How podcasts can help you connect with animals and the environment

By Meg McIntire

Fifteen years ago, if you were to tell me that despite all of the advances in car entertainment systems like Sirius XM and the ability to listen to almost any song or audiobook in the world via Bluetooth, that I’d instead excitedly choose to listen to what are essentially radio talk shows, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But that’s what the discovery of podcasts has done to me (and millions of other people) in a relatively short amount of time. What’s most captivating is the breadth of topics available in the podcasting world. There’s a podcast for just about any interest or hobby you may have, including ones about pets, wildlife and the environment.

As of 2019, 73 million Americans, or 26% of the U.S. population, listen to podcasts monthly, and 17%, or 48 million people, listen weekly, with both numbers expected to steadily increase, according to PodTrac.

So, what makes podcasts appealing? They combine educational information and entertainment into bite-size chunks that are available right at our fingertips. The episodic format of podcasts allows listeners to delve deeper into many subjects if they want to, when they want to, creating the possibility of following long-form investigations in a very accessible way.

While many of us cannot afford to take the time to sit down and read a 20k word article, we can listen to the content in smaller segments throughout the day, especially if it’s presented with great storytelling.

For example, one of my favorite podcasts, This American Life, has a remarkable ability to bring events to life through thorough, empathetic reporting week after week and packages each episode into three, easy-to-listen-to vignettes. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve teared up, smiled and genuinely laughed while listening to an episode.

Another benefit is they can connect you to likeminded people. Sometimes online communities are created by listeners to share thoughts and opinions about episodes, which is another facet of podcasts that I love.

Here’s a handful of my nature-based favorites, which are sure to be a great companion whether you are driving down the highway, cooking dinner, stuck on a subway, hiking in the great outdoors or simply moving from point A to point B anywhere on the planet:

Species: A weekly podcast where the host delves into a different species and aims to tell you who the animals are and why they’re important to our ecosystems. Each episode is a perfect length of about 30 minutes and goes into depth about the abilities and personalities of each species, not just the typical “fast facts.” Listen here. 

Ologies: This is one of my most favorite podcasts and even though not every episode pertains to animals, it’s still very much worth a listen. Humorist and science correspondent Alie Ward picks a topic for each episode and sits down with an expert to pick their brain and ask them an abundance of thought-provoking questions. Recent episodes about animals include “Bisonology” (the study of the American buffalo) and a really fascinating one called “Lupinology” (the study of wolves) where Princeton Professor Dr. Brigette vonHoldt sat down to talk about her research looking at everything from wolf populations to modern dog behavior, canine family dynamics, Game of Thrones direwolves, Yellowstone wolfies and the ecological impact of predators. Learn more here.

The Casual Birder: A great little podcast where an enthusiastic bird-watcher host shares her observations, interviews and bird walks with guests, and stories from listeners around the world. What I enjoy about it is how it portrays birdwatching as a very approachable, interesting hobby and really emphasizes that anyone can get into it—no expensive equipment needed. The best episodes are ones where the host takes her microphone to the streets (or parks) and takes you on an audio tour of the birds she spies with her eagle eyes. Listen here. 

Can I Pet Your Dog?: As a dog owner, I have a lot of fun listening to this podcast. Every Tuesday, dog owner Renee Colvert and puppy owner Alexis Preston talk to guests about their dogs, discuss different pups who they meet each week, and brief you on any relevant dog news. They also review new dog products, go on assignment to dog events and report back with what you need to know. Listeners also call into the show and leave voicemails with short stories about their own canine companions, which range from hilarious to tear-jerking. Listen here. 

HumaNature: This podcast covers a broad spectrum when it comes to nature, but the hosts from Wyoming Public Media are pros at telling real stories that are meant to encourage reflection on our own place in the natural world. From discussing trail running techniques to following animal migrations across the globe, each episode is a fascinating snapshot of humans interacting with nature. They are also pros at coming up with titles for their episodes that make you want to tune in — like this one, “A Ballroom Dancer, a Shark and a PR problem.”  Listen here. 

Living Planet: If you’re as concerned about climate change as I am, you should listen to Living Planet. This weekly half-hour radio show tells environmental stories from around the world, from the food we eat to the waste we produce, as well as discussing all creatures great and small. Living Planet explores Earth and the impacts we have on it in ways that are enlightening and sometimes sobering. Listen here.