Two University of Exeter graduates have visited Nigeria to make a film promoting conservation of elephants and their forest habitat.
The film was created to encourage better conservation by educating people both in Nigeria and around the world.
Paignton Zoo is part of a long-running conservation project in the Omo Forest Reserve in south-west Nigeria, where an estimated 20-40 forest elephants live.
“Local people recognise the importance of protecting the elephants, but the threat to these animals comes from destruction of their habitat,” said Chris, 25, who lives in Exeter and works as a project researcher for the university.
“There are controls on logging in the area, but logging happens there on a large scale so its effects are still very damaging.
“There are also illegal farmers encroaching into the forest to produce palm oil and cocoa.”
Jono, 25, from Caterham in Surrey, said: “The situation out there was quite a shock.
“This is the last stronghold of this population of elephants and you think it will be some kind of pristine wilderness, but parts of it are very close to logging camps.”
The pair had hoped to see the elephants during their trip, but they were unsuccessful.
“We spent four days hiding in bushes, hoping to film them,” Chris said.
“One day we spent four hours waiting then went away for an hour and, when we came back, our guide showed us fresh elephant footprints right next to where we had been hiding.
“We would have been the first people to film this group of elephants in person, but we had to settle for footage from motion-activated camera traps.”
During the trip in February, Chris and Jono found themselves in some worrying situations – including getting lost in the forest in sweltering heat for eight hours, and a lucky escape when a man tried to puncture their car tyres by throwing a log spiked with nails under the wheels.
Paignton Zoo and its umbrella charity, the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, have supported conservation education in the Omo Forest Reserve since 1993, with help from the Nigerian Conservation Foundation.
Education officers work within local primary schools, and will use Chris and Jono’s film as part of their efforts to raise awareness of environmental issues.
Phil Knowling, spokesperson for Paignton Zoo and the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: “This film is beautifully shot and evocative.
“It gives an invaluable insight into the region, the forces that threaten it and the people on the ground working to prevent environmental disaster.”
(from a press release)