I love what I do. I’ve been a naturalist since childhood, and I was lucky enough to grow up in the wilds of west Dorset where the woodlands, coastlines and hills gave me everything I needed to explore my fascination with wildlife and the natural world. In school, the only subject which interested me was art, so that is all I studied up to university, which is where I started to combine these two passions. Since then, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have visited some amazing parts of the world, and seen some truly astonishing wildlife up close.
Lemurs in Madagascar (2013), giant tortoises and orca whales in Galápagos (2009), leopards, lions, elephants and cheetah in Tanzania (2005). But it was in 2011 in India when I saw a wild Bengal tiger that I started becoming really interested in painting endangered wildlife. The experience shook me – in a good way. It made me sit up and realise that that experience was incredibly rare. The chances of seeing a tiger in the wild are very small because there are so few of them, and yet my eyes were lucky enough to fall upon one of these beautiful big cats. From then on, I decided I needed to catalogue the world’s endangered wildlife and educate, encourage and inspire people to help prevent them from going extinct. This has lead me down some interesting paths over the years, as I discover new species on pretty much a weekly basis and learn constantly about the environmental changes which they face on earth.
But the problem with this type of work is that I often face the issues of making people feel too uncomfortable. It’s difficult to look at my paintings and not feel at least a little guilty. Now don’t get me wrong, a little discomfort is a good thing – it makes people act, but too much of it and they run away. The subject is heavy, and perhaps people feel that they cannot care about something so far away from their own realities. I wanted to find a way of encouraging people to think about their impact or what they might be able to do to help, not bury their heads back into their newspaper and avoid eye contact with anyone for the rest of the day.
Back in May of this year, I was invited to exhibit my artwork at the American Embassy in London. They were holding a show of work by some really wonderful environmental artists just for one night to celebrate Earth Day, and I was honoured to be a part of it.
So when, at the Embassy exhibition, a lady I was chatting to mentioned the name Diogo Verissimo and his project ‘Lost & Found’ my ears immediately pricked up. She told me that the project was built around stories of wildlife which was thought to be extinct but had actually been found still in existence. Here was someone who had found a way! With my own work, you see animals which potentially have very little time left in the world, but Lost & Found had very simply – even by the title – shown that there is still hope if you look for it. It switches the focus back to the positive. I didn’t wait long to contact Diogo and soon we were chatting on Skype, discussing ideas and possible projects – and here I am now, guest writing on the blog. What an honour.
I got back online and started researching all the animals listed in L&F, and soon enough I was going down a rabbit hole of investigation, stumbling upon creature after creature which was thought long dead but is actually alive and well and sitting quietly in the corner of a rainforest somewhere (with perhaps the exception of the noisy scrub-bird – they don’t do anything quietly).
With my ear well and truly to the ground on rediscovery news, it was a pleasure when a story popped up on – of all places – my Facebook feed. The story was the discovery of a spider thought to have gone extinct some 50 years ago, but having been found in a National Trust park in Nottingham, UK, by volunteers Trevor Harris and Lucy Stockton. The diamond spider, named for its markings, had not been recorded in the UK since 1969, and even then it had only been spotted three times. The fact I saw this on Facebook indicates that these stories are being shared with the wider public, not just conservationists or academics. Public awareness is one of the most important factors to make sure the world takes notice of vulnerable wildlife.
Or the story of the Laotian rock rat, a species of rodent which was found in an unfortunate state on a meat market in Laos by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Experts found that the rodent belonged to a family which was thought to have died out 11 million years ago. Cases like these are known at ‘Lazarous taxon’ – species which have a large gap in the fossil record. The term comes from the story in the bible in which Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
I love these stories because of their positive and happy endings. They remind us that, even in the current desperate climatic times, there are still optimistic stories surrounding the wildlife of the world. Then I get to thinking that perhaps it is simply that the world is so vast, with so many parts still left to explore, that we see rediscovery only on our own terms, as humans tend to do. Perhaps because these creatures haven’t been seen for so long by human eyes is indicative of the fact that they have survived in peace, undisturbed all this time, like the millions of fossils still waiting to be discovered below our feet. And while this somewhat puts us humans in our place, it does’t make the stories less amazing, it just adds to the humbling nature of the vastness of the world, our place within it and our never-ending thirst for knowledge.
The natural world holds a vast wealth of mystery, keeping its secrets from us until it is good and ready to reveal them, and perhaps never revealing them at all. There are still so many things out there waiting to be discovered, these discoveries borne of practise, vast amounts of patience, years of waiting but above all, a true passion for finding the truth – and even then you might go home empty handed. You will find all of these qualities in those who made the discoveries on the Lost & Found pages. Take a look, you’ll be amazed, delighted and inspired by the stories you read here.
Nature still holds many surprises. And really, the only thing we can ever be sure of is that we can’t be sure of anything at all.
Jane Laurie aka Mutiny is a painter and street artist living in West Sussex. Her work focusses on ecology, endangerment, extinction and how we can work towards a healthier planet for all species.
Find more about her work at janelaurie.com