Inside the Frame with Debbie Banks
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Inside the Frame with Debbie Banks

October 16, 2019

It actually started in 2000 following
some big seizures in India of consignments of tiger, leopard and otter
moving together that piqued our interest. Our friends at the Wildlife Protection
Society of India gave us some information that in 2002 led us to Nepal.
And then in 2003 the world’s biggest seizure of tiger and leopard and otter skins.
In one truck, in Tibet. And we realised that if we were going to follow
this to the end of the tiger skin trail we were going to have to go to these horse festivals
that take place across the Tibetan plateau. On the night before the Litang horse festival
in Sichuan Province we arrived at our hotel and it was full of western tourists. So
I spent a very sleepless night thinking we’d made an
incredibly expensive mistake. Because I couldn’t imagine that people
would be openly wearing or selling tiger and leopard skins
in front of so many foreigners. But that morning of the festival we got down there and we could see instantly there were hundreds of people wearing costumes
decorated with tiger, leopard, otter. We just spilled out of the vehicle,
four of us in separate directions filmed and photographed everything
we could as quickly as we could. It’s pretty gut-wrenching because you want to
scream at people saying ‘What are you doing?’ But of course obviously you have to keep your
emotions in check. You’re there to do a job. And by doing so you can get into
conversations where you can try to understand
why they’re doing it. Most of the people didn’t really know that
it was illegal to acquire those skins. They didn’t know that tigers were
being killed for their skins. When everyone else in the team had gone home after four weeks and I was on my own in Nagchu in Tibet, there were no other foreigners around.
I was there with a lot of Chinese military and police, and this was one of the biggest parades
that we ended up filming. So that that was a little bit
more nerve-wracking. This is one of those stories where we
were straight out of the blocks. So I came straight out of Nagchu
I flew to Chengdu and then on to Urumqi, in Xinjiang province in China with just
really quickly edited video clips and stills for a presentation to an international meeting
of law enforcement officers on wildlife crime. Belinda Wright from the Wildlife
Protection Society of India got back to India in time to hand over
a brief to the Indian Minister. We gave the video, photographs and the information
to the office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. At a meeting in India just several months later he made an appeal to Tibetans to stop wearing the skins of tiger, leopard, otter and within days we
were hearing reports from our sources across the Tibetan plateau that
people were burning their skins. His message had got out and we started
to document in subsequent years continued decline in the use of skins amongst
the Tibetan community to decorate their costumes.

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