Python hunting to ‘cocaine hippos,’ NBC News correspondent shares wildlife stories illuminating changing climate

Kerry Sanders

While he’s covered everything from wars to natural disasters, NBC News Correspondent Kerry Sanders said it’s stories about wildlife impacts that on the surface seem so simple, like the creation of a hunting season to handle the invasive Burmese python problem in the Florida Everglades, that he gravitates to the most. 

These stories are literally the next iteration of the canary in the coalmine, said Sanders, the keynote speaker at the inaugural Donald and Lorena Meier Wildlife Photo and Video Symposium at Colorado State University on Oct. 6. The free public symposium featured talks from nationally recognized wildlife photographers, video storytellers and professors whose creative work and research promote the sustainability of human-wildlife coexistence. 

“We have these individual stories that I think reflect what’s going on in many cases with our change in climate,” Sanders said. “Sometimes it’s incremental, sometimes there are tenuous connections. But collectively, when we present these stories, it gives people a sense of what is changing and how that change is demonstrated.”

Cocaine hippos?

kerry sanders
Keynote speaker, NBC News Correspondent Kerry Sanders shows a clip from a story he did on the dwindling numbers of the Florida panther. Photos by Stacy Nick/CSU

A regular on NBC Nightly News, TODAY, and MSNBC, Sanders shared reels from some of his favorite wildlife stories – including looking for the elusive Florida panther and reporting on the so-called “cocaine hippos,” whose unexpected population boom has created an environmental crisis.  

The hippos – former pets who were released into the non-native habitat after their owner, drug kingpin Pablo Escobar died in 1993 – have thrived and now cause a major threat to the area’s biodiversity, as well as the safety of people there. 

The stories don’t always have an optimistic end – as they did in a piece he did about the triumphant comeback of the adorable Puffins – but if he does his job right, Sanders said he has the opportunity to bring critical awareness to audiences. 

“You begin to recognize that things are changing,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s really bad, sometimes things are slightly coming back. We want to make sure that you’re feeling like you’re a part of it … Our goal is to make sure that people are learning something, and maybe – again, this is morning television – feel like they have a little bit of fun with that as well.”