Bradley Trevor Greive is a longtime friend of Taronga Zoo’s. Born in Tasmania, he is not only a successful author (more than 20 million copies of his books have been sold in 115 countries), but also an artist, screenwriter and conservationist. BTG is a founding member of the Taronga Foundation and a passionate advocate for nature and wildlife.
Recently, BTG paid a visit to Taronga, along with his friends Sam and Cameron Bloom and their three kids. BTG has a special connection to the Bloom family. In 2013 Sam suffered an accident that left her paralysed. During her recovery, she befriended an injured magpie, which the family named Penguin. Sam and Penguin spent a lot of time together while they both healed, and developed a unique bond.
Cameron, a photographer, documented their days together, and later approached BTG to ask if he would record the story of Sam and Penguin. Their book, Penguin Bloom, highlights how beneficial a shared life with animals can be. The story is now the basis for a screenplay, written by BTG, which will soon be made into a feature film.
We sat down with BTG during his visit to Taronga to discover where his love for wildlife came from.
What prompted you to take an interest in animals and the environment?
As a child, I remember my mother reading My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell and being greatly affected by it. It made me want to read it and I subsequently went on to read all of his works and fell in love with his world view and his vision that zoos should not be mere circus style places to cage animals for entertainment, but rather be at the centre of conservation, which was revolutionary at the time. It helped to inspire my love of literature and animals and fuelled my desire for a conservation zoo to be the cornerstone of modern conservation. His vision is now mainstream worldwide and Taronga is one of the best zoos in the world for striving to realise this vision.
Is it true that as a child you wanted to be a zoologist?
I did. That and be an astronaut [for which he trained for in 2004]. After my career in the military ended prematurely due to a lung infection while in the Tropics, I wanted to pursue a career in the arts and also be able to invest in my passion for zoological interests and, most importantly, wildlife conservation. It has brought me such joy to be able to do this on this scale and has become an essential part of my life.
It’s greatly satisfying. I’ve been involved with Taronga for nearly 20 years, beginning with small donations before moving onto numerous animal sponsorships. I then became a board member when the Taronga Foundation was founded. It was such a great group of inspiring people to work with. I find it incredible that this thoughtful program, built around fundraising, involving government, enjoys the success it does. It transforms what we perceive to be possible.
Is there a conservation cause that is particularly close to your heart?
The one that is most important to me emotionally is the captive rescue breeding facility for Tasmanian Devils. I had a farm on the east coast of Tasmania with a high density of Tasmanian devils and saw their numbers rapidly decline. It means so much to me that Taronga Western Plains Zoo saw that help was needed and answered the call – giving vital assistance in securing the future of this species. We now have hope that Tasmania’s icon will be saved. Globally, our work in Sumatra is the most important. We have the right people with the right attitudes and skills to make a real difference to the cause.
Are there any memorable wildlife experiences you can share with us? It’s hard to think of one that doesn’t end with me being bitten! I recall running into a 450-pound reindeer while in the USA and unfortunately coming of worse on that occasion. I have endured a facial attack from a fruit bat who took exception to my cologne. I’ve tagged a great white shark in South Australia and named it in honour of Gerald Durrell and presented a framed copy of the official form to his widow, Lee, which was a wonderful moment for me. For the past four years, I have been part of a team tracking Alaskan brown bears on a remote island in the Alaskan region and have discovered a new species of brown bear – thought to be a hybrid of both ancient polar and ancient brown bears. We will have the privilege of naming this species and I am very thankful for that opportunity.
Studies show that humans benefit from interaction with animals, both mentally and physically. Do you agree? I do. I always feel happier when I’m out enjoying nature. Taranga’s work to bring back native flora and fauna, insects and plant life, which in turn brings back marsupials and birdlife, is a wonderful way to ensure Sydney’s sustained environmental future. No doubt, you will feel better physically and mentally if you spend time in nature. What would you say were the best ways to engage kids with wildlife and conservation? Taronga is a natural hub, surrounded by bushland. Go for a walk and appreciate what’s around you. Invest time and effort into conservation here at the zoo and it will encourage kids to go out and travel to see wildlife in its natural form. Everything is impacted by human beings – no place is completely untouched, so experience nature for yourself.