Ian Michler is a safari operator, wilderness guide, consultant, and environmental photojournalist. He has lived and worked across Africa for more than 30 years.
Ian is well-known for his roles as the lead character, researcher, and co-campaign leader of the award-winning documentary Blood Lions (www.bloodlions.org). He also channels conservation work through The Conservation Action Trust and Eden to Addo, a regional corridor conservation initiative. As a journalist, he has featured articles and blogs documenting the major conservation challenges facing Africa, especially as it relates to predator breeding and trophy hunting. He is a member of the International League of Conservation Writers, and the author of seven natural history and travel books on Africa. Michler is also a co-founder and owner of Invent Africa Safaris, a specialist safari company that runs trips to 15 countries across the continent.
With the potential upcoming amendments in regulations about lion farming and the commercial exploitation of the species in South Africa, he feels there is still plenty of work ahead to bring positive change for lions in this country.
GKC Question: Ian, what led you to become an environmental conservationist and leader in African wildlife conservation? Was this something you always wanted to do as a young child, or did this come on later in life?
Like so many who involve themselves deeply in environmental matters, it’s often where and how you lived your formative years that plays such a vital role. And I was brought up in incredible landscapes with an immense range of biodiversity around me. As a kid, I never dreamt or aimed at being so involved; that came later. But I now know that those early years laid an important template and understanding.
GKC Question: What was the moment or situation that made you decide you needed to get involved in lion conservation issues especially as it relates to Blood Lions?
As a journalist while living in the Okavango Delta, Botswana I was intrigued and confused by the thinking put forward by the trophy hunting industry, which was all-powerful within the region back then. In essence, their story was that the best way to protect threatened species was to kill them through trophy hunting. This seemed such an obvious contradiction, even a perversity, and so I started researching these claims and the sustainability of hunting lions. From the outset, it made no sense, and then once the trail took me onto the breeding farms in South Africa, I saw the cruelty and heard the misinformation and lies about this side of the industry. I was compelled to get involved.
GKC Question: Why do you care about lions so much?
Lions are not my favourite animals; that tag belongs to hyenas. But for so many people around the world, lions are the icons of Africa’s savannahs. And lions are inextricably linked to us in so many positive ways: mythology, religions, poetry, sport and in the makeup of our own psyches. Given this charismatic status, they represent the animal kingdom and Africa’s ecosystems in a way that allows one to address so many other related challenges and issues when talking about lions.
I wouldn’t say it’s changed my life in any profound way. Rather, it’s about the work taking you ever deeper into the challenges we face, and this leads to a greater understanding of what’s at stake and what needs to be done. Over time, you also get to meet many inspiring people working on environmental issues. It’s all these experiences that dictate the passion and levels of commitment.
My thoughts here are like those above. The more you travel and learn about the state of our continent, the more you understand the changes that need to occur as well as the urgency required to implement them.
In general, the biggest challenge environmentalists face is to get people to understand and accept the roles we are all playing, as individuals and communities, in the destruction of our planet. And then the issue of urgency comes into the equation again. We need to act today, not tomorrow.
And then more specifically on Blood Lions, it’s the pushback from the vested interests and countering the lies and misinformation. Most of these facilities have nothing to do with conservation; they are merely commercial operations exploiting wildlife.
Choose the field you want to focus on carefully. And it’s best to do this by truly getting to understand yourself and where you will fit in best to harness your full potential. A central part of this will be to explore whether you are best suited to working with animals, landscapes, people or in the administrative processes for example. And then become as educated or aware as you can on all the issues. And finally, be aware that this is work with long time horizons, which means you must be able to show commitment to see projects through.
That is for others to interpret and determine.
Just start getting involved. And educating oneself is the best place to begin. In this way, we each get to understand the role we are playing with regards to our impacts on the planet. This in turn should make it clearer where you can make an obvious difference.
Environmental work is complex and multi-faceted as a single issue involves a host of factors across the economic, political, cultural and ecological spectrums. While mavericks and strong personalities are vital, so too are qualities that embrace being able to collaborate and work within broad coalitions and groups. Blood Lions has been successful because of the many passionate and committed people involved. The film and campaign would never have succeeded if it were not for them, or the way they have been able to work together with so many other partners around the world.
An interview with Ian Michler
On A "Tail" OF THREE LIONS - GREEN KIDS CLUB
Q&A with Ian Michler
Tau, a brave young lion cub, lives on the African savanna with his mother and two brothers. When his brothers are taken by poachers, Tau fears for their lives. Though his mother tells him to simply "hope for the best," Tau is resolved to rescue his siblings. He strikes out to do just that, in time learning a great deal about his lion world, while discovering a lot more than he bargained for!