Wolves and Panthers and Bears! Oh My!

Last night the Horizon which I worked on last summer aired; Predators in Your Backyard.

Based on an initial idea I pitched, I got to develop, research and set up filming for the programme. It was my baby, and so making the decision to start my Masters over going away to film in those stunning locations was heartbreaking. Last night I sat on the edge of my sofa on tenterhooks, itching to see how those months of hard work had turned into a TV programme.

The director, Nick Clarke Powell, did a phenomenal job of creating a wonderful story that illustrated the tension between the vital ecological role of these predators and the problems that will inevitably occur when they come into contact with humans. If you are in the UK, and can access iPlayer, it is definitely worth a watch (even if I am more than a bit biased!).

Even though our understanding of ecosystems, and how their intricate interactions maintain a healthy, biodiverse world, is more limited than we care to admit, governments are increasingly aware of the value of these seemingly ferocious animals. Last year, India announced that it was putting into motion plans to reintroduce the Cheetah, 60 years after it was hunted to extinction. Importantly, the report outlined that “the venture must be viewed not simply as an introduction of a species, however charismatic it may be, but as an endeavour to better manage and restore some of our most valuable yet most neglected ecosystems and the species dependent upon them.”

As happens during the early stage of programme research, we discovered many more locations which could have conrtibuted in their own unique way in the programme. I thought I’d share a few:

1)      Isle Royale

This is the original Yellowstone! This island, a tiny National Park sitting in the middle of Lake Michigan, was where Doug Smith (which headed the Yellowstone wolves reintroduction team) cut his teeth working with wolves and moose.

It is estimated that in about 1900 moose came to the Isle Royale, swimming the hostile stretch of water from the mainland. They had no natural predators and thrived, munching happily through the island’s vegetation.

In around 1950 wolves crossed an ice bridge from Canada and shattered the moose’s peace! This natural reintroduction into an isolated environment was a dream come true for ecologists. Researchers have studied this predator-prey relationship, and its ecological effects for decades. We have learnt so much from the research that has come out of this stunning island. Find out much more at their website.

Unfortunately when it came to our filming period, Lake Michigan had started to freeze over, making passage to the island impossible. I didn’t want to recreate the Titanic in the name of TV!

2)      Oostvaardersplassen

Did you know that just outside of Amsterdam there is a large nature reserve which is completely unmanaged?

This predator free reserve is the brain child of Frans Vera, who believes that our notion of a forested prehistoric Europe is wrong. He believes that the rolling plains seen in this park, which also boasts herds of Konik horses and Heck cattle among the largest in the world, indicates that woodland wouldn’t have formed until humans started to tame and corral large herbivores.

This is understandably very controversial. This great article by Andrew Curry in Discover magazine will give you a little more insight into Vera’s arguments though.  

3)      Pleistocene Park

Please read this article about Sergey Zimov’s Pleistocene Park in Siberia!!

This eccentric scientist is working to recreate the ecosystem, known as the Steppe ecosystem, before man’s impact. He is doing this not only in an “attempt to understand the Mammoth Steppe ecosystem before the age of man” but also “to see how restoration of that ecosystem can prevent the runaway warming mankind has never experienced.”

Here is an excerpt from the article to entice you to read it:

But what about the mammoths? Left to his own devices, Sergei has come up with a pragmatic solution. Approaching the tower he built to monitor the plant physiology of the park, he points to the wrecked underbrush strewn about the path. “Three mammoths came through here, two female mammoths, one child,” he announces. I am bewildered, unable to imagine what it is like to walk around in the present, all the time aware of ghosts of the deep past. He continues: “But today we have no mammoths, so I use a tank.”  

Among the assorted vans, Jeeps, boats, ATV, motorcycle, barge, float plane and hovercraft at the station there is a tank. A real tank, with Caterpillar treads.

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