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Chris Packham recently suggested that we should just let the giant panda die out. As he comes to Glasgow, Kirstin Innes talks to the controversial conservationist
Since he first popped up on The Really Wild Show in 1986, with a shock of bleached, spiked hair and a defiant attitude, Chris Packham has made a career out of being unlike your average naturalist. It’s not something he’s grown out of with age – it’s difficult to imagine the avuncular Bill Oddie, say, determinedly crowbarring titles of Smiths’ songs into Springwatch, as Packham did this year, earning himself a cult following in the process. ‘Yeah, I’m a post-punk naturalist,’ he says, laughing. ‘Really, though, I found the punk and post- punk movements of the 1970s and 1980s tremendously creative and invigorating. It gave me a great sense of self-empowerment and optimism. And I still listen to the music, too – I had the Psychedelic Furs on in the bath last night.’
It’s more than just a snappy answer, though. Packham really does feel that a punk ethos underpins his attitudes to conservationism. ‘The conservation movement is desperately conservative with a small c. It doesn’t like new ideas. We can’t afford to be like that. We’ve got to maximise our abilities now. So that’s where my punk rock impatience comes to the fore. I’m tired of talking about what we’re going to do in 2050. The world is going to be a very different place in 2050.’
It’s this impatience that led him last month to suggest that the giant panda ‘should be allowed to die out with dignity’, as the huge amount of money that goes into panda conservation could be better used elsewhere. The worldwide public (and media) response was explosive – people do love their giant furry bears – but Packham hasn’t taken it back.
‘I did interviews for newspapers in the US, Australia, China and Brazil. Of course it was provocative, but it prompted a lot of creative debate about how we spend conservation funds. And that’s good. I don’t protest to have all the answers – I’m just an agitator. But I’m trying to make sure that somewhere along the way someone does have all the answers.’ A good place to start might be Never Mind the Buzzards, the family-friendly show he’s bringing to Glasgow this fortnight.
‘It’s a series of anecdotes about some of the remarkable things to do with animals I’ve encountered. There’s loads of snot and poo – all the sorts of things that kids like. And I’m very happy if people heckle. It’s definitely a show. It’s not a lecture. I mean – I won’t be wearing a tie.’
Never Mind The Buzzards, Pavilion, Glasgow, Wed 18 Nov, 7.30pm.
www.list.co.uk/aroundtown Hitlist TALKING AND MAKING *
✽✽ Fall of the Berlin Wall: 20 Years Ago A panel of experts and journalists who witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall talk about its significance. Alliance Française de Glasgow,Thu 5 Nov. ✽✽ Charity Couture Professionally-styled catwalk show highlighting the amazing pieces that can be found in charity shops, in aid of St Columba’s Hospice. St Andrews & St George’s Church, George St, Edinburgh, Wed 11 Nov. ✽✽ QMU Conversations with Joyce McMillan Theatre critic Joyce McMillan interviews David Hayman, actor and director of Trial and Retribution. Queen Margaret University, Musselburgh, Mon 16 Nov. ✽✽ Eco Crafts Market Frugal Cool present a three-day eco crafts market with work by craft-makers and designers. Loretto Gallery, Musselburgh, Fri 13 & Sat 14 Nov, 10am–4pm. ✽✽ Sushi Making Class Make beautiful Japanese food using local vegetables and fish, with help from Bento Box. To book email email@example.com i-full Coffee, 531 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, Tue 17 Nov. ✽✽ Inspirations at NLS: Peter Tatchell A look back at the career of human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Tue 17 Nov. ✽✽ The Golden Hour Ron Butlin, Julia Boll and Ewan Morrison at Ryan Van Winkle’s cabaret evening, joined by musicians Yaz Duncan and Rantum Scantum. Forest Café, Edinburgh, Wed 18 Nov. 5–19 Nov 2009 THE LIST 29