As a child, I wanted to be many things. A sportsman, a zookeeper, a wizard, a jedi. Apart from my father however, I only ever wanted to be one person; I wanted to be Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter. From as early as I can remember, and probably earlier still if you ask my parents, I could spend hours at a time sitting down watching Steve leaping out of boats onto crocodiles, and rushing after and picking up venomous snakes. Perhaps most importantly though, I was absorbing his passion for any, and all animals.
After watching Steve be Steve, I'd go out into the backyard and be Steve too. I had a zoo full of animals that I cared for. They were all plastic admittedly, but to me those plastic crocodiles were going to have a go at me at any moment; those ‘highly venomous’ snakes were dangerous and deadly. I’d venture out and set up my own Australia Zoo in the backyard, with my trusty assistant Wes (aka my brother) by my side. Once we’d finished, it was our parents and/or family friends’ role to become the visitors that we’d protect from the range of dangerous animals scattered across our backyard. “Crikey! Have a look at this little beauty! Isn't she gorgeous!” would ring out across the yard, right before we’d both jump on top of a plastic crocodile in the sandpit, or we wrangled a ‘red-bellied black snake’ from the tree. But of course, being Steve, I had to do more than just protect the visitors to the zoo. I also tried to educate them. I had to make sure that the visitors could see how amazing these (plastic) animals were.
I was obsessed. Steve’s passion rubbed off on me. I wanted to go to the zoo EVERY weekend. As a result, I knew all kinds of random little tidbits about lots of different animals. My favourite animal there? Not the lion, or the tiger, or the elephant. To the constant surprise of family and friends, at the age of two my favourite animal was the golden lion tamarin.
At school, at the age of five, I taught the children six years above me all about amazing Australian animals. I got very offended when they made fun of one of my favourites by calling it the wrong name. Animals, and Steve, were my life.
As I grew older though, other things distracted me. While animals still interested me, I didn't enjoy studying science. I didn't take to it. So, my life went on, I finished high school, graduated from university. Politics, international relations, the UN. That was where I thought I wanted to be. In hindsight, was I enjoying myself? Probably not. I didn't enjoy reading or studying these subjects. It felt like a chore. I persisted though because I thought it was what I wanted.
In May this year I travelled to Madagascar. I started volunteering at the Madagagascar Research and Conservation Institute. We were based on the small island of Nosy Komba, off the coast of Nosy Be. A volcanic island, filled with secondary Sambirano forest and plantations. I was hiking everyday looking for reptiles, amphibians, and birds. We were studying them, recording data and learning more and more about the different species all the time. It turned out, I was back in my element. I loved every moment, and apparently had a knack for it. My passion for what we were doing, and how rapidly I picked up some of the necessary skills, quickly turned into a job offer. What was meant to only be a one-month trip to Madagascar ended up lasting for five months. I spent four months working at MRCI, and the rest of my time was spent travelling across the mainland.
Almost every day I was learning something new about the variety of species that could be found on Nosy Komba. I was then having to teach other people how to identify them and tell them about what makes these amazing creatures special. Being around people with the same passion, having a job that involved me having to try to pass my own passion onto others… to say that I was enjoying myself was an understatement.
That was before I even managed to explore the mainland. Spending days in national parks across Madagascar (Ankarana, Ranomafana, Isalo, Andasibe-Mantadia and the surrounding parks) led to some of the most incredible sights and experiences that I could ever have imagined. It was after my second day in Isalo, where I'd spent a good part of my day observing two families of Verreaux’s sifaka (mum, dad, and tiny babies), that I truly realised how much I loved what I was doing, how much I wanted to see more, and how much I wanted to do more. Watching those families of Sifaka I was reminded just how much I was amazed by these phenomenal creatures, and it struck me the extent to which I wanted to be able to help other people experience even a little bit of this wonder and awe. I recalled how much watching Steve, or any David Attenborough documentary for that matter, made me want to know more and helped me to fall in love with our natural world. I wanted to find a way to be able to transfer even a small amount of all of these things to other people, but hopefully a lot more!
So it was in that light that the idea for this blog was born. I hope to inspire you by introducing you to some of the astounding life forms around us, and the overwhelming importance of preserving these vulnerable species for our great-grandchildren to treasure too.
I’d like to share my passion with you, and hope that it might be able to inspire you to go and find out more, to want to do your part in the ongoing battle to maintain the rich species diversity that can be found across our natural world, and that is integral in maintaining the health of our planet!
Along the way, I hope to bring some attention to success stories from the world of conservation. So often, all we hear about in the news are the negatives. The doom and gloom stories of the dire impact of climate change, how much forest is being cut down ever second, or how many species are on the very verge of extinction. While these reality checks are vitally important, they don't tell the whole story. I believe it's just as important to highlight some of the people, groups, and organisations that are making incredible contributions to wildlife conservation across the world. I want to show you how they go about their work, the successes they’ve had, the ongoing challenges that they face, and how they hope to overcome them. Hopefully even one of them might take your fancy, and inspire you to take action too!
The first series of posts will focus on Madagascar. Nowhere on earth is like Madagascar; home of lemurs, both the world's largest and smallest chameleons, bizarre insects and over 11,000 species of plants that aren't found anywhere else. I'll track my travels across the island, and introduce you to some of the crazy plant and animal life that I stumbled across during my time exploring the island! In the process, I'll give you a bit of firsthand insight into a place that not many people get the chance to travel to.
So come join me, on my life gone wild!