Tag Me

I went to see a talk at the Institute of Zoology last night. The Institute is part of London Zoo in Regent’s Park. I used to go there sometimes after working in the IVF lab in London. The talks are usually free and have different conservation themes – IVF in zoo animals, fishing on the high seas, that sort of thing. This one was about how tracking marine animals has changed marine conservation.

Here’s what I learned. Marine animals are tracked using two main types of tagging – satellite and acoustic tagging. The satellite tag tracks animals who move the distance of  oceans. Their tags ping straight up to space and back down. Acoustic tagging on the other hand, tracks animals that come into one particular neighbourhood. It pings animals in and out, as the tagging receiver is attached to a weighted buoy that doesn’t move. The animal won’t be tracked unless it comes into contact with the receiver. Creatures fitted with satellite tags however, are tracked by satellite receiver wherever they go as long as the tag and the animal survives. There we go. Explanation in a tagging nutshell. They’re the movers, we’re the stalkers.

Sea turtles, albatrosses and sharks. These were the tagged creatures featured in this talk. There were four different speakers: a gentle-sounding French guy does the albatross, a young upstart, PhD candidate from the zoo who’s into sharks, a woman about my age studying green and hawksbill turtles and a middle-aged guy who works with leatherback turtles. I liked the leatherback guy the most but that was just a personal thing. He just seemed the most human – like he was slightly confused by all of it too. This might have been due to his West Country accent, but I didn’t bother setting aside my provincial stereotypes. I was in.

The woman was from Swansea University. Yay! A sea turtle woman from Wales?! Sigh. I was excited to hear from her. Funnily, she seemed the most hard of nails type of the group. Like you wouldn’t want to mess with her if she was counting turtles on the beach. She seemed capable of the proverbial outstare and maybe a couple of jabs to the correct vertebrae. I don’t know – the truth is that you probably need to be like this working in conservation. There are obvious mountains to climb and in this case, sea turtles to protect. 

Here’s my dilemma. I can’t help thinking if scientists could add a little poetry to their work, the average person (me) would be more inspired by the cause. Is this superficial? Intra-sexist? Don’t answer… What? Like a little bit of charm would hurt? C’mon on! Even a small amount of self-deprecating humour would make me want to sign up.

And this, since I’ve paid attention to zoological matters for a couple of decades now, seems to be conservation’s main problem. People don’t care enough. I left the talk feeling privileged to have entered another world – the mysterious animal kingdom. Within ten minutes of walking towards Camden High Road, I knew that no one cares.

The way urbanised people live now, it’s just too remote. In my city scene, people were milling around, on their phones, checking their make-up, entering restaurants, striding home from work. It’s obvious – conservation has no direct impact on their lives. Only the affluent – people who can travel to wild, expensive locations – and people who live in these habitats alongside these creatures, care. And the geeky zoologists. Sorry, I forgot about you guys for a sec.

Everyone else kinda cares – almost like a pull back in our evolutionary time- but it feels pretty distant now. Competition with technology: computer games, social media, general work-related technology leaves us full up. Like an enormous meal. It’s like we just don’t have the room in our brains anymore. And sure, everyone likes watching nature programmes on tv but do they care enough to actually help save habitats and creatures? Which leads me back to the basics. How do you make people care? 

Charm, charm, charm. We need the charm. I know. It isn’t fair – but I think it’s true.

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