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Alaska Animal Rescue EP Jeff Corwin interview: The unsung wildlife heroes get the spotlight

On the new series, Alaska Animal Rescue, wildlife star and renowned host Jeff Corwin will remain behind the camera instead of his normal place in front of one for Nat Geo WILD.

Jeff’s travels have taken him to over 130 countries worldwide, but perhaps his greatest stories of nature are through his exploration of North America’s last great wild frontier – Alaska.

Over the past 25 years, Jeff has explored Alaska more than 50 times, sharing remarkable stories of wildlife through numerous popular television series. Now, he is the creator and executive producer of Nat Geo WILD’s Alaska Animal Rescue.

The premiere takes us first to Sitka Raptor Center, where Corwin’s focus is on the work of Dr. Victoria Vosburg, DVM, who specializes in birds. The Alaska Raptor Center is where we meet an unlikely feathered new friend – Skewer the Bald Eagle.

Skewer was rescued from a tree after impaling his wing on a tree branch. It left a dangerous big hole in his wing – near a vital tendon. The goal in this remarkable first episode — of the six-episode series — is to help him recover to be released back into the wild.

Who is Jeff Corwin?

Corwin is a leader in conservation, recognized through his work as an Emmy-winning television host, journalist, author, explorer, and wildlife biologist.

His lifelong experience, academic training, and partnerships with top conservationists have given Jeff a new POV in his career, as he is able to get the stories from the frontlines of the battle to save our world.

But fans know that for more than two decades, Jeff has been telling stories of wildlife and nature to audiences through his TV shows on ABC, NBC, Travel Channel, Food Network, Disney Channel, and Animal Planet.

Presently, Jeff is an executive producer and host of the ABC television series, Ocean Treks. Jeff also formerly hosted Ocean Mysteries. His new film, Expedition Chesapeake, is a large IMAX format experience that shines a light on the country’s largest estuary, with an expedition from New York To Virginia.

And with his Yankee wit, and his unwavering focus on showing the natural world to those who might never have a chance to experience it live for themselves, Jeff hopes to change the world for the better. One species at a time.

What is Alaska Animal Rescue?

Alaska Animal Rescue follows wildlife heroes from three renowned conservation centers as they respond to animals in distress. It may be a stranded sea lion, an orphaned lynx, or the aforementioned injured eagle, Skewer. Mainly, we meet incredible women making up the ranks of these animal warriors who aid and protect the creatures, large and small.

The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward monitors the state’s 6,640 miles of coastline, helping a diverse range of marine life that includes walruses, whales, otters, and octopuses.

Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka specializes in the state’s airborne animals, like bald eagles, owls, and other birds of prey.

And the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage takes on the biggest bad boys of Alaska – the bears, wolves, and bison.

These dedicated first responders, veterinarians, and animal caretakers work diligently to make sure their wild state stays wild.

Jeff Corwin
Jeff Corwin with Dr. Victoria Vosburg and Skewer the bald eagle. Pic credit: NatGeoWILD

Our interview with Jeff Corwin

Monsters & Critics: Tell me about your team behind the camera, the cinematographer…

Jeff Corwin: Yes, this has been an eight-year dream of mine to make this series, and my partner in producing the series, my co-creator in this series is Patrick Green, he used to be my cameraman.

He was my director of photography for many series and many shoots in Alaska. One of the cameramen up there, Zach was a cameraman for me for a series I did in another lifetime. We brought together a team that understood what this incredible challenge was going to be.

But for me it was interesting, the challenge of going behind the camera and one way is it takes the pressure of having to carry a series as a host, but then there’s that new prep pressure of exercising new muscles.

But I think being in front of the camera gave me a little bit of edge to fit comfortably in the role as an executive producer or at times as director. At times, I’d go pick up the camera [to help out] and no ego and, just making a TV show.

M&C: There are a lot of women in this series, in the business of sanctuary and rescue and, rehabilitation, I noticed…

Jeff Corwin: Absolutely. In Alaska, these hearty pioneers of the last great frontier when it comes to saving wildlife, being a scientist, being on the edge of conservation at the edge of the wilderness are women. And they are incredible as vets, as rescuers, as experts, using their skills and talents and their expertise to help save incredible wildlife.

For me, over the years…I’ve been around the world many, many times. I think I’ve been to over 130 countries and I mean last year I went to 22 countries for my other series that I host.

But for this series, I decided Alaska because no place ever did this to me. No place has ever challenged me, or humbled me. I have found no place in Earth more breathtaking and awe-inspiring than Alaska. It is the last great wilderness in North America. It is the last great frontier and there’s a reason why they say that. And over 25 years, I’d probably have been there 50 or 60 times at least I’ve spent summers up there filming.

What was so incredible or mind-boggling was out of all the years, and in all the TV series that have come from Alaska on all the networks, there were very few that actually focused on wildlife and the people saving the wildlife and integrating that amazing landscape. There were all these other sort of edgy shows. But I’m like, man, people are missing the forest through the trees here.

I also had from filming in Alaska from the Disney days, these organizations I’ve worked with, the Alaska animal conservation station, that center. I’ve worked with them for over 20 years. The Alaska sea life center for almost 20 years. The raptor center for easily 12 or 15 years. I’ve worked with those guys, I had [built] trust and a relationship with them.

Some of these people were my friends and I consider them colleagues. I had an in that my foot wedged in the door where normally they’d say, ‘you know what, this is puts us in a vulnerable light. I don’t know if we feel safe with this.’

And I was like, ‘trust me, what you guys do is so remarkable.’ It’s beyond entertaining. It’s thrilling and it’s heartwarming and in a world with so much uncertainty and unknown and with what you guys do, delivering these powerful stories that will warm your heart.

They will tug at your heart. You will laugh and you may even cry.

I knew Alaska had that to offer and when Patrick and I came together and we said, ‘okay, we’re going to go to Alaska on our own dime.’

This was a few years ago. We’re just going to shoot and film stuff and put it together. Make the sizzle reel and we’ll see if that will become a series. And this is what became of that.

But it’s that long-term relationships, friends and colleagues, and that sense of trust that allowed us to really cover Alaska at the ultimate level, which is the land, the sea, and the air. Which is unique about this series.

M&C: Is this something that you do frequently regardless if someone gives you a green light or a pile of money, do you have an idea and do you just go out and start getting the footage or how does that work for you?

Jeff Corwin: Well, it’s like anything, exactly. You have to believe in yourself and you have to have confidence and faith in yourself that you can deliver and that you have something, whether it’s a story or a skillset or an idea that no one else does.

And if they do, they’re not going to be able to tell it like you can. That is how it began, almost twice actually when I was 23 years old or 24 years old. More than half my life ago. I thought, ‘Now it’s time for an American version of David Attenborough. Now it’s time for a host for the MTV generation and that that covers nature and wildlife.’

No one would give me the time of day. So I literally went into the woods with the camera. Someone had a snake. I released it in the water, I caught it, picked up a frog, talked about the frog, and I kept sending it out and sending it out. I had the audacity to believe that some would actually take it serious.

And then one day somebody did. Disney’s Going Wild, which, which then launched my series on Animal Planet, which then… and even today you can have a tremendous amount of success, and you look at your bookshelf and you see a couple of Emmys and awards and accolades, but you have to hustle. You’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to show them what you’re capable.

Every time with every success, there’s failure at times too. You have to learn from those failures. And all of that comes into play in making this series. But 100 percent, sometimes you have to just get out there and hustle.

M&C: Do you have anything you might want to share with your fans and viewers about how you feel about how ecosystems affect our daily life and the COVID zoonotic virus we’re dealing with right now?

Jeff Corwin: Well, this certainly is an incredibly unprecedented time. Right before this virus hit, I was making plans to launch a documentary in Australia on the bushfires.

Look how quickly that terrifying event of nature, which has never happened in the memory of our species where, but what that shows us, and perhaps this touches COVID-19 in a way distantly, that if we are not kind and sustainable to our planet, she can come and bite us back.

We live in a time of remarkable extinction. We lose the species of life every half an hour on the planet 60 well, 64 percent of all of nature is gone and it has been destroyed and less than half a century let something on the order of nearly 70 percent of every bird that lives along the coastline, whether it’s the coast of Massachusetts or the coast of India has plastics in it.

We lose 3,000 acres of rainforest every hour. That’s bigger than West Virginia every year.

So yes, we live in a world and when we kind of break that taboo of respect and stewardship and we open that Pandora’s box, this is what can happen. There are many, many examples of, of when we crossed that line hygienically or the use of, of species, almost going into that forbidden forest …the black market wildlife trade, which is a $20 billion a year industry.

We get bitten back and there are many diseases that tell us, we know that you know that HIV AIDS has a [zoonotic] connection. There are theories that has a connection to nature through unsustainable primate hunting. We can find bird flus, other respiratory diseases, have the zoonotic connection. Yes, that happens.

But we can also learn that through sustainability and through good husbandry and through being wise in how we treat our planet, that we can be healthy and live rich, wonderful lives.

I think that is the lesson that we learned from Alaska. It’s really about people. This series, the human beings are the characters, the people that have dedicated [their lives]. Dr. Victoria, who dedicates her life as this incredibly talented veterinarian who sidelines as a volunteer for the fire department… and whoever thought that skill would come into play in her work!

Or Sarah, her passion for the wood bison at the Alaska wildlife conservation center. The aquarist who’s dedicated to Pat the octopus. Whoever thought you could learn about the emotional arc to a mollusk? But Pat has one. And I think those human stories, I looked over and I watched my mom and my parents watch it and friends who’ve come over pre-COVID days to watch this and, and people were just as moved about the Pat the octopus story.

I so cherish this new opportunity for me to be the fly in the wall to tell those stories.

And in this time where we have so much uncertainty in the world, whether it’s financial uncertainty or whether it’s worries about diseases like COVID-19 or the military and education, the future of our nation, politics, all those things weigh on us terribly.  [It has] divided families terribly.

Literally politics in this country has split families apart and now they’re physically split apart because of this disease. To me, why this series matters so much now because you can escape it, but not just through some nonsensical, silly journey, I think through a powerful cathartic journey that entertains you, but I think builds your awareness.

Alaska Animal Rescue airs on Saturday, beginning April 11 at 9/8c and the series premiere of Jungle Animal Rescue airs on Saturday, April 18 at 10/9c on Nat Geo WILD.

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