Wild Arabia

BBC Earth has recently produced a three part series called Wild Arabia and I was given a DVD copy for my birthday a couple of months ago. Management and I settled down to watch, and we were immediately hooked. Each of the three episodes is an hour long, and the series claims to be the first to reveal the wildlife, wild places and extraordinary people of the vast Arabian peninsula.

The first hour looks in detail at the beautiful wilderness of the largest sand desert in the world, travelling with the Bedouins and their camels, investigating ancient civilisations, and enjoying Eid celebrations in the traditional way. The white oryx seems to be the animal best suited to the climate and lifestyle, followed by the trusty camel, upon which so much of life depends.

The second episode focuses on the Dhofar mountains, with cameras capturing the first ever high definition footage of the Arabian leopard. The offshore waters reveal humpback whales, turtles and immense shoals of fish. The annual rainstorms that turn this part of Oman into a green paradise are explained.

The Arabian leopard sequences were achieved through a collaboration between a BBC cameraman, and Hadi and Khaled al Hikmani, two Omani biologists keen to understand more about their region and to get some footage of this very rare cat. The leopard gets right up and personal with the camera, with some truly amazing results. Let us hope that the 200 or so still in existence can be protected to keep this endangered species alive.

'Shifting sands' is the title of the final episode, which considers the fast changing relationship of people with nature, particularly recently, but which started following the discovery of oil. It shows camels being ridden by clever robots, to aid performance, and falcons being trained using radio-controlled planes. Tagged dugongs (strange large marine mammals that hoover up grasses on the sea bottom) are monitored along with whale sharks, the biggest fish on Earth, in the waters of the Gulf. Some of the detrimental impacts of oil are also shown, along with some incredible time-lapse photography of lights in Dubai.

Dan Rees, one of the series producers, blogged that, “Wild Arabia was always envisaged as being about more than just the animals. From the outset the production team was on the look-out for stories that would illustrate the ways in which people have adapted over the years to life in the extreme landscapes of this huge sub-continent. It's a kind of 'natural history in the broadest sense of the word' - one that doesn't try to pretend that humans aren't a part of the ecosystem but at the same time, films those humans with the same kind of visually stunning photographic techniques we use for the wildlife.”

So much of the Arabia peninsula is desert that many of those who have never visited the region would not appreciate the amount of life it contains, nor the diversity of nature that exists. Let us hope that some of the revenues available from oil production are used to protect the unique parts of the region: The wildlife, the settlements, and the people; and that its unique heritage can be preserved and enhanced. The series Wild Arabia is to be recommended as exceptional viewing.

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