What a joyous programme this was, albeit that there were some gut-wrenchingly sad moments, it was nonetheless a pleasure to watch!
Narrated by Wild At Heart star Stephen Tompkinson, we were introduced to Englishmen Batian Craig – whose parents must just have hated him; can you imagine the pi** taking he must’ve got at school for being called Batian?? – and Richard Vigne who’ve taken on the challenge of a lifetime that in many ways mirrors Tompkinson’s role in Wild At Heart; they’re running a 90,000 acre wildlife conservancy in the heart of Kenya and taking on all the challenges that brings…
In this first of two episodes of real-life African savannah drama, we saw the challenges faced by Craig, Vigne and their dedicated team which ranged from orphaned baby elephants and chimps to prowling lions and giraffe handling. It was one of those shows that leaves you feeling uplifted and in awe of the inspiring work that’s being done at the Ol Pejeta reserve…
But of course, the animals were the real stars of the show with a cuteness rating of ten out of ten; I actually got all tearful when we saw a little baby elephant who was grieving for its dead mother. And there were the two absolutely adorable – and also orphaned – baby chimps that the team had to try to integrate into a group of adult chimps at the reserve.
Though of course chimps and baby elephants aren’t the only animals on the massive reserve and in fact, it’s home to some 400 of Africa’s most endangered species of animals. It’s Craig and Vigne’s remit to transform the reserve into a self-sustaining ‘business’ in effect, in order to ensure the amazing work they do there continues.
We sort of walked in halfway through Batian and Richard’s ‘journey’ in that they were already an established force at the reserve but it was nonetheless enjoyable for that fact.
Anyway, this real-life drama had all the components of a fictional one; for example, we saw how lion expert Elaine Matteson was called in to deal with a ‘rogue’ lioness who’d been terrorising the locals and eating quite a lot of a local farmer’s stock. If you’d put Elaine in a line-up and said to me, “Who among these women is a crack shot and a lion expert?” I think I’d have picked anyone other than her out, but books, judging and covers and all that.
Elaine expertly darted the slinking but ferocious lioness after explaining, “My job is to catch lions, collar them, monitor them, and, if they’re killing livestock, I deal with that as well.” And sure enough, she did precisely that, relatively effortlessly. She had her very cute little boy with her at the reserve too who, while happily playing with a toy lion said, “Mummy catch it” and mummy did, with finesse.
Once the lioness was sedated, Elaine gave her a thorough going over, noting that she had some damage to her teeth – probably from chowing down on whole cows – but when the beautiful animal’s tail began to twitch, Elaine wisely did a rapid evac, shouting, “Everybody back off!” before adding, “When you’re trying to measure the tail and they’re flicking it round in your hand, it’s time to get out of there.” No sh** Sherlock; I don’t think you’d need to be a lion expert to figure that one out!
Also, the team called in another expert in this episode; this time an ‘elephant guru’ in the shape of the very enigmatic Dame Daphne Sheldrick.
Dame Sheldrick actually has an impressively long name and list of prefixes and suffixes attached to it… she is, Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick DBE, MBS, and in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List, the Queen appointed her Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, which was the first Knighthood to be awarded in Kenya since the country achieved Independence in 1963. Just thought I’d let you in on those little facteroos…
Anyway, Dame Sheldrick heads up the running of the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya which is a reserve dedicated primarily to the conservation and protection of elephants and rhinos, so when a baby elephant was found nuzzling its dead mother, Dame Daphne was called in.
“There’ll be a period of grieving for her family that may last many weeks” Dame Daphne said, adding, “She’ll want to spend time on her own and won’t want to play for a couple of weeks at least, but one day, she’ll be a matriarch among the wild herd and bringing back a wild-born baby to show her human family, the keepers.”
It was desperately sad to see that little baby elephant in such distress but it was equally very heartening to know there are people such as Dame Daphne who’ll ensure she comes out of her distress and gets to live in a protected environment.
We learned last night too that should you ever have to wrestle a giraffe to the ground, you’ll have to pin its head to the ground to keep it floored. Always handy to know – you never know when that kind of stuff can come in useful… you might be out shopping and need to contain a giraffe one day and now you’ll know how to do it. What?? It could happen!
In next week’s concluding episode, Batian acquires a troublesome white rhino as he implements his ambitious rhino breeding programme while the team recruits local villagers desperate to work at the reserve. And a mischievous elephant breaks the park boundaries.
I’ll be tuning in for it – I only wish it was going to run longer. Two episodes just doesn’t seem enough!