Wild Voices Project
By BEL JACOBS
Paul Rosolie is an explorer, naturalist and author of ‘Mother of God: one man’s journey to the uncharted depths of the Amazon rainforest’. “There’s settlers and farmland cleared but, as you go further up the river, you’re in the headland of the Amazon,” he says. “The human presence just drops off and suddenly you’re in deep, green untouched jungle. There'll be one or two logging boats a week - but for the most part, you're in wilderness.”
Rosolie’s words - a journey by proxy into the heart of the rainforest - is one interview amongst the many that feature on Wild Voices Project. Founded in 2016 by wildlife photographer and naturalist Matt Williams, the podcast celebrates the volunteers, conservation staff, photographers, surveyors, amateur enthusiasts and more who are working every day, in different ways, to protect, save and nurture wildlife and nature.
We have never needed their voices so desperately. In October 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change reported that we only have 12 years - now 11 and counting - to change the way we live, consume and produce. Yet very little has been achieved. In February, the Met Office said that in the next five years’ we could break ‘safe’ thresholds, risking global climate instability and runaway climate heating. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, this year is the hottest on record.
Most heartbreakingly, perhaps, over 1 million species of animals are at risk of extinction, according to the United Nations' first comprehensive report on biodiversity. And, aside from staggering statistics, it is the individual turmoil that breaks the heart. Extinction means the present suffering and eventual death of billions of intelligent beings - human and animal - who are innocent of the devastating conditions in which they find themselves.
Protecting and restoring the planet will take collaborative effort, with each operator playing different roles. While climate emergency activists and school strikers campaign for change, however, Wild Voices Project celebrates those working on the frontline - from the Amazonian rainforest to the Scottish highlands and beyond - to maintain wildlife, and to maintain its beauty for future generations.
“Before I launched the project, I first decided on the three things I wanted to achieve: to tell stories about the inspiring people saving Nature (particularly those you may not have heard of); to cover challenging environmental topics; and to understand the tactics and tools of successful conservationists,” Matt told Countryman Magazine last year. “If nothing else, I wanted to have these exciting and instructive conversations for my own gain and enjoyment. But I realised that there might be a community of people out there who would also benefit from listening to them.”
The interviews differ enormously - and beautifully. So, among the many things she speaks about, wildlife filmmaker and presenter Lizzie Daly talks about her passion for African elephants and for British wildlife; Mercy Kariuki, Local Engagement and Empowerment Coordinator for BirdLife Africa, describes the community projects she helps to coordinate in order to create habitat for bird species in a range of African countries.
Greek-American filmmaker, photographer and director Louie Psihoyos, founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society but perhaps best known as director of The Cove, about the slaughter of dolphins in Japan, looks at how a chance meeting with Stephen Spielberg, and a passion for dinosaurs, ignited an interest in extinction, and why he believes a plant-based diet is the best for our health, our wallets and the planet.
Meanwhile, one of the world’s foremost explorers and author Benedict Allen reflects on how exploration can help us understand the current mass extinction of wildlife we are causing. Renowned international conservationist Dr Jane Goodall, Dr Goodall talks about her vital Roots & Shoots education programme, which occupies so much of her life today, helping groups in over 100 countries to put together projects related to the environment, people and wildlife.
One of Williams’ favourite interviews is with Jonny Rankin, founder of Dovestep, walks to raise money for turtle doves. “His story gives a great insight into how to build up a project from scratch at the same time as achieving personal transformation: he went from relatively unfit to an extreme-walker and runner in just a matter of months, all in the name of saving Nature.” In each interview, wisdoms are delivered matter-of-factly by those who live their truths every day.
“I was always told about the threats of the rainforest - piranhas, snakes, spiders - but the threat has always been from humans, from loggers, from Pablo Escobar’s gang …,” says Benedict Allen. Jane Goodall remembers her early days working with chimps in Gombe - “I had to show how like us they are in behaviour, kissing, embracing, holding hands, patting one another in reassurance”. And she remembers her favourite chimp David Greybeard: “The one who lost his fear. The one who demonstrated tool using and took making for the first time. The one who had a gentle but determined disposition.”
Each interview links inextricably into the wider narratives of human and animal survival that urgently demand our attention and response but which are being denied or ignored. The podcast celebrates those who are speaking out on behalf of nature - and listening to its needs. Wild Voices Project invites us to join them.