“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!

Shekar Dattatri

Shekar DattatriBiography:

An avid naturalist since the age of ten, 47-year old Shekar Dattatri is one of India’s leading wildlife filmmakers. An internationally respected and frequently awarded producer/director/cameraman of blue chip natural history films, he consciously turned his back on television at the height of his professional career in 2000, to work with conservation NGOs in India.

Armed with a Canon XL-1, the determination to make a difference, and a nuanced understanding of India’s conservation problems, he embarked on a series of hard-hitting films that were edited on a PC at home. Some of these films, such as ‘Mindless Mining – The Tragedy of Kudremukh’ and ‘The Ridleys Last Stand’ bolstered the efforts of conservation advocacy groups and helped bring about change. ‘Mindless Mining’, in particular, played a pivotal role in bringing to an end a government run iron ore mining operation in the heart of a rainforest ecosystem in south India’s Western Ghats mountain range.

His other significant conservation films in the last decade include ‘SOS – Save our Sholas’, about the vital need to protect the ‘shola’ forests of south India’s Western Ghats, and ‘The Truth about Tigers’, a revelatory 40 minute pro bono film that illustrates the problems and solutions in conserving India’s dwindling tiger population. Thanks to contributions from well-wishers, he has been able translate his films into several Indian languages and distribute thousands of DVDs of his films free of cost to educational institutions, NGOs and conservationists across the country. While continuing to make conservation films, he now also mentors aspiring wildlife and conservation filmmakers in India, besides giving dozens of talks on nature and conservation to varied audiences.

In 2004 he received a Rolex Award for Enterprise for his work, becoming the first conservation filmmaker to win this coveted recognition. In 2008, he received the Edberg Award from the Rolf Edberg Foundation in Sweden. The award’s citation reads: “The Edberg Foundation has decided to award its annual Edberg Award to filmmaker Shekar Dattatri, for his important work with conservation and environmental awareness in India. The Edberg Foundation notices how a world-class filmmaker has decided to forego international fame and well funded film projects for broadcasters worldwide, to pursue national, regional and local projects in India. In due time his efforts will reach a wider audience outside India, but its immediate effect on local conservation initiatives creates an example which the Edberg Foundation wants to acknowledge and praise as a model for other regions of the world. With his camera, his deep knowledge of Indian wildlife, and his great enthusiasm and belief in local action to solve environmental issues, Shekar Dattatri has set an example for the world to follow.”

Contact/Links:

http://rolexawards.com/en/the-laureates/shekardattatri-home.jsp
Website: www.shekardattatri.com
Email: shekar.dattatri@gmail.com
Telephone: +91 44 244 15744

By Jason Peters

The Truth About Tigers

Description:

India’s National Animal, the tiger, is disappearing at an alarming rate from its forests. Government estimates reveal that there may be fewer than 1500 left. Why have these big cats declined so drastically? What exactly are the problems facing their conservation? And are there any solutions to the crisis? These and many other questions are answered succinctly in ‘The Truth about Tigers’, a pro bono, ‘first-of-its-kind’ educational documentary on tiger conservation. The film also provides useful pointers on how ordinary citizens can contribute towards saving the tiger.

Two years in the making, the film combines stunning footage shot by some of the world’s leading cinematographers (and donated by various production companies and individuals) with deep insights from experts. It takes viewers through the tiger’s life – from birth to death – and illustrates how different human activities impact the survival of this great predator. Renowed English composer David Mitcham contributed music and Internationally acclaimed actor, Roshan Seth, provided the narration.

Produced first in English, the film has now been translated into 5 Indian languages. Over two hundred screenings have taken place around India during the past year and over 25,000 DVDs have been distributed free of cost through an accompanying website.

Contact/Links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoGuud-vIaU

Producer: Shekar Dattatri
Duration: 40 minutes
Format: 16mm/Various
Country: India
Production Year: 2010
www.shekardattatri.com
www.truthabouttigers.org

By Jason Peters

SOS – Save Our Sholas

Description:

This pro bono film, put together mainly from the filmmaker’s 20 year archive and contributions from filmmaker Suresh Elamon, depicts the stunning biodiversity of the rain forests of India’s Western Ghats mountain range, and underlines their tremendous watershed value to hundreds of millions of people in South India. It also shows the devastation caused by mining, dams, plantations and resource extraction on this fragile landscape. Originally produced in English and Hindi, DVDs of the film have been distributed to 10,000 schools across India. Subsequently, the film was also translated into Tamil and is being screened extensively by several NGOs at various fora in South India, to raise public awareness about the vital lifeline provided by the ‘shola’ forests that clothe the southern Western Ghats.

Positive results:

Unknown to date.

Contact/Links:

Producer: Shekar Dattatri
Duration: 25 minutes
Format: 16mm/MINI DV
Country: India
Production Year:2008
www.shekardattatri.com
http://www.pressreleasepoint.com/sossave-our-sholas-film-conservation-western-ghatsindia

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

Timeless Traveller – The Horseshoe Crab

Description:

“Driving along the Indian coastline in August 1996, we stumbled into the little known habitat of the Indian Horseshoe Crab. Fascinated by this creature, we decided to delve into its story and the film “The Living Fossil” took form.”

The film Timeless Traveller – The Horseshoe Crab is a film about what some consider to be the world’s most spectacular scientific breakthrough that could rewrite the pages of medical history. It is an appeal for the conservation of a unique species and aims to achieve a widespread public awareness and appreciation of Horseshoe Crabs throughout India and the world. The horseshoe crab has demonstrated its evolutionary uniqueness by its persistence through geological time but of the four known species of Horseshoe Crab only two survive today. These extant species of horseshoe crab are subject to growing threats: Over harvest is a concern in North America but this is being managed, and in India, habitat loss and awareness of the species is a major concern. Once prolific on the eastern coast of India, today it survives only in a small pocket near Balasore, Orissa, where developmental activities threaten its existence.

Human populations are altering the landscape in ways that horseshoe crab, as species, have not experienced. In the long run, habitat loss and alteration could be a threat that even horseshoe crabs cannot adapt to. To protect this unique species we need to protect with immediate effect its breeding grounds. The horseshoe crab has proven its high value to human health as a model for vision research and as an abundant source of highly active biopharmaceutical and immunological products as evidenced by amebocyte lysate and related compounds. Scientific research on the Horseshoe Crab has shown that we are potentially on the verge of a medical breakthrough in finding a cure for AIDS, Cardio Vascular diseases and Diabetes. Research on the horseshoe crab has recently been stopped in our scientific laboratories for unknown reasons. We have to ensure that this research continues. It is time for intensive research and conservation and for the government to convene and develop an international program for the conservation of horseshoe crabs.

Aims of the film:

  1. Ensure that research continues in our scientific laboratories.
  2. Protect with immediate effect the breeding grounds of the Horseshoe
    Crab. This will result in protection of the species.
  3. The Horseshoe Crab should be protected under the Wildlife Protection
    Act, before it is too late.
  4. Setting up of a Marine National park off the coast of Gujarat may be
    considered to enable Eco-tourism and a sustainable source of income for
    the fishermen along the Gujarat coastline.

Positive results:

The goal of such a program for the conservation of horseshoe crab should be to understand the basic evolution and ecology of all extant species, to ensure its persistence in human-altered ecosystems, and to achieve a widespread public awareness and appreciation of the horseshoe crabs throughout India and the world.
There is little doubt that the horseshoe crab will continue to provide important insights as long as mankind can ensure the conservation of this fascinating creature. Potentially, this creature could save mankind, but can mankind save it?
Following persistent efforts after the release and promotion of the film, the horseshoe crabs of India, believed to be the oldest living being on earth (reportedly older than the dinosaurs), have been placed on Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, meaning that they can be used for research but cannot be killed or poached by anyone including private collectors, under Indian law. The crab has been considered important to humanity as scientists want to know how it has survived for millions of years… It appears the horseshoe crab is in safe hands, for now!

Other Achievements:

  • Swaran Kamal National Award for Producer & Director
    Category – Best Science Film
  • Getting to know and Protecting Wildlife Award at the International Wildlife Film Festival – Festival International Du Film Animalier d’Albert in France, March 2005.
  • Getting to know and Protecting Water Life Award at the International Wildlife Film Festival – Festival International Du Film Animalier d’Albert in France, March 2005.
  • Vatavaran 2003, Silver Tree Award in the Documentary Promoting Wildlife Category
  • Vatavaran 2003, Best Documentary in the Revelations Category

Contact/Links:

Film-makers: Gautam Pandey, Arjun Pandey and Doel Trivedy Address: C-18, Chirag Enclave, New Delhi – 110048, India
Phone: +91 11 26410684/26216508 Fax: +91 11 26216508
Websites: www.mikepandey.org & http://www.riverbankstudios.com/doc_timeless_traveller.htm
Email: wildlife@vsnl.com or info@riverbankstudios.com
See the film trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GhbPXpxDOE&feature=colike
Earth Matters Foundation: www.earthmattersfoundation.org

Articles:

Thanks to Mike, horseshoe crab may find a safe haven: http://www.mikepandey.org/ar_06.htm
Mike Pandey documentary has wildlife species protected: http://www.indiantelevision.com/aac/y2k9/aac833.php
Horseshoe crab: MoEF promises prompt action: http://www.indianexpress.com/oldStory/84711/
Non-Profit DVD Availability:
Contact the filmmaker with any requests.
By Jason Peters

Mindless Mining – The Tragedy of Kudremukh

Description:

At the heart of the stunning rainforest and grassland ecosystem of the Kudremukh National Park in south India, a huge Government-owned iron ore mining operation stripped the hills bare for over 20 years. Every year, heavy monsoon rains washed enormous quantities of loose soil from the mined slopes into the Bhadra River, leading to siltation on a massive scale. Floods caused by the silted river overflowing its banks used to leave a thick sludge of iron ore on the fields of farmers cultivating along its banks, greatly reducing the fertility of the soil and their crop yields. This disastrous mining project was one of the
most horrific examples of bad land use and environmental destruction.

With its lease having run out, the mining company had applied for, and been assured of, a renewal of their lease for another 20 years. Such a renewal would have meant the opening up of new areas of pristine forests to mining, resulting in the destruction of the Thunga River that also originates in these hills. Mindless Mining – the tragedy of Kudremukh was made on a shoestring budget as a pro bono film to support an advocacy campaign by Wildlife First, a Bangalore based conservation NGO.

Positive results:

The film, which portrays both the beauty of Kudremukh and the havoc caused by 20 years of opencast mining, played a pivotal role in turning the tide of public and political opinion against the continuation of mining in this fragile ecosystem. The film was also submitted as supporting evidence to the Indian Supreme Court, which was hearing a Public Interest Petition against the continuation of mining filed by Wildlife First. In October 2002, in an unprecedented judgment, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of the iron ore mining operation in Kudremukh by 2005. Since then, the mined slopes have started showing signs of recovery and the tracks of tigers and other wildlife are being noticed in the abandoned mining area.

Contact/Links:

Producer: Shekar Dattatri
Duration: 12 minutes
Format: MINI DV Country:
India Production Year: 2001
www.shekardattatri.com

By Jason Peters