“Africa: in the 4 years of making this series we’ve been to some astonishing places and seen animals behaving in ways that have never been filmed before. But Africa has another story to tell. The wildlife of this continent has seen more changes in the last 50 years than it has in the last two million. Changing landscapes and changing climate; today’s animals are facing unprecedented challenges, whilst around them the human population is growing at nearly double the global rate. There is an increasing urgency to understand and, crucially, to conserve the wildlife of this great continent. Today, there is a new generation of naturalists and scientists who are fighting to save the wild places and the animals that live in them. This is the greatest wildlife continent on the planet and what happens here is relevant to us all.” Sir David Attenborough, BBC Africa.
I know it’s been a couple of weeks since the last episode of BBC’s Africa aired (episode 6 – The Future), but to be honest, with my hectic work schedule at the moment, I’ve only just had the chance to sit down and enjoy it.
As a conservationist, this episode with its hugely important message was my favourite episode yet. By taking a look the plight of the Black Rhino – how it’s vanished from Uganda, Rowanda and the fact that there are now less than 600 in Kenya – the show highlighted the fact that poaching for its horns is a senseless act, as the keratin that horns are made of (same material as our hair and nails) is found to have no medicinal value.
The episode looked also at a triumph of a story – that of the Masaai and lions finding a way to live side by side. The Masaai, who once hunted lions as a rite of passage, have now changed their traditions to protect wild lions. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, another story of human destruction, followed by triumph: that of the last mountain gorillas left on earth. Although there are only around 800 of these gorillas left in the wild, which doesn’t seem a lot, it is a huge increase from the 250, which population numbers were down to at one point. The reason for the animals reaching the brink of extinction like this was the way that farmland was encroaching gorilla territory, and the fact that gorillas have no natural resistance to human disease. The solution therefore was human intervention, funded by Eco-tourism and global donations. This included enforcing boundaries of farming by use of patrol forces, and allowing vets to step in and care for animals where necessary.
By looking again at the story of that tragic episode of elephants in times of drought, it showed that the biggest problem for elephants is that during drought times they are left penned in and stuck. In the past, during times of drought elephants would have moved to areas of more water, but as human population grows migration routes have been cut. With education and action, people have stepped in and have come to the rescue. By understanding behaviours and having the will to help, projects have been put in place to link national parks by creating a safe route (in this case an underpass) for elephants to pass through.
Finally, the episode looked at the trees of the Congo basin. This section of the programme was very educational to me. I am usually quite aware of animals and wildlife but flora is not my area of expertise.
I was surprised to learn that the whole of the world’s weather is affected by the huge forest there. The vapour from the tropical forests is transported around the world, and that is why the programme calls this a ‘powerhouse behind the planet’s wind and rain’. However, hard wood from the forest is in demand particularly in Europe and China, and so 50% of forest has been allocated for logging.
It is evident that the message of this awesome series, ultimately was to appreciate Africa and understand the changes that have to be made to preserve it. We have watched some amazing scenes of never-before-seen animal behaviour during the course of the series and surely that must have reached people far and wide. By witnessing the awesomeness of these animals in a new way we must surely begin to get a sense of wanting to keep them on the planet? The parting message from Sir David Attenborough was that “Saving eco-systems is the key to saving wild Africa” and to me that was the most important message of them all.
Want to learn more about BBC Earth?
- 10 things you didn’t know about Sir David Attenborough
- Read my full interview with Sir David Attenborough here
- Gordon Buchanan’s Animals with Cameras airs on the BBC
- Sir David Attenborough and Gordon Buchanan talk wild neighbours
- What’s it like to work as a BBC Digital researcher?
- Join me at the launch of BBC Earth magazine
- Meet Jonathan and Angela Scott of Big Cat Diaries fame
- David Attenborough’s 90th birthday