Ben Zino ’22 is a junior majoring in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology. Zino is also a Park Scholar and minoring in environmental education. His passion for conservation led him to create his YouTube channel, The Wild Report.
With over 25,000 subscribers, Zino’s channel highlights various wildlife species and promotes local conservation efforts with the goal of getting people excited about the wildlife in their own backyards.
Zino got the idea for The Wild Report in the summer of 2016 after attending a National Geographic symposium featuring emerging explorers. He was immediately inspired by what other young people around the world were doing for wildlife. “Leaving that [symposium] I knew I wanted to take a more active role in conservation,” he said.
Watching environmental educators like Jeff Corwin, Steve Irwin, and the Kratt brothers as a child, Zino has always had an interest in wildlife and the outdoors. His initial fascination began with dinosaurs but eventually grew into a passion for modern reptiles and amphibians, the primary focus of his videos today.
Upon launching his YouTube channel, he noticed that television tended to focus on large mammal species in environments far away from the average viewer. “It’s great for getting people interested in the field of conservation,” Zino said. “But we can’t leave behind these amazing organisms that are here, right in our own backyards.” He hopes to help people realize that they can have a direct, positive impact on the conservation of local, native wildlife through their day-to-day activities.
Zino is particularly interested in herpetology, a branch of zoology focusing on amphibians and reptiles. When choosing which university to attend, he looked to North Carolina wildlife research publications, and often found NC State researchers among the authors. He knew he wanted to work with these professors and sees his undergraduate years as a prime opportunity to network with the College of Natural Resources’ faculty and students.
Zino enjoys both research and science communication and believes there’s power in combining the two. “I really do enjoy the process of going out in the field and collecting data and being able to contribute something to the body of knowledge that is out there,” he said. “But also, if you can’t communicate, you’re not going to get research funding [and] the public’s not going to care.”
Although he’s unsure of what his future career will look like, Zino plans to continue to The Wild Report. “There’s a little community there now of people who get excited about backyard wildlife. It’s really fun for me to see that growing and I’ll definitely continue it into the future,” he said.
Going forward, Zino is also excited about the prospect of social media as a conservation platform and believes it will continue to evolve over time. But while the platform may change, conservation will always be the heart of his content. “The good and bad news is there’s always going to be conservation work to do, so there’s always going to be a need for educational content,” he said.
Most of Zino’s videos focus on North Carolina species. “My heart will probably always be in North Carolina,” he said. “It’s where I started and I think we have an awesome state.” But Zino also enjoys traveling to other biomes and filming new species. “No matter where you go there’s always going to be someone there who might not know as much as they could about what is living right in their own backyard,” he said. “So the backyard might change, but the mission is not going to change.”
The Wild Report has experienced a lot of success, but Zino says that getting there was a learning process and he encourages others to embark on that same journey. “I know so many people who would have awesome content if they would just go for it,” he said. “So if you have something cool to say, or a story to tell, or a voice that you want heard just go do it – there’s nothing stopping you.”