Kratt Brothers Go Wild on TV's Be the Creature

Jennifer Vernon
for National Geographic News
October 6, 2003

When asked recently on the Today Show how Be the Creature is different from their other projects, Martin Kratt explained, "We're going deeper into the creature world now…[to] live on their turf, by their rules—and just see what happens!"

Exactly "what happens" while following filmmakers Chris and Martin Kratt on their adventures is a new approach to wildlife filmmaking. The premiere episode, which aired on October 5, finds the Kratts in Alaska's remote Katmai National Park shadowing the North American brown bear—more infamously known as the grizzly.

Ranging anywhere from 175 to 1,500 pounds (80 to 680 kilograms), adult brown bears when on all fours are typically six to seven feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) long, three and a half feet (one meter) high at the shoulder, and sport four-inch (10-centimeter) claws on their front paws. This intimidating physical presence can mask an important fact: 90 percent of the brown bear's diet consists of plant matter such as sedge, flowers, roots, berries, and nuts.

Other components that can round out this omnivore's meals are salmon, squirrel, elk, and clams—a favorite food obtained by digging with its strong claws. Hibernating for up to nine months out of the year, the brown bear has only a few short months to nurture its young before the onset of winter.

Statistics like these can be useful, but how can viewers take away a real sense of what being a bear is all about? To this end, the Kratt brothers offer themselves for perspective: in this first episode, Chris good-naturedly dines on sedge and digs for clams with his hands, showing by comparison how well suited the bear is for its lifestyle. Filming their subjects so closely, however, comes with dangers, and both Martin and Chris have to keep their cool as they stand firm in the midst of protective mothers and territorial males.

Subsequent episodes of Be the Creature find the brothers:

• racing through the Okavango with wild dogs
• stalking prey with a Botswanan lion pride
• enjoying a hot springs retreat with Japanese macaques
• hanging out in the trees with the Madagascan lemur
• traveling Florida's hazardous waterways with manatees
• tracking the Patagonian coastline with killer whales
• swinging through the Ugandan forests with chimpanzees
• fending off predators with Uganda's banded mongoose
• swimming with the great white shark off South Africa
• caving with Mexico's free-tailed bats

Adept filmmakers, Chris and Martin already have two award-winning PBS series to their credit—Kratts' Creatures, winner of the Parent's Gold Choice Award, and Zoboomafoo, an Emmy Award winner—along with numerous prizes from the environmental filmmaking community. They wear many hats, as executive producers, writers, filmmakers, and co-stars on their projects, and have inspired millions with their call to become fellow "creature adventurers."

The nonprofit Kratt Brothers Creature Hero Society was established to give children the resources to do just that. By joining, members learn how they can protect creatures of all shapes and sizes, both in their own backyards and around the world.

The Creature Hero Society's first group project resulted in sponsorship for the purchase and establishment of Grizzly Gulch: a 1,222-acre (494-hectare) Montana refuge along the Rocky Mountain Front that shelters not only brown bears, but wolves, wolverines, lynx, elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep as well. With brown bears now numbering only 1,000 in the lower 48 states—one hundredth of their population during Lewis and Clark times—the area provides welcome protection for this rare animal and its vital habitat.

Since 1998, the Kratt brothers also have served as spokesmen for former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt's Frog Force initiative, established to recognize amphibians as crucial indicator species, and to scientifically document and halt their recent decline. Martin and Chris have used their talents to educate children about the importance of frog, toad, and salamander health in reflecting the overall well-being of an ecosystem, and to show children and adults alike how to take action in their communities.

In addition to their film work, the brothers have authored several books and conducted three national tours, all part of their continuing efforts to promote enthusiasm for better understanding and protecting wildlife.

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