Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Wildlife Rescue review – totally adorable TV you’ll want to watch for years to come
Culture TV and Radio

Wildlife Rescue review – totally adorable TV you’ll want to watch for years to come

The late great critic Roger Ebert once said that “movies are like a machine that generates empathy” – the idea being that when we sit down and watch dramas, comedies, documentaries or even horror films, they take us out of ourselves and force us to share in the pain and triumph of others. In short, they can make us better people.

Watching Wildlife Rescue, no one would call it a cinematic masterpiece, but Ebert would definitely approve as it generates such empathy for each of the wonderful people at South Essex wildlife hospital and all the gorgeous animals in their care.

The Channel 4 series is, quite simply, adorable. It looks at the goings-on at an “extraordinary wildlife hospital where a small, dedicated team rescue sick, injured and orphaned animals”. We follow this team as they nurse wild animals back to health (where possible) and reintroduce them to their natural habitats. One wouldn’t think the fate of a small fox called Skippy would have you on the edge of your seat, but the build-up to finding out whether or not the poor chap has contracted toxoplasmosis is an almost unbearably tense moment of television – one which, as one member of staff taking care of him says, “will make me cry either way”.

The first episode sees the fates of Skippy, a swan and a little group of seals hanging in the balance. We learn that the vast majority of injuries the hospital treats come from human causes. For foxes, it’s rubbish being in the wrong place. Swans are often victims of fishing hooks, and seal pups are frequently mauled by dogs that have been let off the leash by oblivious owners.

Skippy, a skinny fox, eats from a huge bowl of foodView image in fullscreen

The hospital has expanded in just a few years from the home of its founder, ex-copper Sue, and now takes 200 calls a day. Some are delightfully silly, such as a man calling concerned that there is a pregnant pigeon in his bath, only to be gently told that pigeons “lay eggs and cannot get pregnant”. Sue runs the centre with her partner, Tom, a devoted vet and complete sweetheart, who is willing to burn the midnight oil to perform surgeries if it saves a single bird’s life. The entire crew are as invested in the outcome as Tom is, and the show sees most of them shed tears of sadness and joy.

While it’s all incredibly sweet, it is somewhat let down by a conventional structure and edit that skips over some moments that would be fascinating to see. We don’t get to watch much of the rescues themselves. There’s a scene where Skippy is saved from under a skip in a building site with a plastic bottle wrapped around his neck, but because he’s confined to such a small space it’s hard to get much of a sense of the logistics of freeing him. It’s an understandable choice – watching animals suffer is no one’s idea of fun – but you can’t help but wish you could see, rather than just hear about, how they dealt with the “pregnant” pigeon in that man’s bathroom.

Sue (left) and Sharon (right) on Wildlife Rescue.View image in fullscreen

The best scenes feature the seals that are recovering from being mauled by dogs: each little animal has its own personality and a propensity to literally bite the hands that feed them. Even if they are extremely smelly, they are just so darn lovable. As the staff tell us, fattening them up is key to their survival, and the chunky little guys can only be released once they resemble “fat little wobbly maggots”, which is a lot cuter than it sounds. Watching the programme, you may be tempted to immediately Google “seal pet adoption”, but Sue regularly reminds us that the goal is to free these animals. “It’s our responsibility to get them back to their wild,” she says. “It’s not good for them to be with us; they should be with their own kind.”

skip past newsletter promotion

Wildlife Rescue has the potential to be the sort of comforting show that runs for years and years. There is no shortage of sweet little animals to root for, and the staff at the hospital are such a caring bunch that time in their company is a joy. There’s some great wisdom to learn here, too – about being more careful when disposing of our rubbish, taking dogs for a seaside walk or slinging a literal hook. This is a show designed to help the viewer live in better harmony with the animals we share the world with. It not only makes for lovely television, it generates empathy for every one of the patients and may actually leave you a better person.

Source: theguardian.com