With the “Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” nature documentary series hitting its 60th year, it’s time to feature more of Wyoming, the show’s host said.
“There’s so much to talk about in Wyoming and the park (Yellowstone) is such a jewel. I would love to come down there and do some shows,” Peter Gros told Cowboy State Daily.
As the show’s main host, Gros is following in the footsteps of legends Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler. Gros came onboard with “Wild Kingdom” in 1985. He said that during his tenure, he can recall at least one episode being shot in Wyoming featuring the recovery of black-footed ferrets near Meeteetse.
The recovery of the ferrets, “a species we thought had gone extinct,” is among several conservation success stories in Wyoming, which also include the comeback of grizzly bears and wolves, Gros said.
He also hosts the Wild Kingdom series “Protecting the Wild." Positive stories like those in Wyoming fit right in with the show’s optimistic tone, he said.
That’s important because young people these days are continually told bad news about wildlife and the environment, Gros said.
“Sadly, they’ve heard so much gloom and doom,” he said. “They may think it’s too late, and I have to remind them of all the success stories we’ve had.”
Carrying On A Legacy
Gros lives in Coeur d’Alene in the Idaho panhandle, which he said is a gorgeous place in it’s own right.
“It’s not Yellowstone, but it’s still an amazing place,” he said.
He grew up watching Perkins host the original run of “Wild Kingdom,” which first aired in 1963. But he never dreamed that he’d be part of the show.
Gros said he was ecstatic when he was invited to join the show in 1985, the year Perkins retired, to co-host with Jim Fowler.
“Since 1985, this has been a dream come true for me,” he said.
Gros said he didn’t film any episodes with Perkins, but got to spend some time with him before Perkin’s death in 1986. Fowler stayed with the show until 2000, and died in 2019.
Wyoming Does Great Work
Wildlife management in Wyoming sets good examples, Gros said, citting the recovery of wolves and grizzlies.
Grizzlies had all but disappeared from the Lower 48 when the Yellowstone population was placed under Endangered Species Act protection in the 1970s.
“It’s a tremendous success story how well the bears were handled in Yellowstone, and now the park is back up to carrying capacity,” he said.
Wolves have also done well in the region since being reintroduced in the mid-1990s, he added, and have brought balance back to the ecosystem.
However, there’s no denying both species have been surrounded by controversy, he said. The delisting of grizzly bears, which could happen this year, might be a “bitter pill” for some.
However, it’s best to find workable solutions and not let wildlife conservation get embroiled in politics, Gros said.
“I think we have to respect the science, the biologists and the research they’ve done,” he said. “I would love to see as many grizzly bears as we can have, but on the other hand, we have to respect the data from the wildlife conservation agencies.”
The looming reintroduction of wolves into Colorado has likewise been controversial, but “closely monitoring” the situation and the wolves’ movements should can mitigate conflicts with humans, he said.
Wildlife Crossings Are Vital
Gros said he’s watched with great interest as Wyoming works to improve wildlife highway crossings.
A proposed new wildlife overpass along Interstate 80 near Elk Mountain, where the highway cuts through mule deer migration routes, will be a vital improvement, he said.
Wildlife crossings work, Gros said.
A network of 19 highway overpasses and underpasses in Florida proved pivotal in efforts in saving that state’s shrinking population panthers, which are closely related to Wyoming’s mountain lions, he said.
The crossings and “fencing designed to guide wildlife to the overpasses and underpasses” helped not only the panthers, but numerous other species as well, he said.
Mustangs, Winterkill Also Fascinate
Gros said there’s also a potential story in Wyoming’s mustangs, another species that has been surrounded by controversy. Mustang advocates say they should be conserved as wildlife, while other say they should be managed as a feral species.
Meanwhile, he said ongoing news about massive winterkill among some of Wyoming’s premier antelope and mule deer herds is “just terrible.”
However, there could ultimately be an optimistic story to be told, Gros said.
“I would be interesting to track the timeline of each species, and how they recover from this,” he said.
Wyoming A Great Place For Kids
The best way to get children thinking positively about the future, and caring for wildlife, is to get them outdoors, Gros said.
“Give them a backpack and a pair of binoculars and get them out there,” he said. “I tell children and young people, ‘You, as an individual, need to get involved.’ Let them connect with nature early on, and then, as adults they will think, ‘what can I do to help?’”
Families in Wyoming have an unparalleled opportunity to do that, Gros said.
“You live right in the heart of nature’s playground,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.