Rudy Mancke has inspired many to care about the environment, through his television programs and podcasts. He’s lived his life exploring the natural world and bringing his experiences to anyone interested in listening to him.
By Logan Anderson
November 21, 2017
Elements of the natural world – colorful seashells, paper-thin snake skins, preserved cicadas, a striped turtle shell – are all scattered around Rudy Mancke’s desk. Amid the clutter, Mancke, the University of South Carolina’s resident naturalist, is right at home and eager for students and visitors to pick up and touch the objects abundant in his office.
When Mancke was younger, his dad wanted him to learn the family business of selling sporting goods, but that was not where Mancke’s interests were. He decided to be the first person in his family to pursue a college education.
At Wofford College Mancke dipped his toes into the medical field. “I kind of had this notion that I would want to go into medicine, and then I realized I’m a naturalist. Why in the world pretend I’m not?” he recalled. “It drove my parents a little crazy. I think they really wanted a doctor.”
Since then, Mancke has become the state’s most recognizable naturalist, an expert in the field of natural history and natural sciences and someone who works to maintain native ecosystems. Mancke has spent his life helping South Carolinians understand and explore the beauty of the natural world.
In 1978, he started a show on South Carolina’s ETV network called NatureScene, where he brought his audience along on nature walks. The show quickly blossomed into a national and international success. “Nature Scene” was produced from 1978 till 2003 and is still aired on many television networks.
“It’s an almost therapeutic program: where you walk, you talk, you look, you ‘oooh and ahhh,’ answer ‘what is it’ questions and make connections for people,” Mancke said. He also regularly produces a podcast called “Nature Notes” on NPR, where he briefly answers questions from listeners about different animals or plants that they have observed.
“People love it! It really is kind of nice to get the spotlight off yourself and look at other things,” Mancke said. “Nature Notes” is released daily, and each episode is accompanied by homey music that sets up an interesting environment, where it’s almost as if you’re walking through the woods with the naturalist himself.
Bob Askins, the University of South Carolina’s senior associate registrar, learned about Mancke’s work through NatureScene and has since had the opportunity to take a class with him.
Askins is a certified Master Naturalist, which means he has completed a 12-week training program and performs at least 30 hours a year doing volunteer and nature-related activities.
“What I mostly do right now is lead nature hikes through the Congaree National Park and assist with wilderness canoe trips, because those are things I enjoy doing myself,” Askins said. “I guess the idea is that if people are more aware of the world around them and can develop an appreciation for those things, they’ll be more likely to take care of the world and we’ll all be in better shape for it.”
Congaree Park Ranger Jonathan Manchester has met Mancke and sees the naturalist as a “fantastic resource” for those interested in exploring the park, with its majestic old growth forest.
“When the oral history project that we put together was done several years back, he was one of the people interviewed, as he is a major part of the story of preserving this landscape for the American people,” Manchester said. “In the few times I have talked with him, he has been just a great person to chat with, and we are glad to have him still introduce people to this wonderful place.”
Like Mancke, Manchester wants visitors to learn about and enjoy the park. He does this by doing guided hikes and canoe tours as well as managing the park’s social media accounts. Manchester enjoys his job because it allows him to teach people who want to learn about nature.
“My favorite part of my job is to see people make a connection to the park. When someone leaves caring more about the park than when they arrived, it gives me a thrill,” Manchester said.
Mancke has been teaching people about the natural world for decades. Bill Hills, a retired forrester, has been following Mancke for nearly 40 years and was recently featured on the NatureNotes podcast after finding a strange snail. Mancke identified it as an Applesnail.
“I was fortunate enough to take a nature walk with him in Georgetown 35 years ago” Hills recalled. “He put on this little NatureScene-oriented walk where he identified everything in the world, it was really enthralling.”
“He’s quite a guy to be in the woods with, I tell ya,”