A Mermaid in Africa: An Interview with Lauren Arthur

We crept through the bushes in the early morning light, struggling to be as quiet as a large group of sixth grade school children could possibly be. Up ahead of us we saw them: elephants bathing in the water. There were rumors of a tiger that would roam around our camp at night. We bathed out of a large ornate Thai pot with frigid water and walked over rope bridges that didn’t look like they could hold us. There were no fences or walls, we were experiencing truly wild nature that would have sent today’s helicopter parents into cardiac arrest.

I will never forget our sixth grade class field trip to Khao Yai in Thailand and I would never trade my experience as a child growing up in 1980s Thailand. It gave me an appreciation for wildlife and the natural world that cannot be matched. That’s why I was thrilled to get the chance to interview naturalist, zoologist, marine biologist, TV presenter, conservation story teller and founder of Too Wild Productions, Lauren Arthur.

Lauren Arthur grew up on the east coast of Scotland, and she spent a lot of time by and in the North Sea. From a young age, she was obsessed with sharks, but she dreamed of being a mermaid when she grew up. Watching the movie Splash as a kid really had her believing it was a real possibility. But then she discovered the reality and the dream of becoming a marine biologist was more realistic and she never wavered from that. She went to the University of Glasgow at seventeen years old and started her undergraduate degree in Zoology. After graduating, she decided to take a year out in Fiji working on a marine conservation project and became a PADI rescue diver. After spending more time in the ocean, she went back to university in Newcastle to work on her master’s in tropical coastal management. She then had the opportunity to complete a socio-economic study on whale sharks in the Maldives for her thesis. After successfully completing this study, she received a job offer in the Maldives and never looked back.

After eight wonderful years in the Maldives, she needed a new challenge and that was offered to her by WildEarth TV. The offer was to become a marine expert for a live TV show filmed underwater. This pilot program was a success and she was invited to become a live TV presenter and field guide in South Africa. After presenting live across Africa for six years, working with broadcasters such as Nat Geo, Nat Geo Wild, CGTN and Huawei, she began telling conservation stories for WWF and working on wildlife films. She and her partner David then decided to set up their own wildlife filmmaking company creating wildlife films and offering a specialized, immersive course to help build the next generation of wildlife filmmakers.

Dreams do come true.

Lauren lives the life that dreams are made of. She regularly rescued turtles from ghost nets (abandoned fishing nets) whilst working in the Maldives. Sadly, this is a common occurrence, especially with olive ridley turtles, making their way through the Maldives to the ‘Arribada’ in India. She remembers being woken up by security at three in the morning because they had found a huge ghost net, and, without thinking, she ran to rescue the turtles in her tiny, inappropriate pajamas. The memory that sticks out the most to her is rescuing a hawksbill turtle who was barely alive. She had been trained in turtle first aid and knew she needed to give CPR. Giving mouth-to-mouth to a turtle was seriously hard work. There is also a small area on the plastron (underneath side) in between the scutes which is soft and using one finger, one can give chest compressions. Luckily this worked and they were able to save the turtle, and after some rehabilitation, return her to the sea. Lauren does note that turtle breath is exactly what you think it would be!

Lauren believes it is very important to highlight the word ‘conservation’, which people use very casually these days; it’s almost a fashionable term. The word conservation essentially means ‘to conserve’ or ‘prevention of  wasteful use of a resource’. With regards to the conservation of wildlife and our natural world it is important to understand conservation includes many different elements, from education, rehabilitation, land-use management, veterinary work, storytelling and even filmmaking. She advises that if one is looking to go into the field of conservation, they should hone into their skills and think about what they are good at. Consider questions like, do you like numbers? Do you like working with your hands? Understanding soil types and sand movement? Whatever one enjoys, she suggests focusing on that element. People often ask her about how they can have a career in conservation and where they should start. She believes that first one should think about what aspect of conservation they want to be involved in.

As much as we wish we could, we can’t be good at everything. Find your superpower and go from strength to strength from there.

Lauren Arthur has the kind of career I dreamed of as a child. The following is what she shared with me in our interview.

Give me a little history of where you have lived. Do you have a favorite location that you have lived in?

I was born and raised in Scotland but have spent decent amounts of time in Fiji, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Ecuadorian Amazon and now live in South Africa. I have traveled extensively through Asia and Africa but my favorite location to visit to date is Ethiopia; it is a surprisingly spectacularly beautiful country filled with remarkable wildlife. To live, it has to be the Maldives or South Africa. Maldives islands are small and I was able to walk the complete circumference of my island in twenty minutes, however, a rich, vibrant coral reef was right on my doorstep. South Africa is so diverse and stunning, you can travel from the African bush to the mountains and sea in a day. It is a country where wilderness adventures await you and that is my kind of life. 

How has your family reacted to you traveling and being around what appears to be sort of dangerous wildlife (at times)? Have they ever been concerned about the locations you are in, etc.? Have you ever felt you were in danger during any of your experiences with wildlife?

I think my parents gave up fretting about my well-being after they realized I was an adventurer and always would be. Sometimes I don’t tell them about my potentially “dangerous” wildlife encounters until afterwards. I think they were slightly concerned when I moved to Africa as it was unknown to them and there are a lot of scary misconceptions about Africa but they assure me they don’t worry any more (I am 37 after all). I can honestly say with my hand on my heart, that I have never felt in danger in any of my wildlife experiences; I have swam with tiger sharks, walked up to lions, walked next elephants, followed a black rhino on foot and rescued a manta ray from a fishing line way too deep with only one breath. 

How do you see the wildlife of Africa surviving over the next ten years or more? 

I think more and more people are becoming aware of the plight of our species across the world. I think as long as practices remain ethical and petting zoos or keeping animals in cages for human pleasure stops, wildlife will hopefully thrive. In saying that, I think it does depend on what species you are referring to. Rhino poaching is a huge issue in South Africa and there are amazing anti-poaching units working hard every day but it is an uphill battle as long as the demand remains the same. It is also said that ‘insectageddon’ is upon us which is a really scary thought. After all, these little creatures keep our world turning and we can’t survive without them. Whether we like it or not, planet Earth is the planet of insects and they have us surrounded. Since arriving in South Africa in 2018, I have seen a decline in the insect populations as each summer ticks by. I haven’t had a summer where insects cover my car windshield in a long time. Although that sounds favorable, it is really not. We need insects around. So that is a very difficult question to answer. 

Tell a story or stories of wildlife conservation success.

I think the Maldives becoming the shark haven that it is today is a remarkable conservation success story. In 2010, the Maldives declared its exclusive economic zone, 90,000 sq. km of the Indian Ocean, as a shark sanctuary. The island nation also banned all imports and exports of shark fins. This protected the tourism industry which is the largest segment of their economy, from the ravages of the shark fin trade. It was a bold and farsighted move on the part of the government of the Maldives. And boy did it pay off! Shark tourism is booming and you can go to Fuvahmulah in the very south of Maldives and swim with tiger, thresher and hammerhead sharks. I suggest everyone ticks that off their bucket list, it is the most amazing experience in the world. 

When it comes to conservation efforts, what is working and what isn’t?

Again, that’s a difficult question since conservation is such a broad topic and different habitats and species are facing different threats across the board. We are racing against our changing climate however, I do believe there is more focus on protecting our natural world and everything in it than ever before. Social media has its downside which I struggle with sometimes but it is also a great tool for educating people about important topics. I live in the Timbavati Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park and they are dropping the fences to expand the area and creating an open system which is fantastic news for animal movement. 

You have had quite the successful life at a young age. Do you have any special qualities or anything that you especially credit with success at such a young age? 

Being completely open to failure. Life will not always go your way but that is part and parcel of the journey. Life may not take you in the direction you want to go either, you may be rerouted and I think being aware of that and being open to criticism and learning from your mistakes is one of the strongest qualities one can have. My hearing is not great and I sometimes struggle to hear, this “disability” has only made me stronger and work twice as hard to compensate for that. 

If you had to give one main tip for success in life, what would it be?

Work hard, play hard. Bit of a cliché I know but enjoy your life but balance that with dedication to work and your passions. I see people partying and socializing all the time without dedicating any time to their dreams or work, and then they wonder why it’s not a success. Life is short and you must enjoy it but also dedicate time and energy to your passion in life. I really believe you get out of life what you put in. 

How do you manage to not only run a business but to promote your business or activities? What is your best channel or platform for featuring your activities and getting people interested?

Multi-tasking is luckily something I really enjoy, but again, it is all about balance and time management (luckily I am a Libra). You can follow Too Wild on instagram @too_wildproductions and on YouTube @toowild500 where we will be releasing some series there in the near future on all our exciting wildlife journeys. 

Do you have any time management tips?

To do lists!!! I love lists, they make me happy. After dinner each night, I will sit at my desk with a cup of tea and plan my to-do list for the next day, understanding the tasks that need prioritizing. This sets me ahead of the game and I feel ready to go the next day. However, in saying that, living in the bush on a construction site means very rarely does my day go to plan but I am prepared for that. A diary really helps me manage my time. 

Do you use any motivational tools to keep you going?

A vision board. I have a little vision board book which I have always had since I was a child and I regularly update and check in with my goals and dreams. I draw, write things down and collect pictures. These goals don’t even have to be realistic at that point in time, just visualize them and stay true to that. Again, might sound cheesy but this technique also helps me develop my ideas and feel creative. Things change over time but that’s normal, just adjust your vision but don’t let it go entirely. 

What makes you happy and/or content?

Being with my partner David and being in nature. Any time I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I step outside and go for a walk in the bush. Sometimes I will sit in my garden and look at all the plants that I planted which have grown so much, and that brings me joy. 

You have achieved A LOT. What is your number one tip for productivity?

Self-care. Sounds crazy but you need to be physically fit and mentally fit to stay motivated and be productive. Although I live in the wilderness, I make sure to exercise every single day, take regular breaks, meditate and practice self care. Once a week, I will spend hours doing my skincare and haircare, not out of vanity, but to take a break from the laptop and look after my well-being. If you feel good about yourself, then that positivity will reflect in your attitude to work and on your productivity levels. 

Tell me about launching South Africa’s first immersive wildlife filmmaking course. When will this course begin and have you had a lot of interest so far?

We will launch our first in September this year, so exciting!! Our course we will not just cover wildlife filmmaking but will also give students a full immersion into the African wild. There will be a module on animal behavior, ecology, phenomenology and ethics of wildlife filmmaking by myself. We will introduce our students to the field of impact producing with our guest speaker and help guide them in their efforts to combine storytelling with social and behavioral science to drive positive change. Our expert tracker will take students into the bush on foot and teach them the basic tracks and signs and how to read the environment around you for more immersive filmmaking. David will teach the students to understand how to use the equipment, build specialized wildlife filming rigs, filming techniques and how to work with human talent. Lastly there will be an extensive module on post-production – how do you shoot for the edit and how do you manage your media. We have had a lot of interest from all around the world. Our course is quite a big commitment financially and time wise but is open to everyone. We have interest from younger people and the older age bracket. 

If you would like to learn more about Lauren Arthur and Too Wild Productions, please visit

https://www.toowild.co/ .