A Malawi wildlife official holds a confiscated elephant tusk

Penryn Campus zoologist will help Malawi celebrate a momentous day

A conservation video made by a student from the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus will soon be used to mark a momentous occasion in Malawi. 

The film, created by second-year zoologist Jamie Unwin, focuses on Malawi’s illegal wildlife trade, with particular attention paid to issues surrounding elephant poaching and ivory trade. The movie was scheduled to premiere on 2nd April at an event where Malawi’s president, Peter Mutharika, planned to burn the country’s ivory stores in order to take a stand against the international ivory trade. The burning has since been rescheduled for an "unconfirmed date" in the future, but the film has been released as planned. It can be found on YouTube and is also being aired on Malawi’s television stations.

Amazingly, this is Unwin’s first-ever video, though he has long had an interest in documenting wildlife through photography—he once placed second in the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and has frequently received commendations in British Wildlife Photography Awards and other national awards.

Despite being a young filmmaker, Unwin jumped at the chance to apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after seeing a Facebook post in which Malawi’s Lilongwe Wildlife Trust appealed for a videographer. He beat out nearly 100 other applicants for the chance to spend six weeks filming in idyllic locations such as Liwonde National Park and Thuma Forest Reserve.

Unwin said the experience was amazing and exciting, but also upsetting: “I will never forget the moment when Lynn, the head of Thuma reserve, comforted me after the whole severity of the situation became too much.” 

The film is intended not only to educate viewers about the issues surrounding the illegal wildlife trade, but also to persuade them of the value of wildlife, and to deter would-be poachers from harming vulnerable species. A variety of organizations, including Africa Geographic, Tusk Trust, and the Born Free Foundation, are providing support to ensure that the movie gains an international audience. Sony and Manfrotto supplied Unwin with equipment to make the film.

During his time in the field, Unwin met and photographed a variety of inspirational Malawians who are working hard to put an end to poaching and the ivory trade. Unwin will soon release a photo story to highlight the efforts of these unsung heroes and celebrate their achievements.

Unwin is also hoping to return to Malawi this summer with a charity called Pedal Power, which uses bicycles to generate energy. This would allow him to screen his film in remote locations where residents do not have regular access to television. Unwin said: “International syndicates can be dealt with by the law, but when Malawians are poaching just for bush meat, it’s an act of survival. This requires a different approach to comprehend; I hope by taking my film directly to them, it will have an effect.”

To view more of Unwin's photography, you can visit his webpage and Facebook page.

Date: 1 April 2015

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