Wilderness in waiting: 5 unmissable wildlife documentaries


‘Wilderness in waiting’ is a four-part weekly series, highlighting Africa’s proud wildlife heritage during the COVID pandemic.

Many of Africa’s most critical pressing conservation victories have been won because either an individual or group of like-minded people have dedicated their lives to a critical cause. Many of these are first of their kind projects and thanks to the lens of a camera, we’re afforded the privilege of discovering these stories that stand at the intersection of human-wildlife conflict, poaching, and conservation.

While travel has had to temporally close, my connection to wilderness has continued from the comfort of my couch I’ve sought out and watched several of the most poignant wildlife stories of our time; stories deserve being shared.

Sadly, conservation efforts come at a cost and one of the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic is that many projects themselves, face the possibility of extinction without the injection of funds that are associated with tourism. If your trip to one of Africa’s wildernesses has been jeopardized and you’re unable to travel at a later stage, consider assisting with a donation to one of the projects that are ensuring the world’s most vulnerable species also have a fair chance of survival. You can start with one of the projects below or contact a local game reserve to find out what projects currently need the support.

1. Eye of the Pangolin

The pangolin is surely one of the planet’s quirkiest and unique animals alive. It’s also one of the rarest animals with very little known about them. What we are certain about, is that they are one of the most trafficked mammals, whose scales are sought after chiefly for the Asian market. In Eye of the Pangolin, South African filmmakers Bruce Young and Johan Vermeulen offer a rare chance to observe the African pangolin species in their natural habitat, from the South Africa savannah to the jungles of Ghana and Gabon. You can freely watch the film here and find out more about the project at www.pangolin.africa.

2. Virunga

The Congo is a country not unfamiliar with conflict. A series of civil skirmishes have not only threatened life for the country’s many inhabitants but also its wildlife. The mountain gorilla one of the most endangered, with an estimated mere 800 remaining in the wild. The documentary tells the story of Virunga, Africa’s oldest park, and the only remaining place in the wild where they are found. The search for oil is also a threat – sadly an almost two hundred years battle of exploiting the country’s natural resources. The film’s nomination for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature testifies to the important message it carries. Find out more about the film, which currently streaming on Netflix,  and how you can also take action at virungamovie.com.

3. The Ivory Game

If poaching continues along its current trajectory, elephants will face extinction in 15 years.  This hard-hitting documentary takes an in-depth look at the ivory trade and the great lengths that are being taken to stop it. You’ll meet the government task teams in Africa, investigative journalists in Asia, and other independent organisations playing their part in ending the ivory trade. The victories highlighted by the documentary are a reminder that not all hope is lost in this critical struggle. Watch on Netflix here and visit the official website at theivorygame.com.

4. The Vanishing Kings

These ground-breaking films shed light on the secret lives of the Namib desert’s elusive desert lions. The result of an impressive two decades of observation from researcher Dr. Philip Stander means we’re able to better understand how these lions survive in such a hostile environment and also the increasing threat of their disappearance from human conflict. In the first film, Lions of the Namib, South African filmmakers introduce us to the ‘Five Musketeers’ – five male cubs and their family. The follow-up film Desert Lion Legacy chronicles their adulthood as they struggle to survive in a changing world. See more online at https://www.vanishingkings.org.

5. BBC Africa

With the characteristic calming timbre of Sir David Attenborough’s voice, matched with exhilarating footage captured by the BBC Earth team, you’re guaranteed to be kept on the edge of your seat with BBC Africa. This natural history series takes us on a uniquely impressible journey through Africa including Kalahari, Savannah, Congo, Cape, and Sahara. It’s a fitting tribute to the 1.3 billion people, 1100 mammals, 2600 bird, and staggering 45000 plant species that call the continent home.  See more online here.


Comments (7)

  1. Emma Shaw says:

    Pangolins are so strange – amazing sure but they still give me the creeps. That said, I wouldn’t mind learning more about them as they’re such curious creatures. I’m surprised I haven’t come across Virunga before being a Netflix doc, sounds like a very eye-opening and worthwhile watch. I’ve had a look at the website you linked to and the film gets a lot of excellent praise from big critics like the LA Times and NY Times. On the get involved page you can spread the word about the film, donate or visit the park – hopefully when the virus situation is over more people can learn about this place and visit. There have got to be a lot of parks and companies involved in the preservation of animals and the environment that have been hard hit by the sudden drop in footfall with the lockdowns, which is pretty worrying. Great suggestions Jared, plenty to watch to keep us busy!

    • Jared Ruttenberg says:

      Thanks for the response and having a look Emma. I hope the other films are equally inspiring. Indeed there is a lot at stake. Next week’s “Wildnerness in Waiting” post will give feedback about conservation funds and what is being done so stay tuned for that.

  2. Ora Wade says:

    With all the challenges the world is facing today, we should be held accountable for all the damage we have caused to our environment that affected the quality of life on our planet. These documentaries enlighten viewers on the reality that several human activities have a negative impact on other creatures that share the same resources with us. Since most of us are in our homes due to lockdowns, we can utilize our free time to watch documentaries like these. We can learn so much from it and share it with others as well. Aside from that, we can also contribute to organizations that aim to protect the wild and the environment through various projects. Interesting list, all of which I’ve never watched or come across before.

    • Jared Ruttenberg says:

      Thanks Ora – that’s excatly why I wrote the list! I hope that you find the watches enlightening. Thanks for taking the time to write.

    • Fred says:

      Yes, that’s true. I think that’s one of the silver-linings that’s been going on during the pandemic. We have the time to stop and really think about ourselves and how our lives impact the world around us, and maybe what we can do to live better or in better ways.

  3. Laura says:

    It would seem that these kinds of documentaries are more important now than they’ve ever been. When I was younger, I used to watch a lot of things like this when my friends all started getting LCD screen TVs. We were so amazed at the picture and just the whole Earth in general. We only have one planet, so these are great to watch and look at the world around us in a new light.

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