Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” has been resurrected and the show’s producers have picked two area ranches’ black-footed ferret conservation efforts to highlight in the first season.
When Allen and Kristine Hogg, owners of the historic Lazy BV Ranch, got a call from the iconic wildlife show’s representatives last fall, they were excited and invited the team to the ranch.
The show, which premiered 60 years ago this month, was a favorite as the two grew up.
“We weren’t allowed to watch TV very much,” Kristine said in a Tuesday interview. “But Wild Kingdom and [Wonderful World of] Disney were shows we were allowed to watch. And I loved them.”
The last 18 surviving — previously thought extinct — black-footed ferrets were located and eventually rescued from the Hogg ranch more than 40 years ago.
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Since the species was reintroduced on their land and the neighboring Pitchfork Ranch owned by Lenox Baker, starting in 2016, there have been many media requests to do reports on their stories.
And rightfully so.
Saving the species from extinction has been one of the great stories of wildlife conservation in American history.
Both ranches have also worked with state and federal officials to create a safe habitat for the species. But not all the reports from Meeteetse have been as thrilling as the latest, Kristine said.
“We did the one with CBS News about a year ago,” she said. “We worked with them, but we weren’t impressed with that publication at all.”
However, when Peter Gros and the crew of the new show spent two days at the Hogg ranch after previously visiting the Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in Ft. Collins and the Pitchfork Ranch for the episode, it left the family feeling extremely hopeful.
“They were so much fun. We had a great time with them,” she said.
The crew took part in overnight surveys of the nocturnal species. Known as spotlighting, the process involves searching for the green, glowing eyes of the predator caught in the beams of flashlights.
“When they said we’d be going out to do inventory at night at each location and work on trapping, I thought, oh, we’re going to go out at night. Little did I know they meant all night,” he said Tuesday from his office in Omaha while editing the next episode.
But one of the biggest thrills for Gros came when Kristine and Allen set him up with an all terrain vehicle to use while he was in town.
“It was certainly one of the highlights to be handed the keys to an off-road four-wheeler and have thousands of acres to go looking for wildlife,” he said.
Kristine said the ATVs thrilled the entire crew.
“We put them on four wheelers and we ran out across the prairie and took them up on the big hill. We let the cameraman and all of them take turns. Everybody got to ride them,” she said. “And then coming back, they all got the giggles and just took off on a race with Peter. It was a riot.”
While filming the episode was festive, the show takes a serious look at recovery efforts.
Each episode highlights incredible wildlife success stories of some of the nation’s most endangered species and conservation efforts taking place that are making a positive impact on the wild kingdom.
The episode airs April 14 on the RFD-TV network, the grand finale of the first 10 episodes in the new season titled “Wild Kingdom: Protecting the Wild.”
Gros, who has been with the show since 1985 when Marlin Perkins retired, said the trip to Colorado and Wyoming was his favorite of the new season. He has spent his life spreading the word of the benefits of spending time outdoors.
“We need a balance in life,” he said in an introduction to the new season. “We need to spend time in front of our computers and our screens, which are necessary in the 21st century. But research has shown physically and mentally we need to spend time in nature to keep this balance. So learn as much as you can about the natural world. Spend time in it and enjoy the wildlife.”
Jeff Ewelt, executive director of Zoo Montana in Billings, was selected as a special guest host for the episode.
They had seen his video collection called “Jeff, the Nature Guy” and asked him to join the team to offer his “expertise and thoughts on the black-footed ferret recovery effort,” he said.
“It was an honor to be at the location of the rediscovery,” he said, adding the Hoggs “are a wonderful family and excellent hosts.”
Ewelt has also appeared in a Netflix special called “The 72 Most Dangerous Animals” with Netflix and an episode of NatGeo Wild. All 10 episodes are being released on the show’s website 48 hours after premiering on RFDTV.
To watch the first episodes of the season, go to mutualofomaha.com/ wild-kingdom/.