There’s No Reason To Fear ‘NOVA: Nature’s Fear Factor’

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

When Walt Disney Studios released its animated movie The Lion King in 1994, the movie became an instant hit among audiences.  That is due to a variety of factors, such as the catchy musical numbers, the animation style, the characters and the equally memorable work of the voice cast.  They were just a portion of what has kept the movie so popular, too.  The discussion on the so-called “Circle of Life” brought its own depth to the movie.  That concept, which is pretty heavy for younger viewers, is a concept that is in fact taught in biology courses nationwide every year.  It is in essence, the discussion on the importance of balance in any given ecosystem and the impact of imbalance thereof.  Mufasa even points out to Simba in The Lion King that the “Circle of Life” keeps balance in everything in the ecosystem which they oversee as he discusses the topic.  Again, this is a very important topic even in the real world.  It is addressed in length in another recent episode of PBS’ hit science-based series Nature’s Fear Factor.  Released on DVD on Jan. 5, the 53-minute program takes audiences to Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park and efforts by its workers to help bring balance back to its ecosystem following years of war.  That story in itself makes this program well worth watching.  It will be discussed shortly.  The specific discussion on the impact of fear brought by predators as it relates to the story is just as notable.  It will be addressed a little later.  The bonus content that accompanies the program also adds some appeal to the overall presentation.  It will also be addressed later.  When it is considered with the program’s primary content, the whole makes this program a work that will appeal equally to students and lovers of the biological and ecological sciences.

NOVA: Nature’s Fear Factor is a presentation from PBS and its hit science-based series that will appeal to a wide range of audiences.  While it is an episode of NOVA, one cannot help but feel that it would have been better served as an episode of another of the network’s hit series, Nature.  That aside it is a presentation that will find wide appeal among audiences.  That is due in part to its central story.  The story in question follows employees of the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique as they work to restore balance to the park’s ecosystem.  The efforts in this case were undertaken as a result of the impacts of a decades-long war in Mozambique.  The conflict, which took place from 1977 to 1992 between Potugese forces and guerilla fighters from Mozambique ravaged the nation’s ecosystem, and even more specifically, that of the park.  Countless numbers of animals died as a result of the human conflict, throwing the region’s ecosystem – its “Circle of Life” (ye, there’s that again) – completely out of balance.  While much of the park’s ecosystem did eventually recover, there was still an imbalance, so in 2017, the park’s employees started re-introducing predators into the park in their efforts to complete the circle once again and return balance to the park.  That re-introduction of the noted predators and the hopes that it would help restore balance to the park’s ecosystem will ensure viewers’ engagement and entertainment throughout the program.  That story forms a solid foundation for this program.  Building on that foundation is the secondary discussion on the role that fear of those predators has on an ecosystem’s balance.

The discussion on the role of fear’s impact on an ecosystem’s balance within the central story is intriguing in its own right because of the depth of that discussion.  Audiences will be interested to learn that the simple use of the sound of a predator – not even the actual introduction of a predator, but the sound – caused prey to flee.  The result, which is also discussed, is that competition for the same resources among the park’s herbivores became more spread out, resulting in turn in resources being conserved.  The conservation happened because the herbivores, in fleeing the threat of the predators, started looking for food in more areas, rather than one central location. As humans already know from our own experiences, when large masses compete for the same resources, the impact is negative.  To that end, this revelation will hopefully resonate with audiences.

On a completely different note, the discussion on fear’s impact on an ecosystem also addresses that impact in relation to population control.  This is something that audiences will find just as intriguing.  As is noted in the discussion, fear of attack actually has the potential to reduce population numbers because when predators are introduced to an ecosystem, prey become more focused on their own survival, leading to less focus on repopulation.  That actually could be detrimental to an ecosystem, in its own intriguing fashion.  It adds yet another layer to the discussion of fear’s role on an ecosystem.  Between that discussion and that of the impact of fear on competition for resources, the overall discussion on fear’s role in an ecosystem’s balance adds even more engagement and entertainment for viewers here.  When all of this is considered along with the program’s central story, the whole of the episode’s primary content gives audiences even more to like about this program.  For all that the program’s primary content does to make it appealing, there is still more to appreciate in the bonus content featured in the program’s DVD release.

It is rare for PBS Distribution to include bonus content in the home releases of its TV content.  That is because by and large, the programs do not need bonus content in order to succeed.  So having bonus content featured here makes the program even more unique.  The content in question is four segments that were clearly cut from the final product.  The segments, which total approximately half an hour in time, focus on the different ways in which lions and African Wild Dogs hunt, the role of the park’s veterinarian, the gradual return of lions to the park, and the role that animals’ waste plays in keeping track of the animals’ health, eating habits and even movements throughout the park.  While the DVD does not necessarily need these bonus segments to improve on what is already a positive presentation, they do add their own extra touch to the presentation.  The revelation of how the wild dogs hunt in packs while the lions essentially just wait for their prey is interesting in its own right.  Staying on that note, learning about the population growth rate of the lions in the park is its own interesting aspect.  The final segment, ‘The Power of Poop’ is unsettling and for good reason.  At the same time learning how scientists use the animals’ waste to track them is insightful, too.  Add in the statement of devotion from the park’s veterinarian in “Vet in the Wild” and audiences are left with even more appreciation for the whole.  When the engagement and entertainment generated through the bonus content is considered along with the positives of the episode’s main story and discussions on fear’s role in ecological balance, the whole of that content ensures viewers’ maintained enjoyment.  That makes the DVD one more of this year’s top new documentaries and even more proof of PBS’ place atop the TV pantheon today.

NOVA: Nature’s Fear Factor is a presentation that will appeal to a wide range of audiences.  It will reach those with any interest in the ecological sciences just as much as those with interest in the biological sciences.  Its central story, which follows the reintroduction of predators into an African wildlife refuge once decimated by war does its own part to support the noted statement.  That story follows the ongoing impact of their re-introduction into the ecosystem, and how it is helping to put the region back into balance.  The discussions on the good and bad impact of fear on an ecosystem within the story adds to the presentation’s appeal even more, as does the bonus content that accompanies the DVD.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the DVD.  All things considered here, the DVD yet another impressive edition of NOVA.

NOVA: Nature’s Fear Factor is another thoroughly enjoyable presentation from PBS.  It shows just as much as previous episodes of NOVA, what makes the program and PBS so outstanding.  That is proven in part through its central story, which follows the efforts to restore balance to a specific ecosystem within one of Africa’s national parks.  The discussions on the impact of fear – both good and bad – builds on the foundation formed by the story.  The bonus content that accompanies the program rounds out the program’s appeal.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of this DVD.  All things considered, they make it yet another candidate for a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s top new documentaries.  The DVD is available now.

More information on this and other episodes of NOVA is available at:

Websitehttps://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/NOVApbs

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/novapbs

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