When wildlife is a huge part of your life, how do you pick your favorite moments from this year? Our Co-Hosts Peter Gros and Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant did the impossible, narrowing down the top wildlife stories they watched happen, whether by reading about it online or experiencing it themselves. Celebrate the end of 2023 with these amazing wildlife tales!
Wild Kingdom co-hosts share favorite animal moments of the year
Black bear in Disney World
Though Walt Disney World Resort is home to many animals, such as Mickey Mouse and even live animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, park guests were surprised to see a live animal on the loose this past September. A black bear was spotted in the trees of Magic Kingdom Theme Park, likely attracted by the smells of all the delicious Disney food.
The bear was safely removed from the park and relocated to a national forest. Neither the bear nor any humans were hurt in the process.
“It really speaks to how Floridians and all kinds of people can really see firsthand that bears are everywhere, and this is their home. Our job is to be as responsible as possible,” Dr. Rae said.
Dr. Rae said this story is a great example of the reality of wildlife conservation.
“We want to see bears come back and be healthy and have thriving populations,” Dr. Rae said. “And you know what that means? It means juvenile bears are going to travel from one place to another, and they’re going to pass through human communities and get confused.”
But, as seen at Disney, “we can all coexist if we’re all responsible in the right way.”
One of Peter’s favorite moments this year comes from filming, what he says is “one of the cutest species of any bird,” the puffin. (Watch “Puffin Island” to see the cuteness in action!)
It wasn’t his first time in Maine, but it was his first time exploring the coastal islands and holding a puffling.
“A little ball of down feathers looking up at you is certainly a sight that we’ll never forget,” Peter said.
The story is especially remarkable for Peter as he was able to continue a story Marlin Perkins told in the 1970s when Wild Kingdom first filmed at Easter Egg Rock Island. Today, Peter and Dr. Rae were able to see the remarkable progress of puffin reintroduction.
“For me to go back there and see how successful the reintroduction program had become .. it’s pretty incredible,” Peter said.
Though she experienced so many incredible moments filming Wild Kingdom this year, Dr. Rae’s favorite story happened in Washington state.
“A woman in Seattle who found a bald eagle in her backyard that had been shot on the Fourth of July. She had never been up close with a wild animal at all, but she immediately felt this connection with this eagle and told the eagle I’m going to save you, don’t worry,” Dr. Rae said.
She managed to get the eagle in a crate, usually used for a dogs or cats, to safely transport it to the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). The eagle then spent months in rehabilitation until Dr. Rae and Peter were able to open her cage and let her fly free into the wild.
“The story itself is beautiful. I literally was crying on camera when it happened. It’s like I could not contain the emotion. From start to finish it’s my favorite story of the year. It starts off with tragedy; starts off kind of making one feel really angry. But then it just has such a beautiful ending, and it’s such a testament to all the different people who come together to work for wildlife and how you can be a hero for wildlife by just being a regular person who cares. You don’t have to be a scientist. You don’t have to be someone in the conservation field. You don’t have to be someone who donates. You can just be a person who notices something in their backyard and just be a hero.”
Get a sneak peek of this episode, coming in 2024.
For an avid diver like Peter, it’s a win whenever he can explore the marine life for Wild Kingdom. For an upcoming episode, Peter dove off the coast of California near Monterrey to discover the world of sea otters.
“Any time I get to dive in the kelp bed, this is exciting!” Peter said. “You’re sitting on the bottom of the ocean, and the shafts of light are coming straight down through a kelp bed, and there’s marine life around you. It’s one of the more surreal things one can do in nature.”
On his dive, Peter saw how sea urchins and otters both enjoyed a tasty kelp snack and how keeping both predator and prey in balance ensures the kelp beds don’t disappear.
For more about this episode, check out this behind-the-scenes teaser.
What happens when wildlife starts to take back nature? We saw this in action off Europe’s Atlantic coast when orcas banded together to capsize yachts. (No people were hurt in the process).
“To me it was a story of these powerful creatures fighting back and reclaiming their ocean. In a lot of ways, a lot of the animals that I study are reclaiming the lands that their ancestors evolved on,” Dr. Rae said.
The world watched as groups of orcas, known for their playful behavior, pushed against yachts’ rudders.
“It was fascinating. I was blown away,” Dr. Rae said. “My interpretation? The orcas were really reclaiming their space.”
We can’t wait to share more incredible wildlife stories with you in 2024! Be sure to tune in Saturday mornings on NBC’s “The More You Know” programming block for inspiring tales of remarkable creatures on Protecting the Wild. Check your local airtime here.