Here is the second post on my personal top 10 heroes of wildlife conservation. The first 5 were Jane Goodall, Gerald Durrell, George Monbiot, Georgina Mace and Charles Rothschild, and here are the last:
6. Dian Fossey
Dian Fossey was one third of the so-called ‘Leaky’s Angels’ – Louis Leaky was a renowned anthropologist and it was under his direction that Fossey went to Rwanda to study the mountain gorilllas, Jane Goodall went to the Gombe to study chimps and Birutė Galdikas went to study orang-utans in Borneo, all to conduct long-term studies of their apes in the wild. Fossey began her study in the Virunga National Park in 1966. It took her a very long time for the gorillas to accept and tolerate her, spending months and months habituating them. Fossey was in the Congo at a time of huge political upheaval, and she was advised to withdraw from her project, but didn’t. While hunting was illegal at this time it was very common and not enforced due to the political instability. In 1977, her favourite gorilla Digit was killed by poachers and she went on to found the Digit Fund to set up anti-poaching patrols. Her focus became more and more on anti-poaching than her scientific research, cutting animal traps, intimidating poachers and managing to get many of them arrested. Fossey was murdered in 1985 by a machete while sleeping in her cabin – she was buried next to Digit, but the case has still not been solved.
7. Chris Packham
Chris Packham is a naturalist, TV presenter, photographer and voice for nature. He presented The Really Wild Show in the 1980s and now presents Spring/Winter/AutumnWatch and various other documentaries for the BBC. Personally, I love his mix of all-out geekery and incredible knowledge with his sense of sarcastic humour and love of punk music – if you want to hear this mix of wildlife and punk in action then listen to Chris Packham’s Desert Island Discs (sorry yes another one). He is president and vice-president for many different wildlife charities, including the excellent Hawk Conservancy Trust, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, among others, and in 2014 he set-up the first Hen Harrier Day with Mark Avery to highlight the decline of this bird. 2014 also saw Packham speak up against the Maltese government for allowing the annual spring bird shoot as millions of birds (including turtle doves, the UKs most endangered bird) migrate through the country. He self-funded a trip to Malta to film the situation, making lots of short films and posting them online, provoking the Maltese government and getting himself arrested in the process. See the first one here:
Packham has certainly ruffled a few feathers (the Countryside Alliance campaigned for him to be removed from the BBC after he said some charities would rather keep landowners happy than look after wildlife. Thankfully they failed), but we need people with opinions and voices to speak up for nature, and I think Packham does a great job.
8. Leonardo diCaprio
Well a few years ago I didn’t think I’d be talking about Leonardo diCaprio on a wildlife blog! But he is emerging as a champion for wildlife, using his place on the global platform to speak out on behalf of our planet. His charity, the Leonardo diCaprio Foundation, was set up in 1998 with the ‘mission of protecting the world’s last wild places’ by focusing on 4 main areas – protecting biodiversity, oceans conservation, wildlands conservation, and climate change. Just a couple of weeks ago, his charity pledged $15 million to help the environment and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. He may not have the scientific background of many of my other heroes, but the conservation world needs lots of different types of people, working in different areas and each playing their part. Someone like diCaprio can reach new audiences through fans of his movies, and demonstrate that its not just scientists and bird watchers who care about the state of our natural world, but that it affects everyone and anyone who has an opinion on the matter should be able to stand up and shout about it. Check out his website for details on all his projects, and in the mean time, watch this trailer for his feature-length documentary (he’s made many short films too) called 11th Hour:
9. Ian Singleton
OK I’m doubly biased for this choice – Ian Singleton worked at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust for many many years (tick number one) with the orang-utans, and now heads up the Sumatran Oranugutan Conservation Programme (and after my trip to see the Sumatran orang-utans in Sept, this is a definite tick number 2). There are many people like Singleton all around the world, working tirelessly to protect a single species on the brink of extinction, often with their habitat being torn down around them. They have to deal daily with poachers and illegal loggers, work closely with local communities, fight in the political arena and get positive change to happen, and constantly witness the struggle and death of their chosen animal. They work on the front line of wildlife conservation and often get little recognition, they just keep their heads down and keep going, because if they stop, will there be anyone else to take their place?
10. David Attenborough
Hopefully this is a hero that everyone will know, from all generations and all walks of life. After studying zoology and geology, he ended up working for the BBC in London. His first programme, Animal Patterns, was shown in the early 1950s and was based in a studio using animals from London Zoo. But Attenborough wanted to get out and film animals in the wild, and so Zoo Quest so was created, following an animal collecting expedition (Gerald Durrell was also involved in animal collecting for zoos, it seems inconceivable now but its what was done in the 1950s). A lot of these old Zoo Quest programmes are available to watch on BBC iplayer, featuring a very young Attenborough! He spent a few years as Controller and then Director of Programmes at the new BBC Two; he still managed to make natural history films during this time but it wasn’t until Life on Earth (first broadcast in 1979) that he really got into his stride again. The ‘Life’ series of documentaries (including The Living Planet, Trials of Life, The Private Life of Plants, the Life of Mammals, the list goes on…) were ground-breaking in natural history film making, and seriously raised the bar for the industry. They worked closely with scientists, getting privileged access to film their work Life on Earth featured Dian Fossey and that famous clip of Attenborough with the mountain gorillas). They also worked with cutting-edge technology to bring the viewer closer to the subjects and give them images never seen before, such as time-lapse photography and infra-red cameras. Attenborough brought the natural world to a massive audience – he has always said his mission was to inspire and wow people, because until people fall in love with the natural world, they will have no desire to save it. He has always commented on our relationship with nature and the problems with endangered species and pollution, but this tends to come after he has made us fall in love with his subjects, usually at the end of an episode or series. Some critics have said he has not made enough of the need for major conservation efforts, but with so much negativity in the state of the natural world today, I believe there is a place for amazement and wonder alone, once people are inspired they are much more likely to stand to action. I think he plays a different role to someone like George Monbiot, who is much more political and vocal with his opinions. And just to tie things up nicely, here is a George Monbiot interviewing David Attenborough.
Someone else I was going to add in was Mark Avery, previous Conservation Director for the RSPB and now a prominent blogger and activist. However, I don’t know much about him so I thought I would just share a link to his blog and let you see for yourself! Mark Avery Standing Up For Nature.
And finally, I just wanted to mention Prince William. Yep Prince William! He is using his power and position to fight for wildlife under his amazing organisation United for Wildlife which brings together some of the global wildlife charities (including WWF, ZSL, IUCN and Conservation International) to focus their efforts on endangered animals. He is a global ambassador, regularly speaking out on behalf of endangered animals. You can watch his recent speech to the Chinese population about the catastrophic damage illegal ivory trade is causing to our planet.
And thats it, those are my wildlife conservation heroes! There are so many I could of chosen, it was really tricky. Hopefully some of these people have inspired you as I have a post coming up soon about ways you can become a conservation hero too! Anyone you think I’ve missed? Have you got a conservation hero? I’d love to know!