If I ever saw a lion, cheetah or an elephant in my front room I’d be understandably concerned. But WildEarth has offered a unique and accessible solution for those who still want to connect with nature in all its esteemed glory, from wherever they may be based.
WildEarth, is a pioneering TV channel just launched in the UK on Freeview Channel 91. With twice daily, live-streamed safaris, viewers can now enjoy the captivating landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and stunning wildlife of South Africa from the comfort of their own homes, completely free of charge.
BN1 had the pleasure of speaking to Emily Wallington, Co-Founder of WildEarth. We discssed how the company is bringing nature to its viewers, and providing accessibility and intimacy directly to nature lovers.
What makes WildEarth differ from other nature channels?
WildEarth is almost entirely LIVE which stands us apart from all other nature channels out there. We do not make documentaries like all other channels, we offer experiences. We take our viewers on virtual safaris across a number of different wilderness hotspots in Africa. Viewers feel like they are guests on the back of a safari vehicle and together with the expert host go looking for Africa’s iconic wild animals. Our LIVE safaris are broadcast every single day. WildEarth therefore has 10 hours of fresh content daily unlike all other channels. As a result of it being LIVE it is also completely interactive. Viewers can ask questions of the expert guide and have the answer in real time.
Does the company cover a specific nature reserve or does WildEarth cover a variety of regions?
WildEarth’s main base is Djuma Private Game Reserve in the world renowned Sabi Sands in South Africa. It is here that they have broadcast for the last 16 years and as a result know many of the wild animals by name and personality. It is particularly well known for its leopards. WildEarth has been filming the same family of leopards through generations. It has seen numerous litters being born, fights, illness and death. WildEarth also broadcasts at three other locations in South Africa. Pridelands Game Reserve, which is also in the Greater Kruger, Madikwe Game Reserve in the North West Province of South Africa bordering Botswana, and also Amakhala Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. In addition to these four main locations WildEarth broadcasts LIVE from web cameras across South Africa, Namibia and Kenya.
Being people who can see things from the ground up, have you noticed any elements of climate change affecting the areas you cover?
WildEarth has been broadcasting from Djuma Orivate Game Reserve for 16 years. As a result, it has seen many anomalies in the weather from year to year. In 2017 they had one of the worst droughts in living history. The lion population was struck with a disease called white muscle disease which they caught from the prey animals that they were eating. As a result of dehydration and lack of food the prey animals were malnourished and when eaten by the predator created a terrible disease. The lions became paralysed, unable to use their muscles before succumbing to death.
For many years there was definitely a lot less rain than average and the temperatures were hotter. The water holes were not filling up and the animals were desperate. However, in recent years the rainfall is back to normal and at times surpassed the average.
On a more personal level, what are your favourite animals?
My favourite animal is the cheetah. You don’t see many of them in the Sabi Sands as there are too many trees. However, in Amakhala on the Eastern Cape there are two cheetah brothers who we see regularly. The cheetah is not only extremely beautiful with its distinct teardrops on the face but is also the fastest land mammal. Watching a cheetah run for its prey across the open plains is an awe-inspiring experience.
Considering the great amount of coverage WildEarth has, which do you think people will find the most fascinating?
To begin when people start to watch they will find the fact that it is LIVE fascinating. LIVE creates a sense of telepresence exactly like being on a zoom call. You really feel like you are there with the other people. The fact that both the guide and the viewer have no idea what they are going to see creates a sense of connection to the experience. Once people have been watching WildEarth for a while they will become invested in the characters. Because WildEarth is out filming for so many hours every day they see the same animals who end up being the stars of the show. Many of our viewers have set up facebook pages for each of our leopard, lion and hyena characters. They tune in daily to catch up with them. Currently we think that the Queen of Djuma, Thlamaba the leopard, is pregnant and we think she will give birth in August.
And on the contrary, which animals are the most misunderstood that people might find the most interesting to learn more about?
Hyenas are notoriously underestimated and vilified. The Lion King created a belief that hyenas are dirty mangy creatures that are quite evil, which could not be further from the truth. We have a Clan called The Djuma Clan who we follow daily and know the various members by name. Their den is in the centre of Djuma and there are often new babies being nurtured by mothers and aunts. They are incredibly caring and a very tight knit community. The babies are very cute, they look like small black bears.
What gave you the impetus to start the project?
Does WildEarth incorporate VR?
I founded the company in 2007 with my husband. I came from a traditional wildlife television background having worked for the BBC Natural History Unit and National Geographic. My husband grew up in South Africa and had spent his youth visiting the Kruger Park and then founded a tech company when the internet started in 1998. We decided to pool our skills to start WildEarth. The internet obviously changed the world and helping a world to connect with nature will also be a critical need. By streaming LIVE wildlife over the internet we could help a wide and growing audience connect with the natural world.
WildEarth dabbled in VR back in 2018. We had a special VR camera setup attached to the front of one of the safari vehicles At Djuma. We would drive into sightings and switch the camera on. The best sightings were when animals such as lions walked past the vehicle. When animals are surrounding the vehicle like that the viewer can move the screen around and find animals in different places. We had a contract with National Geographic to create a number of VR sequences for them, the most popular one being a piece called “The Naughty Elephant”. The guide was parked on the side of the road and the elephant came extremely close to the point where she put her trunk into the vehicle.
Since then VR seemed to become less popular and we stopped creating videos.
Could you let us know a little more about the Explorer membership club?
The “Explorers” is our direct to consumer membership club. WildEarth has many viewers who are literally addicted to tuning in daily. The main reason for this is that we have created a community of people who are passionate about nature and enjoy each other’s company. They bond over watching WildEarth and checking in with their favourite animal characters. However, there are people who find watching WildEarth helps them both mentally andn physically. Over the years we have had numerous messages from our viewers about how we have saved them due to various reasons such as being housebound due to illness or depressed as a result of grief.
As a result, WildEarth set up the Explorer Club which offers people who are fans of WildEarth a chance to watch advert free and also have access to lots of extra content along with being a part of prize draws. For a small amount of money each month they receive numerous perks. It’s also a way of allowing WildEarth to remain free on our app to those who cannot afford to pay.
The project seems like a fascinating concept for both individuals and families to come together and immerse themselves in nature – do you have any live projects that cater for schools?
WildEarth schools is a project that we created many years ago. We recognised that the children of today are the future conservationists of our planet and that helping them to understand our natural world at a young age will hopefully encourage them to save it in the future. Every Wednesday we broadcast the first hour of our SafariLIVE sunset show into various school classrooms across the world. It is still available to everyone but we only answer questions from those children during that hour. We allow for six schools per one hour slot and they book in through our schools web page. The guide welcomes each school individually and then only answers questions from the children at those schools. It is a completely free service at this point but we are looking for a sponsor to help us fund this amazingly worthwhile cause. Children watch in disbelief when they hear their schools name and then their own name on television. It creates engagement and a long lasting memory which changes lives.
Where do you hope to see the company in the future?
We want to get 24 hours a day LIVE so that anyone, anywhere in the world, can switch on and connect with a wild animal in real time somewhere in the world. At the moment we are only LIVE from Africa which means that when someone who lives in the United States, or the UK switches on in their prime time we cannot be LIVE as it is dark in Africa. The plan is to launch with Tiger LIVE from India in the next few months followed closely by Jungle Watch which will be LIVE from the Pantanal in Brazil looking at Jaguars and many other exotic wild animals.
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