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KOTA KINABALU, March 22 — Ever wanted to know what it is like to be a real wildlife ranger in Borneo? Or perhaps curious to know more about the rare and unique species deep in our rainforests?
So did Briton Aaron Gekoski, better known as “Bertie”, a wildlife photojournalist who has travelled the world in search of conservation stories worth talking about.
The 36-year-old former model agency owner-turned-conservationist and TV presenter was in Sabah to present the web series Borneo from Below.
While here, he heard about a story from 2013 where 14 Bornean elephants were found poisoned in a plantation, a case that grabbed international headlines. Having worked extensively with elephants in Africa, he was particularly moved by the story.
“I wanted to get involved somehow and then I heard of the Wildlife Rescue Unit, an elite team of vets and rangers who have been trying to resolve human and wildlife conflict in Sabah since 2010,” he told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.
The rescue unit, a brainchild of Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Sen Nathan and former department director Datuk Laurentius Ambu, is a 24-hour rapid response team to rescue wild animals — ranging from monitor lizards that have entered a home, to Bornean elephants — that have encroached on plantations in Sabah’s vast interior land.
Gekoski’s journey to becoming a wildlife rescue ranger is now documented on a new web series produced by Scubazoo TV, or SZtv, a Sabah-based wildlife producing company that has filmed for world renowned wildlife channels and presenters like the BBC, Discovery Channel and National Geographic.
Borneo Wildlife Warriors follows Gekoski as he takes up the rescue unit’s housekeeping chores, and learns the basics of crocodile wrangling and snake handling.
The first season of the series, out tonight, deals with him as a rookie in a “boot camp”, training in the Wildlife Rescue Unit’s (WRU) home base in Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.
“The series is a real behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at our ‘rescues’. It’s basically a reality show on our wildlife rescues and also portrays the many wonderful characters within the WRU whose great deeds and heroic attempts save wildlife in Sabah,” Sen told Malay Mail Online.
“The WRU has come a long way since 2010 with a team of five, to a team of 24 now. It would not have been possible without funding from the Malaysian Palm Oil Council for the last six years,” he said, adding that the team was getting recognition and exposure for their heroic efforts.
Featuring elephants, orangutans, gibbons and pangolins among others, the show talks about the plight of these wild animals in Borneo as Sabah balances its reputation as an eco-tourism hub and its socio-economic needs, and the human effort that goes on behind every incident.
“Mostly though, it talks about conservation but in an entertaining and fun way,” said Gekoski, adding that there were plenty of comedic moments in the gruelling boot camp and later on, wildlife rescues.
SZtv, a new venture from Scubazoo since last year, uses their expertise in underwater and topside cinematography to tell stories for an online audience.
“Not only do we want to showcase the best nature Sabah has to offer with SZtv, but also highlight the many environmental threats it faces,” Scubazoo founder Simon Christopher told Malay Mail Online.
“From sharks disappearing into bowls of shark fin soup, to orangutans losing their homes to deforestation, our team of cameramen and photographers aim to bring the critically important message of wildlife conservation and multiple local heroes looking to protect it to viewers worldwide 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Borneo Wildlife Warriors is its second web series after Borneo from Below, a look at Sabah’s underwater treasures and the issues surrounding it.
Borneo Wildlife Warriors will be a weekly series, beginning tonight.