A bit more about me
I grew up in the Sussex countryside and was fascinated with nature from an early age. It’s in my blood. My dad was an old fashioned countryman with an intimate knowledge of the landscape he grew up in. He inherited this from his father, a shepherd on Romney Marsh and well-respected amateur ornithologist whose love of story-telling even led to a handful of appearances on BBC radio in the 1940s.
My father encouraged me to explore and protect the countryside, but it was David Attenborough’s Life on Earth series that opened my eyes to the fantastic diversity of life and the creative power of natural selection. I have been obsessed ever since.
At Oxford with Dawkins and into TV
I was lucky to win a place to read zoology at New College, Oxford where I was taught evolution and animal behaviour by Dr Richard Dawkins.
I also got into the comedy and drama scene at Oxford and when I left college, I fell into TV comedy. Jonathan Ross gave me my first job and the chance to work with great comics on iconic shows like The Fast Show and The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer (if you look closely you can spot me as a dancing raspberry with ping pong balls for eyes and other equally eclectic roles in both shows).
I eventually moved into writing, producing and directing popular prime time science, history and travel documentaries presented by the likes of Monty Python Terry Jones, Alan Davies, Tony Robinson, Kevin McCloud, Robert Hughes and Bill Bailey. I travelled the world, filming in the remote corners of over 20 countries and meeting extraordinary people. I drank honey wine with the fiercest tribe in East Africa, politely ate dog with the opium growing mountain people of Laos, hung out with cave-dwelling Kurdish activists in Eastern Turkey and met a fearsome jaguar hunter in Brazil. Outside of TV I commissioned Sundance award-winning feature documentaries at BRITDOC and Webby award-winning online shorts during a year as head of UK content at Vice.
On an Amphibian Awareness Raising Mission
But my first love was natural history, and in 2009 I decided it was time for me to reconnect with my roots and my favourite animal, the frog.
The world’s amphibians are in the grips of the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs were wiped off the planet. But their plight rarely hits the headlines like it does for A-list animals with fluffy faces.
So I quit my job, bought a ticket to South America, and headed off on a solo adventure as the Amphibian Avenger. My goal was to find out what was killing the frogs and raise awareness by writing a popular blog about my adventure.
I licked poison dart frogs in Colombia, visited fungus-infested frog farms in Uruguay, visited an amphibian refugee camp in a volcanic crater in Panama, and joined an expedition to look for a rare frog that burps up its babies in Patagonia. I visited eight countries in six months and loved every minute of it.
My gonzo adventures ended up being widely-read and National Geographic offered me my own TV series. I wanted to tell stories about odd, unloved and misunderstood animals, and next thing I knew, I was off around the world filming Freaks and Creeps to meet proboscis monkeys in Borneo, fly with vultures in South Africa, and track down the Devil in Tasmania.
In 2012, I was honoured to receive a prestigious National Geographic Emerging Explorer Award for my work in popularising a conservation message to a new audience. I’m now proud to be an affiliate of the Amphibian Survival Alliance, and have lectured on conservation issues for ZSL, IUCN, Synchronicity Earth and Oxford University.
I’ve now pretty much migrated to the other side of the camera and had some amazing adventures presenting dozens of natural history shows for the BBC, ITV, National Geographic and Channel 4. These include learning to speak hippo in “Talk to the Animals”, tickling frogs eggs live on Channel 4 in “Easter Eggs Live”, becoming an unlikely animal midwife in “Amazing Animal Births”, teaching an orphan baby elephant to swim in “Natures Miracle Orphans”, dodging dive-bombing seagulls in “Britain’s Boldest Thieves”, connecting with some truly inspiring amateur naturalists on “Springwatch” and trying to outwit the encyclopaedic mind of Chris Packham, my rival team captain on the quiz show “Curious Creatures”.
The rapid rise of the sloth
In addition to frogs, there is another animal that I’ve become a very vocal champion of and that’s the sloth. I’ve produced dozens of viral videos, an award-winning series for Animal Planet, “Meet the Sloths”, and a New York Times best-selling picture book “A Little Book of Sloth” (published in the UK as “The Power of Sloth”). I think we have much to learn from this paragon of low-energy living. So I founded the Sloth Appreciation Society (our motto: being fast is over-rated) and have toured my irreverent lecture on why this much maligned creature is in fact the true King of the jungle around various schools and festivals (Glastonbury, Haye-on-Wye lit fest, Port Eliot, Wilderness, etc). Sloth fans can get their own SAS certificate and other sloth goodies like our best-selling wall calendar (a year of sleepy smiles) at Slothville, the SAS online HQ.
Re-branding the animal Kingdom
Sloths are one of the thirteen animals – my menagerie of the misunderstood – featured in my first long-form book, The Unexpected Truth About Animals. Published by Transworld in November 2017 it explores and explodes our biggest myths and misconceptions about animals from Aristotle to Disney. After reading, you’ll hopefully never think about hyenas, penguins or pandas in quite the same way again.
Get in touch with Lucy Cooke via her agent Sophie Laurimore at Factual Management