Reporting from the Frontlines of Nature
A pivotal life moment that led from one type of war zone to another.
You will NOT find me free-climbing El Capitan, like Alex Honnold, but something similar may be wrong with me (or right?). Perhaps it’s an underactive amygdala. I’m launching a new type of production company, so I’m particularly pensive about these types of existential questions, as I metaphorically go free climbing… again. This particular idea is something I’ve been stewing on for a while. It’s unique. It's been evolving, growing like a life of its own, until it just couldn’t live inside me anymore. No, I'm not having a baby... or am I? Let me backup and explain.
While I was working in the local news, reporting on Reno Nevada’s snow flurries, pet parades and apartment fires (livin’ the dream), I had been closely following journalists who were spring-boarding their careers, reporting on the Arab Spring (pun intended), like Arwa Damon, Marie Colvin and Lara Logan. I followed freelancer James Foley as he left home in Chicago, without any assignment, got himself to Crete, Greece and under the cover of night sailed into Bengazi. The reports he filed from there put him on the map as a war correspondent. I was in awe.
I believed this needed to be my next step and I eventually moved to Nairobi, Kenya. But let me tell you, when you actually do it...and you're there....a quiet panic sets in. Now, I had to now find stories I could sell (either video packages or photos) to the Associated Press, Reuters, Al Jazeera, etc. A presidential election was impending and tribal tensions were running high. Almost predictably, a horrible massacre occurred out in the Tana Delta region, an area close to Somalia. Entire villages were burned, people butchered with machetes and hospitals overflowing. The next day, neighboring villages were scrambling to evacuate, terrorized that they might be next. After a little conversation
with myself, "if you're really going to do this, that is precisely where you need to go," I hired Tony-The-Fixer from a directory of local Nairobi fixers (a term in journalism, not like Trump's fixer, Michael Cohen, lol) and into the lion's den we headed.
Tony deftly guided me through the horrorscape that was the wake of this tribalism. From the hospital
where terrorized people lay permanently burned and faces partially carved off, to the ghost villages left ravaged, if not permanently vacated.
Back in Nairobi I made the rounds to the various bureaus. To my delight, the AP bought my footage, but as I sat in their offices finalizing the transaction, the entire staff got up from their desks to watch the breaking news about the embassy attack on Benghazi. My footage never saw the light of day. Sigh.
And then. going from bad to worse, I started feeling very weird. Having suffered a particularly savage mosquito attack, I was convinced I had malaria. Fortunately (not), it was simply food poisoning, the kind that almost kills you. I wished I had Malaria. But in the days following, as I was forced to take time off to recover, I found that my mind wasn’t reflecting on the traumatic experience I’d just had out in the Tana Delta. Rather, my blood was boiling about a visit to a Nairobi tourist destination (of all things) I had visited on one of my first days there; the Daphne & David Sheldrick Foundation.
Even today, reliving the experience crushes me. The foundation was established to rescue animals, particularly wounded or orphaned elephants after their mothers had been slaughtered by poachers for their tusk. On the day of my visit, one of the youngest calves they'd ever rescued had just arrived at the foundation in poor condition; so small, sweet and helpless. Every molecule of my being fell in love with this tiny peanut they'd named Kinango, but he never really had a chance in life. A few weeks later, Kinango died in the shelter. I wonder where the tusks of his mother are today?
Without question, this experience made me viscerally aware that there was another frontline desperately needing attention; the ongoing war on earth's fauna and flora. I do not use the term "war" lightly. Most of you know the obvious representation of this... poachers hanging off helicopters with AK-47s, shooting anything or anybody that gets in their way. There are many other more subtle examples, but just as insidious.
After I had this epiphany, I started telling these types of stories for media outlets, and now, the production company we are launching will do the same, but with a twist (more on that down the road). As we roll forward, I’ll be excited to share more about this new initiative. My partner and I (who I'll introduce soon) are mostly hopeful that we can illuminate a path to being part of the solution.
Until next time! 🐋🌲🐘