The gorilla… no
Maybe the tiger shark… no, not the tiger shark.
The anaconda!! Nope, not the anaconda either. Hmmph!
When people ask me which is the most beautiful animal I have ever seen, I can never decide; it's difficult, because in five years of Missione Natura I have seen so many wonderful creatures.
As you may know, I'm a biologist, I graduated at the University of Milan, where I also did my research doctorate. All my studies at the time were focused on sound-based communication between animals, and in particular between African parrots.
When I tell people I used to record and analyse the squawks of these wonderful birds, someone always says, yeah, right, the usual ridiculous research from people who have nothing better to do!
But actually that work was very important, because it offered a key to understanding something more about ourselves. You may never have thought about it, but what makes us human is the fact that we can speak! Right! So by making sounds, we can give rise to new combinations of ideas in each other's minds. We can share information and emotions, we can teach and learn: without this superpower we could never have built wheels or cathedrals, we would not have been to the moon, and perhaps we would not have cut down the rainforests or polluted the seas. Basically, we would not have been HUMANS.
But is language, the “universal grammar” that is our characteristic feature, exclusive to our species? Did this superpower just suddenly appear, or did it evolve over time? Is grammar carved into our genes?
Animals with complex acoustic communications like parrots can help us to find some answers. I don't want to go on at length about the matter, but to me at least, it seemed important… or maybe it's just me. During those years I invested all my energy and curiosity in my research, but you should try for yourselves working for such a long time without so much as a hint of any future prospects. In 2001 a television crew came to interview me. We had published a curious article about a parrot and the music we had taught it (another kind of language!!). That day I offered to work as a science consultant for the TV channel that had come to interview me: it was a brand new outfit called Macchina del Tempo Channel. Some time later they called me, I went for an interview, they took me on as an editor, and I left the University, with no regrets. After just one week, I went out with a crew. I had to be all things to all people: journalist, writer, producer and presenter. "MT Channel" was an incredible training ground.
After a few years the channel was closed down, and I began to work as a writer and consultant for a number of important programmes, including Solaris and Saixchè. It was around that time that MISSIONE NATURA arrived. An adventure that has continued since 2006! During these years we have been to Honduras, South Africa, Madagascar, Ecuador, Australia, Namibia, Zambia, Canada, Borneo, Egypt, the Philippines, Sulawesi, the Central African Republic, Mexico, Niger, Uganda, Argentina, Venezuela, Norway, Costa Rica and of course Italy. We have produced almost 50 episodes, and experienced the most incredible of emotions. But it's not over yet, I'm ready to set sail for new adventures! Are you coming too?