Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Comments and Contact

Once again, I must apologise for not better keeping this blog updated. Life is, as usual, hectic, and sadly Operation Noah has had to take a backseat to more pressing priorities in the past few weeks.

I have recently received a great number of comments which indicate the level of interest in the story of Operation Noah is far higher than I had anticipated! Some are from nature lovers and conservationists, some are ex- or current Zimbabweans, and others are from people who knew and worked with my grandfather. I never imagined just how many people I would be connected with, from all over the world, by starting this blog. Testament to the power of the Internet!

Many of you mention you knew the Fothergills (my mum's family) when they were in Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia as it was at the time). If you would like to get in touch with Martin (currently in New Zealand) or Hilary or Christine (both in Australia), please leave your email address or other contact details in the comments section and I'll pass on to them.

If anyone has memories of my grandfather or the rescue operation that they would like to share, I would be delighted to publish them here on the site. Again, just leave your email address for me in the comments section and I will be in touch.

A few people have also expressed an interest in obtaining a copy of the Operation Noah footage on DVD - this is certainly something we're working towards, and I will keep you posted on how we progress towards figuring out how to fund and distribute copies. We've also got a bit of a dream of producing a documentary in the works... it would be great to be able to go back to Kariba and see how the wildlife is faring today. Obviously how the situation in Zimbabwe pans out over the next few years will determine whether or not that is feasible.

Many thanks again to everyone for your interest and support!

Photo of the Month - A Little Light Relief

May, 1959: Rupert Fothergill has a little light relief from the serious and strenuous work of game rescue. Here he is seen picking up a leguaan (a species of reptile that looks similar to a small crocodile) out of the water from a small boat. These reptiles are not in any danger, as this is a member of the family of leguaan which live in the water.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Photo Of The Month - Waiting in the Water

May 1959: Rupert Fothergill, Senior Game Ranger, and an assistant, are seen standing on the submerged branches of a tree which has been very nearly covered by the rising waters of Lake Kariba, while they wait for the rescue boat to pick them up. Fothergill is holding a Hyrax, locally known as a "Dassie" or "Rock Rabbit", which he has just rescued.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Photo Of The Month - Waterbuck Doe

May 1959: A young Waterbuck Doe is trapped in one of the nets which has been spread across an island. These nets are used mainly to capture "Impala" (a species of Antelope) as the latter animals will not take to water.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An AWOL Update

Hello to all! This is just a brief post to let you know that I haven't fallen off the face of the planet, and will be back soon to continue working on this blog and telling the story of Operation Noah.

I was off travelling through South America from May through to December last year and my life has been somewhat hectic since my return. Things will settle down in a few weeks, and then I'll have more time to dedicate to this blog.

In the mean time, I'll treat you animal lovers to some videos of an orphaned oso melero (tamandua) that I was fortunate enough to nurse while doing some conservation work of my own at El Puma Ecological Park in Posadas, Argentina. She was brought in to the clinic at 3 days old - umbilical cord still attached! - after her mother was shot by farmers. My Spanish was so rubbish at this point that I didn't really understand what I was agreeing to when I nodded and said "Sí, sí" and suddenly I found myself landed with 24-hour care of her. Oso melero literally translates to "honey bear", so naturally I named her Winnie.

Sadly, after almost three weeks of three-hourly syringe feeds (even throughout the night) of a mixture of crushed dog biscuits, banana, honey, powdered milk, baby formula and warm water, and despite having gained weight and showing a number of signs of improvement, Winnie died. Apparently this species is notoriously difficult to keep alive in captivity - even as fully grown adults. The nutrition requirements of their natural diet of honey and termites is extremely difficult to replicate. I was told right from the outset that she had only had extremely slim chances of survival, having likely missed out on too much of her mother's colostrum milk, but was nonetheless devastated when she didn't make it.

Pre-feed, searching for "las mamas" (breasts):

With her snout in the trough:

...and now exhausted from all that hoovering, she curls up into a ball for a nap:

And taking her first wobbly steps:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Step One - Complete!

The first step in the rescue effort of the Operation Noah footage is now complete: we have transferred Grandpa Rupert's films on to DV tape. While it's not very useful until it is imported to a computer and the image "flipped" back the right way around using editing software, at least it won't deteriorate in this format.

There were a couple of hiccups along the way - a few broken splices, and crooked sprockets, and the time we didn't realise the take-up spool had got stuck...:

In the end we lost three reels to "vinegar syndrome", but I don't believe any of them were his footage of Operation Noah. One appears to have been shot by a television station (NBC) for what I assume was a current affairs program of the day titled "Outlook":

It's a shame - it would have been nice to see how the more professional footage measured up against Grandpa Rupert's. But I have to say, for an amateur he did a pretty top-quality job, and seeing the footage in its original glory (without the inevitable fading and scratches that come with a well-used dupe) is really quite spectacular.

I'll try to get some snippets up on to youtube as soon as time permits...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Sneak Preview...

Excerpts from the footage edited by the Rhodesian Government in the 1960s:

The sound quality is a bit poor, and the footage a bit washed out, but you get the general idea of what's to come.

The new transfers of the raw footage will be much better - so far they are coming up beautifully! Though we have had to kiss goodbye to a couple of well and truly rusted over reels - my sinuses are still burning from the pungent vinegar odour that was released after we prized open one marked "NBC TV News - Outlook" (presumably a current affairs program of the day).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In The Mean Time...

I'm actually heading overseas in three weeks time to do some wildlife conservation work of my own in Argentina, so I probably won't be able to keep this blog very well updated until I return.

I'll try to post as much as I can before I leave, and perhaps I'll get a chance to do some work on it while I'm travelling around South America, but in the mean time I'd like to direct you to an excellent article written by Tim Abbott, a conservationist working in the US:

"The Waters Prevailed Exceedingly Upon the Earth" - Rupert Fothergill and Operation Noah

It's a great piece of writing on the work of Grandpa Rupert and his men, with some useful links to other sites.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Digitising the Operation Noah footage

As I mentioned in the previous post, my grandfather, Rupert Fothergill, owned a 16mm film camera and used it to document Operation Noah.

In the early 1960s, the Rhodesian Government used his footage to produce a documentary film consisting of four half-hour episodes telling the story of the conservation effort. This production did the rounds at schools and local theatres of the day, and may have been screened on African television once or twice, but for almost fifty years the original raw footage has sat untouched in steel canisters in a box at my parents' house in North Queensland, Australia.

the treasure chest of Grandpa Rupert's Operation Noah films

a handwritten log found inside one of the cannisters

As luck would have it, I work as a multimedia producer for a company in Brisbane. Our core business is designing and producing multimedia (mostly video) content for museums and exhibitions. This often involves the use of archival or historical film footage which needs to be digitised for use in modern video displays. We usually do this in-house with our own vintage Hanimex Eiki 16mm film projector, a piece of top quality projection screen, and a JVC HD camera. It's not true telecine, but it does a pretty damn good job for a fraction of the price:

the trusty Hanimex

our set-up

Grandpa Rupert working with an exhausted zebra during Operation Noah
(the quality of the projected image is actually much better than it seems in this photograph)

We try to rustle a bit of side-business digitising peoples' old home movies - the boxes of old 16mm or Super-8 reels that people find under the house, or in the attic at Nanna & Pop's place. We advertise our service under the (very true) warning that when old films start to smell like vinegar, they're on the fast track to irreversible damage. Where and how film has been stored will greatly effect how vulnerable it is to this decay: as with most things, warm, humid conditions are bad for preservation; cool, dry conditions are best. You can learn more here if you're interested.

Anyway, I wasn't sure what sort of state Grandpa Rupert's films were in. I'd had a brief look over them a few months ago and they all seemed to look (and smell!) okay - but there was one cannister that had rusted shut... yesterday I prized it open with a butter knife. Oh dear:

Well and truly dead... and mum - before you start getting up me for not having done this sooner, I can assure you that this particular reel died many, many years ago!

The good news is, it appears to be the only one that has succumbed to old age. It also appears to be the only 35mm reel in the box (and therefore it's probably a nitrate based film rather than acetate based - the nitrate variety is more prone to decay), so I'm wondering whether it is in fact one of Grandpa Rupert's or whether it contains something entirely unrelated and somehow got lumped in with all the others. We'll get an expert to have a look at it and see if it's at all salvageable, but in all honesty the outlook is pretty grim.

As for the others - I've digitised three of the BIG reels (i.e.: 45mins duration each) so far, and hope to finish the rest by the weekend. Seeing the footage in all its original glory is really something! I didn't realise how faded the edited transfers were - the colour on the originals is spectacular, especially when the footage is of an exotic African parrot!

Eventually I hope to put some snippets up on to youtube, so as to give people an idea of what they contain. Stay posted...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Grandpa Rupert - My Hero

I never met my maternal grandfather, Rupert Fothergill. He died ten years before I was born. But I grew up watching him chase rhinos, nurse baby kudu, hold eight-foot pythons and coax porcupines out of their burrows.

Grandpa Rupert was the head game ranger in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), one of only a handful employed by the government's National Parks and Wildlife Department. In the late 1950s, when the final gaps were closing in the walls of Kariba Dam, he was assigned to lead a team of fifty men on a wildlife rescue operation of the native animals who called the Zambezi Valley home.

Operation Noah lasted five years, and saw over 6000 animals - from anteaters to zebras and everything in between - relocated from the shrinking islands of Lake Kariba to the mainland. The men lived out of bush camps and had only the most rudimentary of equipment - dinghies, ropes, nets, boxes and sacks - to carry out their mammoth task.

Grandpa Rupert owned a 16mm film camera and documented their efforts. For almost half a century, his footage of charging rhinos, drowning monkeys, netted antelope and caged lions sat in boxes in our family home. Mum and Dad used to dig out the four half-hour episodes edited by the Rhodesian Government in the 60s, and project them against a white board at our childhood birthday parties, or invite the neighbours over for screenings in the garage on rainy Sunday afternoons. But the bulk of the raw footage has not been seen for almost fifty years.

As I write this, I'm digitising Reel 9: it shows Grandpa Rupert feeding two orphaned baby elephants powdered milk from a bucket. By the end of the day, all fifteen reels will have been safely transferred to digital video tape, and backed up on a hard drive. The original acetate film will eventually decay, but the amazing images it holds will be preserved forever.

His photo albums are being scanned as well, and hopefully, some day, I'll be able to put all these assets together and tell the full story of Operation Noah and its heroes.

For now, I'll use this blog as a place to give you a taste of a life less ordinary...