Operation Wild: Veterinarians and Animals in Need Make Great Television Together on PBS

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“We interrupt this horse summer to bring you some great television.” That could be the PBS tag line for the new--and all too brief--Operation Wild series. For three Wednesday nights in July, you can travel to distant places with some of the world’s most unconventional veterinarians as each seeks to help an animal whose life is in danger.

It may not be about horses, but the situations will seem familiar, as is the equipment used. But most of these vets are in dire straits, remote locations, and seem to be working without a net, as they say in the circus. A giraffe with a wire embedded in its pastern could be a yearling colt--with super long legs! And an elephant with a bullet wound in its leg reminds us that horses can be shot, too. But these vets took on these animals in the wild, and tried to help.

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Here's a preview from the first episode:

What is especially appealing about these segments is that they juxtapose situations using new technology and equipment with veterinarians who must make emotional and often adrenalin-charged decisions. Some scenes are quiet, some are chaotic. One animal is sedated in a hospital, then a giraffe in the wild is "sedated" by a crew of helpers who literally sit on it while its leg is treated for a wire injury.

Sometimes we can see our own equine medicine and technology better when the horses are not in the picture. There is nothing to distract us here--no tack to criticize, no grooming to evaluate, no rider attitude to dismiss. Horses carry a lot of baggage, but in Operation Wild we see many of the same tools, hear the same terms, and recognize the grave importance of veterinary competence and experience.

If you ever needed to be inspired to help animals, whether close to home or far from anywhere, this PBS/BBC production introduces you to individuals who found a way to get to the animals who need them, and get the job done, even if it means convincing a local human hospital in Laos to allow their x-ray unit to be used on a wounded elephant--who just happens to be outside in the back of a truck.

Operation Wild is not on Netflix. You don’t have to subscribe to Showtime or download an app or even have cable. It’s available to everyone. You can even watch it online. For free. I hope you will.

How would you like to have to clean this stall? An elephant in need of surgery will need a large space to lie down--and get back up again. Operation Wild offers two segments on elephants in the wild in need of emergency medical assistance.

How would you like to have to clean this stall? An elephant in need of surgery will need a large space to lie down--and get back up again. Operation Wild offers two segments on elephants in the wild in need of emergency medical assistance.

Episode contents:

Episode One, July 1, 8:00-9:00 p.m.: In the first part of this series, the filmmakers travel to the Wolong Giant Panda Base in South West China, where vets are using high-tech animal medicine to try to save the species. In West Africa, a gorilla called Shufai is still trying to recover from being shot in the arm by poachers when he was just a baby. A vet in Japan has invented a new kind of underwater medicine designed to look after manta rays. Audiences also glimpse the largest pop-up animal ER on the planet, created when an ancient kite festival in India causes a wildlife crisis.

Episode Two, July 8, 8:00-9:00 p.m.: Part two follows a team in South Africa who are trying to help rhino Thandi with a ground-breaking skin graft operation after poachers stole her horns. A giraffe has caught his leg in a snare and must be caught and anaesthetized in order to prevent his death. Rosemary the orangutan has micro-surgery in Borneo to try to restore her sight and give her back her freedom. At Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, viewers learn how human heart technology is being used to help our closest animal relatives, chimpanzees, prevent heart disease.

Episode Three, July 15, 8:00-9:00 p.m.: The third episode begins in the rainforest of Laos, where vets are going to attempt groundbreaking keyhole brain surgery on Champa, an endangered moon bear. In Japan, vet and inventor Dr. Keiichi Ueda has spent the last 12 years trying to improve the life of Fuji, a dolphin with no tail. Renowned reptile specialist Dr. Doug Mader tries 21st-century surgery to save the life of a prehistoric beast, and in Poland, a team of South African vets is called in to try to remove the infected tusk of a five-ton elephant, Ninio.

To catch up on Operation Wildvisit the PBS website, where the episodes are streaming as they are aired, and plenty of previews are available. Episode One is streaming in its entirety this week.