One Passion: animal behavior studies in a natural environment
The birth of a vocation
An artistic quest and a thirst for studying wildlife impelled Gisèle Benoit and her parents to visit Gaspésie National Park in 1979. At the age of 19, the young wildlife artist wanted to dedicate her life to the preservation of nature by celebrating biodiversity on canvas. Her encounter with the moose marked a decisive turning point, because like her parents she was immediately fascinated by this species, so much so that she carefully began to note, draw and paint their behaviors. The family quest slowly took on a scientific orientation.
Above : Gisèle, Monique and Raynald during their study of the behavior of moose, at Gaspésie National Park. This adventure culminated in 1993 with the production of the documentary In the Company of Moose, accomplished with the collaboration of the CBC and televised on David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things.
To the right : Raynald films a red fox in 1991.
Below : Gisèle swims with a bull moose in July 1982.
Technique, objectives and warning
Gisèle, Monique and Raynald Benoit are not biologists. They rather define themselves as self-taught naturalists, always eager to learn and to push the limits of their knowledge. Greatly inspired by Grey Owl, Jane Goodall and Konrad Lorenz, they favor passive observation as well as experimentation, which means direct contact with their subjects in the wild. This kind of approach sometimes leads them to encounter wild animals in close proximity where competence and wisdom are required, and even indispensable, to ensure their safety and that of the wildlife. In their publications, the Benoits warn people against the temptation of imitating their techniques or approaching wild animals, as they allow themselves to do within the very strict framework of their study projects.
Gisèle and her parents work in a little explored field of the natural sciences: the study of animal behavior in the wild, including sound and gestural communication among birds and mammals, as well as interactions between species… captivating subjects that are challenging. There are reasons why many behavioral studies take place in enclosures: in nature, the difficulties are so numerous and the work so demanding that most researchers, limited by time, prefer to observe their subjects in a semi-free context.
The main asset of the Benoits is undoubtedly the indefinite time that they allow themselves to achieve their study objectives. Free and independent, Gisèle, Monique and Raynald rely on their common passion to carry out projects as incredible as documenting the life of a wolf pack established on a territory of about 600 km2, without the advantages provided by technology, for example, animals equipped with a transmitter collar giving their location by GPS or telemetry.
Gisèle during the filming of the documentary The Grouse: An Exceptional Bird, which shows several years of observation of the ruffed grouse and the spruce grouse.
The work of the Benoit family as naturalists is recognized in scientific circles and appreciated by the public. Excellent popularizers, Gisèle and her parents know how to transmit their knowledge with passion.
Studies conducted by the Benoit family are not requested by government departments, conservation parks or organizations, nor are they funded by public money. They result only from the will of their authors, who ensure their smooth running and funding through their publications, which are not conventional. They can take the form of a painting exhibition, a video production, a memoir, a conference or a book. In each case, they combine art and science to move, to raise awareness and to educate the public about the importance of protecting biodiversity. Since 2008, the Society of Art and Science for Nature, of which the Benoits are co-founders, helps to support their educational mission by diffusing their studies’ results on a large scale.
The artistic, literary and cinematographic works of the Benoit family touch people and inspire respect for nature through the new vision they offer, and also through the sensitivity and originality that characterize them. They bear a vision, a hope based on an authentic human experience. This philosophical and spiritual dimension gives added value to the accomplishments of Monique, Raynald and Gisèle.
Understanding the role and life cycle of a species in an ecosystem is of paramount importance in order to adopt effective conservation measures. Very critical about wildlife management in Québec and Canada, the Benoits fight against the anthropocentric philosophy guiding the majority of decision-makers. Indifference, economic interests and prejudices often hamper the protection of nature. With brushes, a camera and a lot of passion, the Benoits invite each individual to renew his or her sacred ties to nature.
Monique Blaquière-Benoit in her studio which she shares with her daugther Gisèle, at Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Haute-Gaspésie, Québec.
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