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Posts Tagged ‘Kenya’

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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A Burning Without the Warmth of Jubilation

Ivory Burning credit Dr. Paula Kahumbu

Almost 10 years ago, EIA investigated the case of more than six tonnes of illegal ivory –­ that’s at least 600 dead elephants ­– seized en route to Japan. It became known as the Singapore Seizure and our subsequent investigations showed it had been only one of 19 which had left the shores of Africa, all heading to Asia and all using the same modus operandi.

To this day, no-one apart from a minor fixer in Singapore has ever been prosecuted, let alone convicted.

Despite a wealth of evidence ­ and the excellent work of a handful of enforcement officers from Zambia, Malawi and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF),­ this case has, along with so many other similar cases across Africa and Asia, foundered. The criminal networks continue to operate with impunity and the illegal ivory trade is thriving and growing.

On Wednesday, July 20, some of the ivory from the 2002 seizure, in the custody of LATF and held in Kenya at the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) training college in Tsavo, was burned in a public statement decrying the growing trade and  increasing numbers of elephants being poached to fuel the burgeoning demand for ivory in Asia, predominantly China. Before lighting the 335 tusks, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki told the crowd: “We wish to firmly demonstrate to the world our determination to eliminate all forms of illegal trade in ivory. Poachers and illegal traders in ivory must know that their days are numbered.”

From my point of view,­ and as one of EIA’s team working on this from the start,­ it was all a rather poignant and disappointing end to the futile demise of so many elephants. 

Poached Elephant © EIA

Disposing of the ivory in this way certainly sends out a clear message about the commitment to tackle illegal trade and ensure that this consignment of ivory never enters any market place, legal or otherwise; it also serves to underline Kenya’s stance that it will not tolerate illegal trade and poaching (although it did not go unnoticed that none of Kenya’s own stockpile made it onto the pyre).

But it is also a sad reminder that no-one was ever punished,­ bearing in mind that it was only one of many shipments that successfully penetrated the permeable borders and under-resourced enforcement agencies tasked with preventing illegal contraband. It can’t have been easy either for the individuals who risked their lives to pursue the case and bring the syndicate to light, some of whom were present for the burning. Their work was eclipsed by the headlines that followed the immediate seizure, and the apathy and filibustering which then dominated the subsequent investigations.

Four years after the seizure, I spoke with the then Director General of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) about the case and it’s status. His view was that it was ‘spilt milk’; it would seem that he was not alone. Now the Singapore Seizure has been consigned to history,­ a cold case,­ and remains the single biggest seizure of  ivory since the ban was implemented in 1989 (although, let’s face it, there have been a couple that have since come pretty close to equalling that dubious accolade). For many, this will be a line drawn, the end of an embarrassing chapter. For the individuals trying to move the case forward – the officers from ZAWA, the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Malawi, and the investigators from LATF – it must be a bitter-sweet outcome. Their efforts, which held so much promise and were a great example of agencies working together across borders to tackle illegal trade in ivory, ultimately came smack up against a brick wall. They did not fail; the system did. Corruption? Lack of resources? Political will? Inadequate penalties? I suspect we will never truly know.

On the positive side, the ZAWA officer who instigated the original investigation that led to the seizure and discovery of the  syndicate was recently appointed Director General of ZAWA. And Kenya has made an unequivocal statement about its stance, supported by the signatory countries to LATF.

At the end of the day, however, it all felt rather hollow. Lots of grand words and ambitious statements, and no celebration whatsoever of the gesture and signal being sent out to the criminal world. I wasn’t present at the last burning of ivory in Kenya, back in 1989, but I understand that the setting of flames was met with cheers, clapping and great jubilation; this burning was instead met with silence and a lot of jostling for position to get the iconic photograph or moving image.

The enforcement message somehow lost in the spin …

Mary Rice

Executive Director

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