I grew up in the Sussex countryside and was fascinated with nature from an early age. It’s in my blood. My dad is 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.
I was lucky to win a place to read zoology at New College, Oxford where I was taught evolution and animal behaviour by Professor Richard Dawkins.
At Oxford, I also got into the comedy and drama scene. When I left college, I fell into TV comedy. Jonathan Ross gave me my first job, and the chance to work on iconic shows like The Fast Show and The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer with a slew of talented comedians that also included Harry Enfield, Graham Norton and Lily Savage.
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 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.
As well as TV I also did a stint at the BRITDOC foundation over-seeing the production of cinema feature docs including the Sundance award-winning Afghan Star. I also spent a year at Vice, setting up the UK arm of their outrageously-successful online broadcasting platform.
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. The series won the best presenter led category at Wild Talk 2013.
Around the same time, I posted a short video I shot at a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica. Meet the Sloths became a massive viral hit and was the first of several viral sloth videos that have earned me the title ‘the Spielberg of sloth movies’.
Animal Planet commissioned me to make a Meet the Sloths documentary about life behind the scenes at this eccentric sanctuary. It’s quirky humour became a ratings hit and won Wildscreen’s prestigious Panda Award for Best Popular Documentary, and led to Discovery commissioning an 8-part Meet the Sloths series.
My homage to the world’s most misunderstood mammal does not end there. I founded the Sloth Appreciation Society and have performed my irreverent sloth appreciation talk at a bunch of festivals, including Hay on Wye, Port Eliot and Wilderness.
Time magazine has dubbed my efforts at popularising sloths as ‘more successful than anybody has ever been at anything. Ever’, which is somewhat OTT. But my first book, A Little Book of Sloth, featuring my photos, facts and funny stories about sloths did make the New York Times best sellers list. It is also published in Germany, Brazil and by Hachette in the UK under the new title, The Power of Sloth.
In 2012, I was awarded a prestigious National Geographic Emerging Explorer Award for my work in popularising a conservation message to a new audience. I’m proud to be an affiliate of the Amphibian Survival Alliance, and have lectured on conservation issues for high profile corporate and third sector clients, including ZSL, IUCN and Oxford University.
In the summer 2014 I parachuted onto prime time BBC 1 with Talk to the Animals – an exploration into the science of animal communication.
From compiling a chimp dictionary, chatting up fireflies, gossiping with mongooses, and even holding a meeting with hippos, I join scientists who have devoted their lives to cracking the animal code and discover that animal communication is so much more sophisticated than we could ever have imagined.
I have two new shows for BBC1, both of which will air in early 2015. In Nature’s Boldest Thieves I dodge hungry dive-bombing seagulls to investigate why certain animals are so successful at stealing from us.
And in Animals Unexpected I investigate how we humans are changing the planet, and nature is responding in ways we could never have expected. Both shows explore the relationship between humans and wild animals and our increasingly unnatural history.
Get in touch with Lucy Cooke via her agent Sophie Laurimore at Factual Management:
t. 020 7484 5133