I love animals and am especially keen on supporting those who safeguard the lives and habitats of endangered animals in the wild. Great Apes, elephants, whales and dolphins have always been my particular passions. Up until now, I honestly never gave a second thought to Bullwinkle’s flesh and blood relatives. The latest installment in the Award-winning PBS NATURE series, Moose: Life of a Twig Eater, certainly caught me by surprise. It should be a fascinating wake-up call for those who are equally clueless about this resilient, misunderstood animal. The hour-long documentary debuts on PBS tonight, Wednesday, February 10, 2016, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times in your region and http://www.pbs.org/nature for online streaming and DVD availability.)
Moose are the largest species of the deer family, believe it or not. Big, gangly and frankly not the prettiest critter in the forest, they are hardly a match for Bambi in appeal and unbridled procreation. The moose population in North America is on the decline to a shocking degree, another casualty of climate change that impacts their habitats, food supply and their vulnerability to disease, which makes them especially defenseless around their natural predators.
Naturalist and cameraman Hugo Kitching is the film’s predominant eyes and ears and, as the film progresses, its heart as well. He spends one year in the wilds of the Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies tracking two moose moms and their single calves. It’s a challenging assignment from start to finish since moose are elusive and their calves are easy targets for bears and wolves. And the terrain, all 4,000 square miles of it, is no picnic for man nor beast, especially in the winter when deep snow makes footing and feeding difficult for smaller calves and filmmakers lugging heavy equipment.
Thrilled to find one mom with her newborn calf, Kitching then stumbles upon another mom and her late born calf. He’s immediately struck by his subjects’ individuality and reflects upon the challenges of mothering fragile calves, season to season, in an environment rife with predators. The calves’ learning curves–from feeding, swimming, and dodging danger–are patiently monitored by their mothers and by Kitching, who becomes progressively more attached to his subjects as they become more comfortable with his proximity.
If the calves manage to survive their first year, they’re booted out of “the nest” as their moms prepare to give birth to new calves. Then they must fend for themselves, motherless and alone. This touching rite of passage points out the loner existence of these creatures, which doesn’t bode well for their long-term survival.
Moose: Life of a Twig Eater also takes a brief side trip to Grand Portage, Minnesota, where a dedicated team of biologists monitor individuals in the region’s dwindling moose population, which has declined by 64 percent since 1990.
Produced and directed by Susan Fleming for Twig Eaters Inc., in association with THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET, Moose: Life of a Twig Eater is the latest installment in the long-running PBS series, NATURE, executive produced by Fred Kaufman. It debuts tonight, Wednesday, February 10, 2016, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times in your region and http://www.pbs.org/nature for online streaming and DVD availability, as well as supplemental educational materials.)–Judith Trojan