mon 21/08/2017

Puerto Rico: Island of Enchantment – Natural World, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Puerto Rico: Island of Enchantment – Natural World, BBC Two

Puerto Rico: Island of Enchantment – Natural World, BBC Two

Caribbean conservationists fight back against man-made mayhem

Jafet Velez bonds with a rare Puerto Rican Parrot

The soothing voice of David Attenborough narrated this cautionary tale, which is improbably heading not for a happy ending but a happy new beginning. Puerto Rico, the so-called island of enchantment, overwhelmed early western visitors with its charms: its beaches, its rainforest, its animals, its beauty. But nature was unprepared for the greatest threat, human predation, and the general mayhem wreaked by homo sapiens on other species.

Heavy industrialisation and urbanisation were to follow, wrecking the previously pristine environment. Scientists reckon 95 percent of the original rainforests have been lost, well down from the mere 50 percent a century ago. But, hey, 60 percent of it is on the way to recovery, and all from an upswelling of interest from the community itself; and a greening Puerto Rico can’t be bad for tourism (pictured below, Carlos Diez with Hawksbill turtle).We followed three dedicated conservation teams, in it as a vocation rather than a job and depending on science, rehabilitation and even seduction – we saw aviaries providing the right surroundings for threatened parrots to make love, for reproductive purposes. This past year has been exemplary with conservationists, vets and volunteers collaborating to bring native animals back from the brink. The figures are disturbing, to put it mildly. Not long ago, only 13 Puerto Rican Amazon parrots were believed to be left in the wild. Now there are 200, and we witnessed the encouraging work at the conservation flight school, where young birds have to be able to fly for at least three minutes to escape any avian predator. Twenty-four passed muster for release into the wild, which it is hoped will boost species viability by 10 percent.

No such programme is complete without some squirm-making operation: here it was examining under anaesthetic the testicles of one parrot and the ovaries of his mate, as they were not reproducing. Parrots mate for life, so it took some human finesse to arrange a divorce; the male became a father and the divorcée became a successful foster mother. In one of those tense moments of eat-or-be-eaten, a Puerto Rican boa snuck into the family’s cage, but the alert, squawking parrots were more than a match for the opportunistic snake.

For the parrots, the problem was the loss of the rain forest. But for the manatees (pictured left), those serene herbivorous long-living sea cows, it was assault by motor-craft. The gorgeous ocean bays are naturals for recreational speedboats, a marine motorway whose casualties are manatees. Eleven miles inland the manatee conservation centre rehabilitated the wounded, and succoured the orphans. One manatee was too injured to ever be able to swim in the wild again. The climatic celebration saw two orphans finally released back into the ocean after a five-year rehabilitation, cheered on by everyone from the police to hysterically happy volunteers.

And of course the sea turtles: the endangered Hawksbill, hunted for its flesh and its gorgeous shell, now protected, and the Leatherbacks, the world’s largest turtles who weigh a mere half ton and can grow to six feet or more. The favoured beach for their nests – 80 eggs at a time, the size of tennis balls – was called Dorado, and guess what, property developers had their eye on it. Conservationists, campaigners, volunteers and schoolchildren all trooped to court to get a conservation order. A very poised schoolgirl testified that without the Leatherback turtle, the growth of the jellyfish population would ensure no one could safely swim off the beach anyway.

Why do so many of us love nature programmes so much? Is it the optimism of some human beings valiantly trying to undo the harm others have done to the world around us? Or is it the infinite variety of life in all its diverse forms, struggling on amid a nature red in tooth and claw? This programme stuffed with facts, with people happy in the jobs they were doing and its rehabilitated manatees and parrots, was armchair travel at its best.

At the conservation flight school, young parrots have to be able to fly for at least three minutes to escape any avian predator

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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