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Doco highlights global wildlife crisis -

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Doco highlights global wildlife crisis

Reporter: Lisa Whitehead

KERRY O'BRIEN: While the environmental headlines are dominated by global warming mostly these days,
there's another largely undocumented battle going on in what is left of the forests of the world to
protect endangered animals and habitats. And the front line of this war is largely occupied by park
rangers, often putting their lives at risk searching out illegal traps set by poachers, or in war
torn countries dodging bullets from rebel fighters. One Australian park ranger was so inspired by
their dedication, he sold his car, remortgaged his house and financed a documentary called 'The
Thin Green Line'. His efforts to bring attention to the dangerous work done by these wildlife
warriors won him the President's Award at the latest International Rangers Congress in Scotland.
Lisa Whitehead reports.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Half the world's surviving mountain gorillas live in Uganda's Bwindi National Park
close to the Congo border. Tourists pay handsomely for the privilege of spending an hour with these
magnificent primates - opening up the mountain to tourists is the often dangerous work of the
rangers in this park, once called the "impenetrable forest".

SEAN WILLMORE: They do anti poaching patrols for up to seven days and they face rebel soldiers
sometimes from the Congo.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Australian park ranger Sean Willmore filmed this foot patrol in the Bwindi National
Park, accompanying rangers on a search and destroy mission looking for illegal traps set by animal
poachers.

SEAN WILLMORE: You should be proud of that.

RANGER: Yes, we can be proud of that one because you are saved life of one animal.

LISA WHITEHEAD: The chief ranger at Bwindi National Park is John Makambo.

SEAN WILLMORE: He's witnessed one of his rangers being killed in front of his eyes by rebel
soldiers, he gets paid a pittance for his work. He is looking after 350 of the 700 mountain
gorillas left in the world and doesn't complain.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Sean Willmore wants to tell the world the stories of rangers like John Makambo and
his men.

SEAN WILLMORE: We are waiting for the hunters to come back.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Documenting on film the dangers these front line warriors face in the conservation
battle.

SEAN WILLMORE: I don't think I would overstate it if I said they are actually probably my heroes as
well. They're unsung heroes and that's why we've done the film. They go out there every day no
matter what. There are rangers you will hear talking about being shot at and they go back out there
the next day and do the same thing again. So I feel honoured and privileged to belong to the same
profession as them.

LISA WHITEHEAD: 34 year old Sean Willmore manages the Warrenjinny Park, a coastal wetland on
Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

SEAN WILLMORE: Something was yearning in me to go out and meet them on their patch so one thing led
to another and I sold my car and remortgaged the house and got a camera donated and was on a plane
to South America with an idea.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Armed with just that idea, little money and no film making experience, Sean
Willmore set out on a journey that took him on horse patrol high on the Andes in Argentina and to
Chile, where he was often mistaken for that other Australian wildlife warrior, Steve Irwin.

SEAN WILLMORE: When I was travelling around, Steve Irwin was about three weeks in front of me
wherever I went for this for about a month so I'd rock up somewhere and say I was Australian and
say I was a park ranger and "Tu es casador de crocodilo!". No, no, I'm not him. He's a different
guy and he's unique. That's not me.

STEVE IRWIN: Have a go at this whopper. Woo hoo.

SEAN WILLMORE: He made an amazing contribution and this is just my little contribution, I suppose.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Sean Willmore's contribution took him to 23 countries and six continents, filming
rangers working in their own habitats, including Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, his
membership of the ranger community giving him unique access to helicopter patrols in the Canadian
Rockies, foot patrols in Norway and Costa Rica, to the wilds of South Africa's Kruger National Park
and the endangered forests of Goa in India.

SEAN WILLMORE: They know they're not allowed to come into the park but they don't have much choice
and Paresh has to try and balance that with wildlife conservation. So he tried to find a solution
for them, he tried to find some funding for solar cookers so that they didn't have to come to the
park any more. You could see the emotion in his face, he was saying, if they come back again and
again and again, this forest will be gone just like the other forests they've already cleared.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Around the world the story's the same, with urban populations encroaching on
fragile ecosystems. Part of Sean Willmore's job involves speaking to school students about the
importance of protecting these wetlands on Melbourne's southern fringe. But now he's hoping to
speak to a much wider audience with the world premiere of his international ranger documentary,
'The Thin Green Line', planned for July.

DAVID BUNTINE: He speaks with passion and you can see it in his eyes that he loves what he does,
but he cares deeply about the plight of the rangers and the issues they are facing across the world
and that he's devoted to trying to pursue that cause and bring it forward. So he's full of energy.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Friend and colleague David Buntine says while his energy is boundless, Sean
Willmore has hit his financial limits. He's now looking for sponsors to help finish the post
production on 'The Thin Green Line'.

DAVID BUNTINE: He has devoted a lot of his own time and effort and money and now is a perfect
chance for others to get involved.

SEAN WILLMORE: I've got some of the best friends in the world in different parts of the world and
I've grown so much through the experience of meeting these people and learnt so much about what is
going on in the world through their eyes.

LISA WHITEHEAD: The message of Sean Willmore's film is clear and simple and delivered by the front
line rangers themselves.

JOHN MAKAMBO, CHIEF RANGER, BWINDI NATIONAL PARK: What is surviving in the world keeps on
surviving. Until further notice. Forever and ever.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That report from Lisa Whitehead, on quite a remarkable effort.