Photograph by Sarah Sydney Lane
Photograph by Sarah Sydney Lane
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
At a young age, I wanted to be Huck Finn and escape from society. Later on, I decided I wanted to be a wildlife biologist. Now I am passionate about communicating nature and strive to be a successful documentary and natural history filmmaker.
How did you get started in your field of work?
In high school I experimented with film and photography in order to provide a visual component to the music I made with my friends. During my [undergraduate years] studying wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, I found a passion for photographing and filming natural places and wildlife. To take this newfound passion to the next level, I applied to the MFA program in science and natural history filmmaking at Montana State University in order to learn the production, theory/philosophy, and storytelling skills necessary to produce films that matter and can help make a difference.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to conservation and filmmaking?
The dedication I feel to raising awareness about sun bear conservation stems from my experience helping to reintroduce an orphan sun bear cub back into the wild in Borneo, Indonesia. The primary caretaker needed a break from living in the remote jungle to renew his visa and experience human civilization, so my partner and I looked after the sun bear cub for about a month. During this time we walked with the bear for over eight hours a day in the forest, encouraging her natural instincts to return.
In the wild, sun bear cubs will follow the mother for about two years' time, learning the necessary skills for survival until they become sexually mature and embrace a solitary lifestyle. We in essence stepped in as the bear's surrogate mother during this period. The human presence helps ward off adult bears and allows the cub to establish a territory of its own. The bear's natural instincts automatically kick in while walking in the forest. When they smell termites in a log or earthworms wriggling beneath the surface, they immediately enter a frenzy, excavate, and eat them.
The unique trust and bond that was formed with the bear during those walks resonates in my heart today. Thinking about the machete scars on her limbs from when she was poached, the glimmer in her eye and flutter of her nostrils when she would catch a scent trail that led to food, and the overall magical coexistence sun bears seem to have with the forest inspires me every day to want to do more for sun bears to help ensure their habitat remains standing and large enough to remain healthy. I hope to help reintroduce a sun bear back into the wild again in the future.
What's a normal day like for you?
A normal day in the field involves figuring out how to control the exploding sensual experience of new surroundings and people so I can focus on achieving well-lit, composed, and engaging visual material that helps convey my project's message.
When I am not filming, I enjoy a cup of strong coffee in the morning; help coordinate the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Montana; research various things; eat delicious food with my partner; fantasize about future and current projects; and enjoy a glass of Malbec in the evening.
Do you have a hero?
I don't really have a hero in the usual sense. My heroes are the people that I have had the opportunity to share experiences with, the people that have helped me become who I am, the people who have helped me change and grow, the people that will help do this in the future.
These people are friends, family, significant others, co-workers, colleagues, and acquaintances. These innumerable people are heroic to me for helping my life's existence have a story, point of reference, value, history, and future.
What's been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?
My favorite and most emotionally rewarding field experience was when I helped reintroduce an orphan sun bear cub back into the wild, as I described above. This was one of the few, if not only, experiences where I felt I was directly making an impact on another being's life. This was also the most challenging field experience since it required getting bit and clawed by the bear, head-drunk from the excruciating heat, and constant mosquito bites on my eyelids, lips, fingers, and any other portion of skin that was revealed for more than five seconds. I look forward to the potential opportunity to help another bear in the future.
What are your other passions?
Aside from wildlife advocation, I feel passionate about limiting my household waste. I have been delving into a zero-waste lifestyle where I reduce, reuse, recycle, and avoid purchasing packaged goods at the grocery store. It won't solve our planet's consumerism and corresponding waste issues, but it's a drop in the ocean that makes me feel vibrant. I also enjoy making music and learning about other people and animals.
In Their Words
At a young age, I wanted to be Huck Finn and escape from society. Later on, I decided I wanted to be a wildlife biologist.