Lucy Cooke is on a one-woman mission to show why the ugly, weird and overlooked animals of the world can be cute, cuddly and deserving of attention. Cooke’s popular blogs, online videos, films, and TV programs bring her trademark humor and quirky storytelling style to a serious message: If we only care for the best known and best loved species, other enormously crucial parts of the web of life could vanish forever. With her unconventional attitude, she leverages the Internet to reach a new audience that more traditional wildlife programming has yet to tap. That’s why National Geographic selected Lucy as one of 2012’s Emerging Explorers. She sat down with us during Explorers’ Week 2012 to talk about her upcoming show on NatGeo WILD, Freaks and Creeps.
Congrats on being a NatGeo 2012 Emerging Explorer! What does it mean to you to be an Emerging Explorer?
It’s an unbelievable honor to be part of the National Geographic Explorer’s family, and had I known quite how amazing this week was going to be when I got that email I think I probably would have exploded with excitement. I think I wouldn’t have actually been able to cope. It’s been the most incredible week connecting with really smart people doing amazing things. So I think there’s going to be in my life “before explorers” and “after explorers”.
In your talk during Explorers Week 2012 at National Geographic, you said you are on a mission to recognize the “uncharismatic micro fauna”. Can you explain what that mission means?
I’m all about giving a bit of positive PR for the ugly, the ignored and the freaks – and the just plain ordinary as well. I think that there are a lot of animals out there that aren’t terribly represented in the media and they’ve got fantastic stories to tell. I’ve got nothing against pandas and lions and those big, sexy celebrity animals, the so-called “charismatic megafauna”, have their stories told a lot. So I’m interested in telling stories about a freakier crowd.
What got you into conservation biology? Who was your hero?
I was totally inspired by “Life on Earth” it was one of the most amazing things to me. It was just a TV show, but I was so inspired by this TV show that it shaped my life. Video is such an important medium for inspiring people, particularly kids. If people want to know what happened when I finally met my hero, Sir David Attenborough [ed. Host of "Life on Earth"], and it’s about the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me in a lifetime of quite embarrassing situations, then I suggest they read it on my blog.
A lot of the work you do involves blogging and social media (Slothville, Amphibian Avenger, your Twitter page), why is new media so important for conservation?
Social media is incredibly important for raising awareness these days. What’s fantastic is that with video you can turn somebody on to something, but with social media you can actually collect that audience and then they can be part of it; they can donate, they can spread the word themselves. And you know where they are and they know where you are. In the old days when you just made television, you’d just get a viewing figure and that’s all that you’d know about your audience. You’d just get a number and that’s the only connection you have. But now you can get inside their heads, you can work with them. You can create, and they can re-work the work that you’ve done. And they can donate money!
Tell us about your upcoming show, Freaks and Creeps. What makes it different from other nature shows?
In the Borneo show, I ignored the orangutans… and instead we focused on the Proboscis monkey which is a fantastic freak. He’s got the big dangley nose and he also suffers from perpetual gas, so he definitely needs some love from anybody who’s prepared to give it to him. One big thing is that I’ve always really been interested in shining a light on the scientists who work with less charismatic animals because they’re heroes. They’re the cold face of conservation, battling away with often absolutely no interest in the work that they’re doing. But I’ve always wanted to meet the Jane Goodall of dung beetles because I always thought they should be famous too, and why shouldn’t they be? And we did in Borneo, meet the Jane Goodall of dung beetles, Mike Senior. He craps for conservation, which is definitely something that deserves a medal in my book.
I think the thing that’s really different about Freaks and Creeps is that it’s funny. It’s a really fun show. And that’s my whole thing. I think that there’s a gap in the market and that natural history can be fun. The world may be going down the toilet, but we don’t all have to be depressed about it all the time. There’s still lots to celebrate and there’s lots you can have fun with. It’s a funny show. So if you like to laugh, then you might like it. And it’s got a woman in it.
Be sure to catch Lucy Cooke in the premiere of Freaks and Creeps, on Nat Geo WILD Tuesday, July 17th at 10P et/pt