Inspiring tales of species brought back from the brink: Puerto Rico – Island of enchantment, review

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A review by Gerard O’Donovan for London’s Telegraph.

Wildlife conservation remains an uphill struggle, so it’s good to see success stories acknowledged alongside all the warnings of how humanity is bent on destroying our planet. Natural World: Puerto Rico – Island of Enchantment (BBC Two) was a celebration of how one Caribbean nation has seen the light and is fighting to preserve its natural glories. Peter Fison’s film even won the ultimate wildlife documentary seal of approval – narration by David Attenborough.

Enthusiasm was the key here, and fairly simple storytelling. After grabbing attention with tales of how early European sailors were so taken by Puerto Rico’s profusion of natural riches they named it the “Isle of Enchantment”, we learnt how the past century’s steady encroachment of industry, agriculture and property development left this paradise in serious danger of being lost.

The fact that for many Puerto Ricans their national symbol is the coquí, a tiny frog that emits a sleep-shattering 100-decibel mating call, might suggest a higher tolerance than most for the creatures they share their island with. But the issue here was that fondness does not equal protection, and the focus was on three other species that were equally loved by islanders but still pushed to the verge of extinction.

 

The first and most critically endangered was the beautiful green and blue Puerto Rican parrot whose once abundant population had been reduced, shockingly, to just 13 birds by the 1970s. Fortunately one man, Jafet Velez-Valentin, had been determined to save it, and by developing an extraordinary elaborate and dedicated captive breeding programme he has, over the intervening decades, boosted numbers into the hundreds, and potentially thousands. If ever a film showed the hard, detailed slog that goes into bringing a species back from the brink, this was it.

A baby leatherback turtle emerges from his nest after 60 days incubating under 2ft of sand

A similar reversal of fortune applied to two marine species; the endearingly gentle native manatee, and the giant leatherback turtle. Once again, the point was made that the crucial difference was down to the unstinting work of dedicated individuals who were capable not just of doing conservation work but of rousing local communities and politicians to long-term action.

Overall, this was a quietly uplifting film that, while focused on the fragility and beauty of nature, really pushed home the point that the continued survival of any endangered species is something to be roundly celebrated.

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