Earlier this year, a crazed-looking man wearing a ridiculous hat stormed a Nationals baseball game in Washington D.C., running the bases during the ninth inning and reaching home plate before being slammed to the ground by security.
The Englishman going by the moniker Jungle Bird was tossed in jail for 18 hours. “It was like Shawshank Redemption,” Andrew Dudley, native Liverpudlian and father of six, tells Fast Company. “I ended up handcuffed and shackled.”
Attention seeker? Yes. Adrenaline junkie? Perhaps. Crazy passionate deforestation activist? Definitely.
Dudley, who was freed from his bird cage after the judge deemed him a harmless activist, describes himself as a professional video bomber–at least that’s how he introduced himself to me when we first met over a bowl of ramen earlier this summer. In the few occasions we chatted face-to-face, he’s donned his iconic knit hat shaped like a mohawk and emblazoned with the British flag, drawing the attention of fans asking for selfies with the bird man. The manager of the ramen shop brought out complimentary treats, and one man said he was at that very Nationals game back in May.
Aside from his publicity stunts, which he says are akin to acts of civil disobedience, Dudley has a number of projects in the works, including a tree-tagging app for loggers, a satellite to monitor deforestation in real time, and a children’s book to teach the next generation about his cause.
Dudley, 42, shares his time between San Francisco, the city of nonprofit Jungle Bird Foundation’s headquarters, and Liverpool, where Mrs. Jungle Bird is keeping the fort strong for the jungle chicks, who range in age from 11 to 20.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, half of the world’s original forests have been lost, and an additional 12 million to 15 million hectares disappear each year–that equates to about 36 football fields a minute. (Below is a time-lapse rendered by Google Earth Engine showing deforestation of the Amazon rainforest from 1984 to 2012.) The results include lowered biodiversity, an increase in global greenhouse gas emissions, and altered climates.
Having run a social media consultancy, Dudley understood the power of the medium to amplify messages. And he succeeded. The Washington Post published a story, along with play-by-play commentary, after that baseball game as well as a follow-up when his charges were dismissed.
His first big publicity stunt was at the U.S. Open in June of 2012. Frustrated at his inability to effect change, he sought creative ways to raise awareness. He snuck in a silly hat he bought from a New York City street vendor the year prior, evaded security, and simply walked on the green. With the trophy ceremony as his backdrop, he began cawing in front of news cameras–the same sound effect he made as a mischievous 11-year-old disrupting the classroom. The uploaded video has amassed more than 100,000 views.
“A lot of my activism is humor-based,” he says. Passersby tend to ignore angry messages shouted from a soap box, but “with humor, you get a chance to capture people’s imagination.”
And then came the appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Jungle Bird also crashed the Emerald Isle Classic football game in 2012 (hijacking the pigskin to score a touchdown and performing an Irish jig to boot) and an Everton vs. Juventus soccer match last year (launching the penalty kick toward goalie and honorary Secretary of Defense Tim Howard, who of course caught the ball). “If you said to me five years ago I’d be making bird calls around the world, I wouldn’t believe you,” says Dudley, who only got into activism in his 40s.
There were also the times security caught up with him, as was the case with the British Open in 2012 (where Dudley says he was the only other person besides Tiger Woods to have a body guard in tow) and a recent Stanford tailgate (where a pair of police officers tailed him for about five hours). “I was the safest guy in there,” he jokes, noting he hadn’t planned on pulling any stunts on the university campus. He tried for a repeat performance at the U.S. Open, but the U.S. Golf Association banned him from the grounds. Jungle Bird now has his sights set on basketball.
Activism isn’t all talk and gimmicks, though. Dudley and his small team in San Francisco are fine-tuning an app called TreeTAG to help loggers–the ones operating legally at least–and retailers track down the origin of a tree to the products it ends up in, such as hardwood floors or wooden instruments. (The illegal market is simply too hard to tackle, he says.)
In recent years, federal authorities have raided Lumber Liquidators and Gibson Guitar over violations of a conservation law called the Lacey Act. Gibson was fined $300,000, and the case for Lumber Liquidators is still pending.
Jungle Bird never actually set foot in a jungle until about a month ago, when he traveled to Central America to accompany a logging concession and meet the villagers that cut down, track, and move the trees. (Dudley requested Fast Company withhold the name of the country, considered one of the most dangerous in the world, for the safety of his team and the concession. “This industry carries with it a lot of risk, not just in the regions we need to work, but also the kind of people the industry/environment attracts,” he explains in an email.)
Two Old Hippies, parent company of Bedell Guitars, acoustic guitar maker Breedlove, and mandolin maker Weber, connected with Dudley through the conservation group Rainforest Alliance. As the wood manager for TreeTAG, Tom McCord invited Dudley to tag along his sourcing trip. An early partner, Two Old Hippies plans to use the app to “trace our product from what we call seed to song,” says McCord. The company has many suppliers throughout North America, including Canada, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Michigan, and the New England area, as well as sources in Central America, South America, and parts of Africa. “We are very concerned about how our wood is sourced, and our owner has put forth a mandate that we do not source anything from clear-cut trees, or knowingly source anything from a clear-cut tree,” says McCord. Clear cut refers to the practice of uniformly cutting down most or all trees in a tract of land, as opposed to selectively harvesting them. When possible, the company uses downed or salvaged trees.
Deep in the mighty jungle–prime drug cartel territory, whose presence can be detected with the out-of-place cattle ranches (a means of laundering money)–lay hulking, manual machinery that Dudley guesses are from the 1930s. Contrasting this archaic technology was a surprising discovery: Not only were most of the villagers equipped with smartphones, there was even cellular connection in the middle of nowhere.
“It was a great relief that these guys use smartphone apps,” says Dudley. “I think if that wasn’t the case, it’d be slightly more difficult” to implement TreeTAG, which will be released early next year. The app doesn’t require an Internet connection to generate codes to track the trees’ location or log the time and date of when they were cut. The web is only needed when uploading this information to TreeTAG’s servers. Depending on government regulations, the app will also stop generating additional tags after hitting specified quotas or after a certain period of time.
It’s a 21st-century update to the system currently in place, which ironically relies on paper certificates. “Whenever there’s a rubber stamp and signature, there could be a bribe,” says Dudley. This is a reality of logging: In Peru, for example, up to 80% of logging exports are estimated to be harvested illegally, according to the World Bank.
His organization is also looking to build and launch a cube satellite capable of scanning any forest on Earth every 26 hours in late 2015 or early 2016. The hope is to qualify for a free launch by piggybacking off a rocket’s payload. “How cool would it be to have a satellite named Jungle Bird One?” After his three days in the jungle, Dudley went back to the U.K. to see his family (within the last year, he estimates spending about a month at home) and squeeze in a trip to the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh to consult a lens specialist before galavanting across Europe for speaking engagements and to meet potential partners. In October, he will travel to the Republic of Congo for a conference held by the Congo Basin Forest Partnership.
The proposed design is a custom lens for the satellite measuring 10 centimeters in diameter, with a resolution that is able to discern three to five square meters on the ground. It’s currently looking to include miniaturized hyperspectral sensors capable of zeroing in on specific trees and species and corroborate information logged by the TreeTAG app. Some nonprofit organizations have also approached Jungle Bird about using its satellite to count elephants under the tree canopy or orangutan nests in trees. The organization is also in talks with NASA and the U.K. Space Agency about securing funding.
Before the end of the year, Dudley will also release a children’s book, Jungle Bird Adventures, to be published by Mascot Books in D.C. in time for the holiday season. The story chronicles a group of friends–a boy, a bird, and an orangutan who travel on a flying vehicle–as they witness the devastating impacts of illegal logging firsthand.
Dudley recognizes the importance of starting young. He had to teach the grisly realities of deforestation to his six kids–all of whom, armed with their newfound knowledge, agreed to sacrifice time with dad so he could move to America and make the world a better place.
“When we grew up as children, we didn’t understand how important the rain forest was,” says Dudley. “My biggest concern is that my children and their children and their children’s children won’t be born into a planet like we had.”