“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!

Exclusive Interview – Tanya Petersen

Tanya Peterson:

Thinking Out of the Box: How can Film and Television deal with “hot” issues like climate change?

Tanya Peterson is a former Co-President of Filmmakers for Conservation. 

She helped found ClimateWorks Australia, served as the Head of TV and Film for WFF International in Geneva for eight years, and is currently the head of Marketing for the The Gold Standard Foundation, “a certification organization pioneering Results Based Finance approaches to clean energy deployment, conservation and broader development.”

Wetland Legacy

Description:

This is a short film made by Conservation Media, a green production company. It was originally made for an EPA water quality video contest. It was a lot of fun to make and we were terribly lucky to catch not one, but two acts of wetland predation to show how all the players are connected. We mostly dissected an older relatively unused 10-minute film we made a few years back for Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. The new editing and shorter length work a lot better here.

Positive results:

It has been made available online to be freely reposted across the internet in order to spread awareness about wetlands. The film recently won TWO Silver Telly Awards, for Nature/Environment and for Cinematography.

Contact/Links:

Director Producer: Jeremy Roberts
Email: jroberts@conservationmedia.com
Websites: www.conservationmedia.com
Link to film: http://conservationmedia.com/2009/12/13/epa-video-wetland-legacy/

By Jason Peters

The Need to Move

Description:

Produced by Conservation Media for The Wolverine Foundation, this short film explores one of the most fascinating and least understood animals on the planet. This small, rare, and elusive creature may be able to kill a moose or fend a grizzly off a kill, but it faces serious threats such as climate change for which it is no match.

The Wolverine Foundation recognizes the need for a coordinated science-based effort to elevate the wolverine’s management status through support and initiation of research, and to develop an information network for professional and public education.

Positive results:

Education and awareness online. Further information unknown yet.

Contact/Links:

Director/Producer: Jeremy Roberts
Email: jroberts@conservationmedia.com
Websites: www.conservationmedia.com
http://wolverinefoundation.org/
Link to film: http://conservationmedia.com/2010/11/12/wolverine-foundation/

By Jason Peters

 

The Drill Project

Description:

The Drill Project features the first-ever broadcast images of wile Bioko Island drills; large, silver baboon-like monkeys with obsidian black faces, and dominant males with bright blue rears and red genitals. An educational film, The Drill Project illustrates the beautiful relationships formed in the biodiversity of Bioko Island’s tropical forests, and explains how the drills are an important part of their ecosystem. Viewers learn, however, that not all is well in these forests, as traditional bush-meat hunting practices have given way to commercial poaching with shotguns and snare traps. The Drill Project gives a voice to the drills and the six other species of monkeys on the island by exhibiting these lesser-known primates’ struggle with human misunderstanding and advocating the abolishment of primate hunting on the island.

The film includes interviews with local community members and biologists discussing the importance of wildlife protection to serve future generations and its economic value to the country of Equatorial Guinea. The film is in Spanish, the national language of Equatorial Guinea, and narrated by Demetrio Bocuma Meñe an Equatoguinean who studies environmental science and policy in the United States. Our message is a positive one and it is meant to give the local public of Equatorial Guinea a national pride in their wildlife.


Positive results
:

The Drill Project is currently broadcasting on the National and International television channels in Equatorial Guinea and premiered both in Equatorial Guinea (December 15, 2012) at the Guinean Cultural Center in Malabo and in the USA (April 15, 2013) at Drexel University in Philadelphia. In March of 2013 we organized film screenings in three villages near the protected areas where the last drills remain, and we left a group of biology students from the local Universidad Nacional de Guinea Equatorial in charge of continuing to organize showings of the film. The Drill Project has aired in schools, village centers, and living rooms to ignite conversation about the bushmeat trade. The head of the biology of UNGE is a friend of President Teodoro Obiang and claims that the president has seen and approves of the film.

Contact/Links:

Watch the Film: http://www.thedrillproject.org/the-film/
Director, Producer, and First Camera: Justin Jay: justindavidjay@gmail.com, (843) 991-3442, thedrillproject.org
Producer: Shaya Hornavar: sh333@drexel.edu, (215) 667-4515,
Editor: Megan Pollin
Narrator: Demetrio Bocuma Meñe

By Jason Peters

The Ridley’s Last Stand

Olive Ridley Turtle

Description:

Three secluded beaches in Orissa, on the east coast of India play host to an extraordinary natural drama. On certain nights between January and May, when the south wind blows fiercely, tens of thousands of female olive Ridley’s climb ashore to lay over a hundred eggs each. The sun and sand incubate the eggs and approximately 45 days later they hatch under cover of darkness. This time millions of tiny hatchlings make their way in the opposite direction – towards the sea, where they will spend the rest of their lives. 10-15 years later, those that survive will return as mature adults to lay their eggs on the very beach where they were born. For as long as is known Ridley’s have been nesting on these beaches. As a species they have been around for millions of years, but today these gentle giants of the sea are in conflict with man. During the last decade alone over 100,000 adult olive Ridley’s have been killed accidentally by drowning in trawl and gill nets of mechanized fishing boats that ply these waters. With the fishing season coinciding with the migration of the turtles to Orissa for nesting, nets often contain more turtles than fish. Perhaps no other endangered species is being killed wantonly in such numbers anywhere else in the world.

THE RIDLEY’S LAST STAND is a poignant look at the lives and times of the Olive Ridley’s that visit Orissa, and provides new insights into the natural history and conservation of these mysterious creatures. A self-financed, pro bono film, it was completed in 2003 after two years of effort by the filmmaker.

Positive results:

Shown to key policy makers, conservation NGOs and the general public (through many public screenings), the film, which depicts both the problems and their solutions, resulted in a lot of awareness and some action, such as the Indian Coast Guard being given special powers to arrest mechanized fishing boats operating in ‘no fishing’ zones. However, due to a multitude of stakeholders and vested interests and absolutely no political will on the part of the Government of Orissa, there has been no lasting impact. Thousands of turtles continue to die needlessly every year.

Contact/Links:

Producer: Shekar Dattatri
Duration: 45 minutes
Format: MINI DV Country: India
Production Year: 2003
www.shekardattatri.com

By Jason Peters

We Don’t Kill Lions Anymore

Lionness and Cub

Description:

Language: Maa with English subtitles
Running time: 27 minutes

Lion Hunting was once a tradition in Maasai Culture Today with fewer than 200 wild Maasai lions left, the Maasai are now becoming their greatest protectors. This is an educational film made for the Maasai explaining how to participate in the exceptional conservation programme called the Predator Compensation Fund. This film – in coordination with the team of the Maasailand Preservation Trust, located in the 275,000 acre Mbirikani Game Ranch of Southern Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, Ol Donyo Wuas Trust and National Geographic Big Cat Initiative – forms an integral part of the education element of a well coordinated educational, reward and prevention programme that has dramatically halted the decline in lion and other predator numbers in this part of Kenya.

The film, narrated in the local language Maa, with English subtitles explains the workings of the Predator Compensation Fund, a fund that compensates Maasai if their livestock is killed by lion, cheetah, leopard or hyena. It encourages lion and Maasai to live together, with a strong disincentive in place to prevent rules being broken. The film is shown to each and every village in conjunction with their local community representative and liaison on hand to explain any uncertain areas and has had universal buy-in from the communities in the area.

Positive results:

On average 24 lions were killed each year in the 275,000 acre Maasai-owned Mbirikani Game Ranch (population around 10,000) before the Predator Compensation Fund (PCF) was introduced in this area in June 2003. After the scheme’s introduction just 4 lions were killed in total in a six year period. The PCF has expanded to neighbouring ranches in the Amboseli-Chyulu Hills area with similar dramatic reduction in lion deaths. Cattle are now corralled into sufficient, protective kraals to prevent predation. Lion Guardians, scouts employed to look out and radio in lion sitings prevent cattle from grazing close to where lions are known. Maasai are being educated to live along side wild animals and see the benefits tourism and conservation brings to their communities with greater education opportunities and reward. This film has, as an educational medium, significantly helped in the PCF scheme’s success. They don’t kill lions anymore.

Contact/Links:

Directed, Filmed and Edited by Kire Godal for National Geographic Big Cat Initiative and Ol Donyo Wuas Trust
Witten: Richard Bonham, Tom Hills
Websites:
http://natgeotv.com/uk/lion-warriors/videos/we-dont-kill-lions-anymore
http://www.maasailandpreservationtrust.com
http://www.greatplainsconservation.com

By Jason Peters

Vanishing Giants

Description

The Asian elephant, constantly under threat from the poachers and a fast shrinking habitat faces a more serious threat today-one that comes from its custodians.

The brutal capture, torture and subsequent death of a young tusker in a capture operation authorised by the government prompted Mike Pandey to stop filming his documentary on ‘Elephants in Crisis’ and turn it into a news feature.

The footage exposed the cruel and archaic methods of capture being used with no concern for the animal, a protected and endangered species.

The news feature was a protest and demanded the immediate cessation of capture of elephants in this brutal way and a call for policy changes if elephants are to be protected.
Positive results:

Within 3 days of the release of this news feature the Government of India suspended all capture of wild elephants. Individuals in charge of the botched capture operation were suspended.

The news created international outrage – International news agencies picked it and activists from all over the world joined in triggering a global signature campaign by IFAW. www.ifaw.org/ifaw_international/index.php
In India changes in policies and rules were made at a national level ensuring that all future captures take place with modern facilities and in the presence of experts to avoid trauma and cruelty after capture. Elephant welfare became top priority.

Other Achievements:

Winner of the Panda News Award at Wildscreen 2004

Contact/Links:

Exec’ Producer/Cameraman/Narrator: Mike Pandey
Directed by: Ritambra Rana
Address: C-18, Chirag Enclave, New Delhi – 110048, India
Phone: +91 11 26410684/26216508 Fax: +91 11 26216508
Websites: www.mikepandey.org & www.riverbankstudios.com/doc_vanishing_giants.htm
Email: wildlife@vsnl.com or info@riverbankstudios.com
Earth Matters Foundation: www.earthmattersfoundation.org

By Jason Peters

The Last Migration – Wild Elephant Capture in Sarguja

Description:

The Last Migration depicts a 42-day wild elephant capture operation in Madhya Pradesh, India.

Driven out of their home range in Bihar, due to excessive deforestation; a herd of wild elephants migrated to eastern Madhya Pradesh 300km away; where the sterile teak plantations, devoid of diversity, could not sustain the herd. Desperate for sustenance they went on a rampage and created havoc amidst the terrified tribals of the remote district of Sarguja – where elephants in the wild have been unheard of, for more than a century. Since 1988, 45 people had been killed by the herd and unabated devastation of their fields and homes left the villages bereft of their livelihood. The herd was finally captured in 1993.

The film portrays the man-animal conflict and its repercussions; the tussle between the ancient pachyderm and the tribals of the forest, which is a manifestation of a deeper and more vicious cycle; the disruption of the balance in Nature, on which rests the harmony of existence – the devastation of this critical framework, by mankind’s relentless and unsustainable obsession with power and development.

Positive results:

The Last Migration was a historic movement that led to a 3 year Detailed Project Report (DPR) on the status of elephants and their movements, carried out by Earth Matters Foundation and presented to the Indian government for a three pronged strategy to manage and contain the wild elephants, protect the tribal people and local communities and the setting up of an elephant Orphanage and rescue centre. The DPR was commissioned by the government.

The film was a wake up call right across India and internationally as it was the first actual depiction of man animal conflict over space being played out on the planet. The film also led to the removal of the term “rouge elephants” from use in government and local press, they are now referred to as “Problem elephants”. The film also raised grave concerns and brought to light the massive deforestation that was causing the elephants to come out in search of food and shelter.

The Last Migration led to the establishment of the Elephant Foundation – India

Other Achievements:

This film was the first Asian film to win the world’s most prestigious award – The Green Oscar – Panda Award at the Wildscreen, 1994. It subsequently went on to win seven other international awards.

Contact/Links:

Director/Cameraman: Mike Pandey
Address: C-18, Chirag Enclave, New Delhi – 110048, India
Phone: +91 11 26410684/26216508 Fax: +91 11 26216508
Websites: www.mikepandey.org & www.riverbankstudios.com/doc_the_last_migration.htm
Email: wildlife@vsnl.com or info@riverbankstudios.com
Earth Matters Foundation: www.earthmattersfoundation.org

By Jason Peters

Karearea: the Pine Falcon

Description:

This multi award-winning tale tells the extraordinary story of how a population of wild New Zealand falcons have managed to survive in the face of fierce commercial forestry logging practices. It also tells the story of two friends – conservationist and director Sandy Crichton, and 88-year-old wildlife photographer George Chance.

Bound by their mutual love and admiration for the falcons, Chance’s failing health and eyesight inspires the young Crichton to capture footage of the falcons as a tribute to the latter’s body of work from the 1970’s. What begins as an empathetic response to fulfil a friend’s final wish to see the magnificent birds on film ends up becoming the chance of a lifetime. When Crichton begins filming the falcons, he inadvertently becomes witness to new falcon behaviour, capturing a turning point in the ecological evolution of the wild birds.

Positive results:

During the making of “Karearea: the pine falcon” filmmaker Sandy Crichton spent three breeding seasons in commercial pine plantations filming wild New Zealand falcons. He also took on the voluntary role of falcon consultant with Wenita Forest Products, the owners of commercial forests throughout the South Island of New Zealand. The role involved locating New Zealand falcon (karearea) nest sites within the plantations, whilst liaising with neighbouring landowners and forestry workers to monitor falcon activity.

This was essential for filming purposes but it also served as an early warning system for contractors working in the same areas as nesting falcons. During the course of filming, the filmmaker visited forestry workers during their breaks and provided training and support in karearea identification and behaviour. Nestcams were used to illustrate the disturbance caused by forestry activities close to nests. Not only did the film reveal completely new falcon behavioural adaptations in response to life in commercial pine plantations, but it also led to positive change. As a direct result of filming, many karearea nests were located and consequently protected. The filmmaker co-wrote a ‘best practice’ work strategy for Wenita Forest Products, which is still helping to protect karearea nests throughout the region of Otago to this day.

Contact/Links:

http://karearea.com
http://www.facebook.com/SandyCrichtonFilmmaker
http://www.facebook.com/KareareaThePineFalcon
https://www.createspace.com/297215

By Jason Peters