The secret knowledge of animals

A 45-minute documentary celebrates its TV premiere on ARD

How can animals and technology can help us answer humanity's pressing global questions and bring our planet back into balance? A 45-minute documentary, The secret knowledge of animals, featuring research of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior celebrates its German premiere on Monday, April 15, 2024, at 9 p.m. on the flagship national television channel of the ARD, Das Erste.

What can animals tell us about our shared planet in terms of natural disasters, biodiversity loss and climate change? How do animals read the signs of nature that are incomprehensible to us? What do they know that we don't?

Martin Wikelski has, for the last two decades, set himself the task of decoding the intelligence of the animal kingdom and making it usable for mankind. A stunning documentary follows Wikelski, director of the Migration Department at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, on his mission with all its technical, social, and ethical challenges.

Says Wikelski: "Animals have evolved for millions of years; their senses are perfectly tuned to process information from their environment. In this way, the brains of animals are superior to any of the computers that we have. If we take many of those animals together, we then have a network of intelligent, distributed sensors that are evolved to sense the environment." Wikelski calls this network the “Internet of Animals”—a concept that he lays out in a new book published by Piper Verlag in March this year.

The Icarus mission

The Internet of Animals is a mission that Wikelski has been pursuing with extraordinary vision, heart, and dogged determination for the better part of 20 years. At the heart of this mission is the space-born animal tracking system Icarus: mini transmitters, attached to thousands of animals worldwide, that send data to space. For the first time, Icarus will make it possible to observe animals globally, giving scientists unprecedented insights into how animals behave as individuals and collectively, how they perceive their environment and make decisions.

This vision and perseverance fascinated director Magnus Froböse. "When I first met Martin Wikelski in 2011, his vision of the Internet of Animals still seemed utopian. But it was a vision that immediately fascinated me. A project of the century that not only demands a lot from the various scientific disciplines and institutions, but above all from Martin Wikelski himself."

The internet of animals

In The secret knowledge of animals, Froböse takes us with him around the world as he documented Wikelski and collaborators laying the foundations for the Internet of Animals. In South Africa, animals wearing tiny tags reveal how their behavior can protect endangered species from poachers. Farm animals in Italy and migratory birds in French Polynesia show that animals can also protect people by forecasting natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes.

For Froböse, filming by Wikelski’s side for almost ten years allowed him to witness the extraordinary highs and frustrating lows that saw the Internet of Animals blink into life. From his privileged position, the filmmaker captured the birth of a scientific revolution and all the drama came with it. “Making the documentary has been an incredible seven years full of ups and downs, adventurous journeys and exciting encounters,” says Froböse. “We survived run-ins with space authorities, a global pandemic, and war in Ukraine. Now, I’m delighted to present our film. I’m proud that I can be part of this effort to give animals a voice so we can learn what they have to tell us.”

The secret knowledge of animals opens up a new perspective on the earth as a fantastic habitat worth protecting. The animals can tell us a lot about our shared planet and how a harmonious co-existence is possible. We just have to listen to them.

The Myriad project

The TV documentary by Froböse is part of the cross-media Myriad project, which combines the latest scientific data with sophisticated visual aesthetics and innovative, immersive and interactive narrative forms. Together with a VR experience and a 360° documentary, which have each won several international awards, as well as a spatially interactive exhibition, a cosmos of fascination is created at the interface of art, science and storytelling. A cosmos that illuminates the challenges of animals in a world influenced by humans in an emotionally stirring way.

For Froböse, this has "the enormous potential to bring the beauty of our planet to a broad public in a way that inspires them and sensitizes them to mindful action - without detaching ourselves from scientific facts."

The secret knowledge of animals is a production of Filmtank GmbH with Context-Film and Galafilm Productions, funded by MFG Baden-Württemberg, the Canadian Media Fund, the Rogers Documentary Cable Net Fund, the Quebec Film & Television Council in co-production with SWR and CBC Television. The Max Planck is delighted to have contributed to the success of this documentation with the support of our global project partners, above all the Max Planck Society, the German Aerospace Center, SpaceTech GmbH and the University of Konstanz.

The secret knowledge of animals is available in the ARD media library until 08.07.2024  

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