Wild Arabia: Bringing people and nature together

Friday 22 February 2013, 10:42

Dan Rees Dan Rees Series Producer

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Like most people, my first reaction when I was asked if I would like to work on a series about the wildlife and wild places of Arabia went something along the lines of "Sand dunes and camels and, er... what else?"

I came on-board as one of the series producers mid-way through the two-year production process. It's my job to have a creative and practical overview of the series and help to draw together the episodes. I also had particular responsibility for producing episode three in the series.

As a late joiner to the production team, my doubts about what this region might have to offer a nature-loving audience were soon blown away by the amazing variety of animals the team had planned to film or, better yet, had already filmed: Hyenas? Dugongs? Humpback whales!? But perhaps the crème de la crème is the Arabian leopard.

The images of the leopard in the series were achieved through a collaboration between cameraman Mateo Willis and Omani field biologists Hadi and Khaled Al-Hikmani. Mateo brought his camera expertise to survey work which Hadi and Khaled were already undertaking.

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Face to face with one of the most elusive predators on the planet

They placed digital SLR cameras, triggered by infra-red beams and pressure pads in a range of separate locations where they suspected leopard activity and visited these camera traps every week or two for over a year to get the footage you see in the clip above.

Leopards are naturally secretive as they must stay hidden to catch their prey so just to see one is fantastic and to capture behaviour like this is extraordinary.

There are probably no more than a couple of hundred Arabian leopards left in the wild so we hope this guy did eventually find a mate.

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.

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A 21st Century twist on the traditional sport of camel racing

So, for example, we get the extraordinary 21st Century camel race from episode three, episode two's eerily-beautiful coverage of the Arabian humpback whales and (my favourite) the magical journey deep under a mountain to find water in a centuries-old canal in episode one.

I don't know which I find more amazing about this clip – the fact that some of these canals are thousands of years old or the fact that people are still using them.  Either way, big respect to Chadden and the team for having the courage to go down there - perhaps his experience on the Caves episode of Planet Earth (he was the guy on the 100-foot tall pile of bat droppings) prepared him for anything!

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The underground channels are up to 15 km long

For all that BBC Two and executive producer Brian Leith had always pushed the production team to reveal 'the Arabia you don't know' – and the second and third episodes, looking at the wild mountains of Oman and the oil-rich Gulf respectively, are packed with surprises, like huge shoals of whale sharks gathering around oil platforms and monsoonal downpours in the Omani mountains.

It's with the 'classic' Arabia that we decided to begin our series.  It's a romantic vision – swirling sand dunes, Bedouin nomads and oryx backlit against the setting sun – but amongst the images you might expect there are many things most people probably won't have heard of.

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The lesser Egyptian jerboa can hop more than 10 times its own body length

Mada'in Salah, the abandoned city of an ancient empire in the heart of the Saudi desert, and the spectacular 'pocket kangaroo', the lesser jerboa amongst them.

Our intention is that combining people and nature in this way gives a fuller picture. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the more encompassing approach – plus of course any other comments you might like to share on the series.

Dan Rees is one of the series producers on Wild Arabia.

Wild Arabia begins on Friday, 22 February at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Audio slideshow: Exploring Arabia: Series producers Dan Rees and Chadden Hunter talk about their experiences.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    A wonderful first episode which brought back happy memories of our time living in Oman where we experienced the hospitality of the Bedouin on many occasions. We marvelled at their survival skills in an unforgiving landscape in times before the comforts and technology of our modern world.

    This was a stunning first episode in what promises to be an outstanding series. The photography of the wildlife and the varied landscapes of Arabia were accompanied by a commentary which encapsulated the essence of desert life.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 2.

    Great new series. Having lived for fifteen years in Oman and retained a connection for over twenty-five years, it was an absolute joy to see the country from a completely different perspective and learn many new astounding things - especially about its wildlife. Fantastic understated commentary and breathtaking images to go with it. Can't wait to watch the remaining episodes!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    Outstanding first episode. Great lookinTV. Congratulations to all involved. Suberb techniques giving
    wonderful images.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 4.

    Where do they get there camp fire wood from in the desert? They seem to have a good fire going all night.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 5.

    Wildlife apart, the insight in to Bedouin culture was the highlight for me. The respect shown to the elders for their experience and knowledge was perhaps a lesson for us all. The father/son relationship, quietly respectful, was profoundly moving. A few Western children might learn something by observing the workings of the Bedouin family (having said that I don't condone all that Islam imposes on them).

 

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