I was going to write a few lines announcing the Giving Contest and soon enough I had a lot more paragraphs than planned. What is the Giving Contest? It’s a sound effects library giveaway that Thomas Rex Beverly proposed and me and Andy Martin happily joined. Feel free to contribute as much as you can ($1 to $25) and you will be entered a competition to win 3 excellent libraries, one from each of us. All funds raised will be donated to 3 conservation organizations. More details on Tom’s website: Giving Contest
Now that the TL;DR is out of the way, let me go into a little more detail. I’ve been interested in conservation and environmental causes ever since childhood. Once I got seriously into field recording (some 6 years ago) I became more involved, reading many books on conservation, supporting local and global initiatives and even taking part in research/surveys as much as my busy schedule allowed.
It is on my last two field recording trips to Africa (Ethiopia and Gabon - blog post soon) that I realized how much work is done on the ground, and how much of a difference common folks like you and me can make. I was lucky enough to meet people who dedicate their lives to preserving wildlife and nature, and also to teaching others about it. It is very often an uphill battle though.
Listen to a few of the sounds I recorded in Ethiopia:
In Ethiopia, wildlife welfare or indeed conservation are rarely priorities for the country’s 100 million+ inhabitants. Many of the mammal species are in steep decline. Given the ever growing human population and the limited amount of resources, people simply have other things to worry about.
Having said that, there are several places where wildlife gets some level of protection, like the Bale National Park and the Sanetti Plateau. There are projects such as the Ethiopian Wold Conservation Programme, championed by a multitude of organizations including the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Zoological Society of London, Addis Ababa University and many others. The Ethiopian Wolf is the rarest canid in the world, with only a few hundred left in the wild and confined to the highlands of Ethiopia.
I had the pleasure of speaking to several reasearchers and vets working on the ground while I was on my field recording trip, and it looks like things are slightly better than a few years ago. They managed to vaccinate most of the Wolf population against rabies, but Canine Distemper can still decimate the packs. They’re currently testing a vaccine aginst this as well.
It is also very good to see species that were thought to be extinct reappear. Lions were long-thought to be exterminated from the Harenna Forest just South of the Sanetti Plateau, but several individuals have recently been filmed and photographed. On top of that, a rare form of melanistic Leopard has been spotted in the area, which is very good news.
Unfortunately, human populations are encroaching on these habitats more and more. There are sheep herders in the Sanetti who raise dogs and let them become feral when they can’t feed them anymore. These dogs organize in packs (we spotted several) and can spread diseases to the wolf populations very easily. Even worse, the local rangers who were hired a few years ago seem to have lost interest and now spend their time dozing at camp instead of doing their jobs.
In the Harenna Forest there are a couple of villages and several camps where people stay when collecting wild honey, coffee or cabbage. Lions and other wildlife occasionally attack livestock, which can only anger the villagers and drive them to actions like poisoning carcasses.
Listen to a few of the recordings I made in Gabon:
In Gabon the situation seems a little more stable, mainly because the population density is much smaller and heavily concentrated in the capital city (2 million inhabitants in a country similar in size to the UK). There are good populations of Forest Elephant, Western Lowland Gorilla, Chimpanzee and many others. There is logging going on in many parts of the country, but there are also 13 national parks covering about 10% of the contry’s surface. As far as I’ve seen, there is no logging going on inside the parks at the moment, although that doesn’t mean that things will not change. For the moment though, Gabon is a haven for a lot of big mammals that are heavily poached in the neighbouring countries (Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon).
Ghislain, our guide and driver for the month-long expedition is also very keen on conservation and environmental issues. He was by no means a good guide or driver, he had many shortcomings and caused us some problems, but all this pales in comparison to the good that he does for local conservation and ecology. I will go into more detail about this in a long blog post about our trip, but suffice it to say that I’m happy people like Ghislain exist.
Just to give a quick example of what he does, here’s a quick story for you. About three weeks into our rainforest trip, he was refueling the car and he found a poacher selling 21 freshwater turtles close to the Congo Border in the far South. He asked him about the turtles, checked and saw that 6 were still alive. At this point he proceeded to buying the 6 survivors, which we subsequently released in a river. Quick note here: I’m aware that this might have the opposite effect (encouraging the poachers to hunt even more since there is a market), and I even had a chat with Ghislain about this matter.
My initial reaction was to call the Forest Guard and report the guy. What was Ghislain’s plan? He got the poacher’s phone number and asked him if he was interested in showing tourists around the places he scours when hunting. As soon as I heard this I realized how stupid my “solution” and outsider approach would have been.
On top of that very important way of thinking, Ghislain is teaching teens and even kids to work as guides in the national parks. He also talks to villagers about the importance of wildlife and the potential of sustainable, responsible tourism. He is a vegetarian in a country of bush meat eaters. We’ve been let down by his services as a guide, but hats off to his work in conservation.
There isn’t one solution to all these problems, but careful, sustainable tourism can help raise awareness about the importance of wildlife and nature. When I travel to remote parts of the world, I always try to work with local initiatives so that they reap the benefits instead of the money going to tourism agencies thousands of miles away.
This is where you, the reader, come in. Even if you can’t travel to remote parts, you can still help out. There are many NGOs and initiatives like African Parks, Wildlife Conservation Society or Virunga NP who do incredibly difficult work in corrupt countries where poaching is the only way for locals to earn a living.
I’m happy to say that on top of the (hopefully) annual Giving Contest, I redirect a part of my sound effects library sales to many causes every month. These include the Virunga National Park, British Trust for Ornithology, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Romanian Ornithological Society, the National Trust and several others. You can do it too. Make sure you start by contributing to this: