The director and photographer Jan Svatoš won the Student Jury Award for his film wildWorks at last year’s festival. This year, two of his films, Lessons in Wildness and Causa Carnivora were selected for the main competition. We show the first of the films in premiere on Wednesday 14th October at 1.30 pm at the Faculty of Agrobiology, Food and Natural Resources.
His two latest documentaries are also about the return of animals to the wild – whether these are animals that we usually know as domesticated (wild ponies in Lessons in Wildness), or we see them as dangerous (large beasts of prey in Causa Carnivora).
The main protagonist of Lessons in Wildness is the Exmoor pony. It is an ancient horse breed whose home is the Exmoor region on the edge a peninsula in the west of England. Nothing much has ever happened in this distant land, there were no significant trade routes here and so wild ponies could live there for thousands of years – the first mention of them dates back to William the Conqueror. After the Second World War their numbers fell dramatically though and it was essential to find a way to save their population. One of the options is reintroduction into an environment as similar to the Exmoor grasslands as possible. In the Czech Republic it is for example the former military area of Milovice, where such a “shipment” of horses has recently arrived…
Film Causa Carnivora deals with the paradox of reintroduction of large beasts of prey in the wild. Although predators such as the lynx, the wolf or the bear are welcome helpers for most foresters, helping to naturally reduce the numbers of varmint, the public doesn’t want to hear of it. From the media it seems that bears come out of forests to rummage in the bins while the wolves tear poor shepherds’ sheep into bits; in reality environmentalists can feel themselves lucky when they meet such a predator after a few days’ tracking.
In what way can wild Exmoor ponies help the landscape?
The Exmoor pony is used to harsh English climate and meagre nourishment. Unlike other herbivores it consumes plants that sheep, for example, would turn down: thistles, aggressive plants, last year’s grass. This way it positively influences other plants and also communities of animals linked to them.
The landscape of military areas is damaged by artillery shells, but civilisation has not left its marks there. Are there any plans to place other animal species in these unique areas of wilderness?
I like the idea of leaving former military areas to broaden the scope of Czech wilderness. In fact, today the first pieces of aurochs-like cattle have arrived in Milovice and in the future there should also be European bison. According to experts the combination of these two species of large herbivores will have a positive impact on the precious steppe biotope. But we will have to wait a little to see the results…
Why is it that in comparison with the neighbouring states there are fewer wild predatory mammals in the Czech Republic?
For each species, that is the bear, the lynx and the wolf we’d need a separate answer. If I am to sum up some shared key reasons then it’s primarily poaching, fragmentation of landscape and last but not least the way society perceives predators. Abroad, whether in Germany or Poland – there’s a great public “demand” for beasts of prey as well as wilderness. In our country the fear prevails, abroad it is enthusiasm. And although there has been no proof of a man getting killed by a large predator in recent times, we are often more afraid of them than of driving on Czech roads where dozens of people die every day. It’s a paradox.
Meeting a large beast of prey in its natural environment is unusual even for people who study them. Have you met one during the shooting of your films? How does it feel?
That was a big challenge while shooting Causa Carnivora. Meeting a large predator is primarily a great fortuity in our country and organising such a meeting in its natural environment is basically impossible. I’m not even mentioning a meeting in which the beast fulfils the director’s expectations. For that matter, I admire scientists who work in the protection of species which they might see once in their life or sometimes not even that. I personally watched a female bear with her baby in the Malá Fatra National Park – it’s a great experience in which respect and curiosity intermingle. But it’s a completely different experience to the ones in Africa where I meet large predators during shooting almost on a regular basis.
Foresters in the film say that they would welcome a beast of prey in their forest. What stops them then? Are there some legislative obstacles for example for artificial spreading of predators to places where they don’t live for some reason?
This is a question for the foresters. I’m not sure if artificial reintroduction or repatriation of large beasts of prey is a good solution – in my opinion such a measure would only cause negative reactions. The return of predators is gradual and gradual must be also the change in public opinion. The return of wild predators is not a question of tolerance of progressive foresters. To an extent, gamekeepers, huntsmen, environmentalists and tourists must learn to be tolerant too.
Can you explain what the members of “Wolf watches” do? Is it possible to join the ranks of these volunteers and how?
Wolf watches were formed as an effort to stop poaching. Today it is a volunteer association coordinated by the Duha movement in Olomouc. They search for tracks of large predators in the wild, they place photo traps, monitor their local areas or try to mitigate the fragmentation of landscape. I admire the enthusiasm and zeal of many people from the country as well as towns, who are willing to spend their free time selflessly in nature with the aim to enhance our environment.