The documentary begins with wildlife cameraman Bob Poole and his team speeding through an African savanna in a stripped-down jeep. As the vehicle approaches a pride of lions, the animals huddle together, surrounding the male. Poole uses the jeep to herd the snarling, growling lionesses away. The male is tranquilized and the team secures a giant collar around his neck.
Footage of Poole's exploits is part of a six-episode series on Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, airing on Idaho Public Television through September and early October.
The series, shot on location in the war-torn country on the southeastern tip of Africa, was put together by Poole and producer James Byrne and features the efforts of Ketchum resident Greg Carr (all of whom live in Ketchum), who worked to bring the park back to life.
"The first time I laid eyes on Gorongosa in 2004, it was magically beautiful," said Carr, who remembered flying over the park in a helicopter. "There were lakes and rivers and mountains, but I couldn't see a single animal despite the fact that—at one point—it had the densest collection of megafauna on the continent."
Gorongosa used to be the economic engine at the center of the country, but years of warfare have taken their toll. Carr decided to restore the park as a way to alleviate poverty and ease tensions in the region.
The first episode of the documentary series, Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise, aired on Sept. 22, and subsequent installments will run Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., and Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Idahoans will have more than one opportunity to experience Gorongosa, though. Along with the series, IPTV's Marcia Franklin also taped "Saving Gorongosa," an interview with Carr, Poole and Byrne, which will air on Dialogue Friday, Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Carr also wants to bridge the 10,000-mile gap between Gorongosa and Boise. He's working with Boise State University to set up research opportunities for the Intermountain Bird Observatory.
Zoo Boise also plans to build a two-acre expansion modeled after Gorongosa Park. The exhibition would include cheetahs, hyenas, crocodiles, baboons and wild African dogs. The $3 million expansion has a projected construction date of 2017.
The IPTV series presents both the story of the animals who will come to live at Zoo Boise and their war-torn home.
The 1.5 million-acre park suffered heavily amid civil unrest in Mozambique. Soldiers in the conflict turned to the park for food, killing many of the animals also hunted by lions. As a consequence, the lion population crashed. Elephants were poached for ivory. Hundreds of animals were caught in snares set up by poor farmers bordering the park. Even vultures suffered, unable to survive without the carcasses left behind by predators.
Carr turned his attention to the devastated area after running a tech company in Boston for several years. Originally from eastern Idaho, he said he's always had a love for wilderness.
"[Mozambique] was the single poorest country in the world," said Carr. "I thought I would do some kind of economic development in Mozambique because my background was in business. After a couple years of studying the country and wondering what to do, I thought, 'Why don't they have a billion-dollar ecotourism industry like all the other African nations?'"
After a few years working on the park—and before the PBS series was even an idea—one of Carr's acquaintances went to Gorongosa to get a glimpse of the project.
"Bob [Poole] just showed up one day in January and walked into the park with James [Byrne] from National Geographic to make a film," said Carr. "I said, 'Wait a minute. You live down the street from me [in Ketchum].'"
Poole, whose parents were wildlife conservationists, grew up in Kenya and moved to Ketchum 25 years ago to work on a film about wolves. He turned his attention back to Africa and, specifically, Gorongosa in the mid-2000s.
After Poole and Byrne finished their 50-minute film on the park, they felt there was still much of the story left to tell, so they pitched the six-part series to PBS.
"In Gorongosa, if you're there, something's happening," said Poole, who hosts the series. "We were trying to film everything and it was very hard. It's a many-headed beast."
It turned out to be one of the more exciting places to film a series. Wars continued to pop up while Poole and Byrne worked on the project. At one point, while filming some crocodiles in the park, they were chased away by gunfire.
They've watched the conflict settle over the past two years, opening up more stories around the park to tell. As the country has continued to stabilize, so have the wildlife populations in Gorongosa.
"When I used to drive through Gorongosa for the first few years, I could drive around all day long and see maybe one animal," Carr said. "Now, you can drive around the park and it's just a sea of animals."