“We can never get a re-creation of community and heal our society without giving our citizens a sense of belonging.”
- Patch Adams
The first time I encountered a California Condor in the wild, it took my breath away. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional rush of having a massive prehistoric looking bird fly right over my head. It was the same heart-dropping feeling of having a bomber buzz an airfield during one of the countless airshows I attended as a child. It was something so magnificently dramatic, and profoundly humbling.
Even more dramatic was the reason the Condor was flying over my head in the first place. Just a couple of years prior to that, there were no Condors in the wild. They had been brought to the brink of extinction by human activity and then at the 11th hour, saved from their certain demise by an extraordinary and audacious act of science and humanity.
I became obsessed with how an animal, representing a stunning connection to our prehistoric past, and posing absolutely zero threat to humans, was so far gone that it could only survive as a species if humans intervened. That story, wrought with intrigue, heartbreak, ego, and drama became the subject of my first film and what ensued was a life-changing lesson.
Believing that the Condor would not survive on its own, biologists made an unprecedented move to remove all of them from the wild, then captively propagate them in zoos to get their population back to sustainable numbers. Then began a long slow process of reintroducing them back into the wild and in turn managing the wild population, a process that continues today to great success.
But that success was not met without first enduring controversy, legal battles, mounting costs, competing interests, and other human drama that threatened to sink the entire effort. So why then, was it so successful?
As it turns out, there is something powerful that happens when a disparate group of individuals, organizations, and competing interests unite over a common cause, they form community. And that lesson has proven itself time and again in my over 20 years of making natural history films and being involved in conservation efforts.
Whether the issue is wildlife, habitat, policy, or public acceptance, the formation of community has been the deciding factor for success. Giving stakeholders a sense of belonging where their voices are heard, respected, and equally considered creates a conversation, not just an information exchange. And when people start conversing and truly feel a sense of belonging, mountains move.
I am reminded of a quote from author and expert on leadership, Linda Lambert, who says,
“One great conversation can shift the direction of change forever.”
I’ve experienced that many times in my life and I believe it with all my heart. So the big question is, how do we capture that sense of community that we know works on a local scale, and translate that to a global platform?
It’s not like we don’t know what to do. Throughout our history, communication and community were inextricably linked. That is, until technology allowed us to communicate to the masses. Then, communication became less about a way to share stories and converse, and more about a way to provide information. Community, in the modern age, has taken a back seat as communication has exponentially evolved into a global powerhouse that consumes us, giving us instant access to information and opinion anywhere, anytime. But that evolution has missed out on a key ingredient that helped people stay connected to life, interaction.
Media has simply become a one-way passive experience. It is my sincere belief that this is a major factor that holds the nature community back. We are a disparate group of like-minded people and organizations strewn across the globe with a common purpose, but a very loose sense of belonging, no real community. And that, I believe, is a root cause of the disconnect from nature we are experiencing today.
Today, as we catapult forward growing exponentially in both population and impact, people have become more disconnected from nature than ever. We have lost the basic understanding of our place in the mosaic of life. While we are a highly evolved complex beautiful creature standing for the most part at the apex of life, we are also, at our most simple, a vulnerable animal on this planet.
The Mammalz mission is to reconnect people to nature and we do that by taking the power that technology has given us by connecting us globally as individuals and transforming that into a sharing community, where people feel a sense of belonging, can interact with each other, and can have meaningful conversations.
But how do we actually do that? Through all of the lessons learned about community, media, human nature, and our connection to this planet and each other, we have whittled it down to a three-step process that we believe will be game-changing in helping Mammalz reconnect the world to nature.
The first thing we do is democratize participation giving everybody on the platform an equal voice and the ability to interact with one another and create conversations rather than everybody just talking at one another.
The second thing we do is create an atmosphere where truth, facts, science, creativity, and respect are not an option, but the standard.
Finally and most importantly, we need to think beyond today’s assumptions and operate from a shared global vision of what community actually means. How we create shared purpose, self-worth, value, inclusivity, equality, diversity, and then harness that vision to find real-world, long-lasting, meaningful solutions to the problems facing our natural world.
I’ll leave you with a favorite quote of mine, from Thomas Berry that is so apropos in light of the current pandemic and the other massive issues we face today.
"The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.”
We are Mammalz and we are all in this together. We welcome each and all of you to this community. If you love nature, this is your home.
Founded by biologists-turned-wildlife filmmakers, Rob Whitehair and Alexander Finden, Mammalz is the “Twitch for Nature”; a mobile- and web-based media streaming and social platform dedicated to nature storytelling and driven by community. Whether you are a professional media maker, scientist, educator, artist, writer, or one of over 600 million nature enthusiasts across the planet, Mammalz provides you with the tools to personalize your experience, share your love of nature, and truly make a difference.
Mammalz, PBC is a Public Benefit Corporation founded in May 2018 and headquartered in San Diego, CA.
The Mammalz mission is to promote a greater global public understanding of nature and the environment while acting as a bridge between science, media makers, and the public.
Mammalz Co-Founders – COO Alex Finden (left) and CEO Rob Whitehair (right)
Rob Whitehair, Co-Founder and CEO
Rob is a 20-year veteran of the natural history film industry. He is a multi-award-winning filmmaker, producer, and executive who has directed, produced and shot films for broadcast and theatrical markets worldwide. He is known throughout the industry for his vision, leadership, inspiration and his ability to take seemingly impossible ideas and turn them into a reality. Mammalz is the culmination of Rob’s dream to create a next-generation media platform that will connect people on a global scale through their love for nature.
Alexander Finden, Co-Founder and COO
Inspired by the underwater world, Alex is a highly creative, award-winning wildlife filmmaker, Divemaster, YouTube channel manager, Twitch content editor, and operational guru. He is known for being a master of details, turning ideas into actions, and keeping calm in the storm. Alex is fascinated with portable live-streaming technologies and plans to encourage outdoor streaming as one of the most popular content types on Mammalz.
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