Embracing the world for its variety
“We’ve got to love all the animals… So I set up a society to champion the more aesthetically challenged creatures out there.”
The biologist, writer and stand-up comedian Simon Watt spoke at AKQA, to share an important message about wildlife conservation. As founder of The Ugly Animal Preservation Society and author of The Ugly Animals: We Can’t All Be Pandas, Simon uses entertainment to educate audiences that we must protect all nature, and not just the cute bits.
Through his work, Simon offers a light-hearted take on the diversity and wonder of the planet we share. But behind the laughs lies a serious message: the world is beautiful for its variety, and we must embrace it not selectively, but wholly. There are species of all appearances who rely on us to do so.
The Ugly Animal Preservation Society was founded in 2012 as a comedy night with a conservation twist, but it then found global fame when its collaboration with the National Science + Engineering Competition resulted in the election of the blobfish as the ugliest animal on the planet. “The whole point of this is I’m trying to get people to talk about these species”, Simon explains. “I’m taking the laws of satire and applying them to conservation… We make jokes about politics because politics matters; we should make jokes about conservation because conservation matters.”
Simon co-created and hosts the science panel-show podcast Level Up Human, and runs the science communications company Ready Steady Science, with the mission to make information interesting, including through science-based performances in schools, museums, theatres and festivals. “I do what I do because we need icons to hang ideas off… The way that we’ve been talking about it until now hasn’t worked. We’re very good at talking to people who are old enough to come to lectures, and we’re very good at talking to kids because children are the future… but [ages 20 to 40] are kind of a missed demographic.”
Hosted by AKQA programme director Jules Ward, Simon’s talk highlighted how any creative discipline offers a potential to engage, inspire and get people talking about difficult issues. The event grew out of AKQA’s support of the World Land Trust’s Buy an Acre programme, to protect critically threatened habitat across Colombia, Mexico and Zambia.
Simon previously presented the BAFTA-winning documentary series Inside Nature’s Giants, the IFTA-winning Wild Cities and the Channel 4 special The Elephant: Life After Death, plus championing the ugly-animal cause in influential media.