In celebration of his new book 'STILL ALIVE: A WILD LIFE OF REDISCOVERY' we spoke with conservationist, wild life biologist & TV host: Forrest Galante, for an exclusive interview.
At the age of 33, Forrest Galante has established himself as the worlds leading figure in wildlife conservation. Having appeared on the Joe Rogan podcast, as well as hosting his own TV show 'EXTINCT or ALIVE' on channel Animal Planet, the American born and Zimbabwe raised adventurer has incredibly discovered 8 species previously thought to be extinct to science.
In his search for lost species he has visited over 60 countries, been bitten by a venomous snake, in a plane crash, mauled by a lion, charged by a hippo, stung by a man-of-war jellyfish, bitten by a shark, in a car wreck, tumbled off a waterfall and stabbed by a stingray. It would not be an understatement to say Forrest Galante is the most important figure in wildlife conservation since the late great Steve Irwin, perhaps even surpassing the great man himself.
Nicknamed 'The Indiana Jones of Biology', most recently Forrest Galante once again made huge waves in the world of conservation when he discovered the long lost Fernandina Tortoise, thought extinct for 114 years. You can watch the discovery below from Animal Planet's Youtube Channel:
We had the absolute honour of speaking with Forrest Galante on a variety of topics including: his new book, childhood inspirations, resurrection biology, animal cognitive science, environmental destruction & the future of conservationism. Read the full interview below to discover more...
How did the inspiration for this book come about ?
I was in Indonesia exactly a year ago, when covid really kicked off, and we got evacuated and shut down on the work we were doing by the president. The rug got pulled out from under our feet and I was kind of sitting here with some free time. I was supposed to be in about 14 countries in 2020 and I went to two. So things got fully shutdown, and I had a lot of time on my hands where I wasn't travelling and doing production and I realised there was a lot of intricacies to what I do, where I come from, my background & the stories behind what happens on TV.
For every hour you see on TV, that's weeks on the field, months of preparation, years of research. So it's pretty safe to say that a lot of things get left out. Even though we were all locked indoors socially distancing and quarantining, 99% of people didn't understand why, and how this came from the mistreatment of animals and wildlife. This blew my mind ! It's a huge problem. So I also put all of that into a book with a call to action at the end. I also told my story of where I came from, how I came into the position of tracking down critically endangered and extinct wildlife. Every single day I ask myself what can I do to help today ? And I know that sounds pretentious, but really my whole life is dedicated to wildlife and conservation. So when I was not able to share that through media and television, I figured here's the next best thing, a book. How do you continue to propel the message when everything goes tits up...
Could you name the extinct species you have discovered ?
The animals that I work on originally was all based off the IUCN extinction label, and then I branched out from that quite a lot to the point where there's a lot of lost species, that haven't been seen, that aren't technically declared extinct. Just to be crystal clear I don't work off the official extinction, I work off the list of any animals that are lost to science. So....The Zanzibar Leopard, an incredibly large cat that hadn't been seen in 40 years... we captured trail camera footage of that which made us ecstatic...The Fernandina Island Giant Tortoise, monumental to the cover of this book, the poster child of conservation, the rarest animal in the world .... we found here in the island on the Galapagos after a few days of crazy tracking after nobody else had been able to find one after 114 years...humble brag.
...The Rio Apaporis we found hadn't been seen in 40 years, lost to science, living in a territory where nobody could go because of the gorilla warfare taking place, a beautiful crocodilian....The Millers Grizzly Langur; we managed to capture video of that which was super exciting, also known as the dracula monkey...The Giant Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, the biggest in the world in Vietnam... we got video footage of that incredible creature in addition to DNA confirmation...We got a Pondicherry shark confirmed by Sri Lankan scientist's, last seen in 1970...Last year myself and world renowned lost shark expert Dave Ebert went to South Africa and found 3 lost shark species, the Flat Nose Cannon shark, The Ornate Sleeper ray and White Tip Weasel shark... all 3 animals lost to science, one for over a 100 years. We found them hiding in in South Africa...
Thats not a bad life's work for 33...
I think so. I mean shit man, there's a scar from a shark bite and my bodies covered in bruises and bangs. I'd say I've lived a lot for 33 years old, ha ha.
What inspired you to work in wildlife conservation ?
So I grew up in Zimbabwe, the greatest country in the world when I was growing up, nowadays maybe not so much. I first hand witnessed the decline in megafauna, from when I was a little year 9 years old, to age 15 I witnessed a very real human expansion and growth of population and footprint on the environment. Where there used to be herds of impala, there were cornfields. Where there were elephants roaming, there were highways. I watched this first hand and hated it.
I grew up witnessing widlife shrinking and even as a little boy I remember aged 10 thinking I need to stop this or help the animals, it's not fair for all of them to go away so we could have more food to eat or roads to drive on. So yea it's been deep rooted in me since I was basically a baby. I noticed it through observation, I took it to academia through university then decided to try and take that to the masses through media, so it's been something thats stuck with me from the very beginning.
There's even a sense of destiny in your name, how was 'forrest' decided ?
Because my mums a hippie, I don't think there's much else to it. My sisters name is summer. My mum just liked the wild names I guess. That said, she was a great bush person herself, grew up in Africa and everything else. My sister Summer works in makeup, so it's definitely not down to the name, ha ha.
Thoughts on cognitive science developments in animals ?
You have to be an absolute nit wit if you think animals aren't conscious, you really do. Like have you ever had a dog or a cat ? That should tell you everything you need to know. You can't tell when your dogs happy or sad or feeling sick ? I mean come on, get out of here, you're an absolute buffoon in you think animals don't have consciousness. I mean there's varying levels of that, a starfish doesn't have the emotional range of a chimpanzee. As we begin to understand and appreciate animals consciousness, intelligence, and mental capacity, I would hope we become more compassionate towards the plight of animals.
There's a fine line and somewhat dangerous one to walk when it comes to anthropomorphising things, there's a difference between an animal being intelligent, and being human like. We can't apply human feelings, emotions, and social + cultural norms to animals. They're two very different things. There's a phenomenal book called Listening To Whales by Alexandra Morton. She dedicated her life to studying Orca emotion. Their level of intelligence is arguably the greatest on the earth aside from perhaps human beings, maybe even greater, they're just confined by their bodies.
We now know they're insanely intelligent, speak their own languages, have their own social dynamics, and now we don't capture Orca's as much any more. That's because over a god damn glacial pace, we figured out 'hey these things are smart, it's not fair to keep them in a little fish tank'. Now why we've only applied that to a couple creatures like marina mammals I couldn't tell you. However it's a step in the right direction, we have to start somewhere. Even if we'