New Jersey is home to some 500 wildlife species and of these, over 80 are currently listed as endangered or threatened.
To educate others about how these wildlife species found themselves on that list and to uncover what is being done to combat it, award-winning documentary filmmaker, Jared Flesher, of East Amwell, has created The Creature Show.
The documentary web series is dedicated to conservation storytelling with a focus on Garden State animals and habitats. The series will highlight threatened and endangered creatures specific to New Jersey while demonstrating how biodiversity issues occurring here translate on a global scale.
“In New Jersey, we have all the challenges to biodiversity around the world—all the risks of extinction are really presented right here,” Flesher says. “New Jersey is a great microcosm to show and educate people about biodiversity and what some of the risks are, not only in New Jersey, but globally.”
The docuseries’ first episode features the mysterious salamanders of New Jersey.
Several species of the amphibian are native to New Jersey, including five from the genus Ambystoma, known as “mole salamanders.” Many of these creatures find themselves on either the endangered, threatened or species of special concern list.
The amphibians, which live largely underground beneath leaves and rocks, emerge to migrate during a small window of time in the spring to mate and lay their eggs. One of the largest threats to their successful migration, as well as to the migration of other species in the state like the Northern Diamondback Terrapin or the Wood Frog, is being killed by vehicles crossing the road.
The episode features how biologists, conservation organizations and volunteers are working on ways to aid the salamanders in their crossings to protect the species from further degradation.
With New Jersey being the most densely populated state in the nation, Flesher says habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation have been the major drivers of biodiversity loss, and will continue to be.
However, when looking at issues affected biodiversity in any area, he says it’s most likely a cocktail of destruction.
“Anytime you have an endangered species in New Jersey, you could almost be certain that it’s not just one reason, it’s because there are two, or three or four things happening all at once that are making that species at risk and that’s the story all across the world,” he says.
Flesher says all of the reasons why a species may become endangered is summed up in one acronym known as HIPO-CD, representing: Habitat destruction, Invasive species, Pollution, Over-harvesting, Climate change and Disease—all devastating to preserving a healthy ecosystem.
Climate change and the increase in diseases spreading due to globalization are two factors biologists are just beginning to understand.
The Northern Long-Eared Bat, to be featured in a future episode, is a native New Jersey species whose numbers are dwindling because of an introduced fungus that spreads white-nose syndrome, a disease that kills hibernating bats.
Flesher says in some places, the bat populations have dropped by 99 percent since the fungus showed up in North America.
Despite the heaviness associated with a subject like endangerment, Flesher says the docuseries is “optimistic” and really tries to highlight the positive ways biologists and volunteers are working to reverse or improve problems facing Jersey’s creatures.
“The goal is that by focusing on the biologists who are working with threatened and endangered species in New Jersey, and their stories, and their passion, you’re not seeing something that’s depressing or scary,” he says. “You’re seeing something that’s optimistic because the biologists who are working with these animals are doing a really good job of doing the best they can, often, with limited resources.”
Flesher says he hopes future episodes will include animals like the bobcat and endangered snakes of New Jersey, as well as the many pristine natural habitats of the state like the Great Swamp, the Pine Barrens, the Highlands and the Delaware Bay area.
With episode one funded mostly through a Kickstarter and sponsorship with Agricola Eatery in Princeton, The Creature Show is hoping to soon partner with a nonprofit in order to apply for grants to support future episodes.
Flesher says the series was made with the support from the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Non-game Species Program, the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
“The show wouldn’t be possible without their assistance so we’d like to say thank you,” he says.
The Creature Show is set to air on Wednesday, July 15. All episodes, to be posted on creatureshow.com, are free to be streamed by the public.
Update: Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, in partnership with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, lead a number of amphibian crossing volunteer programs, mostly limited to central and northern New Jersey. Please visit Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s “Amphibian’s Crossing!” page to learn more about volunteer opportunities through the organization.Click here to leave a comment