Breath­tak­ing Planet Earth II

Hye­nas roam the streets of Ethiopian city, where they have co­ex­isted with the peo­ple for 400 years

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - KHAYA KOKO khaya.koko@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE a pack of hye­nas ca­reer­ing down No­ord Street in Joburg’s CBD amid the bustling mar­ket of peo­ple sell­ing freshly slaugh­tered meat, stale veg­eta­bles and pi­rated porn DVDs.

Well, in the Ethiopian city of Harar, this is a reg­u­lar and nat­u­ral oc­cur­rence – sans the porn DVDs – where peo­ple and one of the world’s most dan­ger­ous land preda­tors have har­mo­niously co­ex­isted for more than 400 years.

This as­ton­ish­ing co­ex­is­tence is beau­ti­fully en­cap­su­lated in the BBC’s forth­com­ing six-part doc­u­men­tary called Planet Earth II.

Planet Earth II is the se­quel to Planet Earth I, which aired 10 years ago. The se­quel trav­els through deserts, moun­tains, jun­gles, is­lands, grass­lands and cities to doc­u­ment how a myr­iad an­i­mals sur­vive in some of Earth’s most iconic habi­tats.

Dr Fredi Devas, who pro­duced and di­rected the cities episode, told The Star that he was fas­ci­nated with Harar’s hye­nas be­cause he had al­ways known the an­i­mals to be fe­ro­cious preda­tors, es­pe­cially af­ter en­coun­ter­ing them on a sa­fari in Uganda.

He just had to re­late this story to the world, he added.

“On my first night in Harar I was walk­ing down a nar­row, dark cob­bled street – it was 3am and I was on my own – and eight hye­nas turned into the street and started walk­ing to­wards me.

“I thought that there was noth­ing to be done then, as I couldn’t run away. But they walked straight past me and two of them brushed my leg, and I couldn’t be­lieve it.

“But a few nights later, I was sur­rounded by more than 100 hye­nas fight­ing in a clan war and I didn’t have any fear, be­cause I could see there re­ally was a peace­ful pact be­tween peo­ple and hye­nas in the city.”

Devas added that it was im­por­tant for him and his crew to cul­ti­vate good re­la­tion­ships with the Harar lo­cals, one of whom was a man called Yusuf, a fifth-gen­er­a­tion hyena feeder.

The low-light cam­eras which Devas said were used for this se­quence ma­jes­ti­cally cap­ture the spe­cial rap­port Yusuf has with the hye­nas while feed­ing them.

“I think the most sur­pris­ing story for me is in the cities episode be­cause who would think that that an­i­mal – maybe the most vil­i­fied on the planet – would be tol­er­ated? Not only tol­er­ated, but wel­comed into the city,” Devas said.

He con­tended that it will be im­por­tant for the world to think about how wildlife could be wel­comed into cities, say­ing that an­i­mals were be­ing dis­placed from their nat­u­ral habi­tat be­cause of ur­ban sprawl, which was hap­pen­ing at an alarm­ing rate.

“Now that 4 bil­lion peo­ple – more than half of us on this planet – live in the ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, I think it’s im­por­tant that we try to main­tain the con­nec­tion to na­ture within the cities,” he as­serted.

BBC’s Africa vice-pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager, Joel Churcher, said Planet Earth I was the most watched nat­u­ral his­tory doc­u­men­tary in at least 15 years in the UK, out­per­form­ing the singing com­pe­ti­tion X-Fac­tor UK.

Asked whether there was an ap­petite for a nat­u­ral his­tory doc­u­men­tary in Africa,

Churcher said the ex­ten­sive re­search they did around the con­ti­nent gave them con­fi­dence that this doc­u­men­tary would res­onate with African au­di­ences.

“I think wher­ever you live in the world there’s a fas­ci­na­tion with the nat­u­ral world. When we sell our con­tent to other broad­cast­ers on the con­ti­nent, the most pop­u­lar genre we sell is nat­u­ral his­tory.

“So, yes, I think nat­u­ral his­tory res­onates across all ages and across all pop­u­la­tions,” Churcher em­pha­sised.

He couldn’t pro­vide an ex­act fig­ure spent in mak­ing this doc­u­men­tary se­ries, but said the BBC re­ceived £3.7 bil­lion (R62.3bn) in li­cence fees last year.

The money is in­vested in con­tent such as Planet Earth

II, which he said was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of a pub­lic ser­vice broad­caster.

“Planet Earth II was a size­able in­vest­ment, but one where the BBC feels it is well in­vested. We have our own nat­u­ral his­tory unit in Bris­tol (Eng­land), which is re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing this type of pro­gram­ming.

“We don’t make it just for the UK au­di­ence – we ob­vi­ously make it so it can be dis­sem­i­nated across the world,” Churcher ex­plained.

This se­ries is nar­rated by the sooth­ing, leg­endary voice of Sir David At­ten­bor­ough, and at the age of 90, Devas ad­mits that it will be dif­fi­cult to re­place At­ten­bor­ough should he not be alive if an­other se­quel of Planet Earth is made.

“The thing about David At­ten­bor­ough is that he knows a huge amount. His gen­eral knowl­edge of nat­u­ral his­tory is al­most un­sur­passed.

“For years we have been think­ing who the next David At­ten­bor­ough is – and no one has come close,” Devas said.

@khayakoko88

Planet Earth II pre­mieres on Sun­day, Fe­bru­ary 5, on BBC Earth, DStv chan­nel 184.

They walked straight past me on the street, and two of them brushed my leg. I couldn’t be­lieve it

PIC­TURE: PAUL THOMP­SON

IN­TEL­LI­GENT SCAVENGERS: A pair of spot­ted hye­nas search for scraps of food on the streets of Harar in Ethiopia.

PIC­TURE: PAUL THOMP­SON PIC­TURE: FREDI DEVAS

CON­CRETE JUN­GLE: Dr Fredi Devas in New York City dur­ing a shoot­ing of the

Planet Earth II cities episode. Devas be­lieves the ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment should con­sider ways of wel­com­ing wildlife into cities be­cause of the dwin­dling nat­u­ral habi­tat caused by ur­ban sprawl. CLOSE SHAVE: Yusuf is one of few peo­ple in Harar, Ethiopia, who has a close re­la­tion­ship with wild hye­nas, call­ing them into his house and feed­ing them by hand.

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