142: Breaking Boundaries: Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant's Journey from Urban Upbringing to 'Wild Kingdom' Host
Guest Name(s): Rae Wynn-Grant
Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, host of “The Wild Kingdom” and author of “Wildlife,” shares her remarkable journey from childhood fascination with nature shows to breaking stereotypes as a black woman in the environmental movement. In discussing her upcoming memoir, “Wild Life,” set for release in April 2024, Dr. Wynn-Grant dives into her adventures studying animals worldwide, addressing personal growth, social justice, and motherhood.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host, and I’ve got Dr. Rae-Wynn Grant on the program. She is the host of The Wild Kingdom, which was a program when I was yet a little kid back in the dark ages. And she’s resurrected a great program. And she’s also the author of a new book, Wildlife, which is coming out, which is a memoir, Finding My Purpose in an Untamed World. Thank you for being on the program, Dr. Rae.
Yeah, thanks for having me. This is great. It’s already great.
Fantastic. So tell us a little bit about your journey and how you were drawn into the environmental movement.
Yeah, wow. I think I kind of started in the environmental movement. You know, my earliest memories are of getting great joy from watching nature shows on television. And that’s, I think, pretty unique because it was through television that I was exposed to nature. So I didn’t come from a family.
I came from a very urban family. And so although I had a great life and a great childhood, it was certainly not outdoors so there was no like hiking or camping trips or you know fishing or anything like that but sitting in front of the television and watching nature shows took me all over the world and allowed me to fall in love particularly with wild animals and wild places and at the same time so I was a kid in the 90s in the early 90s and at the same time there was this like extinction crisis that something that we still have but it was really front and center.
And so I was being fed a lot of information, not just on TV, but everywhere about, you know, bald eagles, you know, being quite threatened and ocean and air pollution and all of these different environmental problems. And one thing that I appreciate is that with all that information always came the message that, you know,
If we band together, we can fix this, right? Like we’re not, it’s not just that air pollution is, is here and here to stay. And that’s that on that. It was always, you should know about this because everyone who knows about it can then be a part of the solution.
And so that’s why I say, I think I was kind of born into the environmental movement because I paid attention, you know, all of that messaging really worked for me on top of the nature shows that I would watch as a little kid, I used to tell my parents, I want to be a nature show host when I grow up.
And, you know, and although they weren’t really familiar with a path towards that career, they didn’t discourage it. They’re kind of like, all right, well, it could be worse. No problem. But I really meant it. I mean, I think that kind of goes without saying at this point, but I really meant it to the point that when I got to college, so decades later, when I was a freshman in college, I went to my advisor and I said, hey, what do I have to major in to be a nature show host?
And my, you know, I remember my advisor kind of thinking like, gosh, would that be acting maybe or journalism or, you know, what could that be? And finally she settled on, why don’t you give environmental science a try? And I said, you know, like environmental science, never heard of it, but okay, great, sounds good. And it was a hit. It was a hit. It was once I discovered the environmental sciences, I realized, oh, I was being introduced to science that whole time.
All those nature shows I was watching were showing me the life of a scientist and an aspect of science that was a perfect fit for me. And very purposeful because it also addressed, like gave, gave me and society the tools to address all of those issues that were kind of being pummeled at us. Right. The, the air pollution, the water pollution, the extinction crisis, you know, biodiversity decline.
And so I really got attached to becoming a scientist. I never lost hope that I would be in Nature Show House because I thought like, that’s the best kind of scientist to be. But from when I was a freshman in college onward, ecology and the environmental sciences were really kind of what my identity was wrapped around.
Well, that’s a great story. Thanks for sharing that. I also watched nature shows as a kid, but we had far fewer of them. But there was always The Wild Kingdom with Marlon Perkins and his colleague Jim. And it was kind of like a running joke. I imagine there’s a lot of things on YouTube about Jim.
Mm-hmm. going in, hey, Jim, why don’t you go pet the Cobra and see if it’ll, you know, spit its venom at you. They always send Jim in to do the dirty work. So do you have somebody like that on your new wild kingdom?
You know, I get asked that question all the time because people have these just tremendous memories of sitting around the television with their families on Sunday nights on NBC to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I watched it too. You know, it was on in the 80s and 90s when I was a kid, and it was one of those shows that inspired me. So yes, Marlon Perkins and Jim Fowler, they were the dynamic duo.
And Jim, you know, eventually once Marlon kind of aged out of the field work, Jim was the one to, you know, to wrestle the alligators and do all of that crazy stuff. So with that, the show has always been co-hosted, right? And indeed now I have a co-host and, and I’m the newbie. So my co-host is a man named Peter Gross. He took over hosting the show in the eighties. So he worked with Jim Fowler. He worked with Marlon Perkins and he started hosting the, like does all of the adventures that I do to this day.
So we co-host it. The dynamic is different. So we’re often together on these adventures and the show is different. So, you know, it is 2024 now and there’s less of a sensationalism around this show. So it’s less about handling wild animals for the thrill of it and more about exploring conservation projects around the world and meeting the scientists behind those conservation projects around the world. So it’s toned down in terms of the extreme nature of the show, but it is much richer in education and I think just as wild.
Okay, well tell us about some of those conservation projects that you’re going to visit and, you know, things that have particularly, you know, sparked your interest and think would be great for other people to learn about.
Yeah, you know, season one focused primarily on endangered species, and it coincided with the Endangered Species Act in the United States turning 50 at the end of 2023. So we really focused on endangered species, both the ones that are still endangered to this day, and also those species that have recovered, which is really cool. And so the bald eagle is one example. We did this amazing story on the bald eagle, you know, the symbol of America.
Um, and we traveled up to the Pacific Northwest where actually a woman, a black woman who lives outside of Seattle found an injured Eagle in her backyard. Um, this bald Eagle had actually been shot with a gun. Someone shot it on the 4th of July, if you can believe it. So extremely anti-patriotic act, a terrible act in general, but, but kind of extra symbolic in that way. Um, and this female Eagle.
Oh my god.
Survived the shooting, but was severely wounded and landed in this woman’s yard. And she, you know, she’s an urban person, but has a tremendous love for nature. And she brought the eagle to a rescue center called PAWS, P-A-W-S, and now I’m at a loss for what that stands for, but it’s a wildlife sanctuary. So I think the W and S are a wildlife sanctuary. And…
They rehabilitated the eagle. They did veterinary care. They kept the eagle in an enclosure that was extremely wild to mimic her natural environment. And my co-host, Peter, and I got to be along for that journey, but also there for her release. So we were there for when she was deemed perfectly healed by the care center. And
we ourselves got to carry her in this big case back into the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest and release her and watch her fly away. So in this case it was an episode that wasn’t just about learning about conservation projects but actually being there very hands-on with this old eagle and watching her go from injured and maybe not going to make it to back roaming free, flying free in the wild. So that was one that really stayed with me.
Gosh, we’ve done so many. I got to touch a wolf, a real wild gray wolf. And when I say touch a wolf, I don’t want listeners to go out and think that they can do the same thing. Because again, I was in Minnesota. I was in Minnesota with timber wolves and at a facility that provides sanctuary for wild wolves that are no longer able to be in the wild.
So in the United States today, there’s laws that if a wolf, which is an endangered species, is taken from the wild, it can no longer be re-released back into the wild. I think that’s interesting. I will decline from commenting what my opinions of that are, but that means that formerly wild wolves that are still wild at heart are in many of these sanctuaries and can be used for research purposes, for conservation research. So…
You know, they can take hair snags of them, you know, blood samples to understand their DNA, maybe the reproduction, some of their different cycles, certainly their genetics. And so I got to visit the sanctuary, learn about where a lot of these wolves came from. Some had been orphaned, you know, etc. And I got to kind of experience the life of a wolf and the life of a wolf pack while also learning about their long term conservation. So that was completely game changing for me.
Well, there’s a wolf sanctuary down here in Southern California. And I can’t recall the, the name of it off the top of my head, but it’s kind of like East of San Diego a little bit. And so I went there with some friends and it is, uh, it’s really cool to see the wolves, uh, live and I can, I thought they had let them go in the U S but maybe they were letting them go in Mexico and Canada. I don’t, I don’t recall exactly, but, um.
It was certainly cool to see the wolves in person. And I think just an example of how powerful the wolves are out in the wild. They had that great video showing the wolves being reintroduced into Yellowstone and kind of forcing the deer to kind of back off the stream because and then kind of trees grew up in those places and ended up changing the whole course. The river, which was pretty phenomenal to see just a few wolves could change the whole course of the geography there.
Yeah, I mean, I could talk about that for ages, but they are vital to healthy, thriving ecosystems, at least in North America and in many other places, and Eurasia as well. But I’d never been up close and personal with one before, and it really impacted me for the better.
Yeah, I think it’s kind of demystifying. And quite frankly, they just seem like a big dog to me. I mean, they didn’t seem like they were so huge. And I mean, they’re certainly big enough in their wild state. They’d be dangerous if you were out there alone, probably, and ran into a wolf pack. Speaking of dangerous and running into wild things, started your book, Wildlife. And I know it.
I don’t think it’s been published yet, but maybe it will be soon. And one of the stories in there is your encounter with a black bear, if you’d like to share that with us.
Yes. So I’m so proud of this book, Wild Life, Two Words by Ray Wing Grant. It comes out on April 2nd. So I wanted to make sure it came out during Earth Month because it is my memoir. It is all of my best stories from particularly the last 30 years, but most probably the last 15 years of I’ve had some pretty incredible adventures in the wilderness. Really, really unique adventures in the wilderness as a wildlife.
ecologist and researcher. And I opened the book, not to spoil it, but I opened the book with a really scary story of being chased by a black bear. And it’s suspenseful. It’s pretty unbelievable, I think. Obviously, I am here to live. I lived to tell it, but it’s one of my favorite stories.
Well, I thought it was kind of wild in that you were out there looking to trap a black bear and I think in particular this black bear. And so the fact that it kind of had crept up on you was kind of a, you know, turning the tables that those animals are very smart and they could kind of sense what was going on and said, hey, get out of here.
Yeah, well, unlike a wolf pack, we were just talking about wolves. So unlike a wolf pack, you know, bears are solitary. Um, there’s just one at a time, especially when it’s a male, right? And so there’s, you know, one, they’re territorial. There’s one bear for every, you know, maybe 80 square kilometers sometimes.
And, um, I was looking for a single bear for ages and I knew it existed in this part of its habitat. Um, but I was not able to find it for over a week. And then. your point, this bear found me and I was not prepared. So, you know, as much as it is a story about adventure and bear research, it’s also a story about why you need to carry bear spray at all times.
Yeah, I can only imagine the amount of adrenaline that must have shot through your body being up close and personal with a bear. But thank God you’re obviously fast on your feet and you made it out of there.
I made it out of there, but did I ever learn a lesson? And Matt, I’m just seeing the chat that they’re telling us to have a break.
Okay, well you’re listening to a climate change. This is Matt Maddern your host and I’ve got Dr. Ray Wynn Grant on the program. She is the host of the wild kingdom as well as author of wildlife We’ll be right back in just one minute
You’re listen to A Climate Change. This is Matt Maddern. I’ve got Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant on the program, host of The Wild Kingdom. So, you know, we were just talking about one of your adventures with the bears. And, you know, we kind of left off with your career path of how you got to nature show host and you were a freshman in college and, kind of be interested to hear how you fill in the blanks from freshman year in college to actually getting the job. Because I think that it’s probably great for other young listeners to hear, hey, if they’ve got a dream, there’s a path. It may not be this exact dream, but it might be this exact dream. And how does one make that happen?
Yeah, gosh, well, I’m happy to talk about that. You know, if there’s some kind of mentorship that I can offer, that’s really important to me. But I will say that there are some simple tools that are available now that weren’t super available when I was young. But I think a quick Google search would have actually pivoted me in such a different direction. And what I mean by that is,
I knew, I entered college and I knew I wanted to be a nature show host. I knew it. It was very clear to me. Although the nature show hosts that I admired the most were so different from me identity wise. They were kind of British or Australian, middle-aged white men who seemed to kind of know nature like the back of their hand. And when I was a teenager entering college, I had never been in the outdoors. I just watched all this on TV and I had a passion for it.
Um, and, and this is a podcast, so you can’t tell, but I am a millennial black woman. So very different from these guys that were hosting the show. And, you know, and so I made an, I made a big assumption. I made a big assumption that the reason these men were so good at hosting nature shows, and I’m not just talking about wild kingdom, but all of the natural history documentaries that I watched.
I thought the reason that they were so good was that they were scientists and experts. I thought that they had degrees, degrees out the wazoo, you know, had studied wild animals for decades. And so I thought, that’s what I’ve got to do. I have to become a world’s best expert in wildlife ecology, and that’s how I’ll get a nature show. And so I did a bachelor’s degree. I went on to get two master’s degrees. I got a PhD. I did a postdoc at a dynamic institution. I started getting research fellowships. And the whole time I was always very clear, like, Oh, am I in Tanzania studying lions?
Oh, am I in North America and the Sierra studying bears? You know, it’s because I want to host a nature show and show people like the young rays of the world that these wild animals exist and this is what they do and aren’t they fascinating and like invigorate all kinds of folks to join the environmental movement. And so I definitely got a lot of applause. I got a lot of support from my peers in these institutions as I studied and I, you know, claimed what I wanted to do, but I didn’t get a lot of support or opportunities from other places. And it was actually when I was in my postdoc.
So I, at this point, I had lived and worked on six of the seven continents studying wild animals all around the world. And in my post-hoc, I decided, let me step up my networking a little bit. And I found a network executive who was at a network that did a lot of nature shows. And I got an informational interview and I asked for some advice. And this man, who was a white man, said to me, right,
You know, I love your ideas, but you’re never going to host a nature show. It’s not going to happen. You’re not a white guy with a beard. Have you seen these shows? Like it’s all the same kind of guy. Like, yes, you study lions. Yes, you have been to the furthest, most remote places with these animals, but like, you don’t look like a nature show host. So it won’t happen. And at this point, I had spent my life studying wild animals.
I had lived by myself in remote rainforests. I had done the most and I loved it and it was purposeful and it was my fit. And all I wanted was to just communicate the science, you know, to anyone listening, whether it was one person or one million people. And I was getting this discouragement not because of my pedigree or my research experience or my knowledge or my exposure, but literally because of my race and gender.
And it was devastating. You know, I know some people get really motivated by haters and that’s not me. I got really upset. I was sad. I was distraught. Um, and unfortunately it caused me to think, well, maybe this guy’s right. Yeah. I mean, I can control how good of a scientist I am, but I really can’t control whether society will accept me as an expert in the media. Um,
And that was a really, really tough moment. So I’m bringing it up to say that like, I, I’ve had a lot of successes. I’ve had a lot of really magical experiences in my life, but I’ve also had a lot of rejection and a lot of setbacks. And again, many of them have been because of my identity rather than my intelligence or my ideas, um, or what I have to bring to the table. Um, I pivoted and I decided, well, I’m just going to make
content the way I make content. Like at the time I was studying bears, I was having a lot of fun doing bear work. And I decided, well, I’m gonna just start taking selfies when I’m in the field. I’m gonna just take pictures and I’m gonna use social media. And I’m going to, you know, just let people know that I am still out here and I’m still interested. And that really started something for me. It really, you know, I have to say social media was a great place at the time for me to show
what it was that I did with wild animals. And it was also a place for me to show how unique my identity was and really prove that was interesting too. So I think my initial social media following just came from people saying, wait, black women do this? Black women camp in the Rocky Mountain West and study bears? You know, like that’s really interesting. And why and how? And again, why? And…
And so very naturally my science communication started off as intersectional. So my science communication started with explaining why someone from a non-traditional background belongs in the space and like also how awesome it is. So there was never, I realized early on, there’s never going to be a separation of my identity and my science. They were always going to be joined and I was always going to have to discuss them.
And eventually a couple of years went by and I really shook off the words and that terrible advice from that network executive. And I found myself trying again and talking to other network executives and just trying to explain to people, I’ve got everything that a nature show host has.
Around that time, I also learned that all of those amazing guys that hosted nature shows throughout my life never had PhDs, never had master’s degrees, never had all of those credentials that I really thought I needed to get in order to be in this space. Some of them don’t even have bachelor’s degrees and have never actually studied wildlife. So that gave me a lot of confidence. You know, it allowed me to realize like, you know what? I’ve…
I’ve got this. I know a lot of stuff and whether I get the opportunity to talk on a nature show or not, I can feel really confident that I’m credible, I’m honest, I am authentic, and I’m really out here really doing research and data collection. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in 2022 gave me a call because they were revamping the show and they wanted it to have a strong scientific foundation and they were considering.
They weren’t sure, but they were considering whether having a scientist co-host the show with Peter Gross would be a good angle for it. Again, I don’t know who else they were considering or why, but at the end of the day, they did move forward with me and it has just been a glorious, very, very full circle moment ever since.
But also great, and I appreciate you sharing that with the audience and the vulnerability there. Because I think that I come from a background of being an employment attorney. So that is like rank discrimination. And my ears are burning like, oh my God, I can’t wait to sue that guy. But.
You know, I also love the part about the story that you didn’t listen and you just persevered and you found a way to make it happen, which is, which is really a great piece of the story. And, um, and to everybody who’s a listener out there to, to find a way and don’t listen to people who, uh, tell you it can’t be done, you’re not the right. Whatever gender or color you fill in the blank. Um, you know, that’s, that is some prehistoric thinking, which we need to get around.
So, just so much there to unpack, but I just love the story about sticking with it. And I’m so glad that you went and got the PhD, I’m sure you are as well, because I believe that there is a certain degree of credibility that people have when they have the credentials and you’ve done the work. And so that you have more authority when people out there in the TV audience will say, oh, well, she’s just this. And she got the job just because she’s attractive or whatever.
It’s like, no, I got the job because I did the work and I have a doctorate and I understand this stuff. And that’s super important, I think, in this day and age because there’s so many people throwing mud at the science and saying, oh, this is, this is fake, and this isn’t real, and global warming is a hoax or whatever. So thank you for doing the work. You listened to A Climate Change. This is Matt Maddern, your host. I’ve got Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant on the program, host of Wild Kingdom. We’ll be back in just one minute.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve got Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant on the program. She is the current host of Wild Kingdom, and she’s also an author of a book, Wild Life, which is coming out on April the 2nd. It’s a memoir, Finding My Purpose in an Untamed World. Tell us a little bit about the book and why you wrote it.
Oh gosh, well, I can answer that second question first. So I wrote the book because I was asked to write the book. So I certainly, and this is the scientist in me, I’m a working ecologist to this day. So I was kind of living my life as a wildlife ecologist and this was pre-pandemic. So around 2019, I had built myself a website which didn’t have much on it, but it just introduced myself to the world and talked about what I studied and had some great pictures.
And I decided to put a blog on and I just wrote one excerpt, one short story. Um, that was a, it’s a special story. So it’s not necessarily about wild animals, but it was a story that of a very, very deep and emotional moment that I had while living in Kenya, um, in 2005, as an undergraduate student on a study abroad program, I did a wildlife management study abroad program and.
that took us to southern Kenya where we lived adjacent to a Maasai tribal group. So Maasai people who, who chose to live a very traditional tribal lifestyle. And as a black American, a young black American woman in 2005, which was just like pre internet Kenya, it was before the internet had gotten to, you know, the bush certainly and Kenya. Um, it, we were really.
cut off from the rest of the world. And so I had this wonderful experience like getting to know Maasai folks who were also black, but so, so different from me culturally which might sound obvious, but it was for my 19 year old self that was a real learning moment. And I wrote this story of just communicating with
the Maasai about Hurricane Katrina. Because Hurricane Katrina happened while I was on that trip and because I was cut off, me and the whole group of students, we didn’t know about it for weeks, maybe even a month went by before we had any idea. And Hurricane Katrina was particularly devastating for the black community. And so when the news finally reached our little village in Southern Kenya, I had a lot of questions from the local Maasai folks about what it all meant and how come like, you know, almost a thousand folks were dead and a lot of them were black and, you know, just like the racial implications of the hurricane.
And I, anyway, I wrote this story and I just put it on my blog because it was just very personal and I wanted to have something there that wasn’t necessarily about wildlife, but was about the travels that went along with me, me studying animals and somehow.
And I, you know, Matt, I cannot explain how, but again, somehow a literary agent found that story and they emailed me out of nowhere and said, Hey, do you have more stories like this from your travels, your experiences with wild animals? And I said, I have, you know, almost two decades worth of stories. And they said, you know, have you ever considered writing a book? And I said, no.
Not about myself at least I thought about writing science books, you know in fact at the time I was in the middle of writing a science book and I You know, I had complete imposter syndrome. I said I am NOT an author like that I mean, maybe I could do a podcast. Maybe I could do a presentation but a book, and again, this was 2019 and it took several years for me to finally be convinced and then write up a book proposal and do all of that labor.
I mean, honestly, I had no idea there was so much like preliminary labor involved with writing a book. But we got started. And in 2022, early 2022, the book was on the marketplace and a lot of people were like, of publishers were interested.
So many publishers were interested. And that really showed me, wow, once again, I have not just an interesting identity, but apparently an interesting history and life and a unique one. And I got started, we landed on a publisher and I got started writing the book. And I’m happy to say that April 2nd, 2024 comes out in the world.
And it’s about my life. It’s about my craziest to most adventurous stories with wildlife. So, you know, tracking lemurs in Madagascar and running from elephants in Tanzania and encountering poachers in the bush and being chased by bears in the West and, you know, and everything in between. But it’s also about my journey into womanhood at the same time, my journey into a social justice consciousness that came along with a lot of that talks about my journey into motherhood, because I was also a mom when I was going to study gorillas in the Congo and going to track jaguars in Panama.
There’s a lot in there. And so it is a very rich book. It’s a very vulnerable book. It’s a really exciting and suspenseful book. There’s a lot of adult topics in there, so please don’t read it to your kids for bedtime stories, because there’s definitely some things that are particularly adult and tough, although there is an adaptation coming later this year, like a middle grade adaptation for like a middle school and teenage audience.
And it’s a work that I am just so proud of. I am so proud of this book. I am proud of myself for getting through writing it. I don’t know if I will ever write another book that was such a tough process. Again, because the whole time I was writing it, I was studying mountain lions, you know, in the field. I was traveling for Wild Kingdom. I was, you know, kind of doing the most. So trying to fit in all of that writing. But I really look forward to people reading it. I really look forward to people getting to know me in that other way and also getting to know nature, and wild animals and wild places as well through the book.
Well, I think it’s quite ambitious. I think anybody who has ever thought of writing a book like I’ve thought about writing a book, but I haven’t actually done the writing. So I understand kind of the concept behind it. And I also have had some friends who’ve written books and, you know, they’ve also said, hey, it’s a very challenging process. So you’ve added to that fear factor for myself that whether or not I will ever do it.
But I recommend it, especially if it’s a memoir, I can see how therapeutic it can be. But it also came with a lot of suffering. I felt very Shakespearean during the process. I was thinking to myself, oh, I’m suffering as I write about these traumatic moments that happened 20 years ago, but now I’m having to relive them.
But it actually, I guess the other thing that I want to say about this book is that it allowed me to be in a creative space. You know, again, I have been an ecologist now for 20 years, which kind of dawned on me just recently. I was like, I started studying ecology in college 20 years ago. And so my life has been data, it’s been statistics, it’s been quantitative, it’s been theoretical.
And it’s been outdoors, you know, I’m lucky that my science takes me into nature with amazing animals, but it’s been very structured and very, you know, again, quantitative and the book writing process was in a way kind of creative, finding a way to, to make a beautiful story out of quantitative science. And, um, that was really good for, for me as a person as well. So Matt, you should, you should write a memoir. You should just write about yourself and see what comes of it.
Okay, well, we’ll see about that. But I appreciate the encouragement. I was reading this book by Rick Rubin on the creative process and he was kind of coaching people who are creatives. And I personally think everybody’s a creative and everybody has a creative aspect in their life. And in part, like we’re the authors of our lives. And so we get a chance to be creative in what we do and the choices we make.
So on and so forth. So we’re all having these opportunities to be creative. And I think it’s inspiring when I see someone like you take that opportunity and do the work to tell your story. And it enriches the world by having those stories told, particularly from somebody who’s got a great story to tell, which obviously your story is quite unique. So tell us a little bit about that.
I mean, I’m a little biased, but I do think that there are some frickin’ awesome stories in there. So everyone, buy the book, Wildlife, by Dr. Rae Wyn Grant. And even from page one, as you mentioned, Matt, getting chased by a bear is how we open the book. And it’s pretty incredible.
Yeah, the heart starts pumping just in the first page or two. So yeah, that was a strong opening. So kudos to you for, you know, making it through that. So tell us a little bit about what’s next for you.
Oh gosh. Well, you know, in a lot of ways, I think 2024 is, is the year of the book. So I’m going to really try to, to push it out and promote it. Cause again, it’s a book about so many different things, right? Like May, the high level is wild animals, adventures with wildlife all over the world. But interspersed in there are so, so many stories about identity and, and justice and community and nature solutions and hope.
And so I really want to see kind of where that takes me. Like once the book is out and people are able to read it, like where those conversations go, um, and then, you know, what’s next for me also is season two of wild kingdom. So I have to say season one is still out now, it’s still coming out, but we are now the number one wildlife show in America. Um, we’re getting over a million organic views every Saturday morning on NBC. Um, we have been greenlit for season two.
And so I actually just in three days, I will be back out doing something pretty incredible, kind of top secret in the wilderness, um, beginning to film season two, so that will take up a good part of my year and I’m just stoked for it.
That’s exciting. So where are you traveling? Can you tell us that’s all top secret? Are you living now in LA and then traveling all around the world from here or?
I live, I’m fortunate, I live in Santa Barbara, California. Um, so not, not far from LA, but just far enough to keep me out of the LA craziness and, um, I travel everywhere from.
Oh, that’s really cool. So I guess, are you involved in kind of the creation of the show in terms of deciding, hey, these are things that we should be talking about or that type of thing?
Absolutely. Yeah. So I have been really fortunate that because it’s a show that, you know, it’s pivoted, the show has pivoted a bit to really focus on conservation stories as a, you know, 20 year veteran in conservation. I am able to give my two cents guide, suggest. I will also say it’s not scripted. The show has no script. So when I am there hosting, asking questions, talking about science, that is all just happening from whatever my brain can think up. So I feel very fortunate that I have the background that I have for this show.
Well, obviously you’re a good talker, very eloquent and natural in this domain. So I’m sure it shines through when you’re hosting a Wild Kingdom. So you’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern and I’ve got Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant on the program and we’ll be back in just one minute to talk to the doctor about what’s going on in the Wild Kingdom.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. I have Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant on the program. And Dr., what are you seeing out there in the world? I mean, obviously, part of your program is to educate, part of it’s to entertain. Is it also to activate social consciousness to go out and take action in the world?
It is. The answer to that is yes. We really hope that with Wild Kingdom, we’re able to inspire folks a lot. Inspire them to see themselves as future leaders in wildlife conservation or just the environmental movement in general. But also to really connect people to the folks who are doing conservation. So I’ve always felt as a conservation scientist, I’ve always felt that we’re pretty invisible, right?
Folks kind of hear like, oh no, the Earth isn’t doing so well. And then maybe they hear that something worked out, something got better. But you never are really aware of the people who have dedicated their lives to making that positive change for the environment.
So one of the things we do on the show is we don’t just go out to the wilderness, but we go out with conservation scientists, with biologists, and say, tell me about your project. Tell me about what you’re doing. Tell me about why it’s working or what the challenges are.
And so we’re able to show other scientists on television doing their job and doing it for the environment and doing it in beautiful places with amazing wild animals. And so I hope it doesn’t just give people hope that it’s not all doom and gloom, but I hope it also shows people like, oh, I could be like that. Oh, this person studies beavers, this person studies manatees, this person studies wolves, this person studies tortoises, this person studies kelp, that there’s like a place for everyone.
in the wildlife movement and maybe to help these tremendous heroes be more visible. So there’s a lot of goals. And then at the end of the day, like if we do nothing else, just like allowing people to watch something nice on TV, right? There’s a lot of drama on TV. There’s a lot in the fictional world. There’s a lot of trouble on TV in the factual world.
And we’re also just, we’re giving people a show they can depend on, right? It’s educational, it’s fun, it’s adventurous, it’s suspenseful, but it’s not problematic, right? And it’s not troubling. And if anything, it should leave people feeling with a sense, filled with a sense of wonder, hope, inspiration, and maybe some, you know, like a little bit of passion for them to get involved as well.
Well, a lot of people say that it’s really important for all of us to have some degree of hope and that if we don’t have hope that the situation can improve, then people tend to just do nothing. So I think that could be, you know, that’s a great part of your show is to say, hey, there is great work being done out there. There is hope for the future. Now there’ll be a lot more hope if, if all of us get involved and do our part, because this is going to require everybody to get into the action game.
Absolutely. I personally have a lot of hope. I think that we’re going to be okay. I think the planet’s going to be okay Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe that it was going to turn out Well, I really wouldn’t dedicate my whole life to like something that has a dead end And I can speak for myself and so many other conservation scientists wildlife professionals environmentalists who are also in this and with that said I have I have a friend and kind of like a near peer mentor, just a person I admire so much.
Her name is Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. She is a marine scientist, a climate policy expert, an author herself, public speaker, thought leader, just everything that I aspire to be she is. Also a black woman in this space. And she talks a lot about possibility. So she really doesn’t speak about hope when it comes to environmental solutions, but she talks about possibilities.
And she talks about how it’s possible that like this all crash and burns. It’s also possible that we knock it out of the park, right? And then there’s possibilities in between those two extremes. And so she thinks, or she really discusses that if it’s possible, if we really, like as scientists, we know exactly how to solve these problems. It’s done. The science is done. It’s just now about getting policy makers, getting governments, getting corporations to enact what we’re suggesting.
And it’s possible that they do. So she really leans into like, there are some pretty good possibilities out there. There’s some in the middle possibilities that are just okay. And there’s some bad ones. But as long as the good stuff remains actually possible, why not keep going towards that fate? Why not move towards that vision of the future?
And I think that’s a really articulate kind of non-traditional way to look at things is, is realistically like what’s on the table. Oh, we have solutions. We’ve got them mapped out. People know exactly what to do first, second, third, fourth, fifth. Let’s, let’s go in that direction.
Are there any?
What do you see as some of the big public policy changes that could be made in the next few years that would really put us on that best case trajectory?
Sure, and this is where my expertise kind of diverges a little bit because the climate crisis is so serious. It is so, so serious. And I’m not a climate scientist, but obviously my training really speaks to a lot of it. But eliminating fossil fuels is what we need to do. And again, that is very possible, right?
If we electrify so many countries, we, including America, especially America, we will make some major progress in fighting climate change.
In terms of wildlife and wild animals and wild places, halting deforestation is essential. Oh my gosh, we need these forests. We need these large intact swaths of forests so badly on every single continent. And if we are able to halt deforestation, that obviously has very positive climate impacts, but it also preserves so much of the biodiversity that we need. pesticides and chemicals are killing pollinators in particular. And without pollinators, our entire food system will collapse and people will be in a lot of trouble real fast.
So again, eliminating pesticides is again, very possible. There’s a lot of solutions there. It just needs to be done. It needs to be done yesterday. So fossil fuels, halting fossil fuels, getting rid of them. Deforestation, making sure that stops.
And then cleaning up the amount of high level pesticide and chemical use that is rampant all over the world is super important. You know, the oceans, the oceans need our love, they need our attention, they need our love, they need our support. And I bring this up because there’s been so much progress with in all of these sectors that I’m naming, there’s been tremendous progress. So we’re not starting from nothing here.
We’re actually starting from a pretty good place. We just need to pick up the pace.
Well, to that end, if people follow climate change at a climate change dot com or Spotify, Apple or I heart, we will plant two trees in their honor. So, you know, we’ll stop deforestation one listener at a time so everybody can join this process and listen to Dr. Ray here, you know, about halting deforestation.
You know, I guess another thing that you brought up is the pesticides and eliminating them. You know, are you encouraging people or, you know, to go vegetarian, go vegan or that kind of thing?
You know, I, I’m not discouraging it. I think it’s a, it’s a, it’s a great choice. I am not personally a vegetarian or a vegan, but I have been in the past and I felt my body has felt really good during those times. Um, my personal diet is kind of wide open mostly because I spend a lot of time in places where I am not really able to choose what I eat, right? So if I’m, if I’m camping for a week or two at a time, because I’m tracking a bear.
It’s not a great place for me to decide that I am not going to eat a certain food group because usually I have whatever I have access to at the time. So when I am in remote parts of the world, I eat what the locals eat. And that is sometimes meat and it’s usually not, it’s usually not, but there’s usually some kind of animal product there. With that said, I definitely, you know, encourage vegetarian and veganism.
As an individual, it has a slight impact on, the positive impact on the planet. But as a society, if entire societies change those eating habits, we would have a big impact on the planet. So I don’t want anyone to think that climate change is out of control because of what you are eating, what you and your family at home are eating. Climate change is out of control because of corporate greed and governments that have run rampant with some really unsustainable policies.
It’s not individual people or even individual communities that have driven climate crises. Um, it’s these big corporate machines. So yes, get an electric car, you know, recycle, be a vegetarian or be vegan. If that’s your choice, if that works for you. But what we can all do is vote.
We can pressure corporations and especially governments to do better by us. And we can mobilize as communities to make massive scale changes. And that’s what’s going to matter.
Well, you heard it here. I agree with you completely. You’ve been listening to Dr. Rae-Wynn Grant, host of The Wild Kingdom, author of a new book, Wildlife, her memoir, Finding My Purpose in an Untamed World. It’s been great having you on the program, learning so much about the work that you’re doing. I agree with what you’re doing.
It’s great to educate, particularly young people, but even people who are not so young, need the education as well. So great work on that front and keep us posted going forward. And everybody, go to aclimatechange.com or iHeart, Spotify, Apple Music, follow us there. We’ll plant trees in your honor and stay tuned next week. We’ll be back with another great guest. So have a great week, everybody.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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