We live on a green planet: An interview with Brian Keating (Part One)

Brian Keating, Antarctica (Photo courtesy of Brian Keating)

Brian Keating, Antarctica (Photo courtesy of Brian Keating)

November 17, 2016 | by Lesley Marian Neilson

This is part one of a two-part interview with Brian Keating, who has dedicated his life to promoting a conservation ethic and raising awareness about the natural world. He has travelled the world in search of great nature stories, and used his role as head of conservation outreach at the Calgary Zoo to support environmental projects across the globe.  

I was excited to connect with Brian last January and invite him to come to the west coast to present one of his dynamic talks on nature. He responded with his trademark enthusiasm, and so next week Brian will be regaling audiences in Victoria and Vancouver as part of NCC’s Nature Talks program.  

This celebrated international speaker, whose passion for sharing stories and connecting with audiences, will leave you inspired to get outside and get healthy. These days, in addition to presenting his videos and stories, Brian leads tours to some of the best wildlife areas on the planet and broadcasts his experiences as a weekly guest on CBC Radio. He is also a pilot, naturalist, scuba diver and mountaineer and has written five nature books for children.

Brian and Dee Keating, eastern slopes tour, AB (Photo by NCC)

Brian and Dee Keating, eastern slopes tour, AB (Photo by NCC)

I recently chatted with Brian to learn more about his ideas on nature, human health and the importance of conserving intact ecosystems around the world. Our conservation began with me asking him how he got hooked on nature and conservation.

Brian Keating (BK): I was born in Medicine Hat, but I was raised in New York. I moved down there when I was just six months old, and I left [the U.S.] just when I would have been old enough to get a draft card for the Vietnam War. I had an interesting upbringing in that I was on Long Island, just 20 minutes from the Bronx, but I was next to a woodlot, and that woodlot was my place of peace.  

I wasn’t that good of a student, and I found being in the woods had a tremendous calming effect on me. My mother realized I had this interest in nature, so she bought me a pair of binoculars. It opened up the world. I started to explore at that very young age. At age 12, I was involved in the very first Earth Day in New York State. So I’ve been thinking from an environmental perspective since I was a kid.  

Working with the Calgary Zoo, I was in charge of their education department for about 15 years. That morphed into the opportunity to start their conservation outreach program, which was my real passion. I started to look at ways of raising money and investing that money into various conservation projects around the world.  

The zoo gave me an international focus, so I started the travel program, which gave me the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world. I started meeting up with some of the conservation greats that I had been hearing about since I watched my first National Geographic film on TV.

I met Jane Goodall and eventually invited her to Calgary to speak, and we have become good friends since. She invited my wife and me to Gombe, where we spent a week in the forest with Jane tracking chimpanzees. I met George Schaller, who was the mentor for Diane Fossey before she went on to set up her groundbreaking research on mountain gorillas. I toured George around Canada`s Rocky Mountains and introduced him to some cougar biologists, and he spoke at the Jubilee [Auditorium} on pandas when we launched the panda project at the Calgary Zoo. I met Rodney Jackson, who is the Jane Goodall of the snow leopard world. We have since spent time in northern India together looking for snow leopards, and had incredible success. And so basically I’ve fulfilled many of my childhood dreams that started when I was with my binoculars in the woods looking for birds.  

I suppose it’s a result of just following my passion, following my heart and working hard, but also playing hard.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview, to be published Nov. 18, 2016.

To listen to Brian Keating speak and to learn more about Nature Talks, click here.

Lesley Marian Neilson (Photo by Emrys Miller)

About the Author

Lesley Marian Neilson works for the BC Region of the Nature Conservancy of Canada as the communications director.

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