Chris Packham - Wild thing
Chris Packham recently suggested that we should just let the giant panda die out. As he comes to Glasgow, Kirstin Innes talks to the controversial conservationist
Since he first popped up on The Really Wild Show in 1986, with a shock of bleached, spiked hair and a defiant attitude, Chris Packham has made a career out of being unlike your average naturalist. It’s not something he’s grown out of with age – it’s difficult to imagine the avuncular Bill Oddie, say, determinedly crowbarring titles of Smiths’ songs into a primetime BBC1 programme, as Packham did this year on Springwatch, earning himself a cult following in the process.
‘Yeah, I’m a post-punk naturalist,’ he says, laughing. ‘Really, though, I found the punk and post-punk movements of the 1970s and 1980s tremendously creative and invigorating. It’s left its mark on those of us who were involved. We don’t take no for an answer – I still get up every morning and believe that I can make a difference. It gave me a great sense of self-empowerment and optimism. And I still listen to the music, too – I had the Psychedelic Furs on in the bath last night.’
It’s more than just a snappy answer, though. Packham really does feel that a punk ethos underpins his attitudes to conservationism.
‘The conservation movement is desperately conservative with a small c. It doesn’t like new ideas. We can’t afford to be like that. We’ve got to maximise our abilities now. So that’s where my punk rock impatience comes to the fore. I’m tired of talking about what we’re going to do in 2050. The world is going to be a very different place in 2050.’
It’s this impatience that led him last month to make a very public (and pretty punk) statement in which he said that the giant panda ‘should be allowed to die out with dignity’, and made the very reasonable suggestion that perhaps the huge amount of money that goes into panda conservation could be better used in other places. The worldwide public (and media) response was explosive – people do love their giant furry bears – but Packham hasn’t taken it back.
‘I did interviews for newspapers in the US, Australia, China and Brazil. I spoke to 15 million people on Good Morning America about the issues. Of course it was provocative, but it prompted a lot of creative debate about how we spend conservation funds. And that’s good. I don’t protest to have all the answers – I’m just an agitator. But I’m trying to make sure that somewhere along the way someone does have all the answers.’
A good place to start might be Never Mind the Buzzards, the family-friendly show he’s bringing to Glasgow this fortnight.
‘It’s a series of anecdotes about some of the remarkable things to do with animals I’ve encountered. There’s loads of snot and poo – all the sorts of things that kids like. And I’m very happy if people heckle. It’s definitely a show. It’s not a lecture. I mean – I won’t be wearing a tie.’
No, we would imagine not.
Never Mind The Buzzards, Pavilion, Glasgow, Wed 18 Nov, 7.30pm.