Megan McCubbin, 28, zoologist, conservationist and presenter of Springwatch – amongst different issues – lives half the time within the Highlands along with her boyfriend, wildlife cameraman James Stevens, who she met at a Springwatch wrap social gathering. If you wish to catch her anyplace much less distant, it’ll be at her stepfather Chris Packham’s place in Southampton.
Once I arrive right here, the whole lot in regards to the scene is eccentric: the place appears like Fort Knox, surrounded by giant, thick wooden fencing, made vital by the obsessive hatred, culminating in demise threats and arson assaults, directed at Packham for his advocacy of the pure world. He’s tramping about with a wheelbarrow, and stops to say hi there; or relatively, what he truly says is: “Yoko Ono stated that neurotics construct fortresses, and psychotics reside in them. I’m neither neurotic nor psychotic and I’ve to reside like this!” Then he tramps off.
McCubbin is indoors with two loopy miniature poodles, and he or she appears so regular, along with her calm, symmetrical face that lights up a TV display screen, that you just assume she’s excited about regular issues – lunch, climate, mascara. In actual fact, she’s excited about glow-worms and tarantulas, the good expanse of the universe and frogs.
In her new e-book, An Atlas of Endangered Species, which is illustrated by Emily Robertson, McCubbin alights on 20 species (10 from every hemisphere) which can be in peril of extinction, ending with people. If this sounds stark – and, sure, it’s stark – the message is extra sensible. If the small military of scientists, rangers and conservationists dedicating their lives to the species in her e-book could make the features she describes, effectively, the remainder of us may truly obtain one thing if we’d simply get a transfer on.
A part of what allows her to have interaction as meaningfully with a freshwater pearl mussel as with an African wild canine is that she doesn’t require animals to be cute, or emotionally responsive, to pique her curiosity. Lots of issues about her – the teenage years volunteering in a giant cat sanctuary on the Isle of Wight, her months spent in China rescuing bears, which was her first TV break with an investigative piece – sound fairly comprehensible. What teenage woman wouldn’t need to play with tigers? Which of us wouldn’t rescue a bear? However her fascination is rather more dispassionate and respectful than “animal lover” actually captures. “Nothing repels me,” she says, “as a result of I perceive the whole lot’s obtained a spot and I’ve obtained an actual curiosity about how issues are linked to 1 one other.” We had been speaking about why she had a praying mantis, a tortoise and a few cockroaches as a baby, when she might have had, I don’t know, a cat. “I bear in mind seeing hissing cockroaches for the primary time, listening to them; it’s such a loud sound and so they’re feeling so weak.” She additionally had a “pretty tarantula, such a stunning spider. All of them have particular person traits, after all they do, identical to we do. She was so calm.” Her mom was terrified and couldn’t go into the utility room, so she needed to go and reside with the grandparents. “Wait, your mom, or the spider?” “The beautiful spider.”
This lifetime of snakes and rodents and a barn owl named Marmite began when McCubbin’s mom, Jo, started a relationship with Packham when Megan was two. They ran a manufacturing firm collectively, and Jo – “a really selfless human being,” Megan says – was all the time completely satisfied for her daughter to go off on far-flung analysis journeys with Packham. Earlier than she had left college, Megan had been to actually distant locations – reminiscent of South Georgia, Antarctica. She remembers one journey, when she was 11, “trying over this king penguin colony because the solar was setting, streams coming down from the glacier. The king penguins had been loud and smelly, as they’re, however stunning and humorous and entertaining and charismatic. The meltwater was glistening, the seawater was glowing. It was a kind of moments you bear in mind like a postcard. I went again six or seven years later and that glacier had retreated. I’ve seen the frontline of the local weather disaster. I’m solely 28 years outdated.”
Earlier than her second glacier journey, although, there was the journey to the massive cat sanctuary on the Isle of Wight. McCubbin was 12, and her mum and stepfather had cut up up, “however they’re actually good buddies, and he or she’s all the time put my relationship with Chris first”. McCubbin went alongside as a result of Packham was opening one of many enclosures. “It was a pivotal second,” she says – not as a result of that is the place Packham met Charlotte Corney, who remains to be his associate now, however as a result of it was the place Megan met 4 hand-reared tigers. “You all the time need an animal to not be hand-reared if you happen to can keep away from it. However as a result of these had been, it gave me a chance to fall in love with them – it was like an invite.
“Aysha was my child. She was fairly a small Bengal tiger. I’d sit subsequent to her all day, I’d discuss, tigers chuff. It’s a pleasant greeting sound.” I requested her to do an impression of it, and now I want I might play you the audio. It’s such a stunning sound and it’s additionally fairly cute when a human does it. “I used to be all the time going between my dad, Chris and my mum, however the tigers had been all the time there.” Huge cats actually love fragrance, apparently. “We had a jaguar referred to as Tequila, who was a rescue from a drug vendor; he used to stroll her spherical London in the course of the night time. She had an actual liking for Coco Chanel. She would go completely nuts for it.”
Residing amongst these tame tigers was a turning level for McCubbin – however not as a result of it knowledgeable her relationship with wild animals, as you’ll know if you happen to’ve seen her nature programmes. She’s rather more within the David Attenborough than the Terry Nutkins mould. “People search relationships, from each other and from different animals,” she says, “however I respect wild animals sufficient to not develop a really robust bond so that they grow to be habituated to folks. As a result of it’s a tricky world for animals on the market, and folks will attempt to exploit or hurt them.” Moderately, the tigers made the distinction as a result of “I grew up with them, we had been youngsters on the identical time, although they matured rather a lot faster than I did. I don’t suppose, with out them, I’d have had the boldness to enter science.” She had all the time struggled academically, being dyslexic. “I can bear in mind as a child being handed a pile of books, and the real anxiousness and concern that I’d really feel having to open them. It’s like attempting to climb Everest in ice skates.” However, after assembly Aysha, Zia, Zina and Diamond, “I used to be simply devoted to creating the world a greater place for them. I needed to make the longer term higher for tigers.”
She went to Liverpool to do a basis diploma in organic science, then did a zoology diploma, spending 4 months in China as an animal behavioural volunteer for Animals Asia, rehabilitating bears from the bear bile farming trade. “This can be a hideous, terrible enterprise,” she says, shaking her head. The rescued bears had spent their lives in tiny cages as much as that time. “A few of them are extra tolerant of individuals than others. It’s wonderful how forgiving they’re of people, contemplating the torture they’ve been via. It was simply actually joyful watching them be bears once more.” It was the perfect of occasions – lots of people, locals and volunteers from internationally, coming collectively to save lots of bears – and it was the worst of occasions: bears in horrible situation after lifelong maltreatment, different folks kidnapping canine for a canine meat pageant. “An incredible expertise, a really eye-opening expertise,” she says, extra sober than enthusiastic.
When she obtained again, she was approached by the producer of BBC Three’s Undercover Vacationer, who had simply had a narrative fall via. This was 2017, and McCubbin obtained her first presenting job, a 10-minute documentary for which they went to bear bile farms in Vietnam. The idea was, “how shut can a vacationer get to this sketchy underworld?” However “the unhappy factor”, McCubbin remembers, “is we didn’t should go that deep undercover: you may look into folks’s garages and so they’re stuffed with bears, the cages so small they will’t flip round. They are often in that cage for about 30 years.” McCubbin wasn’t actually excited about it in profession phrases: “I simply thought, nice, I can get the story on the market, I can get folks excited about bears.”
She then obtained a job on Al Jazeera, presenting Earthrise. On one episode, she went behind the scenes with Extinction Rebel, shortly earlier than its main actions. “Direct motion is important,” she says. “It’s the one manner that change has ever been made.” I like individuals who come at activism by way of a trigger, not ambient left politics, like me; they give the impression of being extra respectable, and a bit much less moist. She is freelance on the BBC now, so she just isn’t sure by inflexible impartiality, “which for me is vital; it’s not sufficient to like animals and discuss stunning science, I’ve to be doing one thing to attempt to assist.” She makes the caveats that direct motion needs to be peaceable and thought of, that she’d all the time work with the police, and he or she hasn’t personally glued herself to something, but. “Ask me that in a couple of years time, or subsequent 12 months. How unhealthy are issues going to get? How a lot inaction goes to occur? How offended am I going to get? I don’t know. I’m already fairly annoyed. I’m already fairly determined for change. I’m already very, very offended. However I hope it doesn’t come to that. I don’t need to be gluing myself to issues. I’ve by no means been arrested.”
“It’s solely a matter of time,” Packham chimes in. “We’re all going to be arrested, I believe.” I didn’t hear him are available in. Each McCubbin and Packham transfer very quietly, as I suppose you must if you wish to get close to a badger.
“I believe our freedom of speech is being trampled on,” McCubbin says. “The general public order invoice is trampling on our rights. We reside in 2023 and we are able to’t protest.” She’s dismayed by how the local weather motion and its demos are more and more portrayed as riotous and anarchic, “as a result of my expertise has been nothing however optimistic. They’re stunning occasions, stuffed with stunning, kind-hearted individuals who need to do one thing. They don’t seem to be troublemakers who need to get arrested. These are professors, docs, very smart individuals who really feel like there’s nothing left to do however take to the streets. We are able to’t simply be squashed. We gained’t have a livable surroundings.”
Most UK wildlife professionals reside in Bristol, McCubbin says, as a result of that’s the place the BBC’s pure historical past unit is. However she and her boyfriend determined that “relatively than be the place the individuals are, and being despatched out to the wildlife, reside with the wildlife after which come again and phone the folks.” They’ve pine martens and badgers of their backyard, and spring and summer season are stunning due to the ospreys. “I must be close to wildlife and nature. Even once I lived in Southampton metropolis centre, I’d get my nature repair from the New Forest. My flat appeared over the marina and I’d see gulls flying at eye peak, and oystercatchers.”
The one factor I nonetheless don’t perceive is how an individual loves all wildlife equally – it appears as random as loving all folks equally. Certainly, even throughout the 20 endangered species of her e-book, not to mention the assembled life types of the Earth, she has a choice?
“I actually like sharks. I really like misunderstood creatures. If I can persuade one one who reads the e-book to like glow-worms as a lot as orangutans, I’ll be very completely satisfied. As a result of they’re not probably the most enticing animals within the daytime. However at night time, after they gentle up, is there something extra magical than that? You’ve obtained these fairy lights twinkling at you. How wonderful is that, which you can create gentle in your stomach? What an exquisite factor to have the ability to do. Making an attempt to think about what it’s wish to reside as a glow-worm is extra intriguing to me than attempting to think about what it’s wish to reside as an orangutan.”
So, there’s your reply: all canine, of types: funny-looking canine, unusual canine, however particularly underdogs.
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