If you've exhausted your family's existing wildlife videos, PBS' Nature offers new adventures into the great outdoors by launching its 39th season on Wednesday, Oct. 21, with Pandas: Born to Be Wild, followed on Oct. 28 with Australian Bushfire Rescue. Both air at 8 p.m. ET/PT (check local listings for time, date and channel in your area).
Pandas is described like this:
Unlock the mysteries of wild pandas whose counterparts in captivity are known for their gentle image. Journey through the steep Qinling Mountains with filmmakers, scientists and rangers -- sometimes even in panda costumes -- to witness pandas' startling courtship and aggression behaviors.
At a virtual session of the TV Critics Association Press Tour this past summer, Nature executive producer Fred Kaufman said:
For three years, two Chinese cinematographers trekked through the steep trails of the Quinling Mountains to catch a glimpse of wild pandas and learn more about the behavior of one of the world's most endangered animal.
Parental advisory: There is discussion of panda mating behaviors in this episode, and while we don't see male pandas fight, we do see one suffering some injuries (not graphic).
A more dramatic story is told in Australian Bushfire Rescue, which looks at researchers and wildlife rehabilitators working overtime to save the island continent's unique wildlife after particularly devastating fires that charred vast tracts of land during what was dubbed the "black summer" of 2019.
Along with Kaufman, on hand for the virtual session were episode narrator/reporter Anja Taylor, and wildlife caretaker Adrina Selles, seen in the film.
It's an encouraging glimpse into the humanity that reveals itself through catastrophe. This film gives me hope for the future, which is something I think we can all agree we need a little bit more of these days.
Of course, the fires that swept across Australia not only threatened animals and plants but also humans. Selles -- and the animals in her care -- got lucky.
Leading up to the fire, we were threatened on four different occasions from four different directions. We had to evacuate each time. We had to evacuate the joeys in our care, because we thought we were going to lose the whole property.
Somehow, Selles' home and sanctuary survived, a green island in a sea of soot and embers, and so did her animals, including the ones they had to release because they were too big to move.
Help came in from beyond Australia, too, from as close as New Zealand and as far away as the United States. Whether from burns or dehydration, many animals -- koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, snakes, lizards and birds -- needed either supportive care in the wild or direct care in clinics.
Fires are nothing new in Australia and have been a part of the ecosystem for millennia, but the ones in 2019 were extraordinarily hot and intense. As is customary in nature documentaries these days, Australian Bushfire Rescue talks about the suspected effect of climate change, but it also shows that animals have their own strategies for dealing with fire.
Still, many animals were injured or killed, and seeing this, while representative of the reality of nature, could be distressing for younger viewers. In one sequence, two joeys are darted and taken in by rescuers after their badly injured mothers are euthanized. It's not shown, but it's clear that's what needed to be done.
Definitely there was a balance to be struck because you want to tell the truthful story, but it is depressing enough as it is, without going over and over the injured animals and things dying.
It was really a rollercoaster of emotions for us, because one moment, we'd be confronting horrifically injured animals in the middle of a forest, and then we'd be watching the recovery of a wombat, which is just the most delightful creature -- funny, curious, naughty.
So we, of course, wanted to show that uplifting side.
Even in the midst of the hard work and disappointment, there were rays of light.
We had one little joey come in, in the middle of the devastation. Every kangaroo was burnt, but this little joey was perfect. Its feet were beautiful; not a mark on it. Somehow that little joey became our mascot. People needed respite, so they would go and say, 'OK, it is my turn to feed this joey."
Now, Australia, like everywhere else, is dealing with the pandemic.
Because of the self-isolation, because of the lockdowns, it's actually closed down a lot of the research projects, that were going to assess damage to wildlife and damage to habitat and recovery efforts.
So, it it has maybe not affected the care [of animals] as it's affected those critical research projects, and it's drawn attention away from the fires themselves. Now COVID-19's at the forefront of everybody's minds.
Check your local listings to watch Nature on your PBS affiliate. Episodes and behind-the-scenes videos also be viewed online here or on DVD; some episodes are also available at Amazon Prime Video.
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager and blog editor at Family Theater Productions.