The Boy from the Wild is an upcoming documentary about one man’s experience growing up on a South African game reserve. Emotionally driven with an educational edge, it inspires deep thought in its viewers. Peter Meyer, the documentary’s director and star, speaks to me about his unbelievable story, how humans can better conserve the natural world and why we have more in common with nature than we might think.
For most of us, growing up has a certain framework to it. We might think back to our early childhood and see images of us in urban playparks or spying a zebra in the local zoo. But for Peter Meyer, life as a young child was a bit different.
At a very young age, Peter was living a life so many animal lovers dream of
Peter would often explore his local scene like most young kids do. But instead of coming across high-rise buildings or caged herbivores on his walks, he’d find a pantheon of free-ranging snakes, rhinos, giraffes and other unique species. For this, he has an animal rights-conscious father to thank. Taking animals out of captivity from around the world, Peter’s father created a South African haven where its newly freed inhabitants could live, safe from poachers and similar threats.
In order to run the place, the Meyer family needed to reside there. So, at a very young age, Peter was living a life so many animal lovers dream of.
I’m curious to know if Peter ever felt his upbringing to be special. After all, if you told people at a party you grew up with buffalos and warthogs on your doorstep, eyebrows would certainly be raised.
“I think in the beginning it was very normal,” he tells me. “It was the first thing I was used to. It was only when I started going to school and travelling that I realised we’re in somewhere pretty special. I’m incredibly lucky.”
But as unique as the reserve was to Peter, change would eventually be flying on the wings of the wind.
Peter talks to me from his new residency in London. I can’t help but ask him how he feels about having physically left that world behind.
“My father taught me that change is part of life,” he explains. “Whatever age you are, it’s hard to accept you’ve got to move sometimes. I went to England to do international boarding from the age of ten and it made me stronger. However, I don’t think there was ever a time when I was there and wanted to leave. I still miss it massively.”
People have to understand how to be respectful. It’s really easy to go with your phone and want to get closer and get the perfect shot. But something could happen
It’s understandable why Peter would miss the reserve; it was integral to shaping the person he is today, and during the coronavirus-induced lockdown, many of us have missed extravagant trips into wild territory, too. But with vaccination rates rising, it might not be long before hordes of nature fanatics head to similar locations, hoping to get a dazzling shot of an elephant or baboon munching on grass.
So what can people do to make sure they’re not putting themselves and the wildlife they visit at risk once their passports get some exercise?
Peter stresses the importance of boundaries. “It’s an animal’s home,” he says. “We are going into their domain. People have to understand how to be respectful. It’s really easy to go with your phone and want to get closer and get the perfect shot. But something could happen.
It’s a sad situation when you see all these animals that are killed because humans have messed up. I always get sick of that. I don’t respect it when a guy gets injured and then everyone hunts the animal.”
It’s clear that Peter’s passionate about the welfare of animals. So, given his father’s mission to free them from captivity, I want to know how Peter feels about zoos and safari parks.
“I’m not a fan of zoos,” says Peter. “But I’m also at the point where I see zoos as somewhat as a necessity to try and keep animals alive due to poaching. Get kids to go and see them. Kids need to experience these things and make their own decisions as to what they feel.”
Wildlife can really teach us a lot about our human lives
Despite stressing psychological autonomy for children, Peter agrees with me that children having a physical closeness with nature allows them to develop a love for conservation through direct education.
However, he does celebrate how the framework of the reserve he grew up on allows for a more balanced approach to connecting with animals. He says there’s enough space for children to develop deep connections with animals, but also for the animals in question to have freedom.
And it isn’t just children Peter wants to be more educated about nature. In The Boy from the Wild, he has a profound message for all adults, too.
“Wildlife can really teach us a lot about our human lives,” he says. “We’re not that dissimilar. If someone breaks in somewhere and the owner retaliates, that’s no different to a lion defending its territory. We might live with a roof over our heads with electricity and running water, but we were once wild beasts like they were.”
I expand on Peter’s point by saying that I think seeing similarities with wildlife allows us to be more empathetic towards it. It makes us consider just how deep our footprints on earth should be. Moreover, I tell him that this idea is beautifully presented in the film.
Peter thanks me for saying this, but has one final comment to give on the documentary: “It’s for them (the audience) to interpret but hopefully they realise that there’s some good in the world.”
Given Peter’s emphasis on respecting nature, I think it’s safe to say that many viewers of the documentary will see how there’s some good in the world.
The Boy from the Wild will be released on Apple TV at the end of the month.
Featured and in-article images courtesy of Izabel Rose, Goho LTD.
In article trailer courtesy of The Boy From The Wild via YouTube.
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