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Alumni

In Search of Wild Kingdom - Part 2 of 2

February 16, 2009

Moving around the kitchen to help his wife with lunch, 85-year-old Dr. Warren Garst (M.S. '63) doesn't exactly conjure up images of a globetrotting adventurer. Yet his work, filming wildlife for the long-running TV series Wild Kingdom, was anything but ordinary, whether it was working with 400-pound gorillas in the rugged mountains of Rwanda or documenting the capture of a Komodo dragon in Indonesia.

In Search of Wild Kingdom - Part 1

The Komodo Dragon

Reptiles

An assignment in remote Indonesia to film the Komodo dragon illustrated how his job could be anything but glamorous. The giant lizard’s island home was a sweltering combination of heat, humidity, and insects the most inhospitable location he had ever filmed. “And the only water we had access to was hot,” he recalls with a cringe.

The end result, however, was footage of one of the world’s most strange and deadly creatures. The crew hung up slaughtered goats to attract the dragons, which grow up to 12 feet long and several hundred pounds.

These modern-day dinosaurs, Garst says, have an unusual way of hunting prey. First the Komodo dragon ambushes the prey and bites it. The prey might die from bleeding to death, but more likely, the bite will become infected and kill the prey within a day or two. The lizard, in the meantime, follows its scent trail and eventually finds the carcass.

Animals were not the only ones who had to fear the Komodo dragon, Garst says. He recalls more than one story of an unfortunate islander meeting his end after encountering the giant reptile. “The humans and dragons inhabiting that island occasionally made meals of one another,” he says.

GorillaLife on assignment

Life on assignment lacked nearly all the comforts of home. Garst and his wife camped out during their African trips, and the days were long. “We’d be up and away by daybreak and we’d come in after dark,” he says. “Then I’d unload the cameras, reload the magazines and set batteries to charge. It was a long schedule, but we enjoyed it. It was so fun to get up and drive across those plains before dawn. You could see things you wouldn’t see in the daytime. You could see the yellow eyes of the wildebeest or the green eyes of the aardvarks. You learned to tell animals by their eyes.”

Garst says his favorite animals to film were the gorillas that hung around Diane Fossey’s camp in Rwanda. “Gorillas were like friendly people,” he says. “However, every now and then one of the males, particularly the young ones, would bluff charges or break branches off a tree bigger than my arm. That was to show me he was pretty strong. Once he did that, he’d settled down.”

Trailblazers

Dr. Warren Garst Warren and Genny Garst retired in 1987 after the last Wild Kingdom episode was filmed in India. Retirement did not put an end to the couple’s round-the-world adventures, however, as they traveled to exotic locales such as Antarctica, Greenland, and Siberia. The couple currently resides in Fort Collins, Colo.

Wild Kingdom’s pioneering work earned the show four Emmy Awards during its 25-year run. Garst himself was honored for his work by Colorado State University, which presented him with an Honorary Doctorate of Science in 1980.

“The show,” he says, “also became a trailblazer in human-animal relations. When its film crews were out in the field, the animals got a lot more exposure to people. This way, the animals grew tamer, making the filming a lot easier.”

“In the early years, especially in the States, it was hard to get footage because everything was shot at,” he says. “If they weren’t game animals, they were vermin. Wild Kingdom educated people, and we saw a change in attitude. That was one of the greatest values of the show.”

This article was originally published in Around the Oval magazine. To subscribe to Around the Oval, become a member of the CSU Alumni Association.


Contact: Beth Etter
Phone: (970) 491 -6533