The future of primate conservation may be in the hands of today’s youth, the co-creator of the children’s show “Zoboomafoo” said Monday.
Martin Kratt, Trinity ’89, highlighted the potential to shift children’s interest in animals into a desire to make a difference. Kratt delivered the keynote address in Griffith Film Theater for the third annual Primate Palooza. The week-long festival focuses on the important ecological role primates play in the environment. Primate Palooza is sponsored by Duke’s evolutionary anthropology department and the Duke and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Roots & Shoots group, a program of the Jane Goodall Institute.
“Everybody can find their own path and their own way to help the endangered species,” Kratt said. “The biggest thing I learned is that you really have got to do what you’re most interested in and most passionate about.”
Kratt created and hosted children’s television shows about the animal world with his brother Chris. Kratt’s shows, including PBS’s “Kratts’ Creatures” and “Zoboomafoo,” emphasized the importance of getting children excited about primate conservation.
Kratt’s interest in wildlife filmmaking began when he was a zoology major at Duke. Kratt made his first film about the 3-foot long salamander known as the hellbender after a field trip to North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains with his amphibian ecology class. After winning an award for the film at Duke, Kratt began to consider how he might do something to help endangered species. Kratt said he saw an opportunity when he realized that there was a lack of programming for kids about the topic.
“Kids are the most enthusiastic group of people when it comes to animals,” Kratt said.
Ken Glander, professor of evolutionary anthropology, said he had been impressed by Kratt’s dedication and interest in primates as a student. After Kratt graduated from Duke, Glander invited Kratt and his brother to accompany him on a field trip to Costa Rica to film a documentary about the rainforest and wildlife. Glander said Kratt has an unparalleled empathy for animals.
“Martin invites you to be the creature,” Glander said. “It’s the best way to understand animals.”
Kratt said he knew it would take several years of filmmaking and rejections from producers before his first children’s show would take off. Initially he was told that his films were more like home movies than television shows, but his work soon found a home at PBS—and his films took off from there.
“The kids were into it,” he said. “[They] really loved learning this stuff and being smart and teaching their parents.”
Freshman Joe Sullivan said he has always been a big fan of “Zoboomafoo” and “Kratts’ Creatures.” Sullivan, who works at the Duke Lemur Center, noted that Kratt’s show was what sparked his initial interest in animals when he was a kid.
“For me, personally, Martin Kratt is kind of a hero,” Sullivan said.
Kratt’s most recent show, the animated program “Wild Kratts,” has seen the highest ratings to date of any of his shows. As he continues his career in filmmaking, Kratt said getting kids interested in wildlife conservation remains his top priority.
“Pick what you love to do, persevere at it, don’t take no for an answer and it’ll happen,” he said.