Jeff Corwin speaks to sold-out Jesse Hall

Conservationist and Animal Planet celebrity Jeff Corwin speaks Wednesday in Jesse Auditorium. Delta Gamma Lectureship Committee hosted the event.

Far from the rainforests and African plains that made him an Animal Planet icon, Emmy Award-winner and conservationist Jeff Corwin addressed a packed Jesse Auditorium on Wednesday.

Within 15 minutes of the doors opening, the sold-out crowd had already almost filled the venue. Students clutching copies of Corwin's latest book, "Living on the Edge," dotted the crowd. He is best known as the host of his cable TV show, "The Jeff Corwin Experience" and for his award-winning hosting stint on CNN's "Planet in Peril" mini-series, and came to MU to share stories and discuss conservation.

"I've been a fan of Jeff Corwin since middle school," freshman Austin Lohmenn said. "When I saw he was coming to MU, I was pretty excited. I've been watching him for years on Animal Planet."

The Delta Gamma Lectureship Committee was the host and main sponsor of the event and the Department of Student Activities Speakers Committee handled Corwin's logistical arrangements.

"Environmental problems are global issues that our generation will have to seriously consider in order to make our planet habitable in the future," Speakers Committee Chairwoman Sarah Powers said in an e-mail. "We felt that Mr. Corwin would be able to connect with our generation about these issues and hopefully encourage people to make sustainable choices." 

A short video of Corwin's television highlights, featuring the conservationist's encounters with charging elephants, blood-sucking leeches and poisonous snakes, served as an introduction before Corwin walked onto the stage amid applause.

Corwin, 42, then shared personal anecdotes of his worldwide journeys and revealed the reasoning behind his passion for nature and animals. He also spoke about the place Missouri held in the global extinction of amphibians and his recent trip to the state while working on a documentary about the topic.

"I came here on a mission that affirmed to me why I do what I do," Corwin said. "You have my favorite salamander, the hellbender, living in your backyard. But, in the last few years their population in Missouri has gone from 30,000 to 1,000. Tragically, today we're experiencing the greatest mass extinction of amphibians since the dinosaurs."

Corwin also told about his first encounter with the wild side of nature, when, as an 8-year-old, he refused to let go of a snake that had attached itself to his arm with its fangs.

"That was the day I was wired to be who I am today," Corwin said. "That is the day I became a naturalist."

Corwin stressed the importance he placed on never harming animals and spoke about the equality of all species.

"We're one of many species that inhabit this planet," Corwin said. "There are many things that make humans special, but there are also things that make us and other species on this planet alike."

Corwin expressed his sorrow about the continual extinction of many creatures and confessed there is a limit to what he can do to save animals.

"The truth is no matter how hard my colleagues and I work, in some ways, we've failed," he said. "We lose a different species of life on our planet every 20 minutes."

Despite these defeats, Corwin also shared some success stories, including the bald eagle and the American alligator, which have made a rapid recovery in population throughout the last few years.

Before asking for questions from the audience, Corwin finished with the topic of his two young daughters, Maya Rose and Marina, and the world he hopes to leave for them.

"We don't want to just do this conservationism for ourselves," Corwin said. "Our lives are short. We think of all the legacies we want to leave in our country, but I can't think of a better legacy of our generation than to leave behind a biologically diverse world for our children."

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