“In nature, unlike in the human world, nothing goes to waste and in this case, the interconnectivity of life means that this stuff on the ground (rhino dung) will go on to support a multitude of animals, including those that soar the skies.”
HELPING RHINOS: CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
Patrick Aryee: I guess my career really started when I worked my way into the BBC Natural History Unit, soon after graduating from the University of Bristol with a degree in Cancer Biology. I was lucky enough to work behind the scenes on various BBC shows such as ‘Madagascar’, ‘Attenborough: 60 years in the Wild’ and ‘Frozen Planet’. After a few years working behind the camera, I eventually went on to present my own shows, each exploring different aspects of the natural world, which has taken me to some pretty amazing places around the world.
From a very early age I always wanted to know how things work. The type of science I studied, and my work, have enabled me to see this in practice, giving me a ‘window into the world’.
HR: WHY IS CONSERVATION SO IMPORTANT TO YOU, IN PARTICULAR RHINO CONSERVATION?
PA: To me, conservation is about all of us acting ‘globally as a community’. After more than ten years in the wildlife filmmaking industry, I’ve come to realise that conservation is not just about animals, it’s also about people. It’s their stories and their struggles I’m interested in. It’s only by working together, as conservationists, that we can have the most impact.
In terms of rhino conservation, I’ve always been fascinated by ‘big’ animals. When I was much younger, a trip to the Windsor Safari Park (now Lego Land) opened my eyes to the sheer size of some mammals. Although I’d never go to one now, I have to admit, I was mesmerised by their Orca show. Last year I presented the Sky One series, Big Beasts, and was once again intrigued by the sense of scale you get when you come face-to-face with a large animal, be it a Komodo dragon, sperm whale, or of indeed, a rhino.
Meeting the northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu up close last week in Ol Pejeta brought this all back to me. It also gave me the chance to look at the whole picture in terms of the habitat in which rhinos live and their relevance to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. For example, I learnt that rhinos are very polite poopers, frequently returning to the same area to ‘do their business’. These piles of dung, also known as dung middens, are used by rhinos as communication stations. And of course, the rhino dung is an ecosystem all of its own, for insects and for small mammals and birds, who go on to eat the insects and so on. Nothing goes to waste. That’s why it’s essential that all animals in the cycle continue to thrive.
HR: TALKING OF OL PEJETA AND THE NORTHERN WHITE RHINOS, WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BE ON THE CONSERVANCY?
PA: I loved every minute of my trip. I was amazed at the sheer scale of wildlife I saw in Ol Pejeta; from the moment you left the camp. It was an incredible experience.
The highlight would have to be meeting Najin and Fatu. It was a wonderful moment for me, tinged with the sad fact that they are the only two remaining northern white rhinos left in the world.
Another highlight was meeting James Mwenda. He is such a ‘cool’ character and so gracious and welcoming. I am really looking forward to seeing him again in April.
HR: YOU MET THE RHINO PROTECTION UNIT; WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
PA: It was amazing, I even went out on a patrol with them. They’re an awesome bunch of unarmed rangers whose primary role is to track and record rhino sightings. They aim to track every rhino in the conservancy every three days which given the size of the area is a mammoth task.
They’re often the first people to spot any potential threats or problems with wildlife. They also act as community wardens; as I said earlier, conservation is just as much about people, as it is about wildlife. These guys are incredible.
I also met the National Police Reservists (NPR). As ‘Rambo’s of the Savannah’, as I like to call them, they’re an armed response group, on the front-line, protecting Kenya’s treasured animals. I spent the day with them, joining in with their drills and training, they certainly put me through my paces. Like the RPU, their work is crucial in the protection of rhinos, other animals and also in working with the local community.
HR: WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU?
PA: In the short term I’m definitely looking forward to speaking at the Rhinos Road to Recovery event in London on the 4th April.
I’m also currently working on a project called ‘Protectors of Paradise’. In these short films, I’m using the voices of individuals who work with animals to tell a more personal story of conservation. I believe it’s their voices and stories, which will drive home the right message. James Mwenda’s story is first up, and it’s sure not to disappoint.
Patrick was talking to Vanessa Woolley
Photo: Ben Harris