Bag of poo delivers conservation message, winning Wildlife Blogger of the Year

31 December, 2018 – A conservationist’s account of fieldwork in Borneo – starring a bag full of his own poo – packs a powerful message of hope for biodiversity in heavily degraded, yet surprisingly resilient tropical rainforests, winning the 2018 Wildlife Blogger of the Year competition.

Destruction of tropical rainforests often seems like a one-track countdown to biodiversity loss, with millions of hectares of forest habitat lost annually to agriculture and logging. In Borneo, 15% of the island’s old-growth forest was lost between 2000 and 2016 alone.

But 23-year-old conservationist Gianluca Cerullo’s story shows that biodiversity – from clouded leopards and orangutans, to butterflies, beetles and endangered birds – can not only survive, but even thrive in Borneo’s heavily degraded rainforests.

Rainforest regeneration – the yet-overlooked conservation approach of letting degraded rainforests regrow – could be a natural remedy to destructive human disturbance, supporting local biodiversity, allowing species to move within landscapes, and helping restore the benefits of forests for people and planet.

Gianluca’s superb storytelling made him the winner of the Wildlife Blogger of the Year Competition, chosen out of 91 entries from writers and bloggers around the world by a panel of 14 judges including renowned conservation writers Dr Mark Avery, James Lowen, Ed Drewitt and Lucy McRobert.

Conservation blogger Dr James Borrell said, “Gianluca had the most engaging writing style, and really blended the details of scientific fieldwork with his story and message”.

Wildlife writer James Lowen said, “Serious messages – deforestation – complemented by the unexpected taking of hope from even logged, degraded forest. An enticing quest, very well-articulated”.

Wildlife and conservation filmmaker Eilidh Munro added, “He paints a vivid scene that is accessible to many people, not just scientists working in the field, and this is so important for making conservation exciting to a wide audience”.

When asked why he chose to be so honest about the realities of fieldwork, Gianluca explained, “When I first told my Grandad I was off to poo in a Tupperware to catch dung beetles in the Bornean rainforest, it’s fair to say I got a strange look. I think a good rule of thumb is that if you do something weird or gross in the name of conservation, then you should write about it. Today, there’s a greater appetite than ever to know the stories behind science.”

Gianluca’s trusted Aldi bag.

But this story goes far beyond the realities of fieldwork. “From my story, I hope people come away with a sense of hope. When I first visited the logged forests of Borneo, I was expecting them to be trashed and pretty much devoid of wildlife. And some small areas of logged forest are like that. But mostly, this is not the case.”

Gianluca added, “Rainforest regeneration and restoration — more than any other processes I can think of — offer an antidote to despair. We have this perception of tropical rainforests as fragile ecosystems that are collapsing and dwindling. And all that’s true. But when freed from human pressures, given a chance to recover, or sometimes offered a bit of a helping hand, the resilience of rainforests and their capacity to rebound is an amazing thing to witness.”

Runner Up entries included an account of culling for conservation, a 12-year-old’s failed attempt to sight the Iberian wolf, and a story of filming lion tourism undercover in ‘The truth behind my lion selfie’.

Competition winners will be featured on leading international wildlife blogs and podcasts and gain career boosts from Conservation Careers.

Wildlife Blogger of the Year aims to raise awareness about our planet’s incredible wildlife through storytelling for positive change. It is run by Terra Incognita, a social enterprise that seeks to create positive change for people and planet through travel.

In January 2019, Terra Incognita will hand-select stories from the competition to publish a book celebrating some of the most memorable, entrancing and exciting wildlife moments as told by top nature writers from across the globe. Click here to reserve your copy of the downloadable book.