson/Silverback/Netflix

Netflix’s reach doesn’t exactly exceed its grasp, either: Our Planet could conceivably reach one billion people, something not even BBC can do.

Attenborough is the face and voice behind Our Planet, but not its primary inspiration and directing force. That would be veteran British producer Alastair Fothergill, who made Blue Planet and Planet Earth for BBC and has recently divided his time between BBC, Disney’s Disneynature film division (African Cats, Chimpanzee and the soon-to-be released Penguins, in theatres April 17) and now Netflix.

Fothergill, a Fellow of the British Royal Television Society and recipient of the Royal Geographical Society’s Cherry Keaton Medal, has been at the vanguard of socially conscious, environmentally aware nature filmmaking that seeks to be both entertaining and informative. Unlike Blue Planet, which touched only briefly on plastic’s effect on the world’s oceans, Our Planet’s entire focus is on the man-made threat to the natural world.

Early reviews in the UK — in the Daily Telegraph and Independent, for example — have grumbled that, beautiful as Our Planet is to watch, the overall effect is scattered and unfocused as a result. Fothergill would argue that, unlike Dynasties with its Shakespearean tales of kings and matriarchs facing rebellion and revenge from within, Our Planet is unified by a single, overpowering message: that everything is connected, that what affects the ice fields in Canada’s frozen north also affects the semi-arid deserts in Africa’s sun-parched south, not just Arctic bears and savannah elephants myriad microorganisms, smaller animals and pollinating insects that lie between.

©Mateo Willis/Silverback/Netflix

©Mateo Willis/Silverback/Netflix

“From every region of the world there are stories that reveal nature’s resilience and show how restoration is possible,” Attenborough says in his voice-over — a reminder once again how, over time, his soothing, reverential tones have a calming effect on this crazy world we live in.

There’s something joyful — and joyous — in the way Attenborough reads out loud. It’s one of the reasons, I suspect, why Blue Planet and Planet Earth have reached such a wide audience. He’s a born storyteller. It’s not hard to imagine that programs like Blue Planet and now Our Planet wouldn’t reach nearly as many people without Attenborough as their verbal guide and shepherd.

Our Planet is important because, while it doesn’t harangue and harass us at home the way a TED Talk might, it focuses on the most important threat to humanity — arguably the most important threat of our generation — in ways that both move and inspire.

©Jamie McPherson/Silverback/Netflix

©Jamie McPherson/Silverback/Netflix

Attenborough is the star but the last word, by rights, belongs to Fothergill.

“When Huw (Cordrey) and I both made Planet Earth, that series was about amazing scenery,” Fothergill recalled a number of years back at a Television Critics Association press session in Pasadena, Calif. for the then new BBC nature program The Hunt. “It was about taking the audience on a journey around the planet that they could never do in their lifetime.”

What he’s tried to do with Our Planet is combine that epic cinematic poetry with a potent, topical message about climate change, species diversity and the perilous balance of nature, and why all those things matter to our collective future on planet Earth, and to the planet itself.

Only time will tell if Our Planet — and we ourselves — succeed.



©Davos/Silverback/Netflix

©Davos/Silverback/Netflix



Tiger, tiger, burning bright in the forest of the night, in this week’s outing of ‘Dynasties.’

There is nothing like the thrill of walking through the jungle looking for a tiger and knowing they could be watching you already, Ashlan Cousteau once said.

That watchful gaze — ever aware, always alert — may not be enough to save it, though. Jungles and tigers both are in trouble, in this hot mess of a world. 

And the tigress Raj Bhera in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, has it particularly hard in Tiger, this weekend’s Dynasties (Saturday, BBC America at 9E/8C). She has newborn cubs, and everything from Indian sloth bears to other tigers seems to want them out of the way.

Never mind that Bandhavgarh, as indefatigable narrator David Attenborough takes pains to point out in his voice-over, early in the program, is a tiny — and shrinking — green island surrounded by a very human problem: over-population. The small, 105 sq. km. park in Shahdol District has a tiger population of roughly 45 tigers, which means that each cat has a territory of less than five square kilometres. The better-known Kanha National Park, by contrast, is home to some 60 tigers over an area of 950 sq. km, more than twice as much territory for each tiger than in Bandhavgarh.

©BBC Natural History Unit

©BBC Natural History Unit

It wouldn’t matter so much, except that — as Attenborough stresses in Tiger — these cats, the biggest of the big cats, are notoriously particular about their territory, which they go out of their way to mark. Trespassing on another tiger’s territory can lead to fights, even death. And it doesn’t help if one of the tigers, like Raj Bhera, has a litter of newborn cubs to protect.

Watching Dynasties, not just Tiger but all the episodes, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the filmmakers, who followed each of their subjects over a four-year period, have gone out of their way to edit each hour to end on a positive note — if not a happy ending exactly, at least not on a nihilistic note. Animals, predator and prey alike, lead a hard life in the wild, wherever they are. And one of the things that makes Dynasties so compelling, if hard to watch at times, is that it doesn’t sugar-coat the tension, or the threats to its subjects’ existence — even if those endings do seem shaped in some way. (Last week’s episode Chimpanzee, for example, left out the bit where an expedition team returned Senegal’s Sahel region several months after filming ended, only to learn that the researchers’ primary study animal, and the episode’s lead character, clan leader David had been killed after all, beaten to death, most likely by his quarrelsome challengers Jumkin and Luthor, and Jumkin was now clan leader and facing an insurrection of his own.)

©BBC Natural History Unit

©BBC Natural History Unit

As with the other episodes, Tiger’s making demanded meticulous attention to detail and no small amount of time, sweat and dedication from the production team. Episode director Theo Webb, an eight-year veteran of BBC’s Natural History Unit (1997’s Land of the Tiger, which aired on BBC Two, is among his many credits —  gave viewers a hint of the day-to-day jungle routine, writing on BBC’s website late last year, when Tiger made its debut in the UK (this weekend marks Tiger’s US premiere).

“Each morning at sunrise, we’d drive into the park and head straight to the territory of our tigress, Raj Bhera. Tigers are very site-specific and we knew the rough boundaries of her territory. She wasn’t radio collared and so to find her, we’d look for tracks in the dusty roads that criss cross through the park. It’s not only the tourists and us that used these dust roads. A lot of the animals also use them, because it’s much nicer to walk on soft sand rather than twigs and thorns.

“This was incredibly useful to us because you can see what’s happened during the previous night — for example, whether the tigers moving in that area were an adult male, female or cubs.

©BBC Natural History Unit

©BBC Natural History Unit

“If the tiger is moving through the jungle you can actually hear the alarm calls (of other animals) moving, as it passes through. . . .

“Tigers are very unpredictable, so you never know what’s going to happen, or when. Sometimes a deer would walk right past, and they’d continue sleeping in the middle of the day. Other times they’d get up and start stalking right in the middle of the day.

“We’d often sit and wait for an entire day with nothing happening. But you could never zone out. One day there was only a tiny window through a piece of vegetation where I could see the tiger’s tail occasionally flick. I had to have my binoculars on my eyes for hours because I knew that if she left, she’d move off silently and we’d lose her, and we’d be left waiting by an empty piece of grass.”

A tiger’s life in Bandhavgarh is beset by the ever-present threat of poaching and the inevitable human-wildlife conflict that breaks out when a small and shrinking wilderness area is hemmed in by ever-expanding agricultural plots and growing villages.

Alpha predators like tigers are the reason you don’t see old animals in the wild, biologists say. You don’t see sick animals in the wild. You don’t see lame animals in the wild. The predator — the tiger, the lion, the leopard, the wolf — sees to that. That’s why, as more than one field biologist has pointed out, a healthy predator population is invariably a sign of a healthy ecoystsem. It’s not just that the fittest survive. Those survivors procreate and pass on their genes.

©BBC Natural History Unit

©BBC Natural History Unit

Tigers are special, yet they’re vanishing, slowly but surely. It would be a terrible shame if the world loses them.

The Malays only speak of them in whispers, the 19th century explorer, writer and naturalist Isabella Bird, the first woman elected a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Geographical Society, wrote in 1883, in Sketches in the Malay Peninsular.

Malays only speak of them in whispers because they believe the souls of certain human beings who have departed this life have reincarnated themselves through these beasts, Bird noted, “and in some places, for this reason, they will not kill a tiger unless he commits some specially bad aggression.”

Over the centuries, the definition of what “specially bad aggression” really means has proved to be malleable,  shifting, morphing and shape-shifting with the times. The tiger has been able to adapt for the most part — until now. How much longer will the immortal hand or eye frame its fearful symmetry? 




‘Endurance’ beckons — 2019 Weddell Sea Expedition is on the cusp of history, as you read.

Endurance went down entombed in ice, “in a sea of other people’s expectations,” as the saying goes. Men had drowned in seas like that. The year was 1915 and the place was Antarctica, and there — but for Sir Ernest Shackleton, photographer Frank Hurley and a small group of men determined to survive, damn the odds — no more would have been said, heard or told about it.

And yet, here we are.

Just days ago, on 27 January, 2019, the Weddell Sea Expedition and the 13,700-ton South African icebreaker SA Agulhas II, with some 30 climate scientists, geologists, historians and polar explorers aboard, started to break their way through 75 miles (121 km) of sea ice in their effort to reach the final resting place of Shackleton’s ship.

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

It’s midsummer on the far side of the world, and while climate deniers have complained all week about it being colder in Chicago — minus 30°C — than it is in Antarctica — minus 25°C — the fact is that, even in midsummer, this part of Antarctica is still entombed in ice. Expedition members have spent the last few weeks taking measurements of the Larsen C ice shelf, together with climate readings of the Weddell Sea, parts of which remain covered in ice up to 3 metres thick.

Make no mistake, this is very much a 21st century expedition. Team members are using satellite imagery, drones, autonomous robotic submarines and underwater Remote Operated Vehicles (ROV’s) in their effort to find what remains of the 145-foot (44 metres) three-mastered barquentine which sank to the bottom of the Weddell Sea in the polar spring of November, 1915 after being trapped in sea ice for 10 months.

©Frank Hurley/Endurance c/o Royal Geographical Society (RGS)

©Frank Hurley/Endurance c/o Royal Geographical Society (RGS)

We may be living through troubled times, but in this tiny corner at the far end of the earth, hope springs eternal.

“We hope to achieve what we thought was impossible,” 2019 Weddell Sea Expedition director-of-exploration and maritime archaeologist Mensun Bound said in a prepared statement. “Although the odds of success were initially against us, the mood within the team is upbeat, given the favourable ice and weather conditions, which we think will allow us to reach the search area.

“We now view this as the best opportunity to locate Endurance and we are relishing the chance to be involved is a search of such significance.”

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

Thanks to the obsessiveness and penchant for detail of Shackleton’s master navigator and skipper Frank Worsley, the Agulhas II is not operating in the dark as it were. Worsley took great pains to record the exact coordinates of where Endurance went down, never dreaming of a day more than a century later when autonomous robot submarines could scan the sea floor.

This past Sunday, just 72 hours ago, the expedition was in the Erebus and Terror Gulf — named after Sir John Franklin’s two ships in Franklin’s own, ill-fated effort to find his way through Canada’s Northwest Passage in the high Arctic, at the other far end of the earth— calibrating high-precision acoustic positioning systems, which is a high-falutin’ way of describing the use of modern-day technology to track down a century-old shipwreck.

©John Shears/2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

©John Shears/2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

The Agulhas II scientists and crew members have shared moments of unalloyed joy in their weeks so far, from an impromptu game of pick-up soccer on making first landing on the Antarctic Peninsular — recreating a game played by Endurance crew members a century earlier, before they realized the hardships and terror that lay before them — to bright-eyed selfie videos in front of walls of ice, shared in real time, on Facebook and Twitter. Before turning their attention to finding Endurance, the scientists spent the better part of a month collecting ice samples and surveying the effects of climate change near the Larsen C ice shelf carved an iceberg four times the size of Greater London in July, 2017. Satellite images from the European Space Agency have since revealed that the iceberg, dubbed A68, has moved away from the ice shelf and is floating out to sea.

This may be the Age of Trump, but the fact is that the 2019 Weddell Sea Expedition is making real discoveries in the name of science, in fields that include oceanography, glaciology, biology, geology — and now, potentially, history.

Endurance beckons.

https://weddellseaexpedition.org

http://www.rgs.org/wse

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition






Weddell Sea Expedition 2019: All begins well that (sort of) ended well.

As you saw in my last post, the 2019 expedition —months in the planning — has made landfall, if you will, on its way to one of the harshest regions in Antarctica. Their official mission is to gather vital data on the rare and little-studied species of marine life which call the icy western Weddell Sea home, and to monitor the effects of rapidly accelerating climate change.

The unofficial mission is to find the remains of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance,  which could only endure so much before it was crushed by pack ice and abandoned at 5 p.m. local time on Oct. 27, 1915 — this, after Shackleton and his crew of 27 had survived nine months trapped in the Antarctic ice, four of those months in winter darkness.

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

On this past New Year’s Day, while countless partygoers around the world nursed a hangover from the night before, the roughly 30 scientists and 138 crew members aboard the expedition ship SA Agulhas II played an impromptu game of soccer on the Antarctic ice — 104 years to the day after Shackleton and his crew played a New Year’s Day soccer game of their own, even if they called it football. (That event was photographed for posterity by Shackleton expedition photographer Frank Hurley — who, it’s often noted, deserves much more credit than he’s received over the years for making a record of Shackleton’s exploits for future generations.)

©Frank Hurley/Royal Geographic Society

©Frank Hurley/Royal Geographic Society

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

The Weddell Sea expedition is enthralling stuff, especially as it comes in cynical, jaded times, when global anxiety and an all-pervading sense of gloom rule the day. Social media gets a bad rap — it probably wouldn’t be as bad if only users learned how to use it, but that’s an argument for another day — but the age of instant communications has its upside: Not only are events from the Weddell Sea expedition being shared around the world in real time via Twitter (@WeddellSeaExped) but the UK Royal Geographical Society, one of the expedition’s primary sponsors, has made teaching resources available for educators, presumably for those public schools that haven’t trashed their history and geography programs.

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

©2019 Weddell Sea Expedition

Why do we care about Ernest Shackleton more than 100 years later? Perhaps it has something to do with courage. And competence. After all, in an age when little of social or political consequence ever seems to get done — when more people are concerned about who got voted off The Voice last night than finding a way to fix Brexit, the polar ice melt, species extinction and our growing climate emergency — the idea that, with cool heads and strong leadership, more than 20 human beings can survive nine months trapped in polar ice and then navigate their way to safety in lifeboats across 1,300 km (800 miles) of open water — in Antarctica, no less.

And then there’s the place itself. Even as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft discovery of the most distant object ever explored at the edge of the solar system continues to make news headlines, Antarctica remains the last great unknown in the annals of contemporary exploration of the world’s land masses. Much like the snowman-shaped, 33-km (21 mile) long asteroid 2014 MU69 orbiting the edge of the solar system, well beyond Pluto, much of Antarctica remains unchanged since the beginning of recorded time, in no small part because of the desolate conditions.

“There’s no way to make anything like this . . .  type of observation without having a spacecraft out there,” New Horizons deputy project scientist Cathy Olkin told reporters in a press conference just days ago.

The same could be said of SA Agulhas II and the Weddell Sea Expedition. It’s hard to beat being there.

http://en.mercopress.com/2019/01/04/falkland-islander-in-expedition-to-locate-shackleton-s-stricken-endurance-in-antarctica

http://geographical.co.uk/people/explorers/item/1365-on-this-day-1915-shackleton-abandons-endurance

https://www.rgs.org/about/the-society/what-we-do/teachers/weddell-sea-expedition/

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Screen Shot 2019-01-04 at 8.57.46 AM.png



When “Earth becomes Mars” — a global warning from inaugural Wildlife Photographer of the Year lifetime achievement recipient Frans Lanting.

“I think a photograph, of whatever it might be — a landscape, a person — requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping what’s in front of you.”

That’s Frans Lanting, recipient of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards’ first Lifetime Achievement Award, earlier this week at London’s Natural History Museum. The ceremony just celebrated  its 54th year of existence, so while “lifetime achievement awards” are a dime a dozen these days — there’s even one for shoe salesmen — being the first in an organization that has existed for more than half a century is saying something.

Lanting, 67, a Dutch nature photographer based in Santa Cruz, Calif., has been at this game almost as long — so much so that, in addition to numerous published books, including several by the Cologne-based German art-house publisher Taschen and his personal website (lanting.com)

1. Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 6.45.19 AM.png

he rates his very own page at BrainyQuote.com

. “I want to interpret the natural world and our links to it,” he says. “It’s driven by the belief of many world-class scientists that we’re in the midst of an extinction crisis. . . This time (of our own making.)”

Life is both wonderful and mysterious, he says.

“Life is a force in its own right. It is a new element. And it has altered the Earth. It covers Earth like a skin.”

And this, “Life needs a membrane to contain itself, so it can replicate and mutate.”

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“I became interested in photography during my first visit to the United States. I was a student at a university in Holland. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the American West. That was when I learned about the tradition of nature in American photography.”

“Tourism is important,” Lanting adds, “because it can create sustainable local economies. I’d much rather have 1,000 tourists going up the Tambopata than 1,000 gold miners.”

©Frans Lanting

©Frans Lanting

And then there’s this:

“Water is the key to life, but in frozen form, it is a latent force. And when it vanishes, Earth becomes Mars.”

His wife, he says, “says that I become different once I start to work with animals. My movements become different, my mood is different. It involves letting everything fall behind you, becoming intuitive in your dealings with wild creatures in a way that bypasses reason. Sometimes it’s more like a dance than anything else.”

As with many nature photographers of his generation, Lanting’s work over the years has evolved from portrait and landscape photography to activism and conservation. He was appointed special ambassador for the World Wide Fund for Nature in 2012, and counts a World Press Photo award, the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography, an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society, the Lennart Nilsson Award and the Royal Geographical Society’s Cherry Kearton Medal among his list of honours.

“Nature is my muse,” Lanting has said, “and it’s been my passion.”

Some truths were meant to be self-evident.

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World Giraffe Day 2018 — the long and the short of it.

On this summer solstice, please spare a thought for one of the world’s most recognizable animals. Today’s as good a day as any to recognize and celebrate the longest-necked animal on the planet — the longest day (or night, depending in which hemisphere you happen to be right now) of the year.

Celebrate but, hopefully, not commemorate.

Because one of the more underreported, overlooked environmental stories of the year is that the giraffe, that iconic animal and the stuff of countless fables and children’s storybooks, is now on the endangered species list.

According to the world-respected wildlife biologist and giraffe expert Dr. Julian Fennessy, giraffe populations have crashed by nearly half in just the past three decades, numbers even a Trumptard can understand.

Giraffes are now extinct in seven countries in which they used to thrive. Since a giraffe only has one offspring at a time, and the gestation period is 13 to 15 months, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out the entire species might be facing the immutable law of diminishing returns.

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

The Australian-born Fennessy is co-founder and executive director of the Namibia-based — yes, Namibia again — Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) (https://giraffeconservation.org) and co-chair of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group.

Fennessy initiated genetic research that found there are four species of giraffe in Africa, of which two — the Northern giraffe and the Reticulated giraffe — are among the world’s most critically endangered mammals. Even the familiar, and relatively common,  Maasai giraffe isn’t out of the woods entirely.

©Giraffe Conservation Foundation/GCF

©Giraffe Conservation Foundation/GCF

Taken as a whole, the giraffe — as defined as a single species — is now listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of endangered animals.

Oddly, despite the giraffe’s profile in popular culture, little was known about them, let alone giraffe conservation, when Fennessy first founded the GCF as a modest, UK-based NGO in 2009, with just a handful of staff members.

“There had never been a full-time giraffe person before,” Fennessy told the South China Morning Post’s Tessa Chan earlier this month, before a Royal Geographical Society lecture in Hong Kong on the plight facing this gentle, graceful mammal.

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

The GCF has been conducting extensive population surveys in Uganda in cooperation with that country’s Uganda Wildlife Authority, using individual photographic markers and computer files. Population surveys used to be done from the air, using planes and helicopters, a process which is notoriously unreliable, Fennessy says, even with an animal as large and easy to spot as a giraffe.

“They have a (coat) pattern like a fingerprint,” Fennessy explained, “so we can ID them and over years build up a database.”

©Giraffe Conservation Foundation/GCF

©Giraffe Conservation Foundation/GCF

Fennessy believes conservation efforts have gained ground in Uganda, thanks largely to his group’s efforts, and in GCF’s home country of Namibia, but giraffes still face a poaching crisis in other African countries where they’re clinging to life — Ethiopia, South Sudan, Cameroon and the constantly war-torn  Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Giraffes are sometimes killed just for their tail, for use as a fly swat.

“So they kill a whole giraffe and leave it, just for the tail,” he told the Morning Post.

People can become actively involved beyond being simply an armchair conservationist through donation, by sponsoring a giraffe or by helping with funding efforts.

giraffe pixabay inset.jpg

Just as importantly — perhaps even more so — Fennessy asks that anyone considering a safari in Africa can support responsible ecotourism by asking the travel company what they do for conservation on the ground and — and this is the critical part — how they support local communities that live with and around wild animals.

The Johannesburg-based NGO African Parks actively vets safari companies and is willing to share information with anyone who asks.

If there’s one benefit to living in these times, Fennessy says, it’s that the world has become a small place: It’s easy to share information and learn new things at the click of a mouse.

As African Parks’ Andrea Heydlauff told a National Geographic-sponsored audience at the Half-Earth Day 2017 conference in Washington, DC, “what’s fantastic is that wildlife can rebound. Nature knows what to do. They just need to be given the space and security in order to thrive. And where wildlife thrives, people thrive.”

Reason for hope.

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/travel-leisure/article/2150250/giraffe-expert-raises-fears-animal-faces-extinction-if

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/science/giraffe-extinction.html

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons


‘Remembering Rhinos:’ “We simply cannot let extinction happen on our watch.”

By any measure, Remembering Rhinos, a Kickstarter-funded photo book for charity, is an eye-opener. Sixty-five prominent wildlife photographers, including many of the leaders in their respective fields, have donated one of their prized images to the coffee-table book, all in the name of raising funds for rhino conservation.

The Kickstarter campaign, launched earlier this year achieved its initial goal in near-record time. It didn’t stop there, either. Galvanized by public opinion and a growing sense of outrage at what is happening to our planet,  it grew from there, much like a baby rhino that has finally found a safe home in which to grow up in the wild.

Remembering Rhinos will be officially unveiled Wednesday at an evening champagne reception at London’s prestigious — and historic — Royal Geographical Society, a Victorian-era redbrick home tucked behind the Natural History Museum in Kensington. It’s from these very halls that 19th century explorers plotted and mapped early expeditions deep into Africa’s interior. The idea of unveiling a coffee-table book dedicated to saving Africa and Asia’s remaining rhinos at the Royal Geographical Society in the 21st century seems entirely appropriate somehow.

©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett

©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett

Remembering Rhinos is a follow-up to 2016’s successful Remembering Elephants, which raised some USD $200,000 in the war against ivory poaching. Remembering Rhinos is more than that, though. It seems more urgent. More pressing.

The situation facing rhinos in 2017 is desperate. The illegal trade in rhino horn — driven by superstition, ignorance and a thriving black market in emerging economies in Southeast Asia and China — threatens to wipe out one of the planet’s oldest, longest-surviving land mammals, an animal so deeply buried in the human imagination that virtually anyone can recognize a rhino at a brief glance.

©Remembering Rhinos/Mike Muizebelt

©Remembering Rhinos/Mike Muizebelt

The photographers represented in the book include freelance photographers, staffers for some of the world’s leading nature periodicals and international award winners. They may not be household names outside the nature community, but they represent some of the most respected photographers working in the field today — Mike Muizebelt, Steve Winter, Greg du Toit, Frans Lanting, Piper Mckay, James Warwick, David Lloyd, Ayesha Cantor, Jan van der Greef, Will Burrard-Lucas, Marina Cano, Hilary Hann, Remembering Rhinos founder-editor Margo Raggett,  and countless others.

©Remembering Rhinos/Hilary Hann

©Remembering Rhinos/Hilary Hann

“Everyone in the wildlife world is sick to their back teeth of animals being treated like commodities and slaughtered on a daily basis for their horns, tusks or whatever other body part the . . . market in the Far East seems to crave,” Raggett explained, when launching her Kickstarter campaign.

“Our book hit a nerve as a way for photographers and animal lovers to unite and do something positive to stand up to poachers. We don’t want to see these species wiped out in our lifetime.”

The Remembering Rhinos campaign has drawn numerous nigh-profile celebrities, from film actors Michelle Pfeiffer and Russell Crowe to comedian and animal-rights campaigner Ricky Gervais, Mad Men ensemble player Jared Harris and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. 

©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett

©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett

©Remembering Rhinos/Chris Martin

©Remembering Rhinos/Chris Martin

Virginia McKenna, a lifelong animal-rights campaigner, former model and actor who starred in the 1966 film Born Free, and Will Travers OBE, president of the Born Free Foundation, are closely involved.

©Remembering Rhinos/Virginia McKenna

©Remembering Rhinos/Virginia McKenna

Travers will introduce Wednesday’s reception.

The keynote speaker is Steve Winter, veteran wildlife photographer and lecturer with the National Geographic Society and a former winner of the Natural History Museum’s prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award. Winter was a nominee again this year, for his sad, haunting image of a captured, caged Sumatran tiger that had just had its hind leg amputated to save its life.

The idea behind Remembering Rhinos was to produce the most beautiful, memorable book about rhinos possible, in the hopes that, decades and centuries from now, photographic images won’t be all future generations have to remember rhinos by.

All proceeds from sales of the book go toward protecting rhinos in Africa and Asia.

©Remembering Rhinos/James Warwick

©Remembering Rhinos/James Warwick

The World Wildlife Fund’s official website (worldwildlife.org) notes that rhinos once roamed freely throughout Eurasia and Africa. They were known to early Europeans, who depicted them in cave paintings, and frequented savannah grasslands and tropical forests throughout Africa and Asia.

Today, very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves. Two species of Asian rhinos — the Javan and Sumatran rhinos — are officially classified on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of endangered species as Critically Endangered. A subspecies of the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011.

Conservation efforts have helped a third Asian species, the greater one-horned (or Indian) rhino, to increase in number, albeit slightly. Their status has been upgraded to Vulnerable from Endangered, but Indian rhinos are still poached for their horns.

©Remembering RhinosAyesha Cantor

©Remembering RhinosAyesha Cantor

In Africa, Southern white rhinos, once thought to be extinct, now thrive in protected sanctuaries and are classified as Near Threatened. A surge in land invasions and poaching raids in the past year by heavily armed crime syndicates in South Africa now threaten even the most protected sanctuaries, however. 

The Northern white rhino subspecies is now believed to be extinct in the wild, and only a few captive individuals remain in a sanctuary in Kenya — also threatened by poaching. 

©Remembering Rhinos/Piper Mckay

©Remembering Rhinos/Piper Mckay

Black rhinos have doubled in number over the past two decades from their low point of fewer than 2,500 individuals in the mid-1990s, but their total numbers are still a tiny fraction of the estimated 100,000 that roamed across Africa’s grasslands in the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century.

“We simply cannot let extinction happen on our watch,” Raggett said simply.

It will take more than a book to prevent that, of course, but every bit helps. Especially when the book is as elegant and hard-to-forget as Remembering Rhinos.


Remembering Rhinos
Wildlife Photographers United
Envisage Books
£45, 144 pages, hardback
978-0-99301-932-6

https://rememberingwildlife.com/remembering-rhinos/


10. screen build1 ©Remembering Rhinos.png
©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett

©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett


Rediscovered Royal Geographical Society films bring history back to life.

Vintage film reels still have the power to evoke awe, even in a digital age when CGI can virtually create any world the human mind cares to imagine.


That's especially pertinent now, as the Royal Geographical Society is releasing films of scientific explorations it originally sponsored in the early 20th century — the early days of film.

©Royal Geographical Society

©Royal Geographical Society

And while these grainy, scratchy films of old — now available online — may lack the polish and eye-filling spectacle of a 21st-century IMAX production, there’s something undeniably compelling about seeing theactual expeditions, as they happened.


The footage, some of which hasn’t been seen since the days of the Wright Brothers, is being digitized for posterity, so future generations can access them with a single click of a computer keyboard or iPad.

©BBC/Royal Geographical Society - IBG

©BBC/Royal Geographical Society - IBG

The footage, much of which was thought to be lost to history, ranges from the first-known aerial footage of Mount Everest — shot by one-time fighter pilot Maj. Latham Valentine Stewart Blacker in 1933, some 20 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain — to British army officer Ralph Bagnold’s crossing thousands of miles of Saharan sands in a town car though Libya in 1932.

©BBC/Royal Geographical Society - IBG

©BBC/Royal Geographical Society - IBG

Bagnold wasn’t entirely a wacko suffering the effects of heatstroke; his son Stephen told BBC World News late last week that his father took careful measurements along the way to understand how sand is moved by the wind, and later published several research papers on the subject.


History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it does have a way of foreshadowing the future, often in unexpected and hard-to-predict ways.


Bagnold’s findings in the Libyan Desert would be used by the American and European space agencies in their early explorations of Mars, principally in the design of rovers that can cross Mars’ sands without becoming stuck.


There’s something awe-inspiring about seeing old aerial footage, shot by adventurer Aubery Rickards, of Hadhramaut, dubbed “the Manhattan of the desert,” a region in Yemen home to an civilization of skyscrapers, 10 to 12 stories high, constructed almost entirely of mud,  that date back to the late 15th century and remain inhabited to this day.

©BBC/Royal Geographical Society - IBG

©BBC/Royal Geographical Society - IBG

The Royal Geographical Society films are especially compelling today because they shed light on a simpler time, when there were still places to be explored, and existential threats like climate change and mass extinctions were largely unknown.


The earlier films in the RGS collection reflect a brighter, more hopeful world at the time, Nottingham University professor Mike Heffernan told BBC World’s Pallab Ghosh this past weekend. The heady optimism and spirit of adventure shown in the films would prove a marked contrast to the desolation of Europe after the two world wars.

©BBC/Royal Geographical Society - IBG     

©BBC/Royal Geographical Society - IBG
 

 

Explorers Frank Ludlow and George Sherriff first journeyed through Bhutan and Tibet in 1933, Heffernan noted, the same year James Hilton wrote his book The Lost Horizon.
Lost Horizon introduced the concept of ‘Shangri-La,’ Heffernan told BBC News, “this perfect place . . . a mountain kingdom, a vestigial world of peace and harmony, the world so obviously left behind by the industrial warfare they’d gone through.”


Past is not always perfect, but it can sometimes point to a better future. If only by reminding us of what could’ve been.

©BBC/Royal Geographical Society - IBG

©BBC/Royal Geographical Society - IBG