A new IMAX film, “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar,” which opens at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History today and runs through Aug. 14, captures the grandeur of the country’s wildlife.
“Much like the legacy of all the famous great exploration pieces, whether it be Marlin Perkins in ‘Mutual of Omaha,’ or David Attenborough bringing exotic nature to … people’s homes, bringing the world to you, this film does a great job of capturing that majesty and sense of wonder and excitement that hooked me as a 5-year-old in the farmhouse in rural Alabama watching ‘Wild America’ with Marty Stauffer or ‘Wild Kingdom,’” said Dollar, now an associate biology professor at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C., and an adjunct professor at Duke. “Those things unlocked my brain into ‘Oh, wow this is awesome!’ It’s there. It has great footage. I know how hard this stuff is to get. It’s got incredible footage of everything from whales to lemurs to amazing landscapes. I know what went into the logistics of this film, and it was massive.”
Dollar, who has been studying lemurs and their predators in captivity for 23 years and in Madagascar for 20, is also a National Geographic Explorer, a distinction that comes with years of experience studying a particular species or wildlife area. He said he had no role in the 40-minute movie other than answering questions from the filmmakers.
But as an expert on the subject, Dollar led 44 students from Sheltering Arms preschool in a private viewing of the film Thursday at Fernbank as part of PNC Bank’s Grow Up Great Foundation program. He also spoke there at a private showing for adults Thursday night.
Dollar, who studied the Florida panther in graduate school at Duke, is working with National Geographic on its Big Cats Initiative, which has funded 56 projects in 22 countries, to preserve cat species. In Madagascar Dollar has analyzed the fossa, a cat-like animal that eats lemurs.
In that country the biggest challenge, he said, is keeping the island sustainable for both human beings and wildlife.
“We’re working to find alternative energy sources other than having to cut down trees in order to have firewood or to clear land to grow rice, to find some sort of economic incentive or economic alternative to doing that,” he said. “One of the things we found in Madagascar in the 20 years I’ve been working there, and this is the world’s fourth largest island, the population has doubled … from about 12 million to about 24 million. Three quarters of them live rurally and the majority of them are subsistence farmers. They have to clear land to grow rice, to live, to survive.”
Along those lines, Dollar said one of the most critical lessons he’s learned from studying lemurs and their predators is to keep the ecosystem intact.
“From a scientific perspective, that no part of nature is in a vacuum, that there’s an interrelated basis for the way everything works, is one of the most important messages to me,” he said. “If you take away one part of it, that impacts not only that part but the related parts not only in one step but two steps or three steps. It’s all connected.”
The movie captures that message.
“The film, it really aligns with Fernbank’s mission to encourage a greater appreciation of our planet and its inhabitants,” said Becky Facer, Fernbank’s environmental education programs manager. “Two key concepts in particular the film hits on are biodiversity and conservation.
“Over 80 percent of the plants and animals found on Madagascar can only be found on Madagascar. They can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Guests will discover why it’s important to conserve these resources and discover how people are conserving them for future generations.”
If you go:
o What: IMAX film “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar”
o When: showing today through Aug. 14
o Where: Fernbank Museum of Natural History, 767 Clifton Road, Atlanta
o Information: www.fernbankmuseum.org