Five wildlife films to watch during lockdown

The executive producer of Al Jazeera’s award-winning environmental solutions series, earthrise, shares her top picks.

Wildlife films

With human populations around the world being forced to take a back seat, emboldened animals are gliding through clear waterways, stepping out onto peaceful city streets and reclaiming deserted national parks.

Animal sightings are drawing wonder on social media. A jellyfish floating along the canals of Venice, a civet cat sauntering along a zebra crossing in Kerala, a puma lying asleep in a tree in a back yard in Boulder, Colorado, and others scouting the streets of Santiago. In Istanbul, dolphins are frolicking in the Bosphorus. In Thailand, on beaches devoid of tourists, more endangered leatherback turtle nests have been counted than at any time in the past two decades. 

This only goes to show how damaging the human presence is. It is also, however, a welcome sign of nature’s ability to recover. 

But, will it ever get a proper chance to bounce back? Even now, in what could be a respite, it is being hit when it is down.  

The threat to wildlife continues apace. Places left unpatrolled and unprotected are particularly vulnerable. From the Amazon, to the African plains and the Himalayas, there is concern about encroachment not only from profiteers but also from people who are desperate to find food and fuel as the economic shock of the pandemic hits.  

Restoration projects have come to a halt. Scientific expeditions have been cancelled. A major UN conference on biological diversity planned for later in the year has been postponed.

While animals run wild in parts of the planet usually occupied by humans and a pageant of beautiful creatures parades across screens, one million species are still facing extinction, many within decades. The 60 percent of animals we have wiped out since 1970 can never be brought back from the dead. 

Several critical issues will be demanding our attention once the pandemic has abated. Conservation must be one of them. Healthy ecosystems are fundamental for a healthy planet and healthy people. We ransack, trade and consume animals as we do all the planet’s resources. And the results, as the COVID-19 pandemic shows only too clearly, can be fatal.

In the following five earthrise films we meet conservationists who are fighting nature’s corner and, in some cases, winning. Their stories are a reminder of the urgent need to protect our fellow creatures on Earth, even while the pandemic is making us fear for our own lives.

Pangolin Rangers

While the novel coronavirus is thought to have emerged from bats, an intermediary host may have carried it over to humans. Sold at the wet market in Wuhan, China, where the COVID-19 outbreak began, pangolins have been cited as the possible go-between. 

This is yet to be scientifically proven but, still, pangolins have been getting a bad press. Whereas, due to rising demand for their meat and scales, they are some of the most illegally trafficked and threatened animals in the world

It will be impossible to eliminate further pandemics without abolishing the wildlife trade, which brings animals and the pathogens they carry directly into contact with humans. 

In 2013, earthrise visited a conservation programme in Cambodia which is protecting the endangered Sunda pangolin. 

If I keep hunting the animal, it will soon be extinct ... instead of hunting we will protect them.

by Kong Heng, ex-pangolin poacher


Antarctic Sanctuary

One way of protecting animals – and keeping viruses contained – is simply to keep people away. Conservation groups and the UN are calling for governments to protect 30 percent of the planet by 2030. 

In 2018, we followed a Greenpeace campaign to create the world’s largest sanctuary in the remote Weddell Sea in Antarctica. The continent’s spectacular biodiversity is under threat from human activity. 

The campaign is yet to succeed. Greenpeace had been pinning hopes on this year’s gathering of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the international body responsible for protecting Antarctic waters, but this may not take place due to the pandemic.

The big problem is getting people to realise why they should care about the Antarctic.

by Will McCullum, head of Oceans, Greenpeace UK


Downtown Koalas

The wildfires that raged across Australia between 2019 and 2020 are estimated to have killed a third of the country’s koalas. But, as if the extreme impacts of climate change were not bad enough, these mammals were already in big trouble. 

An epidemic of chlamydia, which can lead to infertility and even death, has been hitting them hard. Initial research suggests the chlamydia virus detected in koalas is virtually identical to that found in sheep and cattle and, therefore, that it crossed over between species.  

On top of this, as cities expand, an increasing number of koalas are forced to live within them. This brings new threats. 

In Brisbane, scientists and volunteers are working to save this iconic animal.

This road is a hotspot for koala deaths in the area ... when they get on the rail lines ... they are exposed to really significant injury and death.

by Dr Jon Hanger, veterinary ecologist


Saving the Historic Wetapunga

Human encroachment can be disastrous for local wildlife. But what happens when people bring other invasive species with them? 

In New Zealand, the native wetapunga has been around for 190 million years. But in only a century and a half, human-introduced pests such as stoats and rats almost wiped it out. 

Now, a breeding programme at the Auckland Zoo is bringing this huge, dinosaur-era insect back from the brink of extinction. 

They're really, really important for the environment ... without insects, we wouldn't be here.

by Kirsty Macfarlane, learning guide, Auckland Zoo


Saving the Yangtze Porpoise

Our final stop is Wuhan, China, a city built on the banks of the Yangtze river. But rapid development has put huge pressure on the river’s entire ecosystem. 

Its polluted, murky waters are home to the critically endangered Yangtze finless purpoise. In 2006, its relation and one of the river’s other inhabitants, the baiji dolphin, became the first species of dolphin to be driven to extinction by humans.  

The fight is on to ensure the world’s only freshwater porpoise does not meet the same fate.  

We are not only trying to save this species. We are also trying to improve the health of the Yangtze river.

by Professor Wang Ding, Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences


You can find more earthrise films here.

Source: Al Jazeera