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Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs” – film-maker and documentarian Werner Herzog.

On Tuesday, September 6, three powerful new films chronicling EIA’s recent undercover investigations into timber smuggling, the ivory trade and whaling will make their world debut in the USA on Nat Geo Wild.

Paul Redman and Clare Perry filming in a Japanese fish market (c) EIA

Broadcast under the collective banner of Crimes Against Nature, Blood Ivory depicts the brutal horror of elephant poaching in Kenya and black market trade in the marketplaces of Hong Kong and China; Making a Killing exposes Iceland’s hunting of endangered fin whales to package and sell for consumption in Japan; and Chainsaw Massacre uncovers the Vietnamese army’s involvement in the widespread smuggling of timber from neighbouring Laos.

Each film follows seasoned EIA investigators in the field as they methodically piece together the clues of wildlife and forest crime and follow evidence trails leading to corrupt officialdom, organised criminal syndicates and grasping businessmen. Along the way, viewers will share the setbacks and successes in films rich with imagery both startling and haunting.

What they won’t see, and possibly won’t suspect, is the long year of preparations and often physically and emotionally demanding work behind the scenes to get three one-hour films in the can.

The project effectively began in 2009, following EIA’s tiger team in China and Nepal for a pilot film eventually broadcast early last year on Nat Geo Wild as Eco Crime Investigators – Inside the Tiger Trade.

The broadcast, first in the USA and subsequently worldwide (and it’s still in heavy rotation), was such a success that further programmes were commissioned.

On location in Kenya with Mary Rice and Dave Currey (c) EIA

Initial meetings with the London-based production company hired by Nat Geo to make the films focused on the likely scope of the three investigations, the probable shooting times and budget requirements for each, and a loose schedule around which investigators would have to fit all their usual campaign work and commitments.

It was in October 2010, when filming was concluded in Iceland and underway in Vietnam, that I was brought onboard as Project Co-ordinator; you could draw up a job description for the role which might run to several sides of A4, or you could just as accurately say my primary function was to help ease the process along as required.

Both EIA and the production company shared the same goal – to make the best programmes possible; naturally, both came at it with different considerations to the fore. The nature of conducting investigations in the field is that you never know what’s going to turn up and where it might lead; the nature of film-making is that you have to satisfy those commissioning the venture that they’re going to end up with a solid narrative arc and a substantial conclusion, preferably before shooting begins.

From the word ‘go’, EIA was adamant that its investigators would not serve as props, nor would they be mouthpieces for scripted lines which might in any way reflect poorly or inaccurately on the organisation, its methodology or its invaluable work. At the same time, we accepted that the film-makers needed to distil often-complex issues in a way that was accurate and wouldn’t leave viewers scratching their collective brows and reaching for the remote control. Looking at the finished products (and I believe I must have done so a score of times for each!), I think it’s fair to say this was achieved remarkably well.

In the field was where problems could most easily arise as directors fretted that they wouldn’t get the key shots they needed within the timeframe allowed, or when they were debriefing an investigator following an emotionally exhausting undercover filming session and needed the same kind of projected energy on take seven as was given the first time around. But our investigators are nothing if not troopers – and on many occasions during this project they were fixers and guides too – and the passion they have for their various campaigns all but radiates from the screen.

Julian Newman interviewed during filming in Laos (c) EIA

When location filming concluded by late March, it remained to fine-tune the narratives, film interviews with the key campaigners and nail down the voice-over and visual inserts such as animated maps..

With security the key consideration for EIA, this was also the time for me to go through each film with a fine toothcomb and ensure that the identity of our undercover Chinese investigator was protected at all times; you’d be amazed at how often somebody’s features can be fleetingly reflected in background mirrors and table tops.

All that remains now is for you to watch the films, and help EIA by spreading the word for others to do the same.

* After the US premiere on Tuesday, the three programmes are due to be broadcast on Nat Geo Wild in other territories, including the UK, later this year – watch our website and blog for details as we learn them.

Paul Newman, Press OfficerPaul Newman

Press Officer

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World Leaders at the International Tiger Forum

World Leaders at the International Tiger Forum

On return from the International Tiger Forum, away from the celebrities, the press and the hype,  Debbie Banks reflects on where the tiger is left after St Petersburg.

“No matter how pragmatic your strategy, how robust your evidence or how loud you shout; at the end of the day when it comes to saving wild tigers, it’s down to the political will of the leaders of the countries that tigers live in. They’re the ones that can direct resources towards policies, projects and operations that will lead to more effective enforcement, community engagement and prevent habitat destruction.

That’s why, after 14 years in tiger conservation and the wild tiger population at a mere 3200 animals, I can’t help but feel just a teensy bit positive after hearing five Prime Ministers speak at the International Tiger Forum in St Petersburg, Russia. They have indeed committed to doubling the wild tiger population by 2022; the next Year of the Tiger.

There’s never been a high level summit for the tiger before and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin really set the tone of the summit by talking about the value of the wild tiger, the forests it lives in and what that means for humanity.

China’s Premier Wen Jiabao

China’s Premier Wen Jiabao

He and his counterparts, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Nepal’s Prime Minister Madhav Kumar and Laos PDR Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh all talked about the need to work together to save the tiger and end the tiger trade, with Wen committing China to “vigorously combat poaching, trade and smuggling of tiger products”. Music to our cynical conservationists’ ears.

Naomi Campbell & Ilya Lagutenko at the Tiger Forum

Naomi Campbell & Ilya Lagutenko at the Tiger Forum

The summit closed with a star-studded event hosted by Russia’s no.1 rock star Ilya Lagutenko and Naomi Campbell, with musicians from Malaysia and China. Putin spoke again about the tiger, from the heart and with humour, praising Leonardo DiCaprio for being a “real man” to persist in his efforts to get the concert despite two aircraft-related near-disasters. And one of the tiger’s real heroes, forest inspector, Anatoly Belov was honoured for his tiger protection efforts.

Earlier in the week the technical nitty gritty arising from 12 months of discussions was concluded with the formal adoption of the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP), and the formal launch of the International Consortium for Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).

With a shortfall of $350m to implement the GTRP and ICCWC, tiger range countries had arrived in St Petersburg expecting the international community to put the money on the table; apart from India, which is investing well over a $1bn in tiger conservation over the next five years.

In the same week that an $80bn bailout was announced for the Celtic tiger, the donor community squirted out a measly $332m to save Asia’s tigers. It’s a paltry sum and much of it tied to climate and forest-related activities, some of it is in the form of loans, and only a little of it available for emergency enforcement responses. Nonetheless, it’s a start. It’s what happens now that the summit is over that is really important.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Of course, there are immediate actions governments can take that are low cost and will go a long way to reversing the tigers fortunes. We believe that if the leaders take the following steps it will instil confidence in the public and donors that this Year of the Tiger marks that much-needed gear change in political will; which in turn could generate more financial support.

1) As a matter of priority, the leaders of tiger countries must broadcast a message to the nation, declaring their commitment to double the tiger populations and engage their public, the entire government and industry in the task. This would be a sign that the promises made in St Petersburg were real, and it won’t cost them a penny.

Tweeting from the Forum, Debbie Banks & Will Travers

Tweeting from the Forum, Debbie Banks & Will Travers

2) The leaders can demonstrate their commitment to ending the tiger trade by:

  • Immediately instructing all law enforcement agencies to provide intelligence on criminals engaged in the tiger trade to their INTERPOL National Central Bureau;
  • Assigning a senior police investigator in the INTERPOL National Central Bureau to work on tiger / wildlife crime on a fulltime basis;
  • Calling a round-table of the highest level decision-makers in police and Customs to ensure the right people attend a forthcoming tiger trade seminar and that wildlife crime is placed on the curricula of their training academies.

3) The leaders can send a clear signal to consumers of tiger parts that there will be zero tolerance on trade and they can remove any reason for speculation on the part of tiger farmers by:

  • Destroying stockpiles of tiger parts and derivatives;
  • Taking enforcement action to close down operations that leak parts and derivatives of captive bred tigers on to the market place.

Simples!

Come and hear more about the summit from EIA, Born Free and WildAid, and how together we can turn words into action at the Saving Wild Tigers Forum on 7th December, 8.30pm at the Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR.

For more information click here and for tickets click here

For a copy of EIA’s latest report Enforcement not Extinction: Zero Tolerance on Tiger Trade, please click here.


Debbie Banks, Senior  Campaigner

Debbie Banks

Senior Campaigner

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For most people contact with customs officers is normally limited to deciding whether to choose the green or red channel when arriving at airports. Yet customs agents have a vital role to play in combating environmental crime.

 

"Indonesian customs officers inspecting a shipment of illegal ozone-depleting chemicals"

"Indonesian customs officers inspecting a shipment of illegal ozone-depleting chemicals"

 

I’ve just returned from Beijing where I spent four days in a conference room with customs personnel from over 30 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, spanning Afghanistan to Fiji. The gathering was organised by the World Customs Organisation’s Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO) for Asia, which currently has its headquarters in Beijing and its focus was combating environmental crime.

Customs officers play a key role in intercepting consignments of illicit goods, such as protected wildlife, banned ozone-depleting substances and hazardous waste. Yet with more than 20 million shipping containers shuttling around the world plus huge numbers of flights, detecting environmental contraband poses a severe challenge, especially given the pressure on customs to speed up trade and gather revenue.

Rather than carrying out random checks on shipments, which is like looking for a needle in a haystack, accurate risk profiling and intelligence sharing is vital; this is where RILO comes in.

Over the course of the meeting information was shared on environmental crime trends, use of customs codes, methods of concealment, intelligence analysis and case studies. Those readers who follow the work of EIA know that we often call for stronger enforcement of laws against environmental crime. The meeting in Beijing was really all about the nuts and bolts of effective customs operations to tackle smuggling of wildlife and controlled chemicals. The fact that it brought together customs officers from around Asia was especially important; the region’s trade is booming, it contains the world’s three busiest ports in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore, and has significant trade in wildlife, illicit waste and ozone-depleting substances.

During coffee and lunch breaks, I had the opportunity to hear at first hand from customs officers of successful actions against environmental crime; recent seizure of illicit ivory in Hong Kong and Vietnam, and interception of illegal ozone-depleting chemicals in Thailand, Indonesia and China.

 

Copyright EIA

"Indonesian customs officers inspecting a shipment of illegal ozone-depleting chemicals"

 

Since the headquarters of RILO in Asia moved to Beijing in 2004, China customs have pushed for stronger action against environmental crime. In 2006 RILO, at the instigation of China customs, launched the regional operation “Sky Hole Patching” aimed at intercepting smuggled ozone-depleting chemicals and hazardous waste. EIA was able to assist by providing a list of companies implicated in these crimes.  We have also produced a series of training films intended to help customs officers to detect contraband wildlife and chemicals.

During a dinner at the end of the meeting Wang Zhi, Head of RILO and Deputy Director-General of China Customs’ Anti-Smuggling Bureau, made a stirring call for stronger action and support to tackle environmental crime. It is a call EIA will certainly answer in our bid to assist customs officers working on the frontline.

Julian Newman

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This week our blog features our Global Environment Campaign, Fin Walraven’s comments on the latest developments:

It’s been a busy few weeks here as we’ve started to look at a new area of work, involving the carbon markets. All quite complicated I’m afraid-would you expect anything else from the Global Environment Campaign!?

So in a nut shell here’s the story…..under UN Climate talks European companies have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. They can use carbon markets to ‘offset’ part of these reductions, whereby they pay factories in developing countries such as India and China to stop emitting greenhouse gases instead. In theory this can be a good thing as it promotes clean, sustainable development in developing countries. However the reality, sadly, is sometimes quite different. Under the European carbon markets companies, including power suppliers such a British Gas, EDF and Endel, have been shelling out huge sums of money to factories in developing countries to get them to destroy a very potent greenhouse gas called HFC-23. This is a waste gas emitted in the production of refrigerant chemicals.

Here’s where the madness becomes clear. It costs factories about 12 pence for every carbon dioxide equivalent tonne of the HFC-23 waste gas they destroy but European companies can pay up to £10 for every tonne of carbon dioxide they need to offset. This is outrageous as it’s we, the consumer, who has to pay for this via increased electricity bills. Clearly it’s time to rethink how we fund the destruction of these HFC-23 waste emissions; it’s pretty obvious that the carbon markets are not the right place for it. So EIA has decided to do something about it. Two weeks ago I travelled over to Brussels to tell Members of the European Parliament about this scandal and they were incensed by what we said. The next step is to get a review of Europe’s carbon markets started and then work towards removing these useful HFC-23 credits from these markets so they can be dealt with in a much more cost-effective and sensible manner…watch this space!

Facing the F-gas challenge, read more.

Click here to find out about our work on UK supermarket emissions of HFCs

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