Watching Ian Redmond, OBE, empty his backpack is like watching Mary Poppins pulling full-sized furnishings from her carpetbag. Out come a handful of acacia pods, the point of a spear, a dozen metal bullet-casings retrieved from a poaching site in Africa, the calcified leg bone of a small antelope—still strangled in a metal snare—and a ball of elephant dung.
These are his props, each illustrating a chapter in the story of destruction and extinction that he wants the world to prevent. "There’s a widespread misconception that we worry about extinction because animals are nice and we don’t want our kids to grow up in a world without, say, rhinos or gorillas. I agree with that, but it’s missing the point. Animals are not ornaments: each has evolved to play an important role in the ecosystem."
He picks up an acacia pod and points to the small holes made by weevils, which burrow through the hard case to consume the seeds inside. "See, this will never germinate. In the tropics, 90% of trees are the result of seed dispersal by animals. If an elephant had eaten this, it would have ground up the pod, digested the seed and carried it a long distance before depositing it, in ready-made fertiliser, to propagate and grow elsewhere." He points to a seed, stuck to the edge of the dung ball. "That’s why we have to protect these super-gardeners of the forest."
Redmond’s holistic take on conservation and climate change was sown in childhood. His mother remembers him as a baby in the 1950s crawling down monsoon drains in the garden of his childhood home in Malaya, "on the trail of critters". After university at Keele in England, he worked as a research assistant for the queen of gorilla scientists, Dian Fossey, an experience that fostered his enduring relationship with the largest of the great apes. It was Redmond who introduced David Attenborough to a large silverback and his family, resulting in the famous scenes of Attenborough playing with Rwandan mountain gorillas in the BBC’s "Life on Earth" (1979).
Now, as well as working with the Born Free Foundation, Redmond chairs the Ape Alliance, an umbrella organisation comprising NGOs involved in big-mammal conservation. Twelve years ago, he joined forces with the UN to found the Great Apes Survival Partnership, which looks at ways to protect the world’s remaining apes.
But his aim is more ambitious than that. Save the beasts, he says, and we will go some way, at least, towards ensuring our own survival. He has all sorts of ideas how to do it—from tightening anti-poaching measures to finding alternatives to bush meat. But the most simple and beguiling involves water and wine: the tropical rainforests are one of the planet’s most important carbon sinks, and also the source of much of our rainfall. Sketching a world map, he explains how weather systems that originate in the Congo Basin move around the world to water the vineyards of America and Europe.
"We benefit directly from the work the animals do in maintaining those forests. So, why shouldn’t a penny from the sale of every bottle of wine be donated to the people who live near the forest, to give them an incentive to protect it?" Turning wine into rainwater: it’s a neat inversion.
"When I’m in the field, I wear shorts and sandals and very little else," Redmond says. But since starting to work with the UN, he’s had to wear suits more often. "I like them to be practical, and to have pockets—pockets are very important to me." He liked "the feel" of the light, linen-silk-mix suit he’s wearing here. "It felt comfortable. I go for comfort and I want to blend in—adaptive camouflage, as it were. If I go to talk to people, I want them to listen to what I’m saying, not think about what I’m wearing. This would do nicely."
Oatmeal linen/silk jacket, £260, and trousers £160, both by Jaeger; white linen shirt, £95, by Hackett; brown leather belt, £25, by Savoy Taylors Guild at Moss Bros; brown suede lace-up ankle boots, £535, by Bottega Veneta; navy print pocket hankie, £12, by Moss Bros; 40 400 Duovid 8+12x42 binoculars, from £1,750, by Leica