Wednesdays for the Planet is a series of online screenings and discussions highlighting the natural world and some of the environmental challenges our planet faces. The virtual screenings are for educational purposes, non-profit and non-commercial. This special session was organized as part of the World Wildlife Day celebrations and featured a live discussion with experts on wildlife and species conservation.

World Wildlife Day Film Showcase

The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Jackson Wild, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have teamed up to organize an international film showcase focusing on the immense value of our key species, their extensive ecosystem services and the millions of human livelihoods they sustain. The Film Showcase is one of the global events  marking World Wildlife Day celebrations. It’s seventh edition in 2022 illustrate this year’s theme: Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration. The winners have been announced on 16 February 2022.

We would like to thank Jackson Wild for this exclusive screening.

Live Discussion | Nature’s Fear Factor

The Geneva Environment Network partnered with Jackson Wild and the CITES Secretariat for a special session of Wednesday for the Planet to celebrate World Wildlife Day, showcasing the film Nature’s Fear Factor, and five additional short videos.

Nature’s Fear Factor

A NOVA Production by HHMI Tangled Bank Studios for WGBH Boston
53 minutes

A bold experiment to bring African wild dogs back to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique reveals how predators—and the fear they trigger—play a surprising and crucial role in keeping wild ecosystems healthy. Until recently, the impact of predators was thought to be simple: predators eat prey, keeping populations in check. But ecologists are realizing that it’s not all about consumption. Just the presence of predators can cause significant changes in behavior. Scientists call this the “landscape of fear,” and in Gorongosa, they are hoping to harness its effects to help bring an ecosystem back from the brink.

To watch this film, you should register to get an exclusive pass.


Karen Gaynor

Scientific Support Officer | CITES Secretariat

Karen Gaynor is a Scientific Support Officer at the CITES Secretariat. Prior to this appointment, she was serving as Coastal Ecologist at the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service and she also chaired the Committee I of the 17th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties in South Africa.

Jared Lipworth

Executive Producer and Head of Outreach and Impact | HHMI Tangled Bank studios

Jared Lipworth is an Emmy-winning executive producer who has overseen hundreds of hours of science, history and natural history programs. Prior to joining HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, Lipworth was vice president of specials at National Geographic Studios.

Cole du Plessis

Lead of the Wild Dog Expansion Project | Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)

Cole du Plessis is the lead of the Wild Dog Expansion Project at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). The project’s goal is to expand safe spaces suitable for the African wild dogs that have become extinct in 25 of the 39 countries they once roamed, making them the second most endangered carnivore on the continent.

Live Discussion Video

In addition to the live WebEx and Facebook transmissions, the video is available on this webpage.


The Geneva environment network has the pleasure to welcome you today virtually for a special Wednesday for the Planet held in the run-up to World Wildlife Day, which is officially celebrated on 3 March. Today we are discussing and presenting the documentary Nature’s Fear Factor, a bold experiment to bring African wild dogs back to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. For the live discussion we have with us:

  • Karen Gaynor, Scientific Support Officer | CITES Secretariat
  • Jared Lipworth, Executive Producer and Head of Outreach and Impact | HHMI Tangled Bank studios
  • Cole du Plessis, Lead of the Wild Dog Expansion Project | Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)

As the screening and discussion, today is organized within the framework of World Wildlife Day, it is my pleasure to give the floor to Karen Gaynor.

Karen Gaynor, Scientific Support Officer | CITES Secretariat

  • Firstly, let me thank the Geneva Environment Network for helping to arrange this discussion today, and secondly let me welcome all of you to this event. As you know, World Wildlife Day is celebrated on 3 March every year to raise awareness about issues that impact wildlife. The first World Wildlife Day celebration was held in 2014, and this year’s event will be celebrated under the theme “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration”. The celebrations will seek to draw attention to the conservation status of some of the most critically endangered species of wild fauna and flora to stimulate discussions towards imagining and implementing solutions.
  • To give some context, according to data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its Red List of threatened species, over 8,400 species of fauna and flora are now considered critically endangered, quite close to another 30,000 are understood to be endangered or vulnerable. Based on these estimates, it is suggested that over 1 Million species are now threatened with extinction. These are frightening statistics, especially when we consider that people everywhere rely on wildlife and biodiversity-based resources to meet all our needs from food to new medicines, housing and clothing. Millions of people also rely on nature to source their livelihoods and economic opportunities. Therefore, continued loss of species, habitats and ecosystems also threaten all life on earth, including humans.
  • This year’s World Wildlife Day theme also highlights the importance of the U.N. Decade on EcosystemRestoration, which runs from 2021 to 2030. Ecosystems are only healthy when their components species thrive, but it is all about achieving balance. If just one keystone species disappears, an entire ecosystem can start to decline and die. And this is why actions to protect individual species must go hand with restoring entire ecosystems.
  • I would also like to thank the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Jackson Wild who have teamed up with the CITES Secretariat once more to organize this international film showcase as part of the celebration of 2022 World Wildlife day. The showcase, which is the seventh of its kind, highlights films that explore threats weighing on endangered species of wild fauna and flora, their central importance for their habitats and ecosystems and for the communities who live near them, and the numerous initiatives that are stepping out to conserve them.
  • Today we are focusing on the film Nature’s Fear Factor. From the CITES perspective, the fate of individual species and entire ecosystems are inextricably and intimately linked. This year’s celebration of World Wildlife Day focuses on how we can protect key species that play a particularly vital part in how their ecosystem functions and their contributions to ecosystem health. From global treaties like CITES to small scale local projects, these diverse efforts can boost many success stories and important advances.
  • While the diversity crisis remains serious, we can draw inspiration from many positive actions being taken by governments, NGOs and concerned citizens alike. And this is very well displayed in the film that we will be discussing today. But this day is a chance to celebrate the partnerships like the private-public partnership such as Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique that is working to reestablish the natural balance between species, while at the same time, acknowledging the challenges, we still face stopping irreversible damage.
  • One such partnership that I would specifically like to mention is the joint CITES-CMS African Carnivores Initiative, which again is very closely linked to this film because, through this initiative, the CITES and CMS Secretariats are working together on four African carnivore species: African lion, leopard, cheetah and the African wild dog. And as part of this initiative, CITES and CMS will work in close cooperation with the IUCN and its specialist groups.
  • Before we start the discussions today, I think it is important to highlight that. It’s our actions that have brought us to this critical point, and it is only by working together that we will find a way to conserve and sustainably use the diverse wildlife that supports us. On that note, thank you all. And I look forward to a stimulating discussion.

Q. Jared Lipworth is an Emmy-winning executive producer who has overseen hundreds of hours of science, history and natural history programs. Before joining HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, Lipworth was vice president of specials at National Geographic Studios. Your background in storytelling is key to making this film a success. How do you think international institutions like CITES can communicate such important issues like this year’s World Wildlife Day theme “Recovery key species for ecosystem restoration”?

Jared Lipworth, Executive Producer and Head of Outreach and Impact | HHMI Tangled Bank studios

  • For as long as I have been making films, it has always been about storytelling. If you tell a good story, you can teach people a whole lot when they are not looking. If you set out to teach them something it becomes much harder in the film and media world to get the ideas to stick with the viewers. For a story like this, right from the beginning, we recognized that it had so many layers that would make it a good story, from the fact that there was this reintroduction of a species that is critically endangered to a location that could become a stronghold for the wild dogs in the future, that in itself was interesting.
  • The story of Gorongosa is another incredible layer for a place that most had thought was irreparable, but through data-driven conservation and scientific efforts, they had slowly turned this place into a viable ecosystem again. We were lucky enough to have access to the story from the very beginning, we were able to capture what it was like before the dogs were there what the problems were, because the wild dogs weren’t there, and then followed that process all the way through so that we could see how the dogs started to impact the ecosystem. All of that made already two big layers that would make for a good story. And then on top of it, we are a science production company. We are all about science, education and about helping people understand and appreciate and be inspired by the scientific stories in the world around us. This is another layer.
  • Additionally, we have the layer of the landscape of fear, this idea that predators are not important just because of what they eat, but because of the way they change behavior. If we had set out to make that film without Gorongosa, it could have been a great film, but it would not have had the relevance that having the dogs at the center gave us.
  • We were able to tell the story of the landscape of fear, how the dogs come in and are crucial, and how predators, in general, are key to an ecosystem because of the way they affect the other animals around them. So for us, it was about those layers that created a great story.
  • The advice to anyone who wants to tell the story is to find the connection points on a personal level, for both your experts, and for your viewers, and build the story around those, build the story around something that is going to appeal to folks who may not necessarily be attracted to the data or to the graphs or to the numbers, but tell that great story. Then you can get all the information you want into your project.

Q. Documentary films are a very powerful tool for conservation, they are a great way of bringing nature and biodiversity issues to the attention of people. Can these documentaries have other important roles to play, such as for fundraising, or have the opposite effect by inviting poachers to the locations you are filming in?

  • I will take the poaching first. That is always something we must be careful about. There have been films I have worked on where we specifically did not show the locations or gave any kind of information that would help people with that intent to find the animals that we are featuring.
  • On the other side of it, we are an impact studio, I am an executive producer, I work on specific shows, but the goal for us is really about outreach and how do you have the maximum impact once the film has been made. So, we do a whole lot of work to figure out for every project. How do we take this story beyond the film? How do we do events like this? How do we get the word out about these efforts that are being done around the world in a way that can be relevant to people wherever they are?
  • I will give you some examples. We did another film called Our Gorongosa, it was a film not about the wildlife, but about the commitment that the local communities have to Gorongosa. It was a film that looked at the incredible efforts they are doing there for healthcare, for women and for children’s education. We created that film, never thinking that it was going to have a mass audience. This was a film that was created for a very small and very specific audience to help them understand the positive benefits of that connection between human development and conservation. We were lucky enough that this film turned out to be very powerful with very strong characters, and it reached a mass audience as well, but it was specifically designed to help to tell the story of Gorongosa’s efforts to showcase a new model of conservation for the conservation community and the human development. This is one of my favorite examples of a film that was created not for the general audience, but for a specific audience with a certain goal in mind
  • On other projects we do, we worked on creating a huge outreach campaign: We have got a film that just aired recently on bees and one cinematographer who, during COVID19 Pandemic, was stuck in his backyard and basically filmed the bees, seeing over 60 different species and following them over the course of the year. He lives in Bristol, England and he is one of the premier cinematographers in the world. He is usually out developing special macro cameras to tell the stories of creatures that nobody else could tell. And here we had this incredibly intimate film about his year during COVID19 with the bees in his backyard it was very sweet, beautiful and very local to his backyard, but we use that to build out an outreach campaign with libraries and PBS stations across the U. S. so that local viewers can get involved in understanding the critical importance of pollinators in their local ecosystems, and with calls to action to come out and protect those pollinators; one square foot of wildflowers in your own backyard helps attract native pollinators. Again, I think this is just another example of how you take a film and a story to then figure out how do you maximize that impact? How do you get the word out? How do you make the stories relevant to people wherever they are?

Q. Thank you very much for sharing these examples and stories. Now to our next panellist, Cole du Plessis. You are leading the wild dog expansion project at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, and I will let you explain a little bit more about what you do. Since you were a kid, you have always loved wildlife. How did your career take you to work particularly with wild dogs and moreover, their introduction to their natural habitat to restore their ecosystem?

Cole du Plessis, Lead of the Wild Dog Expansion Project | Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)

  • Thank you so much for having me today and thank you for the introduction. In short, I work for the Endangered Wildlife Trust. My key role within the organization is to coordinate the Wild Dog Expansion Project. In terms of how that came to be is what has already been touched on in this talk. We are dealing with animals that are highly endangered for various reasons. In the case of African wild dogs, it is because of disease, human development in a form of agriculture and urbanization, etc. Wild dogs are now locally extinct in at least 25 of the 59 countries that they once roamed. We only have about 6,000 wild dogs living in Africa, and I think what is more concerning is if you only count your breeding pairs, you only have about 700 in the continent. In terms of how I got to this, somebody said the other day that wild dogs often find you, versus you finding them. In my career, I was very fortunate to get given a job right after graduating in environmental science. I was not sure what I wanted to do at that stage, so I ended up training to become a guard. I quickly realized that this was not for me, I wanted to be out there conserving and, in the field, doing hands-on work. And I was very fortunate to get a role as a Priority Species Monitor as my very first job in conservation. I remember very quickly the park manager came to me and said, listen, the wild dogs on this reserve are under the most threatened, and this is where you need to spend your time. At that stage, as a new conservationist coming out to the scene, I remember thinking there were so many other cool animals like lions, elephants and cheetahs that were on the reserve, and I really wanted to spend time with them. And I thought, well, if this is my job and that is what I am being told to do, so be it. So, for the next two and a half years of my career, I spent that time monitoring a specific pack of wild dogs, and unfortunately, in an area where snaring, which is one of the major threats which I did not mention before, was quite rough in this area. It was my job to find them daily, twice a day. And through that, in a very special way, I started really becoming a part of the pack and saw it growing from six wild dogs that had all been snared at least once in their lifetime, to a pack for up to 40 wild dogs. And funnily enough, where the story all becomes quite special for me is that some of those are the wild dogs that were reintroduced to Gorongosa National Park.
  • So, the story came full circle, but before I jump too far ahead, after monitoring this very special species and just learning how complex, social and loving these animals are, I thought let me step back. I wanted to work at things at a high level and that drove me to do my masters in protected area management. I did in Australia, and I found that I was really missing the African Bush so much, which drove me to return to Africa and, and actually get the job that I am doing now with wild dogs. So, combining my degree in protected area management, and all the monitoring experience that I gained over the years, really solidified my love for conserving not just that pack, but for the species as a whole.

Q. Thank you, Cole. In the film, we saw that at the beginning, they introduced 14 dogs, and at the end, there were about 40 dogs already. What is the situation today? Do you have the current numbers?

  • I must say it is a huge success story. The quick answer and from the counts we do every four months to monitor the progress of this introduction, from the two packs introduced we are now actually counting 125 wild dogs. Since then, we have injected two or three groups of wild dogs to keep that genetic diversity. It is not about just growing the population numbers, but we want to grow the genetic diversity too.
  • We spend a long time working and modelling what we think might happen, but at the end of the day, when it comes to wild animals like these, you just cannot really predict the success and you must have a very rigid feasibility assessment before undertaking reintroductions like this.
  • We were hoping to have about 80 wild dogs as an indicator of success, but the wild dogs have done so well, new packs are being naturally formed. When you look at IUCN rankings and on a recent paper that we did on the Gorongosa wild dogs, a big part of what we need to do is clarify what the ultimate success is. In this case, we have had wild dogs giving birth to pups who have grown up to adulthood, left their natal pack and went out to find each other in the wild to form new packs. And that is the ultimate version of success. But I think what is even more exciting is in the last 12 months, we have reintroduced some wild dogs into Malawi, a country that had not seen wild dogs for a very long time. And what is quite exciting is we have been able to source wild dogs from Gorongosa all these years later and take them to other countries or areas where they were locally extinct.
  • In terms of the numbers, I think we have ticked all the boxes of a successful reintroduction in terms of the genetic diversity, their pack formation, the success of rearing their pups growing up and dispersing and forming new packs.

Q. On this project, could you share with us what is the most interesting observation you have had whether on the dogs’ behaviour, the grazing species, or even the whole ecosystem as a whole?

  • Yes, there is a twofold answer to this. At a species level, we learned a lot of lessons from this first-ever reintroduction in Mozambique, particularly in terms of what can work putting wild dogs back into these open systems, that success can now be broadcasted to a more regional level and not just locally. On the ecological level, Jared made such a fantastic job of summing it up earlier. In terms of the ecological role that wild dogs have brought to the park and that fear factor that we keep talking about, the ecological balance that wild dogs have restored in Gorongosa National Park is very clear. I think both at a species and ecological level, what we have been able to observe has been of such high impact.

Q. In the film, we saw that there are plans for reintroducing other key predator species. You even documented leopards, that is amazing! Will this mean that there will be more fear in the landscape? What are the preparations for managing also the fear that the dogs will have from big cats? If there are other species please mention them.

  • That is a fantastic question. At this stage, the next priority is to start reintroducing spotted hyenas back into the ecosystem. In addition, at some point, there might be a bit of work on lions for keeping and managing their genetic diversity. Up to date, there have been four or five leopards reintroduced also into Gorongosa. In the documentary, only one was showcased and it was mentioned that it was the first time a leopard has been seen or officially documented. Since then, I think five leopards have been reintroduced, they have been collared and are being currently monitored.
  • In terms of the fear factor, I think all these predators bring different attributes into the ecosystem. For example, lions live in their pride and are powerful animals and for that reason, they can take larger prey. Leopards are all about stalking and observing the prey and hunting smaller things. One of the reasons why wild dogs are my favourite animal is that they are between 25 to 30 kg and only run about 70 kilometres an hour. When you compare them to other predators like lions, leopards and cheetahs, they do not have the same impact, the special strengths and speeds that these other animals have. But what they do have is intelligence and strategy. There is a lot of communication and coordination that goes on, they specialize in certain types of prey, and they bring the fear factor in their own way.
  • In the documentary, you saw there are diverse types of habitats, and African wild dogs are just so strategic in the way that their hunt that they can flesh animals out of the key areas or chase them into a drainage line. Everything that forms part of their hunts is very strategic, and for that reason, they bring a certain fear factor that other predators will not bring.
  • The Gorongosa team, over the last 12 years or so, have done such a fantastic job of restoring the ecosystem, prey numbers are on the increase and habitats have been restored. This created a platform for all these predators to coexist with one another. In the case of wild dogs, it is true that hyenas and lions are one of the main threats, and there will always be competition between carnivores. But what makes Gorongosa quite unique is that there is just so much food and such rich, diverse resources that the landscape can serve and sustain a whole range of carnivores, not just the wild dogs.

Jared Lipworth, Executive Producer and Head of Outreach and Impact | HHMI Tangled Bank studios

  • I would just add to that the other thing that is unique is that there is the baseline scientific work that they have been doing for so long. Reintroductions are carefully planned, for example, they would not have brought the hyenas in early stages because of the potential conflict with other carnivores like the lions.
  • Part of the storytelling appeal to me is this ongoing process in which you plan, but then you never know what is going to happen, instead, we see and make decisions about the next steps. I remember Paula telling me quite often that the goal is to bring the hyenas as they are so crucial to that landscape, but they do not want to bring them in too early so that they could threaten the population and the rebound of the lions and the wild dogs.
  • From a storytelling perspective and from a model of conservation, another appealing feature about Gorongosa is that data-driven commitment to science and to understanding the ecology as it is happening. This park was wiped out of about 90-95% or more of their large mammals during the civil conflict. It was never about restoring a previous balance, instead, it was about creating a current balance. And that is a really important element where they’re looking to create, from a scientific and conservation perspective, a landscape that today is a balanced ecosystem.

Karen Gaynor, Scientific Support Officer | CITES Secretariat

Before I worked in the United Nations, I worked in the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ireland. Much of our work was around developing management plans and I know how complicated this is. I am curious, in the case of Gorongosa, what is the management structure like? How is the management plan, is it adaptive? How were the next steps being agreed and, what is the overall view or vision for Gorongosa? Maybe you could explain how decisions are made about which species to introduce next.

Cole du Plessis, Lead of the Wild Dog Expansion Project | Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)

  • That is a fantastic question. In terms of the whole reintroduction process itself, I remember when I first started chatting to the Gorongosa team. It probably took about 18 months just to get to the point of actually flying the wild dogs there because of the level of planning that goes into it
  • Speaking more on the wild dog front, particularly on the Wild Dog Expansion Project work that we do, we basically look for sites around southern Africa where wild dogs have become locally extinct. If we want to reintroduce them into those areas, there are ten 10 different points that we must consider, which is just a very simple desktop assessment that looks into the carrying capacity, predator numbers, fences, communities, disease history, buy-in, etc. It is quite a rigorous assessment, simple but rigorous in the sense that it very quickly shows the green and red flags. Then, of course, there are the IUCN guidelines that we must follow very closely for any reintroduction. In the case of Gorongosa, the threats to the wild dogs had to be addressed before undertaking any reintroduction, but it was hard to predict how would the wild dogs behave. For that, we had to simulate different scenarios, and as you said, consider an effective management plan. It is difficult, though, to jump too far ahead in terms of that prediction. So very simply put, the first step that we did was to collar every single individual in the pack, which was very extreme and a highly costly thing to do, but we needed to know exactly the successes and failures of the reintroduction since day one. We are also doing a whole feasibility assessment and working on a carrying capacity and we wanted to figure out how many wild dogs would be a desirable number.
  • From the modelling that we have used in the past, considering the prey numbers and the size of the protected area, our expectation was in the realm of 80 wild dogs, eight packs consisting of an average of 10 wild dogs. Therefore, having a management plan is quite difficult, because the pack could be of two or of 20. In fact, one of the packs at the moment in Gorongosa is about 30 wild dogs, so the management plan you touched on it had to be highly flexible with a lot of feedback loops. Even today, we still looking very closely because no one could quite anticipate how much territory one pack might occupy. Research in Tanzania will tell you that a wild dog pack needs 100,000 hectares, whereas in South Africa, in a more complex landscape, wild dogs can live quite easily in 15,000 characters.
  • What has been of great interest from this collar data and in terms of these feedback loops and our management plan, is that we are finding that even these 125 wild dogs in about eight packs are only using effectively one-third of the whole protected area still.
  • So to answer your question, at a lower level, the wild dog management plan is quite fluid and at this stage, it is really about running through every scenario you can imagine and being adaptive while continually managing the risks. There is also ongoing work with the community where they brought the school children to name the new pups and integrate the community with the wild dogs. It is a very complex system and at higher levels, I know that there are management plans and timelines. I do not think I can comment on the detail of those plans, but so far, the project has done a fantastic job of setting up the priorities and getting some of the best scientists involved, and the collaboration is incredible.

Jared Lipworth, Executive Producer and Head of Outreach and Impact | HHMI Tangled Bank studios

  • I would echo that with the other predators and other animals in general. When the war ended, the prey species rebounded, many of them significantly quickly. For example, the whole process of creating a situation where the risks had been mitigated for the lions eventually led to the lion population blossoming on its own without having to do introductions. And as Cole said, there might be the need for genetic reasons to bring in lions, but the numbers themselves have rebounded. The same thing happened with the elephants, upon which we touched a little bit in the film, and how the human-wildlife conflict is being mitigated.
  • Each of these introductions is looked at from all angles, and a lot of ongoing scientific studies are happening from other institutions. But also, Gorongosa I believe, is the first park in the world that has a master’s program for conservation biology that is done entirely within the park. So, these are Mozambique students who come into Gorongosa to get their masters and then go out and become conservation leaders in other places in Mozambique and beyond. I think that the commitment to a scientific approach to conservation is one of the key elements that they have embraced from the beginning.

Q. Back to Karen, on the role that CITES plays in ensuring that the key species can fulfill their role in their ecosystems, could you share something on that?

Karen Gaynor, Scientific Support Officer | CITES Secretariat

  • I think it’s important to remember that CITES is a species-based Convention. It is an international agreement that has 184 parties or signatories, and it is the largest environmental conservation agreement globally. It also has teeth; it can act if things are not running smoothly. We regulate trade into over 38,700 species, and thousands of these that are in Appendix 1, which means the trade is not allowed. We can also enforce temporary bans on trade if the trade is not sustainable. It is important to stress this when a party is trading in those CITES-listed species, it must carry out what we call a non-detriment finding or an NDF. This is a science-based risk assessment to show that this trade will not be detrimental to the species in the wild. This is exactly where CITES really does play a role in how the country determines whether the trade is detrimental. We have a resolution that has guidance on how to make a non-detriment finding, and it asks parties to consider a lot of the factors that we have heard about already, like the historical and current range, the habitat, the species distribution, its biology life stages or genetic diversity, the carrying capacity, the habitat, and all these factors before they can determine what a sustainable uptake from a population would be.
  • In Article IV, Paragraph 3 of our Convention, it says:

A Scientific Authority in each Party shall monitor both the export permits granted by that State for specimens of species included in Appendix II and the actual exports of such specimens. Whenever a Scientific Authority determines that the export of specimens of any such species should be limited in order to maintain that species throughout its range at a level consistent with its role in the ecosystems in which it occurs and well above the level at which that species might become eligible for inclusion in Appendix I, the Scientific Authority shall advise the appropriate Management Authority of suitable measures to be taken to limit the grant of export permits for specimens of that species.

  • CITES has a lot of guidance on how to make a non-detriment finding, but it does not yet have any guidance on how to determine what do we mean by a level consistent with its role in the ecosystem. The film Nature’s Fear Factor gives a lot of food for thought about what could be considered possible factors that we would have to consider. It is not just about numbers; it is not just about predators and diet. There are so many other elements that are inextricably linked together in this, and it was demonstrated very well.
  • In CITES we have some decisions where we are working on trying to develop guidance on this, so a discussion like this about the interlinkages and the effects that one species can have on other species, not just in terms of eating it or not, is an important part of that discussion. Of course, protecting a key species indirectly protects the habitat.
  • CITES is about conservation, not preservation. To preserve a species, you might only need to have a few specimens of that species, but to conserve that means you need to ensure its existence long into the future, and this is what we were trying to do. Another piece of work that I wanted to point out was that when the species ends up in Appendix 1 and the trade is stopped, this does not mean that the species has been saved. In fact, it means sometimes that we need to put even more effort into actions to help the species recover. And so, another area of work that we are working on at the moment is in relation to these Appendix 1 species listed spaces. There are just over 1,000 of them and we are working with a range of States of these species to see what action studies can take within its mandate, noting that our mandate is restricted to species and also species in international trade. So we are looking to see how we can help and work with the IUCN specialist groups on this. That is why we have a lot more to do and understand the role of species in their ecosystems.
  • While I have the floor, I want to say that as a scientist, I thought that this film did an excellent job of communicating the same message to different audiences. For me, as a scientist, it was fascinating to see how a small-scale experiment with the grasshoppers and the spiders was scaled to a much larger area, applying the same principles. It told the human story as well as the story of the species and the landscape. And for scientists, it is really important to be able to get that message across to a wider audience in a relatable way. Congratulations to the makers of this film on doing such a good job on that.

Q. Indeed, congratulations. And just to come back on something you just mentioned, which is the human aspect, and on the links with the local communities, which is touched in film. Also, making the link to our film screen last week. How do we ensure that the reintroduction of predators has the support of local communities? Is this something CITES works on? Or would you have something to share on that?

  • This is a very vital aspect and that was what I was touching a little bit on when I mentioned how the structure of the management of the national park was arranged on whether there was a wider stakeholder consultation.
  • The film talked about the landscape of fear for the animals, but there surely is a landscape of fear for the local communities as well. When introducing large predators and even not so large ones, but also species that will be interested in their crops, as the movie shows with the elephants in Gorongosa Park. This does not necessarily represent a human-wildlife but working with the local community so they understand exactly the motives for this and that they get buy-in. This can be done for instance by asking the school children to name the cubs. This can give them ownership of the species, allowing them to embrace the introduction of species and promote it. In a lot of cases where communities live near crocodiles and CITES parties have found ways of encouraging ranching operations so that the local communities actually can earn a living from having this species near them. This represents an economic incentive for the species to be there. One of the cleverest things represented in this film was the fact that by working with the local communities to address this issue of the elephants coming in to take the crops, they were able to develop not just a science-based solution, but also a nature-based solution. So, the cooperation with the local community allowed science to access pieces of local knowledge as the use of honey bee hives to scare off elephants. The communities working with the scientists to address a problem are therefore a win-win situation. And in that sense, despite the communities will always face a little bit of threat from these situations, they see the value of having those predators or those animals there. That this is really important because, without the support of the local communities, projects are doomed to failure. The film does indeed address this aspect in a very clever way.

Cole du Plessis, Lead of the Wild Dog Expansion Project | Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)

  • We are living in a time where, at least in the African context, we do not know if there will ever be such a thing as pure coexistence between wildlife and animals. There might be always fear, competition and so on. But with protected areas and governments’ support, this relationship can really like step up, as demonstrated by the lessons learned and the success stories we had. Unfortunately, like in so many things in conservation and one-solution-fix all.
  • When it comes to these a system in Gorongosa, it is about community outreach. Bringing school teachers and the children in to see the animals is one part of the solution, but then the parks do not go out there into the communities and do their work there.
  • In terms of what is quite prolific today to address the rates of poverty in Africa, eco-tourism models can solve that challenge. Specifically, in the case of Gorongosa National Park, there is a high tourism demand to come in and see the African wild dogs. Through that, more lodges can be built and more tourists can come in, creating more employment within the communities. This allows communities to start putting value onto the animals, increasing the exchange of information and developing a passion for the realm of conservation.  This is the direction we should move towards. Additionally, many human-animal conflict mitigation tools are available. For example, just having the reserves, NGOs and government supporting communities with corrals where you can put your livestock away and with technological advancements such as camera chips, noise and flesh generators is shaping the attitude of predators. Having wild dogs chasing predators away from livestock is another non-invasive tool that allows a little bit more of a grey area between community and wildlife. In terms of all these interactions and learning their functioning, it is important to cover all fronts and try to mitigate that conflict before it even happens, then just be able to support it. Lastly, in times of serious issues in the community with animals, Gorongosa National Park installed a phone system in the field ranges for them to step up and use their helicopter and resources to go out and help the people. This action is dictated by goodwill, and it is instrumental in buying communities’ trust. But this does not impede that in the case of a wild dog breaking out, people might be trying to threaten or kill it out of fear. So this animal-human coexistence can be very beneficial for everybody if the timing and right conditions to allow it, are put into place.

Jared Lipworth, Executive Producer and Head of Outreach and Impact | HHMI Tangled Bank studios

  • As Gorongosa shows, conservation areas and national parks have changed. When Gorongosa was originally founded as a national park, it was a place where foreigners came in to see animals and the local communities were not even allowed in.Now the mission of the park is to create a better life for the people around the park as well as the animals. Everything done by the park administration is done by looking through that lens as well. Plenty of other great examples that were not in the film, include coffee growing on Mount Gorongosa, the watershed for the park itself. Without the rainforest there, the park is in serious trouble. Therefore, the park authorities have created a way for the farmers to earn an income by raising sustainable crops on the mountain, which helps the rainforest. Another project among those enforced is about cashews. These projects aim to create a better life for the local communities, improve education, and create pride in the national park. If the local communities feel pride and feel ownership of the national park, it is not just about saving the animals, it is about a better life for both animals and people. This is the future of conservation. Gone are the days when you only showed the animals, people are part of the story, whether we like it or not. Therefore, the successful projects are going to be the ones that are embracing both the human side of conservation.

Q: What message would you like to share about the upcoming World Wildlife Day and the themes touched upon today?

Cole du Plessis, Lead of the Wild Dog Expansion Project | Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)

  • In short, we need to break the barrier between humans and nature and rebuild that connectivity, getting nature back into DNA and living with it versus trying to conserve it. A great part of conservation is actually just as fixing other human problems, while we should try to get in touch with nature once again and draw some closeness to it. That needs to be done through schooling from a young age and throughout the world.

Jared Lipworth, Executive Producer and Head of Outreach and Impact | HHMI Tangled Bank studios

  • Keep looking to science for the best practices for conservation. We work in collaboration with Reverse the Red, which is about applying, assessing, planning, and acting on techniques for conservation. As part of Reverse the Red, and as a part of our DNA, looking for those conservation success stories, giving people opportunities to have hope to be inspired to feel that all is not lost. There is incredible work being done out there in the conservation community and people need that, also to detach from the doom and gloom narrative. We must keep track of how serious the problems are, but there is also a real need to show that there is hope and that we can make a difference whether on a small scale at large. It is important to circulate stories of conservation successes to help people understand that they can help and that all is not lost.

Karen Gaynor, Scientific Support Officer | CITES Secretariat

  • A message that came through from the film and today’s discussion is the resilience of nature. It is something we should not lose sight of and take as a positive thing. Covid19 seems to have brought a lot of people closer to nature because of pollution decrease and because of silence allowed hearing songbirds again. We need to take advantage of that connection that people have now re-established with nature, even if it is only on their small local level, and then upscale it up to the global level. This is a good opportunity to take advantage of.
  • I also agree that we need to not control nature, but learn to live with it and learn from it. Nature has lessons to teach us. We do need to have better collaboration and work together. That includes all species and humans as well.

Short Films Online Screenings

How to Count a Wolf

bioGraphic, Benjamin Drummond, Sara Joy Steele
8 minutes

Once common across most of Washington state, gray wolves declined rapidly between 1850 and 1900 as European-American settlers established farms and ranches throughout the region. By the 1930s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning had driven wolves to local extinction in the state. But early this century, thanks to recovering populations in Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia, wolves began making their way back into Washington—and with them, increased human-wildlife conflict. Now, biologists in the region are working tirelessly, taking on considerable personal risk, to ensure that gray wolves can once again coexist with humans in Washington.

Marine Ecosystem Diaries – Shellfish Reefs: Filters of the Sea

The Marine Diaries
4 minutes

Shellfish reefs inhabit coastlines all over the world and have been shaping the health of the ocean for millions of years. Comprised of clusters of mussels, oysters, or clams, these reefs filter water and provide vital habitat for juvenile fish, vulnerable invertebrates, and even other shellfish. Unfortunately, this ecosystem is on the brink of collapse.

Last Wild Places: Iberà

National Geographic Society Impact Media Lab
20 minutes

Iberá National Park in northeastern Argentina is part of one of the largest wetlands in South America, but much of its wildlife went extinct in the 20th century due to widespread hunting and habitat loss. Now, a dedicated team of conservationists is working hand in hand with local communities to reintroduce many of the keystone species that were lost, while also helping to preserve the region’s unique cultural heritage.

Mexico City and its Sacred Salamanders

bioGraphic, Katie Garrett
10 minutes

Axolotls — iconic salamanders exclusively found in Mexico City’s Xochimilco lake complex — have long been treasured, from ancient Aztecs to modern scientists. However, the species is now critically endangered in the wild, driven by habitat destruction, pollution, and the introduction of non-native predatory fish. Join Luis Zambrano and Cristina Barros from the National Autonomous University of Mexico to see how Mexico City’s biologists, anthropologists, and traditional farmers are responding to this crisis, working to restore the habitat that is necessary not just for axolotls to survive in the wild, but also for the region’s human populations to thrive.


The Edit Room Pty, Ltd
10 minutes

January 2020, a virus has broken out in Wuhan which is thought to have a zoonotic origin. The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 is believed to have spilled over from bats to humans through another host, pangolins. While scientists debate the extent of the world’s most trafficked mammals’ role, on the other side of the planet, the harsh truth of Africa remains the same. This is a story of struggle, of connection, an animal on the brink of extinction, where a cruel virus might save her life, but what will this mean for the coexistence of humans and wildlife?