Corwin Talks Conservation
The popular conservationist showcased a bunch of animals while delivering on his message of conservation.
Conservationist Jeff Corwin drapes a python over a USF student during his lecture presentation. Photo: Laura Kneski | USF News
By Laura Kneski
TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 19, 2012) – During his lecture last week at the University of South Florida, Jeff Corwin, animal and nature conservationist, paraded a host of visitors before the audience, species that originated from all around the globe, including the continents of Africa, South America and Asia.
There was the South American kinkajou, a tan mammal that belongs to the raccoon family. And a miniature zebu (an African version of the Braham cow of India), a Russian mink, two red fox, a screech owl, a barn owl and an alligator.
Last to appear was the Burmese python.
Corwin, keeping to his message of the importance of conservation, told the crowd that the Kinkajou’s tail helps it live high above the ground in rainforest canopies. But rainforests are being destroyed, he said, to the tune of about 3,000 acres every hour.
And pythons, while native to Southeast Asia, are now an invasive species in Florida. Without a natural predator here, they are attacking native species in Florida, a detriment to Florida’s inherent biodiversity.
Steven Koster, a second-year Environmental Science and Policy major who attended the presentation, has done reports on invasive species before, and so he related to what Corwin was talking about. While Koster enjoyed watching Corwin on television growing up, he felt that the in-person appearance was more effective in bringing his message home.
“I know that in his shows, people might watch it just for entertainment, and I think that there’s kind of a disconnect there where you’re like, ‘Oh that’s just on a show, that doesn’t affect me.’ But I think that when he comes and talks to these kids personally, he makes them relate,” Koster said.
However, there was a mutual bond shared throughout the night by students who had grown up watching Corwin on shows such as Disney’s Going Wild with Jeff Corwin and Animal Planet’s The Jeff Corwin Experience.
Chelsea Mills and Emily Fazio were first in the student line, having arrived for the lecture at 4:30 p.m.—three and a half hours before Corwin was scheduled to begin speaking. They were excited to see a childhood idol, and they both took messages away from the show.
“We go to the beach a lot,” Mills said, “and so something as little as not leaving trash, or when I go fishing to make sure my fishing line isn’t on the beach, because sea animals eat that stuff.”
Fazio agreed, and like her friend, she admired Corwin’s ability turn his career into something that not only did good for the planet, but also encouraged others to do the same.
“I think conservation starts with education, and so that’s awesome what he’s doing is spreading the word and just, like, spreading awareness of how to be culturally aware and environmentally friendly,” Fazio said.
Going Wild was the first show that Corwin had the opportunity to host, but The Jeff Corwin Experience seemed to be the one that most students could recall right away, and Corwin said that it was a delight to film it. He described it as different because he got to produce it as well as be the host. The original concept of the program wouldn’t have been filled with as many quirks and quips if Animal Planet hadn’t seen Corwin’s outtakes reel. Once they saw Jeff being Jeff, though, they told him that if he could be that funny while still talking about animals they would have a great show.
For the past two years, though, Corwin has been working on hosting his 12th show, Ocean Mysteries, which airs on Saturdays on ABC. He spent six weeks this past summer filming in Alaska, and at one point he was on a helicopter with a scientist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Corwin described darting a giant grizzly bear, sliding down a giant ice slope in order to get a satellite collar on the bear, jumping off, securing the bear and “sitting there, blue sky, on a mountain top, sitting there with a giant grizzly bear in your lap and you think ‘Wow, I’m getting paid for this.’”
However, Corwin wasn’t always headed toward the role of celebrity conservationist. He was planning on being an ecologist, earning his B.S. with a double major in Biology and Anthropology from Bridgewater State College. It wasn’t until during the process of earning his Master’s in Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (on a research expedition in the rainforest) that his path took a different turn. Corwin took part in a documentary there, and realized that he was meant, not just to learn about the environment, but to communicate those facts and ways of preservation to others.
During the presentation, Corwin was asked to give advice to those who were looking to step into the field of conservation. His first point was to say that if one is going to be a professional, they absolutely must go to graduate school. The second part of his advice was to be goal-oriented.
“I didn’t have to be the best, you know, biochemistry major. I was happy if I made it through that, I barely made it through that and I don’t even think that I made it through that. But I was going to be the number one ecology student, and that’s what you have to be.”
Corwin is a Daytime Emmy winner and was named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” in 2002. He continues to travel the world to show others how important it is to be environmentally aware. On Dec.3, Corwin will meet with the State Department in order to launch a massive outreach program that will initiate action in smothering the black market animal trade. Corwin said the exploitation of species is a $20 billion a year industry and is contributing to the extinction of species, along with habitat loss, pollution, environmental degradation and human population growth. Currently, the world is in its sixth mass extinction, or a period in Earth’s history where 75%-95% have disappeared, resulting in profound changes. This is what Corwin tries to prevent through education.
Corwin noted the gravity of the environment’s situation, describing just how extensive human infiltration has become. “No matter where we go, the bottom of some deep abyss off of Alaska filming stellar sea lions, or somewhere in a cavern-cave off the coast of Hawaii filming manta rays or a remote beach filming nesting albatrosses, we find trash.”
Prior to Corwin’s presentation, the University Lecture Series staff handed out 100 free t-shirts, as well as announcing their spring line-up of guest speakers. ESPN’s Herman Edwards will appear Jan. 16 to talk about leadership; Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield will appear March 4th to discuss how he and his partner were able to achieve the American dream; and nine-time Grammy Award winner John Legend will speak April 9 on the importance of education and community involvement.
Jeff Corwin may be found on Facebook at Facebook.com/JeffCorwinConnect and Ocean Mysteries airs Saturdays on ABC.