By animator Jilli Rose
For nearly 80 years the Dryococelus australis, commonly known as the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect and tree lobster, was thought to be extinct. Lord Howe Island was the historic home range for the insect and is located in the Tasman Sea roughly 800 kilometers northeast of Sydney, Australia. The island is around 10 kilometers long and up to 2 kilometers wide. The tree lobster thrived on this island until a supply ship ran aground in 1918, introducing the black rat to the island. In 2 short years the rat decimated the population and tree lobsters were not seen on Lord Howe after 1920. They were considered effectively extinct from this point on until their story took a dramatic and surprising turn in 2001 on a rocky sea stack 20 kilometers to the southeast.
Jilli Rose tells this revealing narrative through her animation and dramatic story telling. In a striking way Sticky reveals the loss of species throughout time and how what was once lost can sometimes be found again. In just under 20 minutes this film brings viewers through a roller coaster of emotion while educating us on this incredible tale of loss, discovery, passion and hope. Rose is animator who began Bespoke Animation in 2012. This is the second film we have reviewed by her. Bright Spots is another animation telling the tale of rats, human impact, and island conservation. Rose works around the world with artists, scientists, and filmmakers to create animations that fit into their goals. The animation in this film invokes emotions in a creative and compelling way for the historical accounts behind these stories that may otherwise be difficult to portray.
The narrator Nicholas Carlile has worked at the Office of Environment and Heritage in New South Wales, Australia. He was one of the scientists on the expedition to Ball’s Pyramid in 2001. This sea stack stands over 500 meters tall and has long been a pursuit of rock climbers to explore. As the film explains, Carlile’s office received a number of requests to climb it, which sparked the determination to finally make a trip there and document the presence of species like the tree lobster. Sticky brings the viewer through this story of discovery, combining elements of extinction, human impact, and what tenacity from the human spirit can influence.
Scrolling through the volume of time and extinction to Lord Howe, the film begins with what once was. Tree lobsters roamed in abundance on the island as a natural link in the ecosystem. European discovery and conquering of the island changed dynamics of the ecosystem as human impact has done so many times before. Haunting music brings the viewer through this history of occurrences in a way that has you wanting to look away from the story but you stay fully engaged the whole time. Even with human development and use of the resources, the real destruction for the tree lobster didn’t begin until one of the most veracious predators was introduced in 1918. The black rat left its mark on the ecosystem in a very short amount of time.
With some of the most compelling imagery of the whole film we see representations of spirits, species, the essence of what once was float away as glowing yellow balloons into the sky. The camera pans out from a single example to an entire island of little spirits floating off into nothing. Combined with the dreary music this portrayal of extinction was well represented through animation. Not until almost 6 minutes into a 20-minute film does the narration start. By then the viewer is hooked emotionally and wondering where the story will go from there with 14 minutes to go. As with so many conservation stories the audience is left with a feeling of desperate sorrow for the plight of this island.
There have been 30 insect, bird, and mammal species unique to Lord Howe to have gone extinct, with 15 still critically endangered. Carlile’s narration begins with historic accounts of extinction, on occasion losing something before we even knew what we had. It connects with the impact humans can have, but our power to adjust and resurrect if aware of what is happening. Nicholas’ office continued to refuse climbers access to Ball’s Pyramid due to a potential for species to be present. So finally in 2001 they decided to conduct a voyage there to determine what was present.
Through a miraculous series of observations and effort they discovered a few individual stick insects living on a single tiny bush. Nicholas and a partner had to ascend the sea stack at night because the tree lobster is nocturnal. To their complete astonishment they rediscovered something that had been lost forever. They determined setting up a captive breeding program was the best choice due to the vulnerability of this population. It took 3 years through the bureaucracy to get permission to remove a couple individuals.
The Melbourne Zoo hosted the program to breed this rediscovered species. The tenacity of the human spirit brought this program through a moment of disaster to the great success it is today. However, a captive breeding program as Nicholas puts it, “only buys us time.” The real goal is to have this species breeding again in the wild in the historic range it once occupied. For that to happen on Lord Howe there needs to be an eradication of rodents.
This island is an opportunity to recreate the natural environment in a way that we cannot on larger tracks of land. We cannot eradicate rodents, rabbits, and other exotic species from the whole of Australia. But on a piece of land as small as Lord Howe there is the potential to recreate the ecosystem as it was before development and human impact changed its course. We can recreate what the European explorers called “Eden” when first setting foot on the island.
Sticky starts out as the classic tale of discovery, influence, and loss of a species. It then develops through these themes to rediscovery and hope. We as humans and stewards of this planet can have a tremendous impact towards destruction, but also creation, conservation, and resurrection. Is it our duty with the awareness to do so? Can we learn from the lessons of history to help prevent the loss of species that is occurring now? Only time will tell but we should know the power does rest in our hands.
Tags: Bespoke Animation, Bright Spots, conservation, Dryococelus australis, endangered species, eyes on conservation, Island Conservation, Jilli Rose, Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, Nicholas Carlile, Sticky, Tree Lobster, wildlife, wildlife conservation