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Creator and Artist Stories

Wildlife conservation and biodiversity – turning education into action

  • By Jaya Adapa
  • Head of Social Impact & Sustainability Partnerships
  • Mar.03.2022
On the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), we spoke with UNEP's Sam Barratt and Mark Vins of Brave Wilderness about the importance of education on animal conservation.
Wildlife conservation and biodiversity – turning education into action
On the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), we spoke with UNEP's Sam Barratt and Mark Vins of Brave Wilderness about the importance of education on animal conservation.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a global effort to address a wide range of challenges connected to climate change, including protecting the world’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Education is a core pillar of UNEP’s efforts to protect Earth’s biodiversity, and to mark this milestone we spoke with Sam Barratt, Chief of the Environmental Education Youth Unit in UNEP’s Ecosystems Division, and Mark Vins, founder of Brave Wilderness, about the importance of education on animal conservation.

Brave Wilderness is one of the most popular animal channels on YouTube, with over 4 billion views. Mark and his team teach animal conservation through creative and entertaining videos, which introduce viewers to a wide range of wildlife and habitats.

Sam, can you share UNEP’s perspective on the 50th anniversary milestone and how that connects to wildlife conservation?

On this planet, everything is connected.”

Sam: On this planet, everything is connected. All of us live in a tangled web of nature which together makes this home we call earth truly magical. Without apex predators like wolves, deer can over-graze trees and scrub. Without pollinators like bees, trees won’t fruit. Everything has a role and keeping the planet in balance is key, as when things go out of balance, it can get tough.

Climate change is the greatest threat we face, but we also need to not only drive down emissions, we have to stop drawing down on nature and assuming it’s a never-ending resource for us to deplete. Nature is a bank that we can’t force into the red.

Mark Vins.

Mark, as Sam noted, wildlife conservation is critical to the healthy functioning of our ecosystems and to the planet itself. Often the animals that are the focus of education about conservation are the cute and cuddly ones.

What made you want to focus on creatures that don’t always appear as the poster animals for conservation, like scorpions, spiders and snakes?

Our goal is to show you these creatures so our viewers have an appreciation for the balance within nature and the importance each one holds in the ecosystem.”

Mark: The world is a delicate ecosystem where every creature plays a critical role. Since the cute and cuddly ones already get a lot of attention, we like to show wildlife you may not know about or that are hard to find – or that could be dangerous. Many of the ideas that turn into Brave Wilderness YouTube videos start with our own curiosity to learn and to see certain animals for the very first time. What we’ve discovered is that many of these misunderstood or feared creatures possess some of the most interesting and incredible qualities, like venom, beautiful colorations or advanced defense mechanisms. Often when we don’t understand something, we don’t value or protect it. Our goal is to show you these creatures so our viewers have an appreciation for the balance within nature and the importance each one holds in the ecosystem. Plus they are absolutely fascinating to look at up close and the adventures to find them are always exciting!

When you created Brave Wilderness back in 2014, were you thinking about how it could be effective in educating audiences about wildlife conservation? Or did that mission grow out of your experiences creating the series and connecting with audiences around the world?

Mark: Wildlife conservation has always been a core principle of Brave Wilderness – we’re focused on inspiring the next generation of conservationists and providing information that empowers people to make a difference. Even before our very first YouTube video was created, we were hosting fundraising events and educational efforts within our local park systems in Columbus, OH. Many of these featured our first animal co-star, the persnickety common snapping turtle.

As we grew Brave Wilderness, our location-based productions were frequently placing us near the frontlines of field research and conservation work and I realized that we had the opportunity to focus the development of our stories around these efforts. By participating and delivering broad global awareness where it was needed most and appealing to our audience of millions we could eventually protect the environment with every single video we made.

Activating this strategy was propelled by collaborating with the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center (CRARC), a habitat restoration project that spans 80 hectare of biodiverse rainforest and serves as a recovery arch for endangered frog species. Some of our most famous videos have been filmed at this location and have generated a greater awareness of this small, but important place in Central America.

To date, we have filmed hundreds of wildlife videos amassing over four billion views. Most recently, we have been forging larger partnerships to activate our audiences to make a global impact. Last summer, we partnered with ReWild.org and raised more than $500,000 for Virunga National Park by taking our audience to the Congo to witness their legendary mountain gorillas. Because of efforts like this, I am proud to say that Brave Wilderness’s environmental impact is both meaningful and measurable across the globe.

Mark Vins.

Mark, You recently co-authored a paper in Global Ecology and Conservation about the efficacy of videos on YouTube – and Brave Wilderness in particular – in successfully reaching a large audience and educating people about animal conservation. Can you share a bit about the findings of that paper?

We believe the climate crisis will be solved by broadening education and that creators on YouTube can tip the balance one story at a time.”

Mark: One of the hopes of writing this research paper is that sharing how we create videos, our ‘secret sauce’, will have tremendous impact for the global conservation movement. We believe the climate crisis will be solved by broadening education and that creators on YouTube can tip the balance one story at a time. However, we need more stories!

You can drive education by being entertaining and authentic is one of the most important take-aways from the paper. We want this paper to help activate YouTubers and casual video creators to create more sustainability-focused content and drive the change we need to solve the world’s biggest problems.

We’re giving away many of the strategies we’ve used in this peer-reviewed scientific paper. It is free to download, and provides information down to the details - from camera technology to thumbnail creation. You can access the full paper here.

How critical is education to the overall mission of protecting at-risk species?

Mark: It is absolutely critical. Education leads to action. This is especially true in terms of the environment because creating awareness and empathy for our planet is the first step to encouraging a more sustainable society.

Sustainability and conservation are required to stop the next mass extinction that many scientists believe is already well underway. To prevent further destruction we will all play a role where each of us can be part of the healing process for our planet. An educated global base will be necessary to generate the impact required to save many species threatened by rising temperatures, rising seas, and mass deforestation.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme, and animal conservation is a core part of that project. How are you both thinking about the challenges that lie ahead in the next 50 years, when it comes to protecting wildlife and Earth’s biodiversity?

...the YouTube community can play a critical role in viewing, sharing, and acting to change the world from the one we have to the one we want it to be.”

Sam: Over the past 50 years, great progress has been made in working with governments to agree to stop plastic pollution, healing the ozone layer and taking poisonous lead out of petrol. It’s only when governments, citizens, and companies work together that real change can happen. While risks are rising, our ability to combat these threats is possible and the YouTube community can play a critical role in viewing, sharing, and acting to change the world from the one we have to the one we want it to be. If we act, rather than sit back, our future is whatever we choose it to be.

Mark Vins.

Mark: The challenges ahead of us in terms of biodiversity are complicated, but all the solutions begin with environmental protection and restoration. We unfortunately won’t find a one size fits all answer. The realistic path to global sustainability is going to be a product of broadening awareness and generational action to prevent further habit and species loss across the globe.

To launch such a massive movement we will need great storytellers to broaden the conversation on sustainability and more than anything make it a hopeful pursuit that is inviting to all people, governments, and corporations. It’s going to take all of us, not some of us.

At Brave Wilderness, we will continue to make the most of our global microphone and create a positive impact by educating the world about nature, its delicate ecosystems, and how we can do our part to protect its vitality. My hope is that we can partner with governments and corporations to drive the changes needed to decelerate the looming consequences of the climate crisis.

Up next, we are producing an Earth Day feature video that will take our audience to Ecuador to explore the inverse islands of the Amazonian cloud forests and help find a solution to the disappearance and extinction of many native frogs and wildlife. This video will represent another perspective on how to preserve the future of our planet. I can’t wait to share it!