(Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel)
UC Riverside

Discovery Channel’s ‘Serengeti’ provides an empathetic and humanistic look at life in the African grasslands

The Wallis Anneberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, California, welcomed guests to the premiere of Discovery Channel’s original six-part documentary series “Serengeti” on July 23.

The series follows the various animals that call Serengeti home and their daily struggle for survival, identity and community in the African grasslands. This series goes beyond just mere wildlife footage, and presents viewers with a challenge to empathize with each species as they undergo relationships, social order and the ever unpredictable landscape.

“What I want people to get out of it is that connection, the human connection with other animals,” said producer John Downer in an interview on the red carpet.

John Donner
John Downer at the “Serengeti” premiere in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Marc Baldwin)

“Seregenti” was inspired by personal experience. When creator and producer Simon Fuller went on a safari in northern Tanzania, he was moved by the stories he saw among the wildlife, and knew he wanted to help tell their stories to the world.

While Fuller’s previous background included creating shows such as “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” he knew that for a project that involved the unpredictability of working in a wildlife setting, he needed to bring in experts.

“[Fuller] started seeing them all as families, with backstories. That’s something I knew as a filmmaker, that you have to understand that in order to make these films. He was coming from a different area of film, so he was bringing new ideas and it was a perfect match,” Downer said.

The stars of the film include Kali, a lioness taking care of her three cubs without the support of the tribe. As she faces the stress of her cubs and their growing hunger, she must decide how she will support her new family when her entire community has isolated her.

Then there’s Bakari, a fierce willed baboon determined to prove himself as a bold and courageous leader.

Further down the Serengeti is Nalla, an elephant matriarch raising two sons. As her newborn son becomes introduced to the herd, her teenage son battles with the challenges of preparing to leave the herd for the first time.

And finally, Zalika, the hyena, displays a spirit of timidity but determination, as she is thrust into an unexpected leadership position in her family.

As the stories from “Serengeti” continue to develop and evolve, there’s a surprising element of familiarity and interdependence. The complex struggles that wildlife animals face are not far from our own, making it easier to understand and relate to a place painted so distant and unfamiliar.

As both humans and animals face the unyielding and unstoppable waves of change,there’s a sense of comfort in realizing we are all connected in a grand circle of life.

Discovery Channel’s “Serengeti” premieres on Sunday, August 4 at 8:00 PM ET/PT.