Last month, we had the fantastic opportunity to chat with James Stevens, a conservation filmmaker who's latest adventures took him to Sumatra! After discovering the challenges this wilderness faces, James has been trying to raise awareness of the most important conservation issues. Join our conversation with him below!
Quick fire questions!
Favourite animal and why?
Jaguar - I would like to have a fascinating answer to this, but it’s simply because of Bagheera in Jungle Book.
Favourite country and why?
Scotland - It’s where I now live and the Highlands in particular are just stunning!
If you could go anywhere, next travel destination?
Costa Rica - The wealth of wildlife there is mind-blowing, every species there would be new to me.
Who do you admire most in the world of conservation (can be someone 'famous' or someone you know personally)?
A young conservationist called Pungky Nanda Pratama who works in Sumatra. He is a dear friend of mine who works endlessly to conserve the wild land he loves.
Why did you become interested in conservation?
I have been an animal-lover from the age of three with my earliest memories of birds in the garden and being fascinated by them. This passion has grown every year. I feel a deep connection with the natural world and a responsibility to protect it. We all gain so much from nature, we need to respect, protect and boost the natural world.
Favourite conservation/wildlife-related project you have worked on so far?
This is a tough question! One of my earliest films was raising awareness for the rare Large Blue butterfly in Gloucestershire. Through the film I made, it helped raise £40,000 to purchase a site which has a good population of the butterflies. The site is now owned by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and is being managed to boost Large Blue numbers. It was a great feeling to have been able to help protect this rare species.
We understand you are creating a documentary about conservation in Sumatra - why Sumatra and how did you find out about the conservation issues facing Sumatra?
Like many people in the UK, the only news I ever heard about Indonesia was all negative. Huge swathes of rainforest destroyed, animals poached to near extinction, I simply thought it was an area of lost hope. This was until Pungky reached out to me in 2017. He told me about all of the incredible conservation that he (and others) is carrying out. Just this one person was doing so much positive work and I thought his story needed to be told. Working by himself and with teams of people, there is so much positive work being carried out.
Which conservation issues are you focusing on?
So much! Sumatra suffers from poaching, logging, pollution and pet trades. The documentary covers it all. It shows what happens when illegal-loggers are given a second chance, and how poaching has devastated tiger populations. How deforestation has reduced populations of Sumatran Elephants and the sanctuaries that have been put in place to protect them. How palm oil has replaced rainforests. How Orangutans have been poached and sold as pets, leaving orphaned orangutans which have to be taught by humans how to be an adult orangutan. It shows rural schools being educated in the environment.
What has been the best thing so far about working on this documentary?
The best thing was meeting everyone who is carrying out the work. They are all so caring about the environment and want their land to be protected. Everyone was so welcoming and there was lots of laughter amongst the fascinating stories. I made lots of friends and they have all inspired me. I hope to spread their messages and inspiration across the world. As well as amazing people, the wildlife there is phenomenal. Everything I saw was a new species to me. The bird song was delightful and the insects came in lots of weird and wonderful shapes and colours.
What has been the hardest thing so far/the greatest challenge you have had to overcome on this project?
The have been a few challenges in filming in Sumatra. The climate was very hot and humid, the terrain was tough but the hardest part was witnessing the devastation on the island. My first encounter was seeing stuffed poached animals, including Sun Bear and Sumatran Tiger. To see such beautiful creatures turned into a mere ornament really upset me. How anyone could do this is beyond me, which is why I wanted to find out more and reached out to poachers for an interview. I was also speechless as we drove through a palm oil plantation. I had only ever seen images of palm oil in the media, never firsthand. Three hours we were driving with nothing but palm oil to be seen. It was a tough reality to witness.
How have local people reacted to you making this documentary?
The reaction has been really positive. So many people were fascinated about the documentary and can’t wait to see it. The chief of the Conservation Agency of South Sumatra was very positive about the film along with others. Where I was filming in the South of Sumatra, there is hardly any media coverage so they were all thrilled to have their voices heard. Everyone was very welcoming to me and was privileged to join families for meals and offered rooms to sleep in.
What can people at home do to help with this conservation issue?
The best, and easiest thing people can do is simply spread the word! Education is key and so by sharing stories of conservation, sharing that knowledge, will help others to follow suit and improve the environment across the world. People can also donate to causes they particularly like. In the case of conservationists in the South of Sumatra, they are all seriously underfunded so any money helps them carry out their work. A big thing people can do, is reduce their usage of products containing vegetable oils. Sustainable palm oil crops are an improvement from unsustainable and palm oil is ‘better’ than other vegetable oils, but forests still need to be cut down. If the demand for vegetable oil is dramatically reduced, then that would save forests from being cut down.
Where will people be able to watch your documentary?
Keep an eye out on JEGS Media social media as the documentary will be entered into film festivals initially before being made available online.
What projects have you got set up for the future?
I am also creating a documentary based in the Cairngorms National Park following a sleddog centre which is struggling to keep up with the change in climate. This will be released on 8th February 2019 at ‘An Evening With Friends From The Fast Lane’ event in Aviemore. I am also in the planning stages of conservation documentaries in Papua New Guinea and Nova Scotia.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I have set up a crowdfunder to cover the final expenses for the documentary. Every cost that has, and will be spent goes directly into the making of the film and none of it goes into my pocket. Full details can be found on https://www.gofundme.com/conserving-sumatra-documentary
Any other details you would like to include in our write up?
Want to email me directly? Please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org