Wild tales

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 12:00am

Watching a new nature programme is a little like buying a new computer or car. We need each to offer more than the one we had before.

The trouble is, the stories surrounding the lifestyles of elephants and other animals are rather limited, with one elephant or lion looking and living much like another. With the obvious stories from the wild already told, it is becoming harder for film-makers to present us with new ones. We have seen so many that we take all but the most stunning images for granted.

Tonight's Survival, Tale Of The Tides (World, 9pm) depicts the wildlife along a stretch of Kenyan shore, where beaches and mangrove swamps are home to a surprising mix of sea and land creatures: octopuses, giant sharks and moray eels compete in the game of survival with hyenas, porcupines, monkeys and giant lizards.

A similar story was told on National Geographic Channel last night in Odzala, a portrait of the mammals and water creatures that frequent forest clearings in the Congo's Odzala National Park, a programme that failed to keep me awake despite some wonderful pictures of elephants and gorillas.

I fear Tale Of The Tides could have a similar effect.

While we have seen many such stories from one wildlife haven or another, possibly more intriguing is the stories behind the films. Wild Passions (National Geographic, 10pm) successfully injects new interest into natural history programming by introducing us to the passionate people who make these films.

The cinematographers who venture too close to sharks, lions, black widow spiders or thousands of mosquitoes and leeches, politely remind us just what it takes to entertain us from jungle, bush or ocean. For sheer danger, filming a charging hippo or lunging shark is second only to being assigned as a war photographer.

Making wildlife programmes takes a particularly special personality. These people spend months or years living and working far from normal civilisation. Many are husband-and-wife teams who share their passions for their work and are dependent on each other's different skills, overcoming almost any adversity they meet.

Carol Foster was stricken with paralysis while filming anacondas but continued her work from a wheelchair, and has not given up since learning that multiple sclerosis is the cause of her affliction.

George and Kathy Dodge, who focus their lenses on the smallest creatures, are possibly the most entertaining team. One of their greatest triumphs was to show us, for the first time, a harvestman spider eating an aphid. Their professionalism with the extreme macro lens, plus a heavy dose of passion for creepy crawlies, enable them to turn almost any insect into an intriguing character study.

Wildlife programming should not be taken for granted, despite the overload in our TV schedules. People go to amazing lengths to bring us these images, and make an important contribution to conservation beyond mere entertainment. Most viewers now take it for granted that we should respect and protect what we are shown.