Never think your voice is too small. Every drop makes up the ocean. If we speak as one our drops become a tidal wave, a tsunami that can neither be avoided nor ignored.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynn Santer.
From the subtropical paradise of her lakeside home on the Gold Coast of Australia, bestselling author, activist and multi-awarded filmmaker Lynn Santer has been on a mission for over 20 years to expose the full depth of subversion and misinformation perpetrated by the trophy hunting industry. She counts Hollywood superstars and senior politicians among her closest friends. She’s walked with wild lions in Africa and through the corridors of power in London’s Houses of Parliament. Her philanthropic contributions have helped children in Third World countries learn to read, and exposed ongoing brutal atrocities against endangered big game. Lynn’s passion and mission is to recruit the world and educate them on the trophy hunting industry’s nefarious and subversive tactics and behaviors.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I actually started my career as a writer before being an animal activist. My mind was always overactive — from birth (I never could sleep for long). I started writing stories on my bedroom walls with crayon! Quickly, my parents decided to keep me supplied with paper and pencils! I composed my first “real” story when I was 9 years old. For a reason that still mystifies me, my grandma used to gift me real postage stamps. I used these to enterprisingly send my story to a publisher, after searching for the address in my favorite “Winnie the Pooh” book. I mailed the letter secretly when out shopping with my mum. Soon after, a package arrived addressed to me. Somewhat aghast, my mother opened it finding a brand new “Winnie the Pooh” book and a letter from the publisher telling me my style was excellent but the content not long enough. I should write again when I was older. My parents immediately set about telling me I needed to pursue a “proper” career so I studied law and finance, fields I worked in for many years before my innate passion (and I like to think talent) drove me back to where it all began. My debut novel “Sins of Life” was set in the finance industry and became the publisher’s #1 selling title in 1999. I never looked back. My passion for wildlife conservation also began as a child, watching my father’s homemade David Attenborough style documentaries in the attic cinema of our London home… mesmerized.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
That’s easy. It was 2001 and I was organizing a high profile, glitzy fundraiser for big cat conservation. My good friend and matriarch of a Hollywood dynasty, Tippi Hedren, was flying over to front the event. In the middle of my plans I received an email from a lady I’d never heard of before, Meryl Harrison. At the time, Meryl was Chief Inspector with the Zimbabwe SPCA. This was during one of the most violent and turbulent times in Zimbabwe’s history. Meryl had fought tirelessly and against all odds to secure an amendment to the Wildlife Act that prohibited the hunting of endangered leopards with packs of hounds, using live bait such as donkeys and goats, and training the dogs with electric shock collars. This practice involved multiple levels of animal cruelty. No sooner had she successfully managed to have her amendment passed, well within a matter of days anyway, special exemptions” were granted. This was the result of overwhelming pressure from the largest hunting group on earth with political and financial might far in excess of Meryl’s (she frequently couldn’t cover her phone bill). Horrified and furious, Meryl contacted everyone involved in wildlife conservation around the world. I, like many others, received that email. Unlike many others, I acted on it, securing the services of some ex Special Forces commandos to plan a covert mission to secure documented and visual evidence of the atrocities being committed and who was involved. So began an over 20 year odyssey that is still playing out to this day.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake I made when I was starting my life as an animal activist was not listening to the advice of my ranger and tracker. They told me not to look a predator in the eye. Predators recognize other predators as having two eyes that look forward (herbivores eyes look sideways). Accompanied by my Shangaan tracker and ranger, Eric and Derek (really!) we came across a pride of nine wild lionesses, about 30–40 feet away on the flat. We were all on foot. The Alpha lioness looked at us and like Lot’s wife (from the Bible) I just couldn’t resist returning her gaze. To a wild lioness that’s either a threat or a challenge. I will swear with my dying breath she telepathically told me, “Okay, this is how things are going to go down. I’ll go right and if you go left there will be no blood spilled here today.” I wasn’t at all afraid. I was too full of awe and wonder and excitement to be afraid. Eric knew better. He gently pushed me behind him, cocked his rifle, and sent Derek back for the jeep. These guys were quite flummoxed by a crazy white English lady with no fear whatsoever about tracking wild lions on foot with native trackers previously unknown to her and yet she’d scream at the sight of a spider. They seemed to think my priorities were all wrong. Go figure! The lesson? Take the advice of people with experience and knowledge that exceeds yours! Nevertheless, no blood was spilled that day.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
When I graduated from writing to documentary production, focusing on exposing the nefarious, subversive, disinformation campaigns perpetrated by the trophy hunting industry (and it is “an industry”), I faced unimaginable obstacles and challenges but nothing would dissuade me from exposing the truth in a deeper and more daring manner than anyone had ever done before. It took me decades. It cost me everything. I didn’t care. Every fiber of my being told me I was born to tell this story, to expose the raw and brutal reality, no matter the cost, so I kept going. My latest film enjoyed its world premiere in London’s House of Commons and has since gone on to win awards all over the world. Moreover, it has been used as an integral tool in the proposed UK legislation to ban the imports of trophy hunting. This saw me team up with an incredible human being who is now tragically dying. Between us and the forces we gathered around us, armed with mountains of evidence, we have assisted the passionate politicians who are attempting to drive this Prohibition Bill through parliament against overwhelming opposition from a handful of unelected Peers in the House of Lords who have very vested interests in hijacking it. All of this is not enough! I am now developing a full blown feature film called “The Vote” exposing all the inside Machiavellian machinations I am privy to that conspire to stop Britain and other countries taking action to put them, indeed all of us, on the right side of history.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
That’s a tough question. My path has crossed with so many others over the miles and years. I guess if I was going to pick just one, it would have to be Meryl. After I received the fateful email in 2001 that completely changed my life, I secured the ex Special Forces guys and Tippi’s approval and then contacted Meryl saying, “You don’t know me but I’m planning a big glitzy event in Australia (where I was living at the time) with a Hollywood legend and in my spare time, in the shadowy background, I’ve hired some ex Special Forces guys to plan a covert op in Africa to expose… (well you now know the rest of that story). So, I wondered if you would fly to Australia, at my expense, to meet the guys, attend the event with Tippi, provide us with whatever intel and evidence you have, and let’s tell this story to the world.” She must have thought I was on drugs! If I would have received a call like that I would have hung up the phone scoffing. Meryl did not hang up. She did come to Australia. We have been shoulder-to-shoulder in this battle ever since.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Three things? Let’s see.
- Educate yourselves in the truth. Not the deception shouted and touted by the trophy hunting industry who thinks if they shout loud enough for long enough, and throw enough money at decision makers, lawmakers, politicians and disinformation campaigns, that their lies will be accepted as truth. Watch my films!
- With what you learn, educate others and lobby politicians in a position to make changes to laws that will protect our precious, endangered and dwindling wildlife populations.
- Never think your voice is too small. Every drop makes up the ocean. If we speak as one our drops become a tidal wave, a tsunami that can neither be avoided nor ignored.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the ability to act in spite of it. If you know something is wrong and making your voice heard can correct that wrong, get up, stand up and speak up. None of us are bulletproof and sometimes we don’t have control over certain situations… but we always have control over how we react to a situation. By our actions and reactions, we inspire and attract others to do likewise. It might be a cliché but the darkest hour is always before the dawn so when you think you have no more fight in you, that you’ve tried everything possible, that you cannot get up for another morning and go on fighting this fight, ask yourself two things: (1) what happens if you stop now? (2) Do you really want to let the other side win by giving up? There is someone somewhere just waiting to see that spark of determination in you. By your example, you could set someone on the path to become the next great achiever and moreover that great achiever could be you! Be prepared to pivot. If this road leads to a dead end, backtrack to the crossroads and try the path you didn’t take before. This is exactly what I did with my “Land of the Free” project, pivoting from one path that wasn’t working to making documentaries that have stunned the world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1 . That I would need a rhinoceros hide! Rejection is a part of the process and it hurts every time. It’s embarrassing, demeaning and it’s maddening. I had the good fortune to meet Lord Jeffrey Archer when I was a fledgling author. He told me when he was starting out that he was rejected by eighteen publishers. Wide-eyed I replied, “Jeffrey, I don’t know eighteen publishers.” With a rumbling earnestness in his voice he assured me, “My dear… you will.” How right he was.
2 . Be patient. Truthfully, I’m still working on that one. I’m definitely not winning Oscars for my patience. Actually, I’m quite notorious for being impatient. If you promise me “next Tuesday” it had better be next Tuesday. If you think you can’t deliver on Tuesday then say Thursday and I’ll be thrilled when you deliver on Wednesday. Never tell me Tuesday and deliver on Wednesday though. I don’t think I can give examples without totally embarrassing myself but ask anyone who’s worked with me or for me… they’ll tell you!
3 . Find positive and talented people who share your passion and surround yourself with them. I am blessed to have developed a truly remarkable team of people around the world whom I love and respect and value dearly and (despite my impatience) I’m pretty sure they all feel the same way about me. That took time (dare I say patience). It took traveling many miles, making many phone calls, having many cups of coffee, lunches and dinners, baring my soul, sharing my laughter and tears, my visions and my goals, and asking all of those people to share theirs so I could help them in return. It works. It takes time and effort but it works. A good (or better yet wicked) sense of humor goes a long way too! My network is now a global spider’s web that covers influencers or gifted individuals across most verticals.
4 . Expect the unexpected. The air is thinnest and the path most treacherous the closer to the summit you climb… and there’s always someone ready to give you a helpful shove to push you tumbling back down again. Without giving away spoilers in my short stories included in the “Inspiring Moments” anthology being brought out by LK Tommi and Turtle Press this Christmas, in future I definitely will look gift horses in the mouth. If someone turns up offering the world on the assertion that they are inspired by your work, never again will I take them at face value without thorough background checks.
5 . Life throws you curve balls. These can appear as health issues, family dramas, global financial crises, war breaking out the day you had planned all year for an important product release, pandemics trapping a loved one or critical player in your life in another country. These things happen. There are times when no amount of money or expertise or connections can do anything about it but remember you never lose control of how you choose to react to the situation. There are other times when determination and searching out the right people can indeed turn these situations around. I have too many examples to list but to highlight one, by the end of 2015 I had developed profound bilateral nerve damage in my arms. You could have fried eggs on my arms the inflammation was that bad. Combined with some industrial strength pain management that was mind-bending, I was fairly non-functional for the year that followed with surgeries and rehab. It was when one doctor told me that my responses to his questions indicated that I was developing depression that I said to myself, “Self! Snap out of it! You are not going down that road. If this means reinventing yourself, then reinvent yourself!” And reinvent myself I did.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Chief Seattle is often quoted as having said:
All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, not just people but all living things on this beautiful planet, it would be to take that message to heart. Especially now with so much trouble and turmoil, so much hate and propaganda, so much prejudice and myopia, so much greed and self-interest. Nothing happens in isolation. Land conquest, taking pride and pleasure in slaughtering a sentient and innocent creature for bragging rights and peer accolades, paying money to do that which only ends up lining political pockets, hating someone because they are different from you, all of these things are destructive, meaningless, fruitless, empty paths that only lead to misery. Decide now, that’s not going to be you. Be the best version of you not at the expense of another people, a piece of land, a beautiful creature, but rather be the best you by helping to nourish our land, our people and our wildlife. That path leads to joy and fulfillment. I have spoken and my name is “Santer” and it’s almost Christmas so it must be true (ho ho ho).
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
That’s easy. Notwithstanding that greatest of philosophers, Winnie the Pooh, this is a quote I use frequently. “If one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. After watching those homemade, David Attenborough style documentaries of my father’s in the attic cinema of our London home as a child, I determined then and there I was going to protect every wild animal on earth. The innocence of a child! When I started earning a living, I became a donor to wildlife causes. A particular catalyst incident saw me graduate from donor to activist. Once I became an activist I was no longer arm’s length removed, I was exposed to the full enormity of the issues and it was too much for my mind to process. So I had a conversation with myself (I do that a lot). “Self,” I said. “Self, you cannot change all of this. But getting overwhelmed and walking away will achieve nothing. If everyone did nothing, nothing would change. On the other hand, if everyone did just one thing then many things would change. So don’t try and change the whole world, just focus on the corner of it where you can make a difference.” Perhaps Winnie the Pooh did say it best when he said:
“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
One? Impossible! The person (people) I would most like to have a private breakfast, lunch, drink, dinner, or even Zoom with would be the A-lister and/or investor who can help me bring “The Vote” to the big screen. Someone who has the vision, talent and passion to tell this enormously important story for the web of life that impacts us all. Perhaps that’s someone who already shares this passion like Leonardo DiCaprio, or perhaps it’s a producer and/or director with a proven track record when it comes to gritty, edge-of-the-seat, socially impactful political thrillers like Tim Bevan and Joe Wright. Angel investors and philanthropists are always valued allies too. Is it possible to meet Winnie the Pooh?
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Swan Lake Press:
Swan Lake Press, my latest critically acclaimed anthropomorphised novel “Swan Song” that hit #1 on Kindle last Christmas. A great stocking filler by “Santer” (ho ho ho) www.SwanLakePress.com
Land of the Free:
Land Of The Free documentaries
Watch my latest 40 minute documentary “Land Of The Free: Out Of The Shadows” here (free and no sign in required). ***WARNING*** There is a graphic disturbing scene in the opening but this does not reflect the content of the rest of the film. Please don’t look away: https://www.rhapsodypictures.com.au/lotf
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Lynn Santer Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.