Singapore on the map in Planet Earth II

MAY SEAH Today Online 16 Nov 16;

SINGAPORE — If not for Gardens By The Bay, Singapore probably would not have had the chance to be featured in BBC Earth’s Planet Earth II, whose debut episode was the most-watched natural history documentary in the United Kingdom in over 15 years. After all, what nail-biting, jaw-dropping natural-world action does our little island have?

But in the finale episode, which focuses on cities and how the natural world interacts with urban environments, Singapore gets screen time as an example of how cities can work to be conducive to nature.

The highly anticipated show, which comes 10 years after the runaway success of Planet Earth, was three and a half years in the making for producer Fredi Devas (Frozen Planet, Wild Arabia), who helmed the finale Cities episode.

“When the decision was made to make a Cities film, I really petitioned hard to work on that one, because I think that it’s new ground,” Devas explained over the telephone from the UK. “In landmark wildlife film-making, we haven’t really covered the urban environment as a new habitat for animals, so it felt like an important area of research to cover. And now that over half of us live in the urban environment, I think it’s a very important issue to look at globally.”

As to why Singapore was chosen to be featured, Devas, who has 13 years of wildlife film-making experience under his belt, said: “There are some cities that are making a real effort to invite wildlife back into their city. And Singapore has the highest biodiversity of any city in the world. What really attracted me to Singapore was the ethos of building a city within a garden — the idea that Gardens By The Bay, for example, has been built before the skyscrapers that are going to be built around it ... I think we’re really championing city greening in a futuristic way.”

Plus, he added, “It’s visually amazing — when people see the images of the Supertrees, they think, ‘Wow, what are those? They’re extraordinary.” And the fact that there are 300 different species of epiphytes, those creepers that are planted on those Supertrees, that are going to spread over the outermost branches — that’s going to be an amazing thing to see over the next few years as they grow. Yes, that can feel like it’s very much designed by humans rather than designed by nature, but the whole urban environment is designed by humans, so this is embracing that, recognising that, and championing the fact that it’s a different building material.”

The segment also focuses on the bird species that nest in the trees, and how smooth-coated otters are making a comeback.

Filming in Singapore was carried out in just over two weeks, Devas shared. “I looked at a 146 years’ worth of data to choose the window in which to film, to make sure we had the best chance of getting beautiful blue sky days. And we did. The meteorological organisation in Singapore was incredibly helpful. I think we spoke to three or four different experts, all of whom gave us not only their interpretation of the weather data over so many years but also their personal perspective on which two weeks across the whole 52 a year would be the best to come and film!” And Singaporeans, he noted, “really put a value on the wildlife in their city, and I found that very refreshing”.

With developments in film-making technology, the series brings viewers even closer to nature by filming the action from the animals’ perspective, for example. The Cities episode also documents leopards roaming the streets of Mumbai and hyenas coexisting with humans in Ethopia.

And in a rapidly changing world, the message rings clear as ever: That conservation and education are paramount.

Catch Planet Earth II on Mondays at 8pm on BBC Earth (StarHub TV Ch 407), with a repeat telecast on Sundays at 5pm. Also available for catch-up viewing on the new BBC Player, available online and as an app. The Cities episode is the series finale and will air on Dec 19.

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