Series showcasing SA conservation success story debuts on Netflix

Unwell leopards, orphaned rhino calves, clever hippos and reluctant giraffes are some of the things the Shamwari conservation team deals with on a daily basis – all of which and lots more can now be seen in a 13-part Netflix series.

Called Shamwari Untamed, the series provides an intensive behind-the-scenes look at what’s involved in managing a 250km2 private game reserve: from ensuring there’s sufficient vegetation for the herbivores, to maintaining the balance between predators and prey. It also explores the difficult, life-and-death decisions, on when to interfere and when to let nature take its course.

Told largely from the perspective of wildlife vet Johan Joubert and ecologist John O’Brien, the series touches on nearly every aspect of managing the reserve. This includes the work done at its Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, where sick, injured and orphaned animals are patiently and painstakingly nursed back to health before being released back into the wild, to the vital role of the anti-poaching unit and the difficult and often dangerous work of the wildlife capture teams.

There are poignant moments, such as the extraordinary bond a leopard called Sindile forges with John, who later notices a deterioration in the animal’s health as she gets older. Sindile was one of the first leopards reintroduced to the area over 20 years ago and she reared four litters of cubs. Today, Shamwari’s newest lodge is named in her memory.

Other episodes capture the tension inherent in dealing with potentially deadly wild animals. There’s the night that Johan spends in a blind, with an insubstantial plywood door and hole in the floor. While he waits to try and capture some very wily hippos, lions prowl just outside his flimsy shelter.

Even the extras have their moments, such as Patrick the sheep, who becomes the companion animal for a baby rhino, orphaned when poachers killed its mother.

There’s also plenty of action including mass game captures, with chase scenes involving helicopters and vehicles, some of which go like clockwork and others where the wild animals turn the tables on the capture teams.

Despite the hard work, long hours, unpredictability, difficulties, dangers and often having to come up with a spur-of-the-moment plan to save an animal’s life, John and Johan maintain their sense of humour. In one episode, the two of them have a narrow escape when they are about to open transport crates containing two apparently anaesthetised lions. Fortunately, John – who describes his job as “keeping Johan alive” – suggests doing a final check, and they discover the lions are very much awake!

“Although Shamwari Untamed was filmed a while ago, the timing of its international debut on Netflix is apposite, as it coincides with our 30th anniversary,” says Joe Cloete, Shamwari CEO.

“It is the most accurate, insightful and authentic depiction of the incredible work our conservation team does – and now that it’s on Netflix, people around the world with an interest in conservation will be able to see what goes into making a project such as Shamwari succeed.”

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