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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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‘So why should people in this country care?’

Spreading word of EIA’s activities and investigations via broadcast, print and electronic media can present all sorts of interesting challenges in the shifting landscape of how information is delivered and consumed in the early 21st Century.

But with traditional forms such as newspapers under mounting pressure and the rise of the blogosphere and online news outlets, it’s almost reassuring that many journalists still often seize on the hoary staple concerns of their profession: ‘What’s the local angle?’

Before joining EIA, I spent the best part of 25 years in the regional UK press on a variety of daily and weekly titles, so it’s a question with which I’m probably too familiar, having doubtless irked many a press officer and organisation in my time with the same parochial demand.

It’s not necessarily a shortcoming of the news-gatherers, more a pragmatic awareness of the fact that getting their audience to stay with a story past the first two or three paragraphs can be a tricky proposition and anchoring a story in a geographical context with which they’re familiar is one way to respond to that.

My first editor was a twitchy obsessive on the point – if you couldn’t get the name of a community within your circulation patch, and therefore an intimately local angle, into the first paragraph then you’d fail to connect with the readers and it was assumed they’d glance disinterested at the opening words and swiftly move on to the WI meeting reports and photo spreads of fancy dress dog shows (a deranged-looking poodle dolled up as Queen Victoria seemed to win every time). Either you rewrote the story or it was spiked.

Credit Jason Cheng

‘So why should you care?'

Most EIA investigations are conducted in far-flung countries and address issues of global significance; anchoring its findings in such a localised manner can sometimes seem a little perverse but it’s not impossible – and if it helps readers and viewers to consider their role in the issue, it’s all to the good.

And some campaigns are certainly easier to track back to a journalist’s local patch, whether it’s Little Bimblington-on-Sea or the country as a whole.

The Forestry Campaign’s work on illegal logging is a good example; if a UK reporter is at a loss to think how their audience can connect to protected trees being plundered from Indonesia’s national parks by a powerful criminal timber mafia, there’s a wealth of localised access points and issues with which to engage them, from climate change and carbon emissions to the introduction of EU legislation banning stolen timber (a prohibition which owes an enormous debt to EIA’s work).

It’s possible to get even closer in to Joe Normal’s life; in fact, to right outside his back door when you can tell him that the timber thieved from many thousands of miles away has found its way into the outdoor furniture and decking in his garden.

Similarly, the Global Environment Campaign is an easier sell because it involves issues on which our domestic taxes are being spent every day.

While recently pitching a story concerning e-waste, the journalist candidly asked me: ‘So, you’ve got a mountain of discarded technology from this country that’s supposed to properly disposed of but is instead winding up in huge piles in Africa, where children are being poisoned because they’re stripping out toxic raw materials in primitive circumstances? Why should people in this country be concerned about that?’

Because we in the developed world are morally obliged to deal with our own waste and not offload it on poor, developing countries? Because we’re paying our taxes in this country to have it properly and safely disposed of? Because the chain of personal responsibility can start with the very television set or computer monitor through which the individual is learning about the issue? It doesn’t come much closer to home than that.

Other issues and campaigns can be a harder sell, and are sometimes dependant on the personal concerns of the journalist to whom one is pitching.

Images from EIA investigation, March 2010. Credit EIA

Images from EIA investigation, March 2010.

Last year, one reporter succinctly summed up for me her difficulties in convincing her editors to run a story about the annual slaughter of Dall’s porpoises in Japan, which EIA was again attempting to highlight: ‘So, Japanese people are killing unprotected porpoises and then selling the toxic, mercury-polluted meat to Japanese people who might be getting sick from it? That’s not a story, that’s more like poetic justice.’

Despite raising considerations such as the unsustainability of the hunts and the fact that Japanese consumers are by and large deliberately kept ignorant of the health risks, it remained a no-sale. Fortunately, the good people at Al Jazeera felt that not all stories need to be happening on their audience’s collective doorstep to be of interest and value, and put together an excellent report.

It seems to me that the more interconnected we all become, whether it’s via the internet or international trade and political agreements, the more the world becomes one big ‘local patch’ in which everyone has a vested interest, where thinking globally and acting locally is becoming more than a cute slogan. It’s becoming a necessity.

Paul Newman, Press Officer

Paul Newman

Press Officer

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On 1st November the world’s largest cetacean hunt – the Dall’s porpoise hunt – resumed again.

I was in the small fishing port of Otsuchi in northern Japan earlier this year, with a cameraman and fixer, to film and document the porpoises being landed. It was a depressing and frustrating trip. We were treated with suspicion and outright hostility at the market place, followed around by the police and even kicked out of our hotel once they realised we were there to film the hunt. It was impossible to talk to anyone actually involved in the hunting or the prefectural authorities that are supposedly regulating it would not agree to meet with us.

 

Investigating levels of mercury in supermarket whale meat.

Investigating levels of mercury in supermarket whale meat.

 

On the other hand we were able to survey local supermarkets for Dall’s porpoise meat (we found lots) and get some products tested for mercury and methyl-mercury. We were told in one supermarket that it was a popular local product and we found large quantities in Otsuchi and Kamaishi supermarkets, selling fairly cheaply, as fresh meat or marinated. The analysis results showed that mercury and methyl-mercury levels are high in these animals – on average 2.75 times higher than the regulatory limit of 0.4 parts per million. With up to 15,000 Dall’s porpoises allowed to be killed each year, this equates to around 800 tonnes of toxic meat on the supermarket shelves each year.

Recently, we received the latest official catch statistics for 2008 showing that a dramatic reduction in the catch had occurred – to just over 7,000 Dall’s porpoises. The first year I went to Japan to film the hunt was 1999 and we had just heard then that more than 18,000 porpoises had been killed in 1998.  So this is certainly good news, and progress in the right direction. But we need more information to understand why the catch is lower. Is it just a blip or does it really signal a gradual reduction in the hunt? My hunch is that some hunters are leaving the trade as the market for small cetaceans is no longer profitable, in part likely due to the glut of large whale meat being stored in warehouses across Japan, but also because people are becoming more aware of the human health risks associated with eating dolphins and porpoises.

 

Dall's Porpoise catch in Otsuchi Japan. Copyright EIA.

Dall's Porpoise catch in Otsuchi Japan

 

So our aim is to obtain  more information and we will be renewing our efforts to establish a dialogue with authorities in northern Japan that are responsible for monitoring the Dall’s porpoise hunt.

At the other end of Japan where activists have been camping out in Taiji to try and stop the dolphin hunt, we have seen some small progress this week. A meeting took place on 2nd November between local Taiji officials and campaigners working to stop the hunt. Although early reports suggest that the meeting was somewhat less than amicable, it was well attended by the media which will help raise further awareness in Japan. This is particularly important because the pollution issue has only been rarely reported by Japanese media in the past.

While fully supportive of the ongoing work in Taiji, EIA will continue to focus our efforts on the Dall’s porpoise hunt – even with the recent significant reduction in the catch, many thousands continue to be killed every year and it is still by far the largest cetacean hunt in the world.

Clare Perry

Clare Perry

Cetaceans Campaigner

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Copyright EIA

Clare Perry makes up one half of our cetaceans team, together with Jenny Lonsdale, co-founder of EIA

Since the June annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) rejected the proposal to allow Japan, Norway and Iceland IWC endorsed commercial whaling catch limits, we have been catching up on all the other work that the cetacean campaign does outside the IWC meeting.

There is a tremendous amount of work to do in the coming months and in the lead up to next year’s annual meeting if we are to ensure that the conservation agenda moves forward and aspirations for resumed commercial whaling are kept in abeyance.

Copyright EIA

The Japanese Delegation at the IWC earlier this year

World attention is usually focused on Japan’s commercial whaling, carried out under the guise of so called scientific research. However, whaling in the North Atlantic this summer boasts some shocking statistics:

Norway has killed about 464 minke whales; Iceland has already killed hundreds of fin and minke whales, while the Faroe Islands killed more than 750 pilot whales.

Catching fin whales – the second largest animal on the planet – has resulted in thousands of tonnes of whale meat being stockpiled in Iceland because there is no market. Japan doesn’t seem keen to add Icelandic fin whale to its own stockpile which reached 5,000 tonnes this August. So it seems these magnificent animals have been killed for nothing but politics.

Meanwhile the Icelandic Government is engaged in negotiations on its possible accession to the EU. It has been given a strong message that whaling is not permitted in the EU but this is a significant issue in the negotiations and we are following developments carefully.

Copyright EIA

EIA's first campaign focused on exposing the atrocious whaling that was taking place in the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory, some few 100kms of mainland Scotland. This is an image from our archive.

The hunts in the Faroe Islands are particularly shocking because the Islanders were advised 2 years ago by their own world-leading medical expert that they should not eat any pilot whale meat or blubber due to the high levels of pollutants. This frightening warning is being ignored by the Faroese Government and people.

We are gathering information on the ground to put pressure on these three Governments to end the cruel and unnecessary slaughter.

At the same time, our work continues to develop the IWC’s vital work to address other environmental threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans). From 21st – 24th September, we will attend the IWC’s workshop on ship strikes. Both endangered and more plentiful populations of whales are vulnerable to collisions with vessels and the IWC is working hard to quantify the problem and work with scientists and industry to find mitigating solutions. We will be bringing information on the problem of collisions between whales and sailing boats which can be catastrophic for whales, sailors and their boats – it should be an interesting meeting.

Jenny Lonsdale and Clare Perry – EIA Cetaceans TeamCopyright EIA

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CetaceansEIA campaigners, Jennifer Lonsdale and Clare Perry returned from the IWC last week, you can read their full updates here. We asked Jenny her thoughts on the meeting.

It is a huge relief that Japan, Norway and Iceland were not rewarded with IWC sanctioned catch limits. It would have been  much harder  to  campaign against  their whaling operations  within their respective countries if they had received IWC legitimacy.  It would have been devastating  to see one of the world’s greatest conservation achievements – the international ban on commercial whaling – mortally wounded.  While a future deal is not off the table, the IWC agreed to have a pause in negotations until the next annual meeting in 2011.

The 2010 IWC meeting was frustrating but at the same time it was exciting to see progress on some very important conservation work including on climate change, ship strikes and entanglement. Australia in particular has made a very significant commitment to cetacean conservation.  The IWC’s work to effectively address the threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) must be a shared partnership between all its members and has the real potential to ensure a future for cetaceans. Since it was EIA that “bullied” the IWC to address environmental threats to cetaceans in the1990s, it is so exciting to see it as a mainstream element of the IWC’s work.”


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