James Borrell is a biodiversity scientist and science communicator researching how people and nature can adapt to environmental change.

Don’t be afraid to look a little closer

There’s a popular train of thought that advocates non-interference with wildlife – look, but don’t touch – and in a lot of cases I agree; it’s best to leave wildlife and wild things alone and un-meddled with. But, I would argue, sometimes it’s best to do the opposite and that’s what this article is about, it’s an invocation to get out there and look a little closer.

When planning for an expedition, it’s an unfortunate necessity to prepare for all the what-if’s. Certainly if you believe what you see on TV or read in the papers, there’s an awful lot of nasty things out there that can make you have a really bad day. The more exciting a place sounds, the Congo, Guyana, Nicaragua – I’d hazard to guess, the more snakes, scorpions and creepy crawlies there are.

Something that struck me on arriving in the Amazon, was that there were people living there(!). It sounds quite silly now, but having spent the weeks building up to the expedition reading of caiman, anaconda, bullet ants, flesh-eating parasites and the dreaded fare du lance, It came as a shock that anyone could survive in that environment, let alone reach a ripe old age like Adolfo. Quite daft really. In fact, with a little common sense it’s really not that bad.

As important as it is, to generally leave wildlife alone, I’m a strong believer that it can sometimes do more good to pick it up and learn about it. Pick up a chameleon and watch it turn to match your t-shirt and become quite at home, fish an antlion out of the sand with a blade of grass, feel the power in a tiny dragonfly’s wing beats, experience the strange sensation of a giant milipede scurrying over your skin, or run your hand along the surprisingly soft and delicate flank of a baby caiman (but watch out for it’s mum).

Mist netting is possibly the best example; for the unfamiliar, these are ultra-fine almost invisible nets strung up between trees to catch birds. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but it’s normally done in order to ring or tag them for population monitoring. Aside from the science, it’s a chance to hold wonderful little birds that we rarely get to see close up. A bird in the hand is definitely worth two in the bush – at least in terms of inspiring young people to take an interest in wildlife and conservation. Even our dull old English garden birds are impressive, hold one up close to see how rich and detailed even the ‘dullest’ of birds are.

So don’t be afraid to look a little closer next time, you might discover something new. As always, let me know what you think in the comments below…

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