“Earth: A New Wild” blows away cuteness standards, presents uplifting and serious conversation

How many baby pandas does it take to make a conservation film a success?

Two? Four? Nine?

Hedging their bets, PBS, National Geographic and Passion Planet went with… 14!

In their upcoming series, Earth: A New Wild, viewers will get to ogle fourteen baby pandas, as Conservation International Executive Vice President Dr. M. Sanjayan guides them on a journey exploring the intrinsic nature of humanity’s role in nature. Filmmakers for Conservation was at a sneak peak of the upcoming series screened at National Geographic in Washington, D.C. – the five-part film promises to bring optimism to the conservation conversation to living rooms all over the country.

Dr. Sanjayan said he wanted to work on this series – and call it The New Wild – to remove the distinction between the natural and the human worlds. “We humans are part of nature,” he said, “and when you realize that, we realize saving nature is saving ourselves.” He said in certain areas it was impossible to film wildlife without getting humans in the frame, and he hopes by telling the story of how humans are part of nature – not separated from it – viewers will learn, “Just how much we need each other to survive.”

Filming over 5 years in 29 countries and 45 locations, the producers decided to separate the films based on habitats, with episodes covering “Home,” “Plains,” “Forests,” “Oceans,” and “Fresh Water.” The first episode explores “Home,” establishing the series arc that humans share our home with nature – and it goes big, with Dr. Sanjayan’s visit to the breeding center of the Bifengxia Panda Base in Wolong, China. Researchers there have determined when females are most fertile as part of their efforts to re-wild the iconic species, and after resisting the concentrated power of such adorable panda delight, witnessing the baker’s dozen of black and white babies roll around on the floor, Dr. Sanjayan dons a panda suit himself, as he witnesses the first-ever release of a captive-bred panda into the wild.

Breeders take care of giant panda cubs inside a crib at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, Sichuan province, September 23, 2013. Fourteen new joiners to the 128-giant-panda-family at the base were shown to the public on Monday, according to local media. REUTERS/China Daily

Breeders take care of giant panda cubs inside a crib at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, Sichuan province, September 23, 2013. Fourteen new joiners to the 128-giant-panda-family at the base were shown to the public on Monday, according to local media. REUTERS/China Daily

Along with Zhang Xiang’s historic amble, Dr. Sanjayan visits Dr. Jane Goodall in Tanzania, where new chimpanzees have entered the Gombe National Park, thanks to community initiatives to connect fragmented habitat by subsidizing border trees. But now the villagers report chimps have taken infants from their homes, highlighting the difficulty of life in the shared wild.

The “Plains” episode introduces the theories of Rhodesian-born biologist Allan Savory, about the need to restore to the plains the millions of herd animals who once kept them healthy. Dr. Sanjayan visits the Russian steppes, where the proboscises of saiga antelope once roamed with more snouts than the wildebeest of the African savannahs. With their floppy schnozzes warming the frigid air, the saiga roam, eating and dispersing 100 plant species. After the fall of the Soviet Union, poachers ravaged the herds from numbering two million down to 20,000, hunting their horns for traditional Chinese medicine. A boom in irrigated agriculture has also led to their home pastures in Kalmykia to become the first manmade desert in Europe, as 80% of the arid region has lost plant coverage. Dr. Sanjayan tries to show that hope abounds, meeting researchers who are tracking the saiga’s numbers, and finding ways to protect them from poachers.

The “Plains” episode also offers the most bizarre human-wildlife interaction, as Dr. Sanjayan travels to northern Scandinavia, where the Sami people were possibly the first to domesticate herd animals. Those who still live the traditional, semi-nomadic lifestyle, follow their herds of reindeer throughout the winter. The males can get very aggressive in the rutting season, however, and after the autumn battle for females they are so exhausted that nine in ten will perish in the following winter. Well… ancestral knowledge was quick to incorporate anatomy into the equation, and Dr. Sanjayan’s Sami hosts invite him to participate in the traditional cure:

The Sami call their modified male reindeer the “Gentlemen of the Tundra,” as they spend the winter helping the females dig through the snow for those last remaining morsels to munch…

Dr. Sanjayan kept the “Forests” episode under wraps, but FFC did catch glimpses of the final “Oceans,” and “Fresh Water” films, in which Dr. Sanjayan goes fishing in the mangrove nurseries of Florida for pregnant and newborn lemon sharks, and then kayaks the Colorado River to its end with photographer Peter McBride, where the mighty river painfully dies in the dusts of Mexico’s Sonora Desert. Although Mexico receives less and less of the Colorado’s life-force, not far from the dried-up wetlands it once watered Dr. Sanjayan and McBride fly over the Cienaga wetlands, where 40,000 acres of new life has sprung from farm water run-off somewhere upstream. Dr. Sanjayan points out nature’s resiliency: as one door closes, another opens.

Earth: A New Wild will air on PBS starting on Wednesday, February 4, at 9/8c PM. Now that you’re warned of the carnage of cuteness of 14 baby pandas, enjoy the programming, and let us know what you think!

Conservation Films honored with Oscar Nominations

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated two conservation-themed films for Oscars.

Oscar Nomination for Documentary Feature: Virunga

Oscar von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara, Grain Media

Von Einsiedel and Natasegara are the producers behind Virunga. The powerful Netflix documentary chronicles the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the community’s battle with the British oil corporation determined to access its illegal explorative concessions. The park is Africa’s oldest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and “a home to thousands of people and the last mountain gorillas.” To its protectors, it is more; Virunga’s rangers have dedicated their lives to protect the park, and they take salvation in their mission. They cannot allow its exploitation.

Through intimate, surreal cinematography, von Einsiedel witnesses a clash of greed and virtue, of love and ignorance. Virunga’s warriors brave undercover surveillance to expose army officials and security contractors of blatant corruption, providing condemnable visual evidence of a corporation acting in vigorous disregard for the park’s people and wildlife. Von Einsiedel runs alongside the people of Goma as they flee a rebel militia, he stands with Virunga’s rangers as they hold their ground, and suffers with the park’s orphaned gorillas through the thunder of warfare.

“You have to justify why you are here on this earth. Gorillas are why I am here. Gorillas are my life. So if it is about dying, then I will die for the gorillas.” – André Bauma, Gorilla Caretaker


Winner of 23 international awards, subject of over 300 articles including a cover story on The New York Times, Virunga has focused global attention to the park, contributing (with WWF UK) to the British company SOCO to publicly declare they would not drill in the Virunga National Park.

Watch Virunga on Netflix


Oscar Nomination for Documentary Short Subject: White Earth

J. Christian Jenson

Trains, trucks and men have flooded White Earth, North Dakota. They’re there to get the natural gas out of the frozen ground. Some have brought their families with them. They live in campers with wooden sheds. The men go to work, and the rest adjust to life in White Earth.

Christian Jenson made White Earth as part of his M.F.A. in Film and Video at Stanford University. It’s an eloquent deliberation of small town America, the tides of fortune, and whether or not its better to leave the “stinky oil” in the ground, as pondered by a lonely boy who must entertain himself with the neighborhood dogs, a “native” who wonders how her White Earth will change, and an immigrant family weary of chasing stability. White Earth offers new insights into the life on the ground of a national debate.

Watch White Earth on Vimeo


Filmmakers for Conservation congratulates Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara of Grain Media and J. Christian Jenson for their Oscar nominations!

Stay connected for a Q&A with Joanna Natasegara about her role as Virunga’s Impact Producer

Jon Stewart Keeps Elephants in the Room – to help keep them on the planet

Comedian and – most recently, director – Jon Stewart earned the title “America’s Most-Trusted Newsman” for his exasperating exploration of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moments in national politics and media coverage. He exposes politicians, corporatists, and the media for their contradictions, keeping them honest and educating his audience with information useful to a functioning democracy.

On his Nov. 12, 2014 episode, Stewart explained how terrorist organizations are increasingly poaching elephants to sell their ivory on the black market. He emphasizes that the demand for ivory is driving the trade, and that the United States is the second largest market for elephant ivory. Acknowledging the devastation to elephants, Stewart also questions why Americans would vow to fight terrorism yet buy their black market products.

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Watch “The Daily Show” segment “Tusky Business”

The United States has banned the sale of ivory, but dealers can claim their product is an antique, and stop investigators from seizing their illicit product. That’s why the Obama administration has proposed a rule that shifts the burden of proof onto the sellers to show the ivory actually is antique. Wildlife trade is only surpassed by weapons smuggling, the drug trade, and human trafficking on the black market, and to cut down on a mechanism to fund acts of terrorism, most members of Congress support the regulation. As Stewart flutters,

“We have just witnessed something rarer than the African Elephant: Bipartisan commitment on an issue.” – Jon Stewart


But there’s one problem: many guns and knives have ivory handles, and the National Rifle Association got up in arms about regulations that would prevent ivory-gun owners from selling their inherited weapons. Knife Rights Chairman Doug Ritter warns, “This investment that you just inherited is worthless.” He claims the proposal is designed to “make the owners criminal,” while attorney Rob Mitchell warns it’s “designed to hurt Americans.”

“So I guess the only thing that should be hurt here are are giant land mammals and victims of African terrorism.” – Jon Stewart


Unfortunately for elephants, the NRA finds a voice in Congress through Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander. He warns the regulation would allow the Obama administration to take away your guns:

Sen. Alexander’s phone number:  (202) 224-4944

Senator Alexander continues, personifying how the “confusion and uncertainty” of the Fish and Wildlife Services ban on interstate commerce of ivory products already has “a significant impact on businesses and families alike,” with the example of John Case, “who owns and operates a small family antique business with four employees in Knoxville, Tennessee.”

Case claims he’s missed out on $156,000 on ivory sales because of the F&W regulation, which represents 11% of 2013 revenue. His store features 118 pages of search results for items containing auction, with the note: “this lot contains a substance which is protected and restricted in the United States and by international convention and can only be shipped within the United States.”


To which Stewart can only lament,

“This is why we can’t have nice things… like elephants.”


…before going to commercial and ending the segment, defeated.


But not finished. A few weeks later, on his 12/9/14 show, Stewart puts the plight of poaching elephants back in the spotlight, inviting Academy Award-winning Director Kathryn Bigelow on the show and screening her new PSA with WildAid, Last Days of Ivory:

Bigelow directed the 2010 Oscar-winning Best Motion Picture, The Hurt Locker. She and former Deputy National Security Advisor Juan Zarate explain to Stewart how terrorists have industrialized elephant poaching, how ivory sales fuel terrorist acts like the 2013 al-Shebab attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, and that elephants may only have a decade left in the wild.

WATCH: Kathryn Bigelow & Juan Zarate on the Daily Show

The Daily Show averages around 1.3 million viewers – hopefully some are in Tennessee, and will write their senator urging him to prioritize saving elephant – and human lives – over antique sales.

For highlighting this important issue with his powerful lens, we salute Jon Stewart and The Daily Show staff and producers!

“The Simpsons” tackles hydraulic fracturing

“Fracking?! That sounds like scary Lisa language!” – Homer Simpson


In its 26th and final season, The Simpsons isn’t finished fighting yet. The show continues to push (and frequently mock) the boundaries of distributor Fox, addressing hot-button issues like natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing.

In S26Ep5, Homer must endure hosting his despised sisters-in-law, Patty and Selma, and installs smoke detectors all over the house to catch the chain smokers damaging the kids’ lungs. They seek refuge in the bathroom – turning on the sink for a cover – and when they light up – BOOM! The bathroom explodes, and Lisa starts digging into why their house’s water would catch on fire.

Lisa pulls out her tablet and flips through a list of depressing environmental documentaries she’s seen before settling on a “Simpsonsfied” version of Josh Fox’s Gasland.

Lisa Simpson is a great viewer of tense environmental issue films

Lisa Simpson is a great viewer of tense environmental issue films

Lisa finds out it’s none other than C. Montgomery Burns behind the fracking, and writes her favorite State Assemblywoman, Maxine Lumbard (voiced by Jane Fonda), who goes after “his exxxcccelency” Burns. In turn, Burns gives Homer a promotion and a flannel shirt to convince the community why they should sell their mineral rights so Burns can continue fracking under their neighborhood.

Throughout the episode, however, Marge is heavily hit by the scary thought of what fracking has done to her family’s water. Her refrain: “Our water was on fire.”

Ignoring the lure of money, the hype of creating jobs, and even the detailed explanations of Professor (HOIYVEN-KLAYVEN) Frink, Marge saves her family from a fracking-induced earthquake, and convinces Homer to heed the omen of flammable water:

The episode, “Opposites A-Frack” is a strong reminder that sometimes the clear signs of unnatural balance are hard to ignore – even if they must be shouted over an earthquake caused by blasting rock formations with water to squeeze out drops of profit. Fracking has dangerous and unknown consequences – even Homer Simpson gets it.

Watch the full episode on Hulu