PBS Presents Earth A New Wild

Feb 2015

I was thrilled when PBS contacted me to review EARTH A New Wild which begins airing nationally February 4th. Writing about sustainable lifestyle and travel on Green With Renvy, I felt it would be of great interest to you. After viewing the documentary, I have no doubts.  The five part series represents a shift in the paradigm of man’s relationship with nature. Following the journey of Dr. M Sanjayan to over 20 countries, the film presents a positive message about the role people can play in nature’s survival.

The New Wild Dr. M. Sanjayan

The five themes: Plains, Oceans, Water, Forests and Home include the work of Jane Goodall, a longtime inspiration to me, and her efforts to save chimpanzee habitats in Tanzania, a Chinese scientist who rescues, breeds and rewilds pandas  and Portuguese cork harvesters whose efforts in the forest work together to strengthen the entire ecosystem. Oysters are cleansing the polluted waters of New York City and AIDS connects a small fish to the villagers of Lake Malawi. In all these examples, it is people playing a key role in helping nature thrive. Nature, in turn helps to balance out the survival equation.

Host of the program, Dr. M. Sanjayan, is a well known voice in the conservation community and a regular contributor to the Discovery Channel, CBS News and Showtime. As he takes viewers on a remarkable journey to some of the most remote places on earth, the scientist finds many of his beliefs about the relationship of people and wildlife challenged. Humans are not viewed as the traditional antagonists to nature, but instead its partner. Integral to the project is observing the change in his point of view.

The New Wild Pandas

Sanjayan and baby pandas. Photo courtesy of Ami Vitale.

The film begins in Sichuan, China where a passionate  scientist is working with cutting edge fertility treatment to breed pandas in captivity. Most challenging is the epic undertaking of cracking the code and rewilding the bears. Using Big Brother observation techniques, the cubs with the most “wild’ characteristics will be selected and returned to the bamboo forest. I must admit I was a bit uncomfortable as I watched what looked like the impossible. I tend to lean towards a survival of the fittest mentality, and this was certainly a different kind of world-The New Wild, where man and animals learn to co-exist.

Endangered vulture in India

During the 1990s Vultures in Asia were being inadvertently poisoned by us and driven to the brink of extinction. Once considered low value and ugly – the vulture is now being re-appraised as a local hero. Photo via Joe Loncraine

In India sacred cows roam freely on the streets. During a recent visit I saw firsthand how nature’s imbalance was shifing the landscape. The much maligned vulture is the earth’s perfect undertaker. Powerful enzymes in their stomachs can neutralize just about anything, and the population of birds fed off the sacred cows leaving only bones in their wake. Over a period of 15 years, more than  90% of the vultures had disappeared from India’s skies. The cause of this decline was a drug called diclofenac, a anti-inflammatory used to reduce pain in sick cows who are not killed in the country for religious reasons.  Without the vultures performing this critical role, feral dogs multiplied and pathogens took hold in this fetid breeding ground. Rabies and anthrax exploded in neighboring villages. It was a near perfect example of how the disruption of nature can cause chaos.  The drug has been banned and efforts to breed the vulture are succeeding in northern India.  For the first time in 20 years, numbers of vultures are on the rise again and there is new understanding by the people of the symbiotic relationship necessary to keep the ecosystem healthy.

The story of the mangrove forests in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh was another I found fascinating. Here the ecology of fear is hard at work. The attack of a tiger on a human is a common story, but people still venture into the mangroves for survival. Storms regularly cycle through the area and leave dead bodies in their wake. Tigers have a taste for human flesh which leaves man and beast on edge and protects the area. Deer remain skittish;  the tiger prevents them from overgrazing an area and keeps the grasses healthy. Locals limit expansion which would in turn harm the mangroves. There is fear of the roaming tigers. Doing its part, the mangroves provide a breeding ground for food and protect inland villages by absorbing 40% of the force of a tsunami. Sanjayan’s conversation with the locals revealed a comprehensive understanding of the cooperation necessary for  the big picture. Even with personal tragedies from the tiger, they are tolerant and grasp the animal’s role as it relates to  the ecology of fear. It was such a basic and at the same time brilliant observation.

The New Wild-M. Sanjayan

M. Sanjayan on top of Aqua Pod. Photo courtesy of Matt Dyas

Again and again new examples of this co-dependance, this new reality of wilderness, illustrate how we are inextricably woven together. Learn about the rise of slime in our oceans  from Jeremy Jackson and ‘Water World’ type offshore fish farms in Mexico. Beautifully photographed footage takes us on a visual journey to parts of the world that many will never have the chance to see. This is a groundbreaking series for nature films with a refreshingly positive message of the symbiotic relationship that can occur between man and nature.

Look to PBS for local listings of Episodes of Earth–A New Wild in your area.

Green With Renvy was given a copy of Earth–A New Wild for screening purposes.

  1. This looks like a fascinating series. So sorry we are out of the country and will have to miss its first go around, but will look for it on iTunes. 🙂

  2. Tracie Howe says:

    This sounds like such a fun series! Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to look it up!

  3. Lexi says:

    That first picture is beautiful! Looks like an interesting show.

    • alison says:

      Hi Lexi. Thanks for stopping by. The series gives a wonderful perspective and I most enjoyed the positive angle they selected to talk about the future. It was a refreshing change from all the talk of doom and gloom. I much prefer to look at the glass half full!

  4. Jowita says:

    Sounds like really interesting series. I would like to watch it myself, where can I find it?

  5. Andrew says:

    Look at all those PANDAS! This sounds like a fantastic and worth documentary series. I’ll be looking out for it!

    • alison says:

      If you are a panda fan, this is one series you will enjoy Andrew.When we lived in Washington DC the pandas were the most popular animal at the city’s zoo, and it was so difficult for them to reproduce in captivity. The results in the documentary will certainly warm your heart!

  6. What brilliant stories to share – and your description leaves me wanting more.
    Did you ever see the documentary series: Last Chance to See with Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine? They went searching for the last chance to see endangered species – sometimes successful and others not. It was also brilliant!
    Earth – A New Wild sounds like a perfect counterpoint to Last Chance to See. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I haven’t seen Earth–A New Wild advertised yet on PBS in our area. I will be alert for it.

  8. Thank you for this, I’m looking it up right now!

  9. I was especially taken by your statement, “Humans are not viewed as the traditional antagonists to nature but instead as its partner.” I look forward to watching this positive series, Earth a New Wild. Thanks for sharing this review.

    • alison says:

      That was one of the things I liked best about the series Anita. Humans can have a positive impact-I’m tired of always hearing about the negative.

  10. This documentary sounds like a must-see. Congrats on being asked by PBS to review it. Thanks for your insights.

    • alison says:

      I hope you enjoy the series Cathy. You are right-I was very pleased to have been asked by PBS, so appreciate your adding that note as well.