I am the ghost of Caswell County. The mysterious phantom of Mebane. The mythical, European tour guide known only to those who visit or work at the Conservators Center on Fridays.
Some say I write those funny science books that sometimes appear in the gift shop. Others say they’ve seen me leading tours, or visiting my favorite critters. A few believe I do not exist.
Among the believers, there are questions. “Where did he come from?” they ask, “why does he talk so funny?” and “how did he end up here?”
In short: “from the UK,” “because he’s from the UK,” and “a woman.”
Allow me to explain.
I came to North Carolina in 2007, leaving the country of my birth, and a cushy job at the London Science Museum. There, I ran a learning and education unit tasked with explaining science to the Great British public through live shows, tours, and exhibitions.
It was a great job (where else do they let you keep a robot dog in the office, freeze bananas in liquid nitrogen, and blow stuff up every day without getting arrested?). But in 2006, while working at the museum, I wrote my first popular science book, aimed at kids and young adults. It became an unexpected bestseller, and I had the chance to fly off to America and become an author full time. So I did.
Why America? Well…that’s where the woman comes in. It’s a classic story. Boy grows up in coastal England. Boy goes to University in Scotland, then buggers off to Japan to study Aikido. Boy tries to meet girl in Japan. Boy meets American one there instead. Boy marries girl, moves to London, and adopts an angry cat. Boy gets fed up with life in London, and girl misses her family in America. Boy and girl move to North Carolina, adopt a second cat, and settle into a new life surrounded by mountains, beaches, wildlife, and odd, vinegar-based BBQ. So there you have it.
Now, I live near Chapel Hill with my wife, Heather, my two year-old son, Sean, and our relentlessly feisty Maine Coon cat, Ka’ge (Japanese for “Shadow”—as she’s rarely far from my heels when I’m at home).
So that covers where I come from, why I talk funny, and how I ended up in North Carolina.
But what’s the connection to the Center? And why did I write a book about it?
Well, I met Julia and John David Wagner from the Center at an Earth Day event in Raleigh soon after we moved here. We chatted about my science education background, they invited me to the Center, and I made arrangements to visit a week or so later.
My first time there, I was awed by the Center’s big cats, charmed by the servals and lynxes, and fascinated by the wonderful oddness of the binturongs. To top it all, at the end of my visit, I was ushered to the house of Center founders Doug and Mindy, where I met two little wolf pups, just arrived from a zoo in Maryland. Those two little fluff-balls pretty much sealed the deal—flopping about on paws too large for their bodies, and bounding excitedly from leg to human leg.
(Now Roland and Trekkie Monster are full-grown Alaskan Grey Wolves. But I still love to spend a quiet moment of Zen with them before my tour begins.)
Over the next year, I visited the Center many times, and worked intermittently with Julia and John David on the script and format for the burgeoning tour program. Eventually, I gleefully consented to join the staff as a tour guide, and have been leading tours once a week for the last three years. Sadly, my busy work schedule has prevented me from taking on more than one day a week, and even that has been challenging at times. When not at the Center, I’m either writing books, or teaching health, wellness and martial arts classes in and around the Triangle, and (increasingly) in other states.
Of the books, there are many. Since 2007, I’ve written 26 books on science subjects ranging from astronomy to zoology—some of which you might find in the gift shop. My first book, Why Is Snot Green? has sold over half a million copies worldwide, and been published in over 15 languages. Feels weird to be sent copies of your own work in Korean, Indonesian, and Tagalog. But I like to think that at least some version of Why Is Snot Green? will survive the zombie apocalypse as a result.
My most recent book—Predators: The Whole Tooth-and-Claw Story—was inspired by the animals and staff of the Conservators Center. I wrote it as a tribute to the great work being done at the Center. And, in all honesty, because predators are enormous fun to write about, and it gave me an excuse to learn more about everything from leopards and wolves to vultures and dinosaurs.
In researching the book, I interviewed ecologists, animal behaviorists, paleontologists, and more than a few folks from the Center itself. And though I couldn’t feature them all, you’ll find short interviews with our co-founder Mindy Stinner, and resident wolf handlers Frank and Kym Pyne – along with oodles of gorgeous images supplied by our very own Taylor Hattori.
I also attended a falconry course (with Center employees Taylor and John David), explored prehistoric animal collections at the Smithsonian, and was even invited to Montana to join renowned tyrannosaur expert Mary Schweitzer on a dig. (Though I couldn’t make the trip, my inner 8-year old was thrilled at the prospect, and I did get to interview her all the same).
In all, writing this book has been an enormously fun and fulfilling experience. I think that anyone who reads it will see the fun I had creating it, and the gratitude I feel for having been welcomed into the incredible Conservators Center family.
It is my hope that the book will extend the reach of the Center’s educational mission well beyond the borders of North Carolina, and help tell the world about this wonderful place; a place where amazing animals are cared for by the most wonderful, selfless people I have ever had the pleasure to know. This book is my thank you to all of them—on behalf of the critters, and of a world made better through their unsung efforts.
Oh, and buy the book. Definitely buy the book. A man’s gotta eat.
by Glenn Murphy
Read more about Glenn’s books on Amazon.com. While you’re at it, please sign up for Smile.Amazon.com and select the Conservators Center as the charitable organization you would like to receive proceeds from every purchase you make on Amazon!