• Real-World Geography: Lucy Cooke
    Lucy Cooke is a digital storyteller and sloth aficionado.

    Photograph by Kira Ivanoff

    By Alyssa Samson

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    Lucy Cooke is a zoologist, digital storyteller, and 2012 Emerging Explorer. By searching every nook and cranny throughout the world, Lucy has been able to shine a light of hope on amphibians and other animals that are forgotten, ignored, close to extinction, or in desperate need of help.

    EARLY WORK

    There are some parents who will entertain their child’s fantasy. Whether it is helping them build a rocketship out of cardboard boxes, planting a lollipop tree, or assisting them in their hunt for a pirate’s gold, they are there every step of the way.

    Lucy had those types of parents. As a kid, her parents helped Lucy put a bathtub in their backyard, creating a pond that provided a flawless hotel for frogs. 

    “I created the perfect ecosystem for Mr. Frog to come along, just sit at the top and be really happy, and be like ‘Wow, what a nice pond’,” she says. 

    Lucy discovered that there was a whole world to explore beyond her pond after watching David Attenborough’s Life on Earth series when she was 8 years old.

    “Maybe that’s why I like the creepy, weird, and ugly things,” she says. “I think there is a story behind everything because I was forced to enjoy the common frog in my backyard years before I was able to find flying frogs in Borneo.”

    From the moment she made that connection, Lucy has been traveling across the world to give some much-needed exposure to misunderstood and underappreciated species.

    “You can have an adventure anywhere. It’s great to dream and I am lucky that I have been able to do amazing things as an adult, but as a kid, my adventures were in my backyard pond.”

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “The most exciting part has been a recent bit and that’s getting my own series on Nat Geo WILD. It doesn’t get much more exciting than that. I was actually able to live out my fantasy.”

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    Besides the itchy mosquito bites and the 17-hour work days, Lucy says, “I think you have to be tenacious about stories. I think you have to really hang on and fight to get a story. That’s the thing. If you’re really passionate about something then you’re prepared to put up the fight and put in the long hours.”

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    “It’s a massively broad term. I would say that it isn’t defined by just landmass. Geography can refer to religious thought or it can refer to genetics. There are loads of different ways of chopping the world up into bits and it doesn’t necessarily mean just by landmass. It can mean anything on this planet.”

    GEO-CONNECTION

    Lucy has captured hearts around the globe through her blogs, videos, and TV shows. By using a quirky sense of humor, Lucy is not only able to educate people, but also get them to care about the animals that are often brushed under the rug because they are not cute or fluffy. One animal in particular stands out.

    “I’m very proud to have worked with an animal that had the reputation for being stupid, lazy, and dirty the recognition that it deserves,” Lucy says. “He’s a winner in the evolutionary arms race, and he’s doing very well, and his slow lifestyle should be respected.”

    She is of course referring to her extensive work with sloths. Since one of her videos about sloths went viral, Lucy has been able to direct money and awareness towards the biology of sloths.

    Sloths, however, are not Lucy’s true passion. Often referred to as the “Amphibian Avenger,” Lucy’s mission has been focused on saving frogs, toads, and related animals. Currently, a third of amphibians are going extinct due to a disease (chytridiomycosis) caused by a fungus, and “if we lose the amphibians, it trickles down through the web of life,” she says.

    So, while she prowls through the jungles of Borneo searching for flying frogs, lizards, and snakes; searches for Darwin’s frog in Patagonia; and travels throughout the world, she is on a mission to make the ugly creatures shining stars and get them back on the radar of popularity.

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . ZOOLOGIST

    “Try to get out, be amongst nature and be as curious as possible, ask lots of questions,” Lucy says. “Even some patchy scrub in a city probably has ants or something going on, so get yourself a microscope and then you can see a whole world out there.”

    GET INVOLVED

    “Try to get outside and appreciate what’s there. Try to open your mind to what is out there and enjoy it.”

    Lucy also encourages people to step away from their hectic lives and “just take a deep breath, take a look at where you are. Nature is great because you can lose yourself in it, but you have got to surrender to it as well,” she says. 

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    amphibian Noun

    an animal able to live both on land and in water.

    arms race Noun

    competition between nations to amass the most and most-powerful weapons.

    biology Noun

    study of living things.

    broad Adjective

    wide or expansive.

    chytridiomycosis Noun

    deadly disease among amphibians, caused by a fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis).

    city Noun

    large settlement with a high population density.

    David Attenborough Noun

    (1926-present) British naturalist and television broadcaster.

    digital Adjective

    having to do with numbers (or digits), often in a format used by computers.

    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    Emerging Explorer Noun

    an adventurer, scientist, innovator, or storyteller recognized by National Geographic for their visionary work while still early in their careers.

    evolution Noun

    process of how present types of organisms developed from earlier forms of life.

    extinction Noun

    process of complete disappearance of a species from Earth.

    fungus Noun

    (plural: fungi) type of organism that survives by decomposing and absorbing the material in which it grows.

    genetics Noun

    the study of heredity, or how characteristics are passed down from one generation to the next.

    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    hectic Adjective

    very busy and excited.

    jungle Noun

    tropical ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

    landmass Noun

    large area of land.

    microscope Noun

    instrument used to view very small objects by making them appear larger.

    Patagonia Noun

    large plateau in southern South America, stretching from the Andes Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

    religion Noun

    a system of spiritual or supernatural belief.

    scrub Noun

    area of arid grassland covered with low-lying trees and bushes.

    surrender Verb

    to give up.

    tenacious Adjective

    persistent, stubborn, or refusing to let go.

    viral adjective, noun

    becoming very popular by circulating very quickly through an exchange of internet links.

    zoologist Noun

    person who studies animals.

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