Nature (Season 34) – Animal Reunions

Air date: 03/30/2016

THIRTEEN’s Nature Explores the Power of Relationships Between People and Wild Animals on Animal Reunions Wednesday, March 30, 2016 on PBS

 Richard Thomas narrates stories of caregiver-animal reconnections

What happens when people are reunited with the wild animals with which they forged a deep bond years ago? Will these gorillas, elephants, cheetahs and chimpanzees still recognize their human caregivers and how will they react? That is the premise of this program which also raises the question whether wild creatures can really experience emotions like joy, devotion, and love. It’s a debate that many animal lovers are convinced is true and the scientific community is beginning to accept.

Animal Reunions — narrated by actor Richard Thomas — contains interviews with scientists, authors, and caregivers including scenes of their journeys to reconnect with their former wild charges. The film airs Wednesday, March 30, 2016 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). After the broadcast, the episode will be available for online streaming at pbs.org/nature.

The filmmakers introduce Damian Aspinall, a millionaire entrepreneur and conservationist, who now runs the family animal sanctuary in England called Howletts Wildlife Park. Aspinall views the animals in his care as friends and believes he gains a gorilla’s trust in the same way he would a human’s, by treating it with kindness and as an equal. Despite his attachment, Aspinall believes animals have a right to live in the wild if protected, so the program follows the journey of seven captive-born gorillas to a West African national park. The story is revisited five years later when Aspinall arrives to try and find Kwibi, one of the male gorillas.

Likewise, wildlife cameraman Kim Wolhuter says he had to establish trust with a cheetah to develop a bond with the fastest mammal on earth. It took 18 months, but his persistence paid off until she disappeared one day prompting Wolhuter to set out to find her. Another segment profiles Dr. Rebeca Atencia, a vet who cares for sick and orphaned chimpanzees with the aim of returning them to the wild. She attempts to reunite with a female chimp named Kudia, with whom she formed a maternal bond, two years after the latter’s release in Congo’s wild forests. The film also covers the reunion of former head keeper Edwin Lusichi, who spent 16 years rehabilitating orphaned elephants, with two of his favorites now in the process of beginning their reintroduction into the wild.

Animal Reunions includes the insights of several experts such as noted ethologist Dr. Jane Goodall who maintains it was crucial for her to establish a trusting relationship with wild chimpanzees or she wouldn’t have been able to observe them. Her long-term studies led to a new way of thinking about the emotional capacities of animals. In a touching sequence, a chimp initiates a long hug with her when being released into the wild, but Goodall admits she still doesn’t know what motivated the primate. Marc Bekoff PhD (My Bionic Pet, Animal Odd Couples), Professor Emeritus, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, agrees with Goodall, but believes the chimp’s gesture is clearly “an indication of an incredible bond.” Science writer and author Virginia Morell comments that we humans “want to know what animals think and feel” and the information gleaned from these animal reunions is a step towards trying to answer these questions.

Nature is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. For Nature, Fred Kaufman is executive producer. Animal Reunions is a Tigress Production for ITV in co-production with THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET.

Nature pioneered a television genre that is now widely emulated in the broadcast industry. Throughout its history, Nature has brought the natural world to millions of viewers. The series has been consistently among the most-watched primetime series on public television.

Nature has won more than 700 honors from the television industry, the international wildlife film communities and environmental organizations, including 16 Emmys and three Peabodys. The series received two of wildlife film industry’s highest honors: the Christopher Parsons Outstanding Achievement Award given by the Wildscreen Festival and the Grand Teton Award given by the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. The International Wildlife Film Festival honored Nature executive producer Fred Kaufman with its Lifetime Achievement Award for Media.

PBS.org/nature is the award-winning web companion to Nature, featuring streaming episodes, filmmaker interviews, teacher’s guides and more.

Support for this Nature program was made possible in part by the Arnhold Family in memory of Clarisse Arnhold, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, the Arlene and Milton D. Berkman Philanthropic Fund, Sandra Atlas Bass, Rosalind P. Walter, Bradley L. Goldberg Family Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers.

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