Do you feel broadly positive about the future?
There’s no point in saying the world is doomed, but I do want people to feel the urgency. We hear about solutions and positive stories, such as saving species, but we’re sleepwalking into a disaster and we know we’re doing it.
With wildlife, many people didn’t know what a dire situation, say, cheetahs are in—fewer than 7,000 left now. Lions are losing territory and populations are being lost at a terrifying pace. I wanted to get these kinds of messages across, and to focus on solutions, from tech solutions and apps to community projects and conservancies. Conservation does work.
A big area I’m interested in is rewilding. It can bring back species, increase biodiversity, lead to cleaner air and water, create work opportunities, and offer a chance to live more closely with nature. It feels like a no-brainer to me. It’s exciting to see the knock-on effect too—bring back fish, you get more otters, more insects, more planets and flowers.
I’ve written about rewilding projects in Argentina and Romania. Huge areas of South America have been rewilded, bringing back animals like jaguars. We could rewild great areas of the UK too—there’s a big drive to make Scotland the world’s first rewilding nation.
What key message do you want people to take from the New Big 5 initiative?
The aim is to highlight issues such as habitat loss, poaching, human-wildlife conflict, the illegal wildlife trade and the climate emergency.
The key message though is: All wildlife is important and we’re all connected. The idea of the New Big 5 was never to say that one species is more important than another—from bees to blue whales to termites to tigers, we need all these animals. The New Big 5 simply highlights the need to focus on the threats facing them. The pandemic we’re all still suffering through is a huge example of what happens when our relationship with nature is so destructive.
I’m aware this project might not win the war, and I’m not a natural optimist. But in the face of huge problems, every success matters. Conservation works—you just need to look at something like the slowly rising numbers of mountain gorillas, down to the work of organizations like Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
We have a lot of solutions to the world’s problems. We just need to put them into action and move faster.