Audubon Society brings National Geographic filmmaker for presentation on ’The Nature Connection.’
PANAMA CITY — The devastation suffered by a nature preserve during a civil war, and the recovery that followed, should look familiar to those who are struggling to recover from Hurricane Michael.
Those parallels — and the intimate connection of humankind to the larger natural world — will be among the issues explored in a series of events hosted by the Bay County Audubon Society this year.
Brian Dusseault, vice president in charge of Special Events for Bay County Audubon, said birding is only one part of understanding humanity’s connection with the natural world. A broader picture of appreciating these connections can be a wellspring for gratitude, he added. That’s why he and the group‘s board of directors put together a new program, "The Nature Connection."
"We want to bring major issues of common interest to the attention of the public on an annual basis, with broad community participation," Dusseault said. "Although Audubon is colloquially known as a group of ’birders,’ we, like many others, understand that all life is connected and part of nature."
For the inaugural program, the group retained Bob Poole, a filmmaker who has worked with National Geographic for several decades, as well as the BBC and PBS. He has won two Emmys, been nominated three more times, and won honors in many film festivals.
"Bottom line: He is one of the world's best nature cinematographers," Dusseault said. "He will be presenting his two-year filming odyssey of the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique — eastern coast of Africa, about the size of Rhode Island — and its message of recovery."
World-renowned biologist E.O. Wilson worked there with Poole for several months. The Biophilia Center near Freeport is named for Wilson, who wrote a book on the experience called "A Window on Eternity."
"It is an incredible story, one that describes an uplifting saga of what started as a crushing experience for the inhabitants of Gorongosa Park — animal and human — but which has progressed to a steady recovery over time. Many years are yet to run before it's back," Dusseault said.
In short, the park's wildlife was devastated by civil war and poaching over a 30-year period starting in the early 1970s, as rebels fought for independence. The rebels set up headquarters in the park and it became a battlefield. Bigger animals such as rhinos, lions, elephants, wild dogs, hippos and antelopes, lost 85-100% of their numbers.
"For example, wildebeests went from 6,400 to one. Lions went from hundreds to six. There were no hyenas or wild dogs left, period," Dusseault said. "Only crocodiles retained their numbers. You could shoot them, but who would go in the water to get them? Tusks were sold to finance the civil war in addition to being a source of meat. A very sad tale."
Poole was invited to Gorongosa to film and document the damage done over those long years and to show the recovery of the park and its animals. Dusseault said the resultant film reveals the resilience of nature, particularly when aided by many helping human hands.
"It should not be lost on us that there are parallels between the Gorongosa devastation of life, of habitat caused by humans, and our own local Hurricane Michael experience — of trees, of habitat, our homes — caused by nature," Dusseault said. "This is a unique opportunity to hear from the man who has lived the story and can show it, and I bet he can relate to our stories of resilience as we will likely relate to his."
Greg C. Carr, an American philanthropist, gave more than $40 million as he led the recovery effort starting in 2004 and contracted with the new government to continue for at least 20 years. Then work became his life’s mission. This includes capturing and transporting into the park large numbers of animal species to create a balanced ecosystem, and bringing in teams of scientists such as Wilson to participate.
Poole's filming created a six-hour PBS TV series shown in 2015 documenting the process, "Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise." It can be viewed on Amazon Prime by watching the PBS collection.
"Anyone who watches even one episode will be eager to spend some time talking with him at our ’Nature Connection’ event," Dusseault said.
The event will be at the Holley Center at FSU Panama City, 4750 Collegiate Drive, on Feb. 27. A meet-and-greet for sponsors will take place in the afternoon. About 5 p.m., Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki will provide welcoming remarks. Dinner will be served until about 6 p.m.
The main presentation will begin at 6:30 p.m. as Jacqui Sulek from Audubon Florida will provide brief remarks. Poole will present his live narration of a one-hour film entitled "Nature Roars Back!" A Q&A session will follow.
"We're all in this ’nature’ thing pretty deep, and it's good to know we can be resilient and come out ahead after all," Dusseault said.