An­i­mal Planet comes to KZN

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - DUN­CAN GUY

“DAD, DON’T be silly. Come back, come back!” Sit­ting in a Land Rover, Kathaleen Stephen­son pleads with her dad, An­i­mal Planet’s Jack Hanna, not to go too close to a warthog’s hole at Zulu Nyala, a pri­vate game farm near Hluh­luwe, in KwaZulu-Natal where she be­lieves a mother pro­tect­ing her piglets could storm to­wards him.

“Didn’t you hear what Bernie said?” she car­ries on in an ac­cent dif­fer­ent to her fa­ther’s South­ern drawl – the re­sult of her hav­ing mar­ried an English­man and liv­ing in Sur­rey, far from her na­tive US.

Guide Ber­nadette Everett has just told the cam­era how dan­ger­ous warthogs can be.

“I once saw a guy come into the front of the bur­row. The warthog came out and hit him like a 10-pound (4.5kg) ham­mer. It broke his leg.”

What Stephen­son hasn’t heard Everett say is that she saw a mother warthog dis­ap­pear­ing from the hole where Hanna is stand­ing, in the hope that th­ese hu­man in­trud­ers would fol­low her and leave her ba­bies alone.

For the first time in 10 years, Stephen­son is once again co­p­re­sent­ing a wildlife film with her dad, known also as “Jun­gle Jack” and for ap­pear­ing on screen in khaki.

Back in the day, the two of them pro­duced 65 shows of Hanna’s Ark.

At another spot on Zulu Nyala, Everett takes the film crew to the skele­tal re­mains of a three- to fourme­tre African rock python that was burnt in a fire. Ev­ery­one is fas­ci­nated by the sharp­ness of its teeth. Dad and daugh­ter dis­cuss the ser­pent as the cam­eras roll. It ends with him squeez­ing her with a hug to demon­strate to their mil­lions of view­ers how pythons, boas and ana­con­das con­strict their prey.

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Elaine Pugliese says about 50 per­cent of film­ing for An­i­mal Planet is based on plan­ning while the other half is about things that crop up spon­ta­neously, like Hanna’s dis­cov­ery of a huge pile of “bok­drol­letjies” (buck dung) near the python skeleton.

“Any­one for choco­late raisins?” he asks.

“Na­ture al­ways gives us drama,” says Pugliese.

The drama that made the high­light of their trip to KZN was a nyala giv­ing birth in the grounds of their lodge.

Re­flect­ing on the mo­ment, Hanna’s wife Suzi, a trained nurse, who also of­ten ap­pears on screen with him, re­marks: “You were like a dad in a de­liv­ery room.”

The film crew, which has also been shoot­ing rhino in the re­serve, is relieved that the nyala has pro­duced “another show”. Film­ing ex­pe­di­tions like their present African sa­fari need to be vi­able.

Hanna has a his­tory of get­ting au­di­ences with pres­i­dents.

On this trip he met with Gabon’s Ali Bongo Ondimba to dis­cuss con­ser­va­tion is­sues, en route to film the low­land go­ril­las and for­est ele­phants.

This African film­ing sa­fari ex­cludes one of Hanna’s favourite coun­tries: Rwanda.

His links with the tiny coun­try, fa­mous for its en­dan­gered moun­tain go­ril­las and in­fa­mous for the 1994 geno­cide, date back to 1982 when fa­mous gorilla con­ser­va­tion­ist Dian Fossey vis­ited Ohio’s Colum­bus Zoo

‘The drama that made their trip to KZN was a nyala giv­ing birth in the grounds of their lodge

where Hanna was a zookeeper and is now di­rec­tor emer­i­tus.

“She wasn’t in favour of zoos. Colum­bus Zoo was the first to have a moun­tain gorilla and she wanted to see it.” (The gorilla, Colo, is stil alive and the old­est liv­ing mem­ber of her species.)

Af­ter the geno­cide, Hanna built a house in Rwanda as there was lit­tle ac­com­mo­da­tion for peo­ple go­ing on gorilla treks. One of his first guests was Bill Gates, he says.

“Now there are three-star lodges up there.”

Since then Colum­bus Zoo has in­vested in an or­phan­age and a school.

Among the mil­lions it gives to con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, much goes to­wards peo­ple liv­ing in close quar­ters with en­dan­gered an­i­mals, to en­cour­age al­ter­na­tive life­styles to keep them away from the an­i­mals and dis­suade poach­ing.

Hanna sees post-geno­cide Rwanda as a shin­ing light in Africa.

“Rwanda was noth­ing. It’s now the safest, clean­est coun­try in Africa.”

He won­ders whether the rhino might be fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar path, with some­thing good com­ing out of some­thing bad be­fore it be­comes ex­tinct.

“I am pray­ing that this iconic an­i­mal will show peo­ple how close we can come to los­ing some­thing spe­cial and be a wake-up call to the world.”

He stresses that in spite of the en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems the world faces – with hu­man over­pop­u­la­tion, which peo­ple are re­luc­tant to talk about frankly, be­ing a ma­jor con­tribut­ing fac­tor – he is not a pes­simist.

“There’s no point in telling peo­ple with fam­i­lies that the world is go­ing to pot. I put out a fun show. I re­ally be­lieve the younger gen­er­a­tion feel more for the planet than the pre­vi­ous one.”

He points to the baby boomer gen­er­a­tion, of which he is a prod­uct.

“On the farm I grew up on in Ten­nessee we would think noth­ing of drain­ing oil from a ve­hi­cle and let­ting it flow out into the ground, or when wash­ing a car leav­ing the hose on for days.”

Dif­fer­ent im­ages pen­e­trate his sub-con­scious in his adult life, like scenes of African women liv­ing in poverty, car­ry­ing heavy con­tain­ers filled with wa­ter.

“When I brush my teeth I never leave the wa­ter run­ning. See­ing those women taught me just how pre­cious wa­ter is.”

Af­ter Zulu Nyala, Hana and daugh­ter, with their film crew, head in­land for more film­ing at lion and chee­tah sanc­tu­ar­ies in North West.

DAD AND DAUGH­TER SHOW: The cam­era rolls as An­i­mal Planet’s Jack Hanna and his daugh­ter Kathaleen Stephen­son dis­cuss dung bee­tles af­ter find­ing one in the road at Zulu Nyala pri­vate game re­serve.

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