I am back at home now for a good long while so will be trying to keep the site updated a little better (yeah, yeah, heard it before..)
Anyway, today’s rant. I have over the years been extremely fortunate to travel around the world visiting some amazing conservation projects around the world. Television audiences have a healthy appetite for a certain type of subject - elephants, polar bears, primates, big cats and marine mammals. Other incredibly endangered species don’t get much of a look in. Rodents, invertebrates, fungi and plants are much harder to sell. There are always rafts of bearded men (& women) deeply ingrained in the mossy world of conservation jumping up and down with frustration when another ‘cute’, ‘emotional’ or ‘fluffy’ animal series makes it onto our screens. Take ‘Orangutan Diaries’ for example. Huge amounts of time, money and exposure spent on one species instead of the ‘big picture’, that is, habitat loss. I agree. I agree wholeheartedly.
However, what is so often misunderstood by the impassioned, dedicated campaigner is that their passion and dedication stems from the fact they care. It’s an emotional response. We humans are no different from the rest of the natural world (and zoologists & biologists should realise this more than most). Behaviour is based on motivation. Want to change an animal’s behaviour (or even a plants!) - motivate it.
The sensational species, such as sharks and apes grab the attention of the largest proportion of the public and we need to speak to as many people as possible to turn the back the tide of environmental disaster.
Orangutan diary sucked in millions of people worldwide. Humans are story tellers, have been for thousands of years. By telling the story of individuals we get our audience to become emotionally involved in their plight, circumstance and future. These animals are ambassadors for their species and the thousands of species that share their world. The global awareness and sympathy for these individuals motivates people to do something. To get involved, to think about their impact (even halfway around the world) or simply to find out more.
Now to the real reason I started this whole spiel. One of the natural responses to seeing me getting close to these amazingly charismatic creatures is that people want a similar experience and so I receive a lot of requests about going out to these projects to help.
Remember that tens of millions of people have seen the same programs and feel the same way. Successful, sustainable projects utilise local people to boost the local economy and increase local education of the issues impacting on local habitats. Massive influxes of foreign volunteers is not necessarily a good thing. If you want to make a difference to the lives of the subjects of these films it should start locally. Raise awareness, raise funds and think about your own impact on their lives, through the products you buy and the resources you consume. Next if you are truly fired up to get involved in conservation, look around your immediate environment. The sad fact is that there are very few places people live on this planet that haven’t suffered severe biodiversity impact. Get involved with your local wildlife trust (for UK residents) or equivalent. Litter picks, tree planting, putting up nest boxes, removing non-indigenous plant species are all good starts. If your heart is firmly set on the exotic and you want to combine a foreign holiday with voluntary work, there are plenty of opportunities out there but make sure they are genuine projects that require your skills and not just your cash. Beware of glossy adverts with pictures of volunteers cuddling cute orphans. Do your research and speak to previous participants. Expect hard work, harsh conditions and sparse accommodation. If you just want a guilt-free, life-altering experience then remember responsible, sustainable eco-tourism pumps cash into local economies and promotes investment in habitat protection. Take lots of photos and present your trip to everyone who will listen when you get home (a more personal version of making TV programs).
TV is a great medium to spread the word. I am very proud of my small involvement in series such as Orangutan Diary. I’d love to make more conservation programmes with more obscure species but you guys have to promise to watch them.
Till next time, many thanks, Steve.