I was very fortunate to be born in the Hudson Valley, a heavily wooded part of upstate New York, that my grandfather had forested. There were 3,600 acres of trees, ponds, streams and lakes that were my backyard playground, and that's what really set the hook and got me interested in wildlife.
My first experience with Wild Kingdom was like so many people in my generation, Sunday afternoon sitting around the couch together as a family watching Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler go out there and look like what they were doing was risking their lives, when in fact, they were sharing information with us about conservation projects that were going on and we were learning from them in our living rooms.
I was part of a Species Survival Program with large cats, tigers. We happened to have the world's largest litter of tigers ever born. The mother, whom I had the hand raised prior, let me crawl in the denning box so I could rotate all seven of the babies, they they usually have two to three, and make sure they all got the necessary colostrum.
Someone took a picture and it went on the wire, this is pre-internet, so it went on the wire and I had a call from the Johnny Carson Show, "Could we see the world's largest litter of tigers?" I said as soon as they were strong and healthy enough, it seemed like a tremendous opportunity for me to share tiger information and inform people about the conservation that was needed to save wildlife.
Who was there but Jim Fowler from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I was just flattered to be able to meet him and then honored when he suggested I might be able to work with this show.
He said we're not looking for an actor, we're looking for a curator - someone who's worked with wildlife, involved with conservation, would I be interested? And I thought for about three seconds and said, "Yes, I would love to" and the rest is history.
My favorite is, I think, one of the first they ever did, which was diving with white sharks in Australia in a place called Dangerous Reef. We flew to Australia, scuba dove with white sharks, learned so much more about how ill-represented white sharks were.
They're not the marauding razor-sharp teeth swimming around the world looking for people to eat and other animals to kill. They're actually the very important part of the top of the food chain.
Each day as we dove with them, I became more comfortable around them and learned so much more about how important saving white sharks are.
Let's not fear them. Let's be aware of their role in the natural world.
I've been very proud of all the work we've done. I'm most excited about the fact I'm going to be able to continue this legacy and host the new show, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild.
And it's so important that we're going to create a little hope and point out to people that in conservation, we hear a lot of gloom and doom, but there's a lot of good news to talk about, problems that we have solved, animals coming off the endangered species list, animal reintroductions that are going well.
And if we all participate a little bit at the local level, we can each make a difference.
There's so many important messages from Wild Kingdom, but I would say it is to remain connected with the natural world.
We need a balance in life, spend time in the great outdoors. We need to spend time in front of our computers and our screens, which are necessary in the 21st century, but research has shown, physically and mentally, we need to spend time in nature to keep this balance.
So learn as much as you can about the natural world, spend time in it, enjoy the wildlife that's coming back. Appreciate the needs of wildlife and find out what you can do to help. And when you do go to see wildlife, take a good pair of binoculars and view it a very safe distance.
I've always loved animals since I was a child. I spent numerous hours having to hand-raise young cubs, large cats.
The first time I dove with dolphins in the Bahamas and filmed a show with Christopher Cross, the songwriter. I was absolutely enamored with the idea of what's taking place under the ocean surface. 70 percent of our planet is covered with ocean.
I love the time I spent in the Barrier Reef, diving there with sea snakes and wildlife.
So I don't really have a favorite. I've just learned to appreciate what's on the land and under the water.
I have yet to see a duck billed platypus. It is one of the most unique animals I've ever read about. It seems to have been designed by a committee! So next time I go to Australia, I hope it's to talk about the recovery program after the devastating fires they've had there, the number of agencies that are saving koalas and other animals that were threatened.
I must go meet a duck billed platypus in person.
Why is conservation so important? Look around us. What would our world be like if we didn't have wild lands and wildlife and wild places around us? What a terrible place it would be to live without having nature all around us and the animals that we share our planet with.
i would say everybody can help, be it at the local level, joining doing cleanup committees in parks, picking up papers, doing replanting situations, removing invasive species, visiting your local zoos, parks, science centers, rehabilitation centers. Oftentimes they take volunteers.
If you're interested in wildlife conservation, maybe spend some time shadowing a biologist, interview veterinarians, interview people at UC Davis, Cornell, Moore Park College; all these colleges that specialize in wildlife care. Spend some time with them and find out what you can do to help preserve our natural world.
There's so many animal misconceptions, and that's part of my job right here. Today we're filming at the Endangered Wolf Center. One of the things I'm making sure we talk about is that there really aren't any big bad wolves out there, looking for people to eat.
We were raised on fairy tales about how wolves were out there, looking to kill people. Wolves are scared of people. Wolves don't want to be near people. Wolves are at the top of the food chain and doing their role, keeping other populations strong.
Going in the ocean, many people are afraid of sharks. Many people are afraid to just to go in the wilderness.
What is in there in the woods, most animals don't want to have anything to do with us.
Their role is to be part of this entirely complex ecosystem that makes our world such an incredible place to live, and appreciate all that we have and learn as much as we can about it.
Preparing for each Wild Kingdom episode is about research. I read as much as I possibly can about the wildlife with which i'm going to be filming, interview the biologists who are there studying them, talk to as many people I can who have filmed there before, and just generally do as much homework as I can so I know what to expect when we get there.
And then be ready for the fact that you're dealing with wild animals, things might not be as you anticipated. And be very very flexible.
For instance, I went to Chipman National Forest years ago for the citizen ambassador program to film tigers. Tigers are so elusive the closest we came was to see claw marks on a tree, but there were white rhinos everywhere, so we rode around on elephant back in film white rhinos and were able to talk tell the story about how successful the reintroduction program has been with rhinos in Nepal and India.
I think Jim and Marlin would say just how proud they were to host the show for Mutual of Omaha all these years, and the numbers of people's attitude they affected about preserving our natural world.
My goal to continue this message of teaching people about what they can do to preserve our natural world at the local, national and international level, and share the message of conservation every opportunity I get.