x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE wildlife to star in homegrown TV series: The Last Wilderness

A production company plans to create a TV series focusing on the UAE's indigenous animals.

Arabian oryx at the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Pawan Singh / The National
Arabian oryx at the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // The Arabian oryx, the Arabian leopard, desert foxes, vipers, gazelles and other animals are set to star in a TV series devoted to the UAE's wildlife.

A production company is talking with potential backers about making the series, to be called The Last Wilderness of the United Arab Emirates.

Wild Planet Productions says the growing interest in natural history in the region makes this the perfect time to produce such a programme.

The company's managing director, Jonathan Ali Khan, says this interest is reflected in the success of the National Geographic Abu Dhabi TV channel and the BBC's decision to produce a series called Wild Arabia.

Wild Planet Productions, based in Ras Al Khaimah, plans to make two six-part series. The first will focus on marine animals and the second on land creatures.

Mr Khan, 50, a Briton who has lived in the UAE for 25 years, is talking to a number of possible partners, seeking to raise the Dh4 million needed to cover production costs.

"The Last Wilderness concept really is focused on the UAE specifically and it could fit on to any of the national channels," he says. "It's really time to focus on natural history as a means to not just learn about our natural world, but also to understand the conservation issues that have to be dealt with at one level or another."

Juan Romero, a Dubai resident and marine expert who has worked as a field producer on the David Attenborough series The Blue Planet and Planet Earth, praises the project.

"There are amazing animals in the area, so certainly it's possible to do a series," Mr Romero says. "There are a lot of possibilities."

Mr Khan says he plans to release the programmes on DVD and repackage the material for use in schools, photographic exhibitions, books and other publications, and online.

The company last week launched the website wildplanetfilms.org to promote its projects, which include Sharkquest Arabia, a two-part documentary that is in production and due to be released next year.

The Australian wildlife filmmaker Chadden Hunter arrived in the UAE this month to start shooting the BBC's Wild Arabia.

"I'm very pleased that the BBC is here to do a series because it reinforces and highlights the fact that this region is ripe for natural history," says Mr Khan. "I hope that the BBC coming in launches a new era of natural history for the region."

He says his series will also look at the effect humans have on ecologies.

"One can't focus on wilderness without dealing with the human, so it will link very much to the heritage and history of how people use and have used the environment, and how that's affected the wildlife."

The outline for the marine life series begins with an overview of important Gulf habitats around Abu Dhabi's islands and off the coasts of Dubai and the Northern Emirates, as well as east coast sites off Khor Fakkan, Khalba and Fujairah.

Later episodes would cover the effect of development, difficulties fishermen face as stocks decline, conservation initiatives and seabirds.

The final episode would reveal how sea life adapts to structures such as Abu Dhabi's oil platforms and Dubai's artificial islands.

The land series would cover wilderness areas including the Empty Quarter and the Hajar mountains, and wadis, salt flats and wetlands.

"The series is really about documenting the remaining wilderness and the wildlife that exists in the country, and it's as much for posterity as it is a commentary on the environment," Mr Khan says.

csimpson@thenational.ae