COURTESY  PHOTOM. Sanjayan hosts “Earth: A New Wild

COURTESY PHOTOM. Sanjayan hosts “Earth: A New Wild

Human environmental efforts in spotlight in ‘Earth’

The Waorani live in harmony with the rain forest in Ecuador even as oil companies destroy it. But while the tribesmen exist in isolated family groups, new evidence suggests their predecessors built thriving cities – some as large as 60,000 people— without disrupting the Amazon’s fragile balance.

These native South Americans are among the many people and places profiled in “Earth: A New Wild,” a miniseries premiering Wednesday on PBS. Created by conservation scientist M. Sanjayan, the documentary shows how people across the world are learning to improve the land and protect wildlife where they live. In each episode’s opening, Sanjayan says, “The wilds of planet Earth are spectacular, yet one species is always framed out of the picture… us.”

Few wilderness areas are truly untouched, and by putting humans back in the picture, Sanjayan, who has doctorate in biology from UC Santa Cruz, points the way toward a more sustainable future. Yet much of his inspiration comes from the past.

In the case of the ancient civilization in Ecuador, the natives made the forest soil more fertile by burning household waste in pits. And when the Maasai introduced herding animals to the Serengeti thousands of years ago, they enabled grass to thrive on the plains.

“Certain grasslands work better when you have stomping hooves and chomping mouths,” Sanjayan explains. “Grass is a very unusual plant; it has to have disturbance, otherwise it will get dried up or colonized by trees.”

Montana cattle ranchers have taken this to heart, and the Great Plains are making a comeback because cowboys there have learned to make their herds move as if predators are harassing them – resulting in restored habitats of birds such as the curlew and the sage grouse.

The Maasai, whom Sanjayan describes as “the oldest cowboys on Earth,” use modern technology to safely coexist with lions once regarded as deadly foes. Now under Maasai protection, the endangered big cats are making a comeback.

Addressing charges that his fun show resembles ratings-hungry commercial TV programming, Sanjayan jokes that sometimes he inevitably finds himself surrounded by baby pandas.

“The No. 1 rule is you’ve got to make something people want to watch. One of the great challenges of environmental filmmaking is we’ve forgotten that,” he says.

Could his good news lull viewers into believing current environmental efforts are enough? Sanjayan acknowledges the danger, but hopes his series inspires people to have healthier relationships with their natural surroundings.

“I don’t know any pessimist who’s changed the world,” he says.

IF YOU WATCH

Earth: A New Wild

When: 9 p.m. Feb. 4

Where: KQED Channel 9

Info: www.pbs.org/earth-a-new-wild

artsEarth: A New WildM. SanjayanOther ArtsPBS

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Students in an after-school community hub move quickly through a social circle as they play a game at the Mission YMCA on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Parents scramble for ‘Summer Together’ spaces

City program offering free camps sees high demand, confusion over enrollment

The San Francisco Giants celebrate team legend Willie Mays' 90th birthday before taking on the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park on May 7, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).
Willie Mays returns to the ballpark for a special birthday bash

Giants celebrate No. 24’s 90th in an intimate party for a few thousand friends

Legislation introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting has expanded the range of people who can request a gun violence restraining order against someone. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Use of gun violence restraining orders continues to rise

For the fourth year in a row, the number of gun violence… Continue reading

The Port of San Francisco, which controls much of the The City’s waterfront, faces potential layoffs due to a financial crisis caused by the pandemic. 
Steven Ho/
Special to S.F. Examiner
In a financial ‘crisis,’ SF Port officials lobby for stimulus funding

Looking to right their financial ship, Port of San Francisco officials are… Continue reading

Police Chief Bill Scott on Wednesday said a rebranding and reoganization of the former Gang Task Force amounts to “more than just the name change.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Faced with surge in shootings, Chief Scott reenvisions SFPD’s Gang Task Force

New Community Violence Reduction Team adds officers with community-policing experience

Most Read