It’s cool to cry.

I was never a great fan of Big Cat Diary. The naming of leopards and lions, the dramatization of their daily struggle for survival and the liberal sprinkling of cute kitten shots designed to pull at our heart strings and draw us in to what was deliberately constructed as a feline soap opera. No, it was a bit too fluffy for me, a bit nauseating, a bit emotional.

Don’t get me wrong, I know what the BBC was trying to do but for me, it didn’t work. And then came similar productions with bears, elephants and even meerkats taking the place of charismatic feline carnivores. The format was tweaked, the messaging more subtle but the intention was the same: to exploit the viewer’s emotional vulnerability. It was all a bit lacking in scientific credibility.

I’ve changed my mind. I was wrong. I’ve realised that I was being a bit of a snob. Conservationists are starting to understand that in the main, people’s relationship with Nature isn’t logical or rational; it certainly isn’t scientific. People’s relationship with Nature is emotional. So why not exploit that or at least capitalise upon it?

Rather than frown upon those who have less knowledge and try to ‘educate’ them, why not celebrate that they at least feel good seeing a fox, badger or dolphin? It’s our emotions, at least as much as our knowledge, which shape our actions and behaviour.

I’ve recently been spending some time photographing dolphins in northern Scotland – not from a boat but from the shoreline (many of you will know the site I’m sure). I’m constantly flabbergasted by questions such as: “What time do the dolphins arrive”? Or: “Do they come on to the beach to go to sleep”? Or: “Do they only jump out of the water when people are watching”? The people asking those questions however, are just as thrilled to see a dolphin breaching as the more ‘educated’ amongst the onlookers. The shrieks of delight are just as loud, the smiles just as wide. It’s an emotional response to a fantastic wildlife encounter.

Recognising that our emotional capacity provides a huge opportunity to deliver important conservation messages, especially beyond the conservation church, is a crucial step in engaging that audience, one that so far, we’ve largely failed to connect with.

Who said there was anything wrong with shedding a tear over a bear or a lion? Years ago I remember doing the same reflecting on the demise of Scotland’s once great forest.

I’m still struggling a wee bit with meerkats however.

 

 

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13 Comments

  • phil marazzi says:

    You are quite right. I think that nature needs all the help it can get. Those of us lucky enough to have enjoyed many of the spectacles of nature such as the big cats etc form a tiny minority. If wildlife is to have any chance of surviving the future, we must engage large numbers of people and get them onside, any way that works for them. Otherwise people just get caught up in their on little microcosm and ignore the bigger picture. If a little bit of Disney style anthropomorphism helps to make people, think, care and even maybe take some small action to help, good!

  • Peter

    I like the fact that you shed a tear over the Caledonian Forest where you live it is a stunningly beautiful place that has been ravaged over the centuries and what remains needs sympathetic souls like your good self.

    Where I live in the Serrania de Ronda I am fortunate to live between three of the most beautiful and prestine forests on Planet Earth, Los Alcornacales (Forest of the Acorn); Valle del Genal – Castanea Forest and the world’s rarest fir tree Abies Pinsapo forests of Sierra de las Nieves, Sierra Bermeja and Grazlema. If any of these forests had been subjected to the ill-treatment as that of the Caledonian Forest then I would certainly shed a few tears.

    Geoff

  • Patsy says:

    I remember when I was lucky enough to see my first arctic fix, I cried.
    When I watch animal documentaries I can just about cope with naming the animals but I don’t like it when they anthropomorph the animals (that’s a v long word for me)

  • Patsy says:

    I remember when I was lucky enough to see my first arctic fix, I cried.
    When I watch animal documentaries I can just about cope with naming the animals but I don’t like it when they anthropomorph the animals (that’s a v long word for me)

  • Love reading your blog posts, they go much deeper than the usual photo blog style posts a lot of photographers (including myself) produce.

    Maybe I can tempt you into liking Meerkats with my images: http://www.robinhoskyns.co.uk/#!/portfolio/G0000_vAzkKw2BBc

  • Nick says:

    I grew up with Animal Magic and Johnny Morris which was anthropomorphic at the extreme end but as a nature loving child I adored it and still have fond memories of the programme. Whenever I have had a close encounter with any wild creature whether it be a badger or a dragonfly I feel privileged and I have a real sense of contentment and well being from the experience. I guess it is what draws us back time after time after time.

  • Nick says:

    I grew up with Animal Magic and Johnny Morris which was anthropomorphic at the extreme end but as a nature loving child I adored it and still have fond memories of the programme. Whenever I have had a close encounter with any wild creature whether it be a badger or a dragonfly I feel privileged and I have a real sense of contentment and well being from the experience. I guess it is what draws us back time after time after time.

  • Chris says:

    Don’t disparage the Meerkats. I’ve just been down to Edinburgh zoo and their new Meerkat enclosure, its fascinating. They may be small and have stupid adverts about them but when you see them in an environment where they are comfortable and as natural as they could be in a zoo they are compelling viewing.
    Try it some time, you never know you may get to like them and their antics.

  • I pointed out to a few of the folks I spoke with recently, very casually (at the same dolphins spot Pete is referring to!) that the dolphins were actually looking at us, that it was not just a one way spectacle, that they were curious about us too.

    The folks were literally astonished that this was the case, and I think it prompted even more self-reflection and emotion in them.

    ‘Connection’ with nature is a much-touted phenomenon, but it happens and happens often, and in a myriad ways, and when it does, it changes people (us, me). I stood beside a group of Asian visitors watching the dolphins one afternoon and all were clapping and cheering as the animals breached, and one young woman in the party was actually crying. It was a privilege to be a part of it. It would be fair to say it was a day, and an experience, that probably changed their lives, maybe a little, maybe a lot.

    Whatever the conduit we can employ to make that connection is fine by me.

  • Mike Towler says:

    Oh boy! For around 20 years I’ve made friends with wild species in order to learn about them and their characters. Firstly it is necessary to name animals simply to facilitate identifying individuals. Secondly, anthropomorphism is often far from inappropriate — it is amazing how similar are the attitudes of other species to our own.
    I would suggest that we cease our conviction of superiority. Other species have abilities that we lack — abilities they may be happy to employ to our benefit if we will treat them with respect and consideration.
    All species communicate. (I was a teenager when I discovered that the twittering of birds is a descriptive language containing nouns and verbs. I watched a fledgling being given instruction on how to take off and fly; all entirely verbal.) We may not understand the language but foxes appear capable of understanding human speech. It fact, they may not translate, but get the information telepathically. Only one thing is certain; the message is understood.
    The more people ‘connect with nature’ the better. A few days ago a family arrived to collect an item I’d sold on eBay. Friendly foxes were running around and the small son was enthralled. He took photographs and I gave a little booklet about foxes. Later, the father told me that all the way home the children would not stop talking about foxes and his son proposed using his experience for ‘talk and show’ at school. Start them young!

  • Mike Towler says:

    Oh boy! For around 20 years I’ve made friends with wild species in order to learn about them and their characters. Firstly it is necessary to name animals simply to facilitate identifying individuals. Secondly, anthropomorphism is often far from inappropriate — it is amazing how similar are the attitudes of other species to our own.
    I would suggest that we cease our conviction of superiority. Other species have abilities that we lack — abilities they may be happy to employ to our benefit if we will treat them with respect and consideration.
    All species communicate. (I was a teenager when I discovered that the twittering of birds is a descriptive language containing nouns and verbs. I watched a fledgling being given instruction on how to take off and fly; all entirely verbal.) We may not understand the language but foxes appear capable of understanding human speech. In fact, they may not translate, but get the information telepathically. Only one thing is certain; the message is understood.
    The more people ‘connect with nature’ the better. A few days ago a family arrived to collect an item I’d sold on eBay. Friendly foxes were running around and the small son was enthralled. He took photographs and I gave a little booklet about foxes. Later, the father told me that all the way home the children would not stop talking about foxes and his son proposed using his experience for ‘talk and show’ at school. Start them young!

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