by Nicole Rivard
Recently, climate activist Greta Thunberg met the great British naturalist Sir David Attenborough via Skype as they did not want to add to their carbon footprints.
“When I was younger, your documentaries about the natural world, what was happening, what was going on, that was what made me decide to do something about it,” Thunberg told Attenborough.
I can certainly relate on some level. My love of wildlife and a desire to have a career that involved helping animals in some way was stoked watching “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” with co-hosts Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler as a child growing up in the 80s. There’s no doubt in my mind that it led me to becoming a part of Friends of Animals.
Wild Kingdom and its co-hosts pioneered the narrated nature adventure genre. It was mesmerizing to see wild animals flourishing in their own way in their natural habitat and not behind bars at a zoo.
When Jim’s son Mark, nature director at Grace Farms in New Canaan, CT, called the Friends of Animals’ Darien, CT-based office in 2016 to ask how he could help us pass the Big Five African Trophies Act in the state, I almost fell out of my chair. I remember thinking that this was no coincidence.
Jim passed away in May of 2019, but I was lucky enough to have met him several times since that phone call, and I even got to thank him for inspiring me.
I’m two months shy of my 46th birthday, and I still get excited when I hear about new documentaries or series about the natural world. Last week after a coworker told me about BBC’s newest series, “Seven World’s, One Planet,” narrated by Attenborough, I ran home at lunch to record the Jan. 18 premiere.
Turns out I didn’t need to because a snowstorm kept me homebound, so I watched it, awestruck, from beginning to end.
“Seven Worlds, One Planet” tells the story of our seven spectacular continents and how they shape the extraordinary animal behavior we see today. Unlike nature shows in the 80s, this series focuses on the fragility of our planet, capturing stories of wildlife at a pivotal moment. There is a strong conservationist theme running through the series, which Attenborough unapologetically leads from the front.
The BBC series actually shifted its opening episode from the one that focuses on North America to Australia in response to the devastating wildfires. The episode, which was filmed before bush fires ravaged large swaths of the country, informed viewers how they can support relief efforts.
The footage is unbelievable thanks to advances in drone technology. For example, BBC filmed a shark aggregation that only happens every 15 years using the magic of drone technology to film the shark’s unique tactics, which could not be captured from the sea via a boat as the viewer would only see splashing and fins.
What also struck me about the series is that you not only learn about never-before-seen predators, you experience how all wildlife is interconnected, how crucial every species is to the health of local ecosystems and how crucial biodiversity is to the overall survival of the planet.
Another stellar series I tune into is PBS’ “Nature.” The recent episode “Hippos: Africa’s River Giants” highlights how hippos are vital to Africa’s ecosystems. As they plow through the Okavango Delta wetland system in Botswana, they create deep depressions in underlying soil which in turn become channels. If the area should flood, these connection points may become an outlet for surging water. They also enable swamplands to expand. Plus, the organic matter in their dung is a source of nutrition for a variety of river fish and aquatic insects.
These shows remind humans what we are connected to and should motivate everyone to help prevent any species from disappearing from the earth.
Speaking of vanishing, I was recently asked to speak on behalf of FoA and our work in Africa at the opening of “Vanishing,” an exhibit of African wildlife photography by the brilliant Penrhyn & Rod Cook at the Rene Soto Gallery in Norwalk, CT.
During the event, I highlighted how FoA sent field equipment for anti-poaching patrols in 10 countries in Africa, sponsors the Chimpanzee Rehab Project, facilitated the return of scimitar horned oryxes to Senegal and is currently trying to ban the importation of the trophies of Africa’s big 5 in Connecticut and New York.
I won’t soon forget the applause after each effort I mentioned. With all the darkness going on in the world, the people there filled me with hope. People do care and want to right wrongs against animals and the environment and so do some legislators.
Rod Cook, the photographer, explained to me that he is not one for causes but after being in the presence of these animals living on their own terms in their native habitat, he can’t help but want to protect them.
“These magnificent creatures have no choice. Humans create their own hell and we’re creating hell for animals too,” he said.
Lucky for us, these shows about the natural world bring these animals to us. I’m looking forward to the rest of the “Seven Wonders” series, which will continue to highlight wildlife’s remarkable strategies for survival. I hope anyone who thinks that humans are the most important species on earth tunes in. Because they can learn a lot from the animals.
Nicole Rivard is editor of Friends of Animal’s quarterly magazine Action Line. She brings 18 years of journalism experience to the front lines, protesting and documenting atrocities against animals.