Breathtaking Planet Earth II
Hyenas roam the streets of Ethiopian city, where they have coexisted with the people for 400 years
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.
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
INTELLIGENT SCAVENGERS: A pair of spotted hyenas search for scraps of food on the streets of Harar in Ethiopia.
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.