We like Animal Planet star Forrest Galante a lot around these parts. We’ve profiled him, featured his writing, and even gotten him publicly buzzed. All for one simple reason: We believe in his mission and the sincerity of his efforts to protect animals worldwide.
But Galante isn’t just a modern Indiana Jones, setting spearfishing records while traveling the globe to search for once-thought-extinct animals. He’s also a wildlife biologist who feels duty-bound to approach the issue of conservation from a variety of angles. And he’s keenly aware that harnessing social media is part of that.
Enter Charly Jordan, one of the most prominent Gen Z influencers on Instagram (4.2M) and TikTok (5.1M) — with a massive platform and the ability to reach an enormous swath of young people. Though recently embroiled in controversy over the ill-advised choice to travel to Rwanda during the pandemic (for which she’s repeatedly apologized), Jordan’s own passion for wildlife is undeniable. Galante took note of that enthusiasm and saw an opportunity for the social media star and her cadre of high-profile friends to aid his animal protection efforts.
Over the course of months, a collaborative project blossomed. Galante brought Jordan, her boyfriend Tayler Holder, singer Jason Derulo, and other social media-focused celebrities on a series of COVID rapid-tested day trips to the Santa Barbara Zoo, the Turtle Conservancy, and Wolf Connection. There were no backers and no money changed hands — it was simply about connecting an eager, young, very online audience with conservation programming.
So far, the plan has worked. Social posts from these animal encounters have garnered millions of views. Meanwhile, Jordan has put her influence to good use (something she admits to struggling with) — amplifying Galante’s work while sharing her deep love for animals.
To help kick off the public-facing part of the initiative, we spoke with both Galante and Jordan about the project, the future of conservation, and the importance of vetting wildlife experiences.
Forrest, I understand your history with wildlife — and we’re big fans around these parts — but Charly, can you speak to when these issues became passion points for you? Just kind of give me the whole rundown.
Charly: When I was 18 years old, I decided that I wanted to travel the world. I’ve always been very passionate about nature but being born and raised in Las Vegas, there’s not much going on there besides a city and gambling and all that, so the first time I really got to travel and see wildlife, I was just so fascinated. In awe. And I had the amazing opportunity of living in Costa Rica for a couple of years growing up, where nature was abundant, which taught me a lot about what it was like to be truly happy.
As soon as I graduated high school, I basically just freelance traveled for two or three years. Each place that I went, I was working with tourism boards and just independently meeting up with animal conservancy groups, doing beach clean-ups, stuff like that. Eventually, I started wanting to really take it more seriously. I had an amazing opportunity to start working with critically endangered species. But right as I started doing that was kind of when COVID hit and I wasn’t able to travel as much anymore, I was stuck in LA a little bit.
At that point, I really wanted to connect with other people who were passionate about the same things, so I got connected with Forrest. I’d heard amazing things about him through a bunch of mutual friends, and we finally got to meet up and talk and everything that he is doing is something that, long-term, I would love to do. His job is my dream job. And I look up to him so much. It’s been an incredible experience — being able to work with him and learn from him and be able to go to all these incredible sanctuaries and learn about critically endangered species, specifically.
Forrest: To add to that, Charly’s one of the biggest influencers in the world on social media. We came together through mutual friends and when Charly and I sat down, I realized in speaking to her that she was genuinely interested in drawing attention to wildlife issues and not, no offense Charly, but not just “in a cloud,” as they say. It was a beautiful pairing — because Charly was so passionate and interested in promoting this and she has such an incredible following and, even more, she’s tied to this network of people that all have these massive social media followings. That’s not usually where you expect to see a lot of wildlife science communicated on a grand scale.
So we put our heads together and said, “How do we promote conservation and wildlife science to this mass audience? Let’s do it in a fun and engaging way with these celebrities from social media.” That was what kicked it all off. It was just a campaign with which to bring awareness to good wildlife causes.
Charly, I know that social media influencers… there are a lot of perks and tons of privilege to your lives, but people are definitely ready to call you out when you slip up. Sometimes rightfully so. Why was it important to go straight to an expert like Forrest, even though you have a huge platform of your own?
Charly: Sharing awareness is the power of social media. The ability to communicate with people who might not otherwise know about this stuff. That’s the first step to change on a massive scale. So being able to take something that is so unique that Forrest does — that most people never get the chance in their lives to ever see or experience — and being able to show people on a mass scale what that really looks like and bring appreciation to it, because it’s not always super easy to combine those things, has been a really powerful experience.
Forrest, one thing we’ve always appreciated about you is how methodical you are and thoughtful you are about the details of helping animals. What do you encourage people — let’s take, for instance, people who look at Charly and want to get involved — how do you encourage them to vet those organizations?
Forrest: Studying minutiae is what I do. That’s why I’m successful in the field. And so I think looking at the minutiae of these organizations, is important, right? You could go and look at… shit, I don’t remember the name of it, but Joe Exotic’s Tiger King Zoo [The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park], right? And be like, “Wow, this is great! It says conservation all over the homepage and he raises tigers!” And that can be very easy to look at and think it’s a good cause. But when you look at the details — Where are these tigers? How many are there? How are they kept? — and you dig deep enough to see people getting pictures with the sedated cubs, you realize that anyone could slap the word “conservation” on something and it doesn’t actually mean they stand for it. So it becomes important to take a deeper look into what the organizations you’re supporting are and what they stand for and seeing whether or not they have credibility.
One of the things that I did with Charly, we went to a variety of different places. Zoos have had a bad rap in the media for the last couple of years, which is absolutely outrageous. I can understand why — when there are things like a Tiger King Zoo — but we went to the Santa Barbara Zoo, which is a small, privately funded zoo. It’s AZA-accredited [Association of Zoos and Aquariums], right? So you hear “privately funded” and you think, “Oh, this is some rich guy with his collection of animals.” But then when you hear AZA accreditation, that means that it’s a legit organization It means they follow very strict animal welfare protocol and standards.
So it really just takes kind of peeling back that first layer of exposure to an organization to just use common sense and go, “Oh, look these animals are kept really nicely. They’re really happy. These people actually reintroduce animals in the wild or in the case of the wolf sanctuary I brought Charly to, Wolf Connection, they bring kids in and help use wolves to rehabilitate the kids. In the case of the Turtle Conservancy, they donate tons of money to conservation around the world and protected lands and reintroduction programs. So it’s really actually quite simple to remove the face value of these places and dig into whether or not common sense dictates whether they’re a good organization or not.
Charly, do you find that your audience has an appetite to have these conversations and look at animal interactions on a deeper level? Are you getting people responding in your comments who are excited to learn about this stuff?
Charly: A hundred percent. I think it’s about the type of people you attract, right? With social media, it’s just a mass of people, so it’s kind of hard to tell. But within my followers on Instagram, groups of people are interested in different things. And one of those, which I’ve really been focused on for a lot of my career, is conservation. So that’s a huge part of why people follow me. It’s been really cool to have conversations each time we’ve gone to a sanctuary or a zoo. I film an entire YouTube video, like the one I just posted two days ago already has a hundred thousand views, and the conversations underneath, are where we get to talk about the Channel Island Fox and people say, “Oh, I live in Santa Barbara too. It’s crazy. I’ve never even been to the zoo.”
Education really is the first step. I think the world that we’re living in — specifically my generation and maybe the one below me — is very removed from the natural world sometimes. At times, I don’t even know what to do with my influence. It’s a lot of responsibility and it’s really important to me that I put the right things out there.
I used to get very frustrated when people really wouldn’t understand how to properly treat animals. And I realized, “Man, it’s probably because they’ve just never even seen or witnessed anything like that in their entire lives.” My goal is to get people to learn, to understand so that they hopefully take the initiative to get involved.
Let’s talk about the power of social media and harnessing it for good. Why is that so important in our modern era of animal conservation?
Forrest: What I do in the TV space, right? Steve, we’ve discussed at length. I’ll spend a million dollars, six months prep work, two months in the field, get dysentery and sunstroke and malaria and go through all this here, and then I’ll put that out on, say a platform like Discovery Channel, right? And this is not to bash Discovery Channel. That’ll get four and a half, five million views. Which is great — those are huge ratings. But then I can do something where I partner with Charly and a couple of these people and all we do is go to the wolf sanctuary for the day and that gets seen by like 200 million people across platforms and still carries a conservation message.
It’s very digestible and you don’t have to spend 40 minutes of your show explaining it the way that I do when I make nature films and documentaries. There’s a place in the world for both, without any doubt. But it’s amazing to see what kind of impact we can have by bringing people like Charly and all of these friends she has who have these massive followings and just spread animal awareness in conservation.
As I said — 200 million people in a day versus the nine, 10 months, and millions of dollars that I spend to reach four or five million on the Discovery Channel. I mean… it’s mind-blowing, really.
Charly: You can’t reach everybody… but when he’s talking about these short snippets, it at least does get people that are interested that maybe have absolutely no idea where to start. It reaches them. And that’s just the beginning, a little bit to chew off versus watching someone like Forrest and feeling like, “Man, I don’t even know how I would get to this place or how I would see these animals!” His expertise and level can make things seem very unattainable. So when you make it a little bit more relatable and create that bridge where it’s more of a gradual learning process versus going to the farthest extreme all of a sudden, it’s a nice little stepping stone to just get more people involved.
Because ultimately, this is our planet. And we’ve got to keep it safe. This is where we live, so let’s make it nice.
I think there’s a great case to be made for the sort of mainstream access to ideas about conservation that you guys are both talking about. Every movement requires radicals and people out on the leading edge and also a mass of more generally interested people, right?
Forrest: Part of this campaign was to make sure that everywhere we went and everyone that we supported was reachable by the general population. You can’t all come to the Galapagos with me to hike up a volcano and search for an extinct animal, but everybody can go visit the Wolf Connection. And here are the links and here’s how to do it and here’s why it’s good for the world. And that’s what we have the privilege of being able to do with Charly and her friends — make that obtainable for all.