‘Nature’ looks at fires; ‘Hunters’ chases virus sources

Rick's Reviews

A koala is treated by volunteers. (Photo courtesy of Anja Taylor, WildBear Entertainment)

(KGET) — Two new programs look at the efforts to deal with natural disasters ranging from devastating fires in Australia to the next deadly novel virus.

“Nature: Australian Bushfire Rescue,” scheduled to be broadcast at 8 p.m. Oct. 28 on Valley PBS, features the people rescuing and caring for the animal survivors of Australia’s devastating bushfires that took place last year. The disaster meant koalas, kangaroos and wombats faced a series of hurdles to recover from their traumas.

It is estimated that one billion animals died in the Australian bushfires last year. One of the challenges for the filmmakers was to show the efforts to save so many animals while at the same time look at the deadly results of the fires.

Anja Taylor, an award-winning science filmmaker who narrates the production described the film as a balancing act.

“You want to tell the truthful story but it is depressing enough as it is without going over and over the injured animals and things dying,” Taylor says. “It was really a roller coaster of emotions for us because one moment we’d be confronting horrifically injured animals in the middle of the forest and then we’d be watching the recovery of a wombat, which is just the most delightful creature, funny, curious, naughty.

“So we, of course, wanted to show that uplifting side, when the animal actually recovers and he’s so well cared for. So we tried to give you the balance of both, and hopefully we succeeded.”

A series of digital shorts have been combined into the 60-minute documentary that captures the immediate aftermath of the fires and relief efforts.  “Nature” executive producer, Fred Kaufman, stresses the point of the documentary is to show the humanity that reveals itself through catastrophe.

Wildlife caretaker Adrina Selles explains that it was just as important to make sure all of the volunteers were dealing with the physical and emotional demands of the rescue efforts.

Selles says, “It is funny how at times it drains away – it’s all we can take. Somehow all the people working there, there’s an understanding and the support that comes out, not only the physical support, but the emotional support that everyone gives to each other.”

The volunteers also got support from some of the animals they were saving. A joey was found in an area where every other kangaroo had died in the fires.  That joey became an unofficial mascot for the volunteers who found an escape from the death and destruction by taking turns feeding the joey.

The new National Geographic offering, “Virus Hunters,” follows researchers who are racing to prevent the next global disaster. It is scheduled to debut at 9 p.m. Nov. 1 on the cable channel.

The one-hour special features National Geographic fellow, epidemiologist and ecologist Dr. Christopher Golden and ABC News foreign correspondent James Longman as they embark on a worldwide journey to speak with the scientists connecting the dots on culture, disease and the environment to discover the patterns that cause global health crises.

A big part of the research has to do with how man’s connection to animals is connected to the zoonotic viral pandemics.

Golden says, “If we are thinking about the ways in which humans are impacting nearly every ecosystem around the world these are having devastating impact, not only on people, but they’re also having it on wildlife. When we are damaging wildlife and causing them further stress it further creates these opportunities for viral transmission to occur.

“And, so, by doubling down and really focusing on conservation efforts on issues of wildlife trade and on issues of this increasing interface with human-and-wildlife interaction, we can really try to prevent the next pandemic from occurring.”

To that end, “Virus Hunters” includes a look at: Dr. Kendra Phelps, a bat scientist; Dr. Jim Desmond, a wildlife veterinarian who specializes in emerging infectious diseases; wildlife biologist Jess Carstens; and research veterinary medical officer specializing in swine viral pathogens Dr. Amy Vincent.

Golden adds that “Virus Hunters” will aim to offer solutions and some of those could include the work that Phelps and Desmond are doing where there is monitoring and surveillance of what is actually unfolding naturally within ecosystems.

“I think it will beg the question of further policy and decision making that would lean on us to really view conservation as an important tool for public-health interventions,” Golden says.

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