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.