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Planet Earth III

Director Fredi Devas shares insight on shooting David Attenborough’s anticipated Planet Earth III

When wildlife filmmaker Fredi Devas discovered he was about to helm an episode of David Attenborough’s nature documentary series Planet Earth III called “Humans,” his reaction was surprisingly not, “Ugh, that’s my least favourite animal.” “Not at all. I love humans,” says the director. “At the moment, the natural world is in dire need of help, but there are brilliant humans out there doing brilliant things. And, I think, the vast majority of people care enormously about the natural world.”

Planet Earth III on BBC Earth. Pictured: monkey.
BBC Studios

In fact, after Planet Earth II aired in 2016, Devas noticed a huge change in awareness regarding ocean plastics. “You could just see so many people involved in beach cleans, so many people recycling their plastics, thinking about single-use plastic and trying to use less of it,” he recalls. “A lot of the time, it’s just needing to make it easier and more accessible for people to know what to do and how to do it. Then the change will come.”

Planet Earth III on BBC Earth. Pictured: Helena Wehner, feeds the newly hatched northern bald ibis chicks. By being with them every day the young chicks are imprinting on her so they believe she is their natural mother.
BBC Studios

For an episode titled “Humans,” this hour of television still features a wide variety of animals. In Sauraha, Nepal, for example, a rhinoceros makes its way through a bustling town to pick up some food. In Lake Tahoe, black bears scour the dumpsters for their dinner. In Bali, the macaques steal phones and wallets from tourists, then trade them back for treats. And in New York City, ants thrives on junk food remains, eating as many as 60,000 hot dogs per year. “In the episode, I was trying to set up animals contending with humans,” says Devas. “It was looking at the animal traits that are going to do well in the human world. If animals are clever like the macaques in the temple, if they’re bold like the bears, if they hide really well like the frogmouths in Australia, or if they evolve incredibly fast like the ants, those traits are all going to help animals do well in the human world.”

Planet Earth III on BBC Earth. Pictured: A Spirit Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) in a stream on the lookout for fish in the Great Bear Rainforest , Canada.  They are a variant of the Black Bear and their white coat helps them to stay disguised from the fish by blending in with the white sky.
BBC Studios

The series also took Devas to Vancouver Island, where humpback whales — after almost being hunted to extinction — have returned in stunning numbers. In the process, the whales are restoring the entire ecosystem. “It’s such a big story,” says Devas. “What we found out is that the whale poo at the surface fertilizes the water, then the phytoplankton blooms and the whole food web benefits from the phytoplankton numbers increasing. And then, because the phytoplankton are drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and that goes down the food chain, it’s sequestering carbon on such an extraordinary level. Every humpback whale that you see swimming around is like seeing a forest of 30,000 trees, for what it’s doing for climate change. That’s an amazing thought.”

Planet Earth III on BBC Earth. Pictured: Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) females returning to sea after laying eggs, Raine Island, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia Green turtles return to the sea having nested on Raine Island. This tiny sand cay attracts up to 100,000 nesting green turtles each year, but is now severely threatened by the effects of climate change, not least sea level rise.
BBC Studios

While vital to look at the challenges animals face from the human world, this good news story is an example of the importance of showing viewers solutions as well. “For me, it was really important that if you sound the fire alarm, you’ve got to show people where the exits are,” Devas explains. “The biggest threat right now is habitat destruction. Climate change will be, in the future, but right now it’s habitat destruction. And the major cause is farming. Half of all habitable land on the planet is now agriculture, and I think 77 per cent of all agricultural land is for animal agriculture. And more forests are being cut down to make more space for animal agriculture.”

Planet Earth III on BBC Earth. Pictured: The first ever glimpse inside the den of wild maned wolf, in the Brazilian cerrado. The mother suckles her puppies in the safety of the long grass.
BBC Studios

Devas does not believe the world will turn vegan anytime soon; however, he is optimistic about the options on offer. “If there’s a move towards eating more plant-based food, then you reduce that pressure on the natural world. And we’re seeing loads of people doing that,” he says. “If the human population went [vegan], an area the size of China, Australia, the European Union and North America combined would all go back to nature. If you think about that, the biodiversity crisis would be resolved. So much carbon could be sequestered from the atmosphere. So, that gives me massive hope that just reducing our meat and dairy intake can have such a positive impact.”

Planet Earth III on BBC Earth. Pictured: Red eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) swimming amongst water lilies, Cenote Aktun Ha, Yucatan, Mexico, Gulf of Mexico.
BBC Studios

Lessons aside, this program features the kind of unique and breathtaking visuals viewers expect from Attenborough. “In the Planet Earth series, it’s really important to find stories that have never been told before and that’s getting harder and harder,” says Devas. Thankfully, their fearless leader continues to inspire. “He’s incredibly sharp, funny and quick-witted. When you do the commentary recordings with him, he brings the film to life. You don’t really know how he’s going to read them. He often surprises you with the tone he takes, but it’s always right,” says Devas of Planet Earth’s creator. “The other thing that he brings is, when you are discussing the script with him, he’ll question you over the facts and where you’ve sourced those from. You go in there knowing that you have fact-checked your sequence and your script ideas enormously. You want to look good in front of him.”

Planet Earth III on BBC Earth. Pictured: Zakouma National Park in Chad is home to one of the most spectacular gatherings of wildlife to be seen anywhere on the planet, including one of the biggest single herds of elephants in Africa.
BBC Studios

Planet Earth III premieres Sunday, March 10 on BBC Earth

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