Jonathan Cranston isn’t just your everyday vet, he’s an international veterinary practitioner, author and wait for it – veterinary film consultant. From pets to pandas, he’s travelled across five continents, and in his new book, Around the World in 80 Animals, he brings the animal kingdom to life. Jonathan will be appearing at the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival.
Vets and animals seem to be a national obsession, from programmes like The Durrells to the Yorkshire Vet, why do you think we can’t get enough of the animal kingdom?
Pets give us an unconditional love and loyalty that is unparalleled and in doing so remind us of what is truly important in life. And I think the wider animal kingdom, intrigues, fascinates and humbles us; we see so much intelligence and ingenuity in the simple race for survival.
What inspired you to become a vet? Did you grow up watching All Creatures Great and Small?
I can distinctly remember deciding I wanted to be a vet at the age of six and I never change my mind, but I think the signs were there much earlier than that. If you look at pictures of me aged two or three I’ve always got some animal in my arm or I’m curled up next to one – I guess I was born to be a vet!
I did indeed grow up watching All Creatures Great and Small, and I still watch it; it is one of my favourite programs of all times. I remember coming home at the end of the day in my first job, often watching it feeling like I was reliving my day all over again! It captures something so special about the veterinary profession, I hope we never lose that.
There’s something really romantic and adventurous about travelling five continents working as a vet, is it a lifestyle you love?
I do love adventure and travelling especially when there are animals involved, but I actually also love coming home again. I’m a home bird more than a wandering nomad; spending time with my own animals, my family and enjoying the countryside refuels me for my next adventure.
What are the key things you always pack for a journey?
I have an Australian outback hat and a sleeveless wax gilet – they are always first in the bag!
Are you a cat or dog person?
I have always been more of a dog person than a cat person, but 18 months ago I got two cats and I’ve found I’ve got a real soft spot for them.
You probably get asked this all the time, but out of all the animals in all the world, is there one that’s closest to your heart?
There are so many! My dogs, Max and Mungo have been incredible companions over the years. When it comes to wild animals, rhinos have really touched my heart. Having enjoyed and marvelled at them in the wild and then experienced the callas brutality of poaching first hand. They have become for me a personal example of the tragic devastation humanity is reaping to the animal kingdom.
Have you had any hairy experiences – particularly with African wildlife?
There have been a few and yes mainly out in Africa. The most memorable was when a rhino chased me! This rhino had been darted by my colleague from the helicopter. I was then the first on the ground to locate him, he was lying down and seemed anaesthetised so I went up to put a blindfold on him and as I approached him he got up and chased me. Fortunately he was sleepy enough that I was able to outrun him and hide until back up arrived!
They say never to work with animals (on screen) but you worked with fake ones (dinosaurs) – as a consultant on Jurassic World – why did they need a vet consultant for CGI animals? Did you have to swot up on dinosaurs?
I was actually working with animatronic models controlled by puppeteers. The models looked incredibly realistic and the puppeteers brought them to life so well that it really did feel that there were live dinosaurs on set. My role was to advisors on the technical veterinary aspects of two particular scenes.
Most of my swotting up essentially came from scrutinising the Jurassic Park films and then I drew on my experiences, particularly out in Africa to help put together something as realistic as possible within the remits of a film about dinosaurs!
Your book looks at the animal kingdom but also the human relationships involved. What do animals teach us, and what should we change in our approach to them?
I believe animals teach us so much about life. They reflect an openness and honesty that we so often shy away from. They offer us unconditional love, teach us about relationships and show us how to enjoy and embrace the natural world. So we ignore and disrespect them to as much our own peril as theirs. Mahatma Gandhi said “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated” and I think he was absolutely right.
What do you hope Harrogate audiences will leave with after experiencing your talk at the Festival?
I’ve written my book because I love the animal kingdom, I’m passionate about my profession and I feel immensely privileged with the incredible experiences I’ve had. I think it’s a real honour to advocate for the animal kingdom and for me, personally, that responsibility stretches outside of my consulting room. So I guess I want people to leave having enjoyed my talk, learnt something and been challenged. The earth has lost half of its wildlife in the last forty years, so what will we collectively do to prevent a repeat of this over the next forty years?