The 500 is the story of one man dedicated to saving one of the world’s most endangered species. With fewer than 500 individuals, the Ethiopian wolf is on the brink of extinction. For Alo the wolves are family, needing protection for years to come. He knows the importance of inspiring the next generation, namely his daughter, Billy, to love wolves like he does.
Often it’s easy to feel detached and distanced from conservation work taking place across the globe, it was our brief for the viewer to feel in the heart of the action, witnessing the effort it takes to protect the Ethiopian wolf from extinction.
Whilst a symbol of national pride, many young Ethiopians have never seen their wolf; alongside The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP), Biome sought to change this: virtually. We produced a local language version, making use of the EWCP’s schools programme, the film was shown to children across Ethiopia. They could go to The Bale Mountains National Park, meet Alo, and learn how they can protect their wolves.
It was critical for the viewer to be part of the wolf’s world and meet them face to face; the wolf needed to come within 1 meter of the camera for this to happen but just finding the Ethiopian wolf was a challenge. The team headed to The Bale Mountains National Park in the south of the country; Bale is the world’s hotspot for the wolf, with 200 individuals living above 3000m spread across an area 43x the size of Manhattan.
Fortunately the team had an ace up their sleeve in the form of a local wolf monitor called Alo Hussein. With Alo’s help the team where able to find the wolves every morning and more importantly anticipate where they would be in 10 minutes time. Much to the teams joy the wolves live in a relatively featureless habitat, with the younger members of the pack eager to investigate a strange new object in their world (our 360° camera!). The team recorded some incredible footage and were able to put the viewer into the wolf’s world.
To make sure The 500 was set apart from other 360° wildlife documentaries the team aimed to film as much natural wildlife and their behaviour as possible. This meant patiently stalking the endangered mountain nyala across the Northern forest; being on the move with the Megeti wolf pack; and spying on sunbirds drinking nectar from a red hot poker. All of these animals and many other endemic species were filmed for the first time in 360°.
Perhaps one of the most difficult sequences to film involved the giant mole rat. A species found only in the Bale Mountains National Park. The giant mole rat lives a subterranean life occasionally popping their heads above ground from one of their multiple burrows, making them extremely frustrating to film. As the mole rats excavate the land they bring grubs to the surface which are gobbled up by birds like the alpine chat. Rollo set about trying to film this behaviour. He searched for the part of the park where there was the greatest density of mole rats, upon finding this Rollo then needed to place the camera. Using knowledge gained from playing ‘whack a mole’ Rollo placed the camera nearest to burrows which had been freshly dug in the morning. After a few days of watching the mole rats through binoculars, the mole rat was brave enough to excavate next to the camera, and not long passed when an opportunistic chat feasted next to the busy mole rat. This sequence is one of the best in the film and is a testament to the team’s patience and understanding of animal behaviour.