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  • Writer's pictureThe Roaming Scribe

Wilderness With Simon Reeve.

4 Episodes: Premieres Sunday 21 January at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer

It appears that Simon Reevee is postioning himself to compete with Bruce Perry and Steve Backshall as his new series takes him to remote and wild places. This series might not be as challenging as the vast adventures of Levison Wood but it certainly shows Simon taking more risks than in his previous programmes.

Ultimately, as these adventures are about the natural world, it begs the question, who will take the mantle from David Attenborough? Will it be one of the those previously mentioned or someone different such as Hamza Yassin or even Liz Bonnin. As much as we would all like to see the great presenter and naturalist continue filming for many years to come, there will be an end at some point in the near future.

I had an opportunity to preview Simon's first episode which features a trek deep into the heart of the Congo (a synopsis follows). He is accompanied by Congolese Conservationist Adams Cassinga, an expert in the jungle territory they must hike through. In search of hunter gatherer people, the Baka, who thrive in the jungle and live a nomadic existence, Adam must lead them in search of the tribe's temporary accommocation. They travel on foot through a damp environment that is a tangle of trees, bush, insects and animals. We learn that the first Europeans in this part of Africa called these ancient people Pygmies. And they have lived here for many thousands of years. Happily, Adams and Simon find the Baka and are welcomed with open arms. In fact, the mean of the tribe are more than happy to take Simon on a honey gathering expedition. They also give him directions on how to find a precious species, the Bonobo, a primate thought to be our closest relative.

Behind the scenes and while filming during the series, Simon learns how to make poison arrows, gather wild honey, and discovers that some of our primate cousins are fantastic gardeners. He discovers that people poach wildlife in some areas so they can afford to go to school,. He gathered snails to hand feed baby zebra sharks, and learns the value of Resharking our seas. Simon also discovered that a chilli bomb can scare away huge hungry elephants.

What is refreshing about the programmes are Simon's affable inquisitive personality and his real interest in, and concern for, the people living in these remote places. His enthusiasm is infectious and this is why people tune in.

Synopsis: First episode.

The Congo is the second greatest rainforest on earth. Covering more than 2.5 million square kilometres, it’s one of the last great unspoiled African wildernesses, a huge store of carbon and home to tens of thousands of plant and animal species – a third of them unique to the Congo. In one of the toughest journeys he’s ever undertaken, Simon travels five hundred miles across dense tropical jungle, heading for the region of Salonga, where he searches for one of the rarest and most iconic creatures on the continent. Simon begins his journey in the northwest of the Congo basin, where his first encounter with the great forest reveals just how tough it is to travel through virgin jungle, full of impenetrable thickets, biting insects and peat bogs. His first destination is an incredibly remote Baka village. The Baka are some of the original inhabitants of this wilderness, who have lived in the Congo jungle for thousands of years, mostly living off the riches of the forest. Settling down to experience life with the Baka, Simon experiences incredible hospitality and a unique culture based entirely on sharing resources and respecting all the living things of the forest. The Baka show Simon how they hunt for honey high in the forest canopy, smoking out the aggressive jungle bees to extract the sweet delicacy.

But talking to the villagers, Simon learns of the serious threats to their way of life. Loggers are encroaching on the forest, exposing the Baka to diseases like malaria, and poachers are decimating the wildlife they rely on. It’s a sobering reminder that, like all the world’s wildernesses, the Congo is under threat. Bidding farewell to the Baka, Simon continues his journey across the rainforest. He’s heading to a region called Salonga, right at the heart of the Congo, home to the biggest area of protected forest in Africa, a national park that is the size of Belgium, but which has no paved roads at all. He’s going in search of the Bonobo – a great ape that is thought to be our closest relative in the animal world. It lives only in the Congo rainforest and the journey to find them is even more brutal than before. Traveling with a dedicated Congolese conservationist, Simon learns that the Bonobos, like a lot of the wildlife here, are at risk form the expanding human population of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – which is one of the poorest countries on earth. In tens of thousands of villages and towns around the edge of the wilderness, people survive by clearing the forest for farming and firewood. They also hunt for forest animals – an estimated six million tons of so called ‘bushmeat’ is eaten each year, including endangered species like Bonobos. The people here have a tiny environmental footprint compared to Europeans, but poverty and population growth are increasing threats to the Congo rainforest. Simon battles on through the jungle in search of the Bonobos - days of wading and chopping through swamps. Finally, he has an emotional encounter with a group of wild Bonobos deep in the forest. They are a reminder of how precious these wilderness areas are, and how important it is that we try and protect these last wild areas.

Next episodes: 28 January, Patagonia; 4 February, Coral Triangle; 11 February, Patagonia. 

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