18 Jun 2018

“We all have to become conservationists”: our interview with Jane Alexander

Jane Alexander is an acclaimed actress, author and an impassioned birder who is also a member of BirdLife’s Global Advisory Group. Here, she talks to us about how acting got her into birding, and how the new generation gives her hope.

Jane Alexander interview BirdLife
By Alex Dale

You grew up in Boston – how difficult is it for people growing up in urban environments to connect with nature?

It’s a lot better today than it was back when I was a child. There were Audubon [BirdLife in the USA] chapters, but nobody ever pointed them out to me. I know that there’s a lot more going on for young urban people today than there ever was back in the 40s and 50s when I was very little. Today, Central Park is a buzzing place for birding.

Has technology made birding easier?

Absolutely. Recently, my two grandsons looked out of the window and saw a Red-tailed Hawk just sitting outside! So they snapped a quick picture and ID’d it straight away. I love the apps on my phone because the books we used to carry in the field were so heavy...

What got you back into birding as an adult?

It really started in Los Angeles, where we were doing a lot of studio work on movies back in the early 1970s. What a lot of people don’t realise is that Los Angeles County is the single best bird county in all of North America. It has more than 450 species going through it – not all residents, but many migrants.

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You’ve travelled all around the world. Where is your favourite place to go birding?

You know, you can’t lose in India. The population explosion of human beings continues, but it also has the most extraordinary birds.

How did you make the leap from bird enthusiast to conservationist?

I started to travel with field biologists, and I watched them go from research scientists to conservationists because the decline in species was happening so rapidly. I do not know, frankly, a major biologist today who is not a conservationist. We all have to become conservationists, or it’s not going to happen.

And yet, we’re not. Why do you think the message from scientists doesn’t always get through to the general public?

I think concepts like climate change are hard for people to grasp. There’s actually a theory that says, if we see up to three people in trouble, we can move forward and try to rescue them. When we see ten or more, we become static, we cannot move, because we can’t compute in our minds how we could rescue that many.

How do you see the future of conservation?

I have great hope for the new generation. The kids that I talk to - they get it in their gut that you have to save the planet. They’re not quite there yet on how to make it work. But they’ll get there because they have the technology, and the science too, and they have the heart for it.

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