Leigh Woods Nature Reserve Teaser

So the Journecologists have landed in Bristol, the wildlife filmmaking centre of the world! Really there’s no better place to be when not on the road. While we are here, Journecology will be taking a more focussed look at British wildlife, in particular some of the amazing work that goes on around Bristol. Immediately I had my sights set on the nearby nature reserve, … Read More Leigh Woods Nature Reserve Teaser

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How to be Vegan in Peru

Welcome to Peru, home of llamas, Machu Picchu, the Inca Empire, and people who eat guinea pigs. The latter (and least worthy) claim to fame is exactly why I’ll be guiding you through this carnivorous realm, and keeping you well clear of alpaca burgers, ceviche classes and of course “Cuy” (possibly the least energy efficient meal on the planet). See below for your comprehensive survival guide to being vegan in Peru, and even if you’re veggie or omni, then there are still some incredible eateries listed for you to discover!

Cooking your own meals vs. Eating out


Cooking in is more possible than ever in Peru. We find cleaner facilities than in Bolivia, and the cost of supermarket food won’t break your bank like in Argentina. Funnily enough, we barely cooked for ourselves in Peru – this was only done in Lima (which ironically has some of the best restaurants in South America). Generally the supermarkets are a big step up in terms of quality when compared with Bolivia, and you can often even find a ‘free from’ section! But generally in Peru they’re big foodies, and that means where you will find a lot of steak and animal products, there will always be options for others.

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In fact, get ready to see some high scorers on this list because Peru was fantastic for Vegans, with several vegan only chains and some unusual surprises.

Cusco


The Inca Trail (with Llama Path) – 8/10

I can’t believe I’m not giving these guys 10 – this food was perhaps the best surprise of our travels so far. The porters at Llama Path work incredibly hard to accommodate tourists, it almost makes you feel guilty! They carry a huge amount of food across the Inca Trail, and they perfectly catered for our vegan diets. The food was very tasty, with a lot of care and attention to detail in all the dishes, they even baked a cake for us (somehow) right at the end! Sweet animals were carved out of fruit and veg and placed on top of the dishes on the final day, and vegan snacks such as popcorn were served as snacks after arriving at the campsite. I guess it’s not a 10 because the food tasted good, but not amazing, and there were a few upset stomachs – but it’s hard to pin that down to anything. I think it’s the best you will ever get considering you’re hiking at around 3700m. For more Inca Trail info, click here.

Green Point – 9.5/10

Then we found Green Point. Absolute Vegan heaven. Everything was completely vegan, nothing was even vegetarian so it was a total safe zone. What’s more the food was incredible, and super cheap. We’re talking 15 soles for a four course lunch, that’s £3.75. You’d begin with a buffet salad, then soup, then small main, and a teeny dessert – but believe me you were stuffed by the end every time. The evening menu was huge, and we even got a delicious breakfast one morning. Unrivalled in Cusco. Why not 10/10? They have two joints in Cusco, and we trekked to the other which ended up having bizarre opening hours. Secondly, the absolutely sumptuous cheeseboard seemed to result in an upset tummy, tried and tested twice (however I think it was actually worth it…).

Shaman Vegan Raw Restaurant – 4/10

We thought we’d give Green Point a day off, and headed for Shaman Raw as we’d heard good things. However, it was far more expensive and the food was just well below the quality of Green Point. They had a cosy place with blankets and crystals, and maybe we just got the wrong dishes, but sadly it just couldn’t compete.

Muchaway Churros Artesanales – 6/10

There was a cute little churros place coincidentally near the Llama Path office that we sheltered in during the rain. They did vegan churros with vegan topping options. They tasted pretty good, and we got to watch her make them – so that was cool.

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Arequipa


Colca Canyon (Peru Andes) – 2/10

The food during the Colca trek was all round shoddy, not just for us vegans. The company was good enough in other respects, and our guide did do his best to help. However, the breakfast in freezing Chivay was seriously sub-par, with the restaurant not willing to give us more bread or coffee after a small 1st serving. After an exhausting walk, the veggie rice portion was just too small, and considering our 3am and 4am starts, we needed more fuel than that – we even had to pay for a cup of tea. The buffet at the end had some options, but it wasn’t clear what was what, and again heavily overpriced. I loved the trek and the views, but the food really wasn’t great (hence no photos…).

El Buda Profano – 10/10

I was going to give this place a 9, and then realised there was literally nothing I could fault them on. Vegan sushi, in Peru – can you possibly believe it? Immaculate presentation, made right next to you in a cosy and charming corner of Arequipa. The owner is a friendly chap originally from Vancouver and he is more than willing to chat to you about the sushi, the wine or just anything really. This place is zen, and the sushi flavours literally melt around your mouth, I’d recommend to anyone regardless of diet. This is a classic example of taking one thing, and absolutely mastering it.

Las Gringas – 7/10

An interesting one. Las Gringas was no doubt a cool place, they have gluten free options although we had t wait a very long time to get one, and one time they were out of stock. The pizzas can be veganised which is a great plus, and you’ll be choosing from some slightly bizarre pizza combos (we’re talking berries and bacon kind of thing). The end product was always pretty good, and you get to colour in a skull while you wait – bonus.

It’s also worth noting that above Las Gringas is a chocolate making shop where we took chocolate making lessons! It was a great activity to do, and we learnt lots about the history of chocolate, and got to take some home. Oh and I wouldn’t be mentioning it if they didn’t accommodate for vegans and have vegan choc!

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Restaurant El Puente – 5/10

Here’s a really really cheap option for those on a tight budget. There are two across town, and one of them is a buffet style. We chose to wander west for this one (across the big river) and through a rather dodgy looking side of town. The food filled you up, and tasted a bit like cheap Chinese. However if noodles are your thing, and you have next to no money, El Puente has you covered.

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Istambul – 5.5/10

Istambul was a dimly lit café diner, that resembled nearly nothing of the city it was named after. Instead we sat upstairs on some unusually shaped platforms and ordered from a relatively limited menu. Sadly the waitress got very confused and we received our wraps about 20 minutes apart, with varying degrees of humous. They were decent wraps, but it’s hard to go wrong with that. The best thing about this was watching the couple downstairs take selfies for 30 minutes straight.

Ica (Huacachina)


Banana’s Adventure – 7/10

If you don’t end up at Banana’s in Huacachina, something’s gone wrong. It’s basically THE hostel, and offers great discounts on the dune activities. Since Huacachina is such a small place, we mainly ate at the hostel, as they offered vegan goodies. The quinoa burger is good enough, with a decent serving of chips, and you can even get waffles for breakfast – we were generally impressed.

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La Casa De Bamboo – 5/10

To mix things up we crossed the road one night to La Casa de Bamboo. They offered vegan brownies, but sadly we never got there. Huge portions is only a benefit when the food tastes good, and unfortunately it was a little bland and watery for a thai curry. Safe to say we retreated back across the road to the hostel.

Paracas


Kokopelli – 5.5/10

Time for a break from the pictures. Paracas was incredible, but not for vegan food. Sadly our taste buds had been spoilt in Cusco and Arequipa, and now it back to survival. There were still options, such is the way of a more defined ‘backpacker route’. In the hostel here, you can get a couple of fairly standard dishes (rice / smoothies / wraps) to keep you alive. Plus, it’s quite a nice hostel!

Fruzion – 6/10

Fruzion was to go-to place, and there wasn’t much else along the short strip near the beachfront. It offered a variety of burger based alternatives, like soy or wheat – and these were okay. I couldn’t help thinking that burgers everyday was getting a little tiresome. Fruzion also is a strange white building, with a slightly unfinished feel – much like the majority of Paracas.

Seafront Stalls – 3.5/10

Getting hounded by waiters on the seafront is the most off-putting thing when trying to choose a restaurant. Finally, in Paracas, bored of burgers, we gave in. Most of the stalls along the seafront look dirty, serve mostly fish and have loud televisions playing awful Peruvian gameshows (actually quite entertaining)… We settled on a rice dish and crossed our fingers for it being vegan. It actually seemed pretty good, but I wouldn’t recommend heading here often.

Lima


Some place in Chinatown (Downtown) – 5.5/10

A horrendous morning. Downtown Lima is bonkers, with horns and cars that (IMO) shadow La Paz. We set out to try and find a small Chinese vegetarian buffet, but soon realised we’d walked into a dodgy district – something that you must avoid here. After trying to be sold illegal passports, and general shifty looks, we hastily fled and ended up in manic Chinatown. Chinatown in Lima is NOT pleasant, only go if you’re seriously on the ball. After retreating into a standard Chinese restaurant, the food turned out okay, and made everything a little bit better (I also half-fixed my busted camera). But we were both too preoccupied to even think about photographing or taking much in about the food…

El Jardin de Jazmin (Miraflores) – 6.5/10

Miraflores was relief. With many vegan options about we hit up Jazmin for some hippie flavours. They served delicious potato and mushroom grills, and the menu was incredibly extensive. Sadly, they closed the kitchen rather early and we couldn’t get more orders in (since the portions were quite small). Definitely worth a visit though.

La Verde (Miraflores) – 8/10

Super nice café in the heart of Miraflores. Everything here was vegan, and beautifully made and presented. They had little games to keep you occupied, a great range of healthy drinks, and vegan desserts (ice cream!). The only thing that stopped us coming back often was the high price, and it really was quite high.

Random street van near Jam Box Café – 8/10

If you’re on a night out, and happen to be near the west of Kennedy Park, we found a street van selling an awesome range of cheap vegan junk food. This was a particular surprise after a few drinks, and also might have made it taste a little better…

Raw Café (Miraflores) – 8.5/10

Rather isolated at the far north of Miraflores, we stopped off here for lunch on the way to Huaca Pucllana. Not everything was raw and they had some fantastic dishes. Again, slightly on the pricey side, but the food was filling, healthy and yummy.

Germinando Vida (Barranco) – 3/10

Finally we hit up Barranco for the last couple of days of our three months. Barranco is a really nice district, with a lot of art, trendy shops and indeed vegan options. Sadly we were being careful with money and so didn’t want to spend too much on eating out. We jumped into Germinando Vida one afternoon, an inciting looking place. However, service was abysmally slow after ordering just a wrap, and the taste was underwhelming. I’m sure people will have had better experiences here, but ours sadly was not great. I’ve heard good things about Veggie Pizza in Barranco, and also some tasty burritos – so let us know what they’re like.


That rounds up three countries and three months in South America! Since we only visited the very north of Chile, it wasn’t worth it’s own post – plus it’s a great reason to head back there! My overarching conclusion is that it’s totally possible to be vegan across most of South America. The only times you may struggle are in extremely isolated scenarios, or on tours. Even in isolated places, farming often results in a lot of grains and potatoes, and we were continuously surprised by the hospitality of locals. So don’t worry if you’re thinking twice about this part of the world, just download Happy Cow and you’ll be fine!

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5 Top Tips if you want to Film Wildlife

Wildlife filmmaking is a dream for many. To work in some incredible environments, see some of the world’s most beautiful creatures, and then record often unseen remarkable behaviour. As with all ‘dream jobs’ it can be a nightmare reaching your goal, and many (I mean many) will fall at the wayside. I am currently undertaking this journey, wading through the murky waters of freelance work, whilst trying to produce eye-catching video that could entice that single, all-important connection. Here are a few filming tips I have picked up along the way, to give you just a little leg-up.

1. Patience and quiet


This is the biggie, and is at my no. 1 spot for so many reasons. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been waiting ‘patiently’ for an animal to appear and given up, only a split second before it’s wandered in to view before fleeing. Always stay that extra few minutes, and you’ll have more luck. Similarly, if you wait long enough you will see the animal before it sees you and this means capturing ‘natural’ behaviour, instead of the edgy “there’s a predator pointing something at me” frozen stance.

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Patience also means that in some cases, the more you persevere with a particular location, the more animals will become used to your presence and be happy to wander closer to the camera. I’ve also noticed that during filming, there’s a tendency to want the animal to ‘do something’, either resulting in a prod or whistle that will change the animal’s behaviour – again most of the time these unnatural behaviours are noticeable in the end result, so best avoided. If you wait you’re likely to capture something far more interesting.

I have found that after entering an environment (say forest), setting up my tripod and just sitting quietly for 15 minutes, the wildlife around me begins to appear. You also notice more by staying still and waiting, like a glistening spider web or bizarre fungus under a log. This leads me nicely onto number 2….

2. Make what you can with what you have


I like this one because it’s reflective of my situation. I’ll firstly talk about location. Of course you will have an easier time making eye-catching films if you travel about, visiting locations which appear ‘exotic’ to your particular demographic. But there are two ways of looking at this 1) You can still find amazing wildlife where you live, that I guarantee people won’t have seen before, 2) Make your location visible to a different demographic e.g. get your documentary about ‘Snowy England’ exposed to people who live in the tropics. When I described snow to my research assistant in Borneo he was mesmerised (he’d never seen it before up close).

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In reference to the last part of no. 1, there is an incredible amount of wildlife around you if you stop and look. Be patient, check under leaves and under rocks carefully – you’ll be very surprised. Try not to be so blinded searching for foxes that you miss the amazing endangered caterpillars right next to you.

The second part of this refers to gear. Quite simply you don’t need to spend a lot on cameras, exceptions if you want to achieve something specific like macro or night videography, or you are working on a world class documentary! A good bridge camera with a decent zoom, and the ability to slow mo (e.g. 50fps – 100fps) will do. The most important thing is to know whatever gear you have inside out, and be able to change settings rapidly. I highly recommend the Panasonic Lumix FZ-1000 (and family). You don’t need ten lenses, it’s light, great zoom, versatile, can film 4K and up to 100fps. You can achieve smooth filming handheld these days due to good stabilisation options in most editors (the Panasonic even has one in-built), which leads me on to number 3…

3. Integrate a tripod


This is debatable, but was one of the things I always picked up on in certain videos. If you’re trying to achieve a perfectly still shot, and don’t use a tripod, it is nearly impossible. If you stabilise a shaky still shot it will help, but the edges of your picture may warp slightly, and can look a bit nauseating. I always carry a tripod with me, and when filming wildlife I think it makes such a difference. Allow me to explain a little.

When the subject is moving you really have two basic choices: 1) follow the subject or 2) keep the camera still and let the subject walk across the shot (and leaving the frame is nice). Both are great, but using a tripod for the latter is really effective. It gives the sense of a still ‘window’ onto the animal in question, a little like you are watching it with your own eyes. It’s also crisper, sleeker and generally looks more professional. Tripods also really help when you are filming at both a high frame rate, and especially when zoomed in – in these scenarios your image will be much more unsteady.

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Of course dynamic camera movements are important, and often more engaging for the watcher. But tripods offer that element of certainty that means your filming won’t look amateurish. My advice would be to start with most of your shots on the tripod and gradually work more dynamics shots into your pieces as you get more comfortable.

4. Simplicity is key


This carries on from what I just said about tripods. Often the best way to make something watchable is to keep it simple. If you’re filming wildlife it really does not need to be complex. Generally, it is the animals that are doing the interesting thing and it is your job to capture it so the viewer can watch it.

Look at the editing style on programmes like Planet Earth 2, or Natural World – they are actually very simple. Despite amazing locations, cameras, patience and music, it follows a relatively formulaic and successful pattern. Simple, coherent narration is coupled with (mostly) dynamic shots introducing the relevant environment, this is followed by (mostly) still shots of the subject animals’ behaviour. If you include narration, it tends to be one or two lines of speech over one or two shots followed by silence over two or three more shots. Attenborough likes to open and close sections with one line, or even one word for emphasis. Legend.

5. ‘Filler’ footage


Of course there is a very good argument that no footage should be used to ‘pad out’ a video. However, if you spend all your filming time recording the main subject, you’ll come to realise that you have nothing to introduce your video with, or anything to go between sections. It’s amazing how much of this kind of footage is needed. I like to film efficiently, meaning that I don’t need to sift though hours of footage (big organisations don’t have this problem as they employ people to do just that), but often it does mean I am short of these ‘filler’ shots (as I’ve come to call them).

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This might be something as arbitrary as a leaf blowing or a fern catching the sun – but they go a long way. In fact, getting beautiful filler shots is extremely important as they will more often than not introduce you video, and keep the audience engaged between sections. If you have a drone, aerial footage is great for this (but can be seriously overused), otherwise try to keep it relevant and focused on the environment that is the subject of your video.



Thanks for making it through all five, and I hope it offered a little bit of insight. I’m definitely no pro, but at least I can give some advice as to what I’ve discovered by myself along the way. Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions, debate what I’ve said above or add a bit of your own knowledge. So go out, film as much as you can, and let us know what you make!

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Hidden World – Royal Society of Biology Photo Competition 2017 – My Entries

Media is so important for communicating science. Let’s be honest, if an article doesn’t come along with some juicy video clips or snazzy photos then you’re probably not going to bother. This is particularly important when it comes to science. So much of science is visual, and so much of science is pretty to look at. So here are my three entries to the RSB 2017 Photo Competition – “Hidden World” where my photos range from underwater, misty rainforest and your garden pond!


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Photograph title
The Algal Universe
Describe what is pictured?
This is a collection of Tetrabaena socialis algae – essentially what you’ll find in the garden pond! We can see each algal capsule containing four cells, with some at varying degrees of asexual reproduction. The cells are about 10um wide and each one will divide into four daughter cells.
How does this image fit with the theme of the competition?
When looking through a microscope, I feel a similar sensation to that of a telescope into space. We are somewhere in-between these two “hidden worlds”, one is huge, one is tiny. Algae remind me of the stars, with the occasional creature whizzing through like a giant spaceship. There is so much yet to be discovered in these worlds, yet one lies right at our feet – in this case the garden pond! This photo reminds us that we are just a finite visible fraction of what exists in this universe.
Location taken (be specific)
Imperial College, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot
Date taken
2017-07-24
Equipment and settings used
Panasonic Lumix FZ-1000
Software manipulation
Slight crop. Slight contrast enhancement using basic Mac editor.


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Photograph title
Nemo’s Retreat
Describe what is pictured?
A clownfish (Amphiprioninae) peeks out from his world in this classic scene. Clownfish share a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with anemones; they are protected by the anemone’s sting, and they lure fish for the anemone to eat.
How does this image fit with the theme of the competition?
For two reasons. Firstly the clownfish is the only one allowed into the hidden world of the anemone tentacles, and is such a specific relationship that it will remain hidden from others. Secondly, this classic image is one that now sums up the ocean as a hidden world. Through the massive success of ‘Finding Nemo’, more and more interest has been gathered about the underwater world and I feel this little animal is responsible for a new wave of passionate marine biologists.
Location taken (be specific)
Sulug Island, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Date taken
2016-05-18
Equipment and settings used
Canon Powershot G1X MII and housing
Software manipulation
Some gentle editing and colour grading for underwater correction in Lightzone.

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Photograph title
Maliau – A Land Lost in Time
Describe what is pictured?
This is Maliau Basin in Borneo, one of the last remaining true wildernesses to the human race. Here are the tops of this pristine tropical rainforest canopy poking out above the eerie thick fog. This shot is providing a glance into this undiscovered world, perhaps how it was seen by its first discoverer in 1947. Many describe Maliau Basin as ‘The Lost World’, referring to its unique isolation. I made a documentary about it on YouTube which goes by the same name as this photograph.
How does this image fit with the theme of the competition?
Maliau Basin could be the ultimate Hidden World. This huge bowl of thick jungle is surrounded by cliffs, and was first discovered in 1947 when a pilot nearly crashed into the escarpment. It was not until 1986 that humans managed to enter the basin. Only a few thousand people have ever stepped foot here today. This hidden world is separated form the outside world, resulting in it’s own endemic flora and fauna, and unique weather patterns. This photo sums up precisely why it remained undiscovered, and scrapes the surface of the incredible world which lies within.
Location taken (be specific)
Maliau Basin Conservation Area, Borneo, Malaysia
Date taken
2016-01-14
Equipment and settings used
Panasonic Lumix FZ-62
Software manipulation
Black and white with slight contrast adjustment. The old photo style B&W is intended to reflect the view of the pilot in 1947 who nearly crashed into the basin edge, leading to it’s discovery.
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Croatia Part 4: Sleepy little Senj

Apologies for the serious delay between Part 3 and Part 4, but I was kinda in South America and also moving house so I think that’s a fair excuse… anyway! Senj is a cute little town half the way up the Croatian coast, which you probably won’t have heard of. I only dropped by for a couple of days so here’s a brief overview of what you’ll find.

What To Do

Well to be blunt we did very little, mainly rested. But since there was some time to kill the first stop was tourist info. Sadly the attendant was very unhelpful, perhaps a bit baffled that people had actually stopped by. Feeling quite put-off we made a hasty retreat. So the day here consisted of swimming in the picturesque harbour, enjoying the sunset and walking along the promenade – quite relaxing all in all.

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Senjsasional sunset

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Larking about at the harbour

Ask around for boats to the islands, I don’t think there’s anything official, but you may be able to pay a local to take you out to Krk, good luck getting back though!

There is a castle up on the hill. Since we’d just finished our ‘epic’ hike, we decided to rest the legs and enjoy it from a distance, which sometimes gives the best view. There is also a Griffin Vulture sanctuary which we only found out about after leaving. As a conservationist this was quite upsetting to miss, and I’ve read good things about the place. Definitely worth a stop off during the next Croatia road trip!

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It’s not a great photo, but it’s the fort that counts…

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Romantic and picturesque

Eat and Drink

Since Senj is a pretty sleepy and absent from any real tourism, you’re better off wandering to find some local cuisine. The likelihood is that this will be seafood, so for anyone wanting to avoid meat you’ll have your work cut out. That being said a few places have veggie options, Kod Veska for example.

Where To Stay

For the budget option, Hotel Art Senj is remarkably comfortable. Maybe this feeling was exaggerated after the discomfort of our long trek, but we all rested and showered very well in this cheap little complex – oh and there’s nothing arty about it at all…. It’s right at the end of the promenade on the south side. Beware, there was an added on charge at the end (still cheap though).  On the north  side there is ‘camping’, but it appears to be on concrete, not the most comfortable in my eyes. For higher end hotels the town has plenty, but they are generally a bit further out on the north side, all in walking distance, and all clearly visible.

Travel

We grabbed a relatively cheap coach (€7 each) up to Rijeka, which is a very picturesque drive. Similarly you can head down to Zadar or inland to the Plitvice Lakes. Parking in Senj would be a little tricky (unless you have a boat!), and the outskirts are quite run-down, so I wouldn’t recommend roadside parking.

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Hmmm run -down, but kinda pretty too!

Senj is worth a stop off for a night or two. It’s very quiet and you can be sure to be some of the only tourists around. Hopefully you have more energy than we did so can make the most of this pretty little destination.

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African Lion Conservation – The Mane Issues

As most of my friends know, I have a very special place in my heart for lions. I aspire to work with and for them, researching and monitoring their remaining vulnerable populations. For those that are not aware of the threats they face, this is the post for you! I am focusing on African lions here, Asiatic lions are for a whole other post 😉

The ‘Roar’ Information


Lions are Africa’s largest big cat, powerful and majestic, the King of the Beasts is the forefront of most people’s minds when they think of Africa.

Lion: the fiercest and most magnanimous of the four footed beasts
Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755)

Described as “Gregarious, territorial, matriarchal society, communal care, male coalitions.” (Richard Estes) Lions are the only truly social cat living in resident prides, usually consisting of related females and their cubs. Dominant males fight to maintain breeding rights and territories. Prides are known to occupy territorial ranges from as low as 20km²  in the most suitable habitats, to more than 500km².

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Photo Credit: Torie Hilley

Although lions have no natural predators, their numbers have unthinkably plummeted by over 40% in the last three generations (WWF). They once roamed across most of Africa, parts of Asia and even Europe. Now they are found only in sub-Saharan Africa, and one very small population (c.450-500) in India’s Gir Forest. African Lions are classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN with around 20,000 left in the wild and a decline of their geographic range of 92%. There are now only ten areas across this vast continent that are considered as lion strongholds: 4 in East Africa and 6 in Southern Africa.

Lion Population 2012

Source: Riggio J et al (2012) The size of savannah Africa: a lion’s (Panthera leo) view.  Biodiversity Conservation Dec 12

Surprising Reasons to Save Them


Apart from the most logical and basic argument that we, as a fellow animal species, do not have the right to exterminate them, there are many reasons to save lions – ecological, financial, and spiritual. The African lion is one of the world’s most iconic species, and has played a role across the world in symbolism and culture. Just walk around some of the world’s cities and you’ll see a dozen lion statues, big or small, the more famous of which reside in front of the New York Public Library and in Trafalgar Square in London. Because of this, and the charismatic nature of the species, there is a vast international interest in lion conservation making them powerful ambassadors.

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Photo Credit: Torie Hilley

As apex predators, lions also have a pivotal role to play in the ecosystem. The removal of top carnivores from ecosystems can have long-lasting negative ecological impacts to other species as well as the habitat itself. For example, without lions to prey on them, populations of buffalo, hyena and other smaller predators would soar.

You also cannot question the high economic value lions have to the countries where they remain. They are one of the top attractions for tourists of all kinds, as well as for trophy hunters, as controversial as it is, bringing in revenue. Ecotourism alone generates around $80 billion a year, which helps local communities and economies (Dereck Joubert). Very few people would come on safari if they knew they wouldn’t have a chance at seeing the king of the beasts.

The urgency and importance of their conservation comes from the fact that lions have experience a dramatic decline in both their numbers and  their geographic range over recent decades.

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Photo Credit: Lorna Harvey

“A large animal needs a large area. If you protect that area, you’re also protecting thousands of other plants and animals. You’re saving all these species that future generations will want – you’re saving the world for your children and your children’s children. . . . The destruction of species is final. If you lose a species, you lose the genes, you lose all the potential drugs and potential foods that could be useful to the next generations. The ecosystems will not function as they have” Dr George Schal

The ‘Mane’ Issues


Such a heavy decline in African Lion populations is down to a variety of causes including: habitat and prey loss, conflicts with local communities and their livestock, trophy hunting, poaching and illegal wildlife trade and disease and climate change.

I won’t be talking in depth about all of these as that may take forever, but instead I’ll give summaries of these issues and some examples of incredible work and progress made to save this magnificent species.

Habitat & Prey Loss

Africa’s human population now exceeds 1.2 billion …. 1.2 billion people vs 20,000 lions …. that maths is not hard to do!

With so many people now requiring land and resources to live off of, this only results in one thing, taking that land and those resources away from wildlife. ‘Wild’ land in Africa is normally converted to others land-uses that are more economically viable to support the local communities. Prey species preferred by lions such as zebra and wildebeest are also attractive to humans for food consumption and other products made from their skins etc. Game meat is sought-after in local communities and is often obtained illegally through poaching.

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As habitat is lost, lion populations become fragmented within small pockets of protected areas with relatively little or no natural movement of animals between them. Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania are most of the few countries where lion populations are still maintained outside of protected areas. If migration does happen, this often means lions move into surrounding areas with less than desirable habitats and more than likely these are inhabited by humans, causing direct conflict.

IMG_7776Management of these protected areas is vital in supporting wild lion populations. A recent report by Panthera showed that Africa’s protected parks and reserves are capable of supporting three to four times as many wild lions, if they are properly funded and managed. That is approx. 83,000 lions!!! To add to this there is still more than 1 million sq. km of viable lions habitat left in Africa, it is now a matter of sufficient funding and regulation.

Human-Carnivore Conflict

Lion & cow

Photo Credit: Ewaso Lions

Livestock production is one of the main sources of income for local communities, ranging from cattle to goats and chickens. Livestock has become relatively easy prey for lions especially during harsher times, mainly due to their increased presence in and around protected areas. Conflict occurs when lions attack livestock and herders retaliate by fatally shooting, spearing, or poisoning lions.

Although it is understandable as to why the farmers & herders want to kill as retribution for their dead animals, there are some major issues. The ‘guilty’ animal is often not the one that gets killed, or if poisoned bait is used this can also have a detrimental impact on other animals such as vultures, hyena and jackals.

In Northern Kenya lions are especially vulnerable to conflict because they live in or adjacent to areas inhabited by nomadic pastoralists and come into regular conflict with local people over this very issues. Ewaso Lions was founded in 2007, and works to study and incorporate local communities in helping to protect the lions in the Samburu National Reserve, Buffalo Springs National Reserve and Shaba National Reserve.

Dead lion

The Ewaso Lions team conducts research on human-carnivore conflict in these areas to develop strategies for preventing carnivore attacks on livestock, which will then reduce the retaliatory killings. These include ways to improve livestock husbandry by avoiding densely vegetated areas, using dogs to accompany grazing herds and not leaving livestock to graze unattended. The key point here is that the team works directly with livestock herders to promote these good husbandry practices to reduce this conflict, benefiting both them and the lions.

Other organisations are also promoting such strategies amongst others such as Lion-Proof Bomas, which are natural thorny enclosures where farmers keep their livestock at night – Walking For Lions, Wildlife ACT, Lion Guardians and Ruaha Carnivore Project. Please go and check them out they do amazing work!

Trophy Hunting

It has been 2 years since the media finally caught up and aired the news that lions do get killed for trophy hunts in Africa. The allegedly illegal hunt of Cecil the lion caused worldwide outrage …. Now just last week his son – Xanda – has met the same fate, killed at just half the age of his father.

c8fb1398b3f380440fb0bc2808d85755--trophy-hunting-male-lionCommercial use of wild lion populations is a highly political and emotive topic but is largely allowed by governments as a venture to deliver capital. It has drawn great debate, especially in recent years, with very different arguments for & against it.

Trophy hunting of lions is currently practiced at a significant level in at least 12 African countries. Canned hunting is very different as this is where captive lions are bred to feed the demand for lion trophies, and is believed not to impact on the wild population status.

Many supporters say regulated hunts raise much-needed money for conservation and herald it as an important and necessary conservation tool. Researchers at Oxford University state that where it is well-regulated, transparent and devolves sufficient authority to the land managers, trophy hunting has the potential to contribute to lion conservation, but opposing this, many countries have weak governance and regulations which can lead to unsustainable practices.

The most fundamental benefit of trophy hunting to lion conservation is that it provides a financial incentive to maintain lion habitat that might otherwise be converted to agricultural land for example. It has been estimated that trophy hunting areas in Africa cover 1.4 million km2 – 22% more land than National Parks. How much of that area could viably be converted to phototourism is unknown, but it cannot be accomplished everywhere with some areas covered in very dense vegetation.

In most countries, male lions are only hunted, but females are still at threat in some. Both being targeted can be a significant threat to lion populations at a local level:

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Photo Credit: Lorna Harvey

  • Females make up the majority of a lion pride, the removal of adult lionesses reduces the pride size and therefore the survival of all cub age-classes.
  • Loss of dominant males from a pride facilitates pride takeover by rival males and the killing (infanticide) of the previous male’s dependent cubs. There are other wider effects across protected areas – too scientific to go into now 😉

Lion trophy hunting is currently banned in six African lion range countries – Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Niger and Nigeria. This controversial topic and its consequences are vast but the knowledge gaps are huge. More research is being done and regulations being revised – In 2015 the African Lion was added to the U.S Endangered Species Act. However the priority now is to secure the last remaining 10 strongholds and safeguard all 60 remaining lion populations.

Poaching & The Wildlife Trade

There is a relatively new threat that has emerged for lions: the legal and illegal (acquired by poaching) trade in lion bones & body parts.

Lion parts such as whiskers, fat and tails have always had a traditional value and use in many African nations as medicines and components of ritual practices. That’s started to shift. Evidence suggests that there is a new demand for lion bones that comes from Asian countries. The parts are more often than not destined for use in traditional Asian medicines as a replacement for tiger parts, which have become harder to get now that tiger populations have plummeted to just a few thousand.

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Lion skull

A report last year from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, found that 1,160 lion skeletons were legally exported from South Africa between 2008 and 2011. These are legal as they come from captive-lion breeding industry known as canned hunting. Breeders argue that they are taking the pressure off of wild animals, but as long as there is a demand, it is very easy to get wild bones smuggled into that trade. Also consumers are allegedly prepared to pay more for bones from wild lions because of the belief that the effects are more potent than those of captive animals.

Though after the 2016 CITES summit in Johannesburg, there is now a ban across 182 countries in the trade in bones, teeth and claws from wild lions, there is still a purely illegal trade that exists with lion parts found hidden inside the export containers.

Disease & Climate Change

Lions are facing an indirect threat from climate change called co-infection. Lions periodically face outbreaks of the disease distemper. Outbreaks of this disease in 1994 and 2001 caused massive die-offs. Researchers found that the key environmental factor these epidemics was the occurrence of a severe drought.

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Photo Credit: Megan Evershed

One result of this drought was that both the lions’ prey, weakened with malnutrition, became heavily infested with ticks, which in turn infested the lions as they fed. The ticks, it turned out, carried a blood parasite that rendered them less able to cope with canine distemper virus, and the combination of the two diseases killed many more lions than either disease commonly would by itself. Droughts such as the ones that led to deadly co-infection in lions are predicted to become more common as the climate warms.

Finishing Note


There is now more awareness than ever on the threats to wild lion populations. We have seen some progress for lions over recent years, in no small part inspired by the death of Cecil – and probably now his son, Xanda too – a mere silver lining.

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Photo Credit: Megan Evershed

The only thing to leave you with now after all that information is the following quote from one of my idols – Dereck Joubert (Filmmaker and Conservationist)

‘Unless something changes dramatically, we have 10-15 years to secure Africa’s Lions……A world without the distant roar of lions at dawn as the mists start to lift is too terrible to contemplate’ 

 

Cover photo from Torie Hilley.

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