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Videographer shares story of efforts to save northern white rhino

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | September 15, 2021 1:00 AM

Jeff Hyer’s recent trip to Kenya left him inspired to tell the story of northern white rhinos.

He visited the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where he had the opportunity to meet the world’s last two northern white rhinos — Najin and Fatu. Living under guard to protect against the threat of poachers, scientists are working diligently to hopefully preserve the species as it moves closer toward extinction.

“I’ve been following their stories for years,” he said. “But I got the chance to meet the people that work with them and learn about wildlife conservation. It was an amazing experience.”

The Whitefish native says geographic boundaries provide splits in how different countries deal with the conservation of all rhinos, and poaching is a huge issue. And because both the remaining two white rhinos in the world are female finding a way to keep the species alive presents its own biological challenge as well.

“Saving rhinos sounds like a very simple idea,” he said. “But it’s very complex and there’s no single solution. I really loved dissecting that and getting the chance to community with the people who working on conservation to learn more about it. I went from having general knowledge to being much more advanced and I want to communicate with people about that.”

For white rhinos were donated from a zoo in the Czech Republic to Kenya in hopes being in their natural habitat might help them to breed. But the two males eventually died.

Conservation efforts now include using preserved sperm and eggs from the two females, neither of whom can carry a pregnancy, to create embryos and artificially inseminate southern white rhino surrogates.

Hyer says the story of the northern white rhinos includes the history of how there came to be only two, what’s happening right now to conserve the species, and then the future of what will happen.

“We’re really in the middle of the story right now,” he said.

Hyer is a recent graduate of the University of Montana and is currently pursuing opportunities as a freelance videographer who has a passion for wildlife conservation.

Hyer’s early love for animals got him on Big Valley Radio as a host of Jungle Jack’s Zooniacs, a kids-oriented radio program focused on learning about animals. The program with its connection to zookeeper and wildlife personality Jack Hanna traveled to zoos around the country to interview animal experts and learn about different creates.

Hyer says that early experience inspired him and now the ultimate goal is to obtain a job working in documentary nature programming such for the likes of National Geographic. Right now, he’s working on bolstering his portfolio with experience such as the one he had in Kenya.

“Working in multimedia and conservation is my greatest passion,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic provided Hyer with the opportunity to travel to Kenya. He said not only were travel costs much lower as a result, he also got the opportunity to have more personal access to the rhinos caretakers and those involved in the conservation of the animals, along with meeting the animals himself.

“It was the most exciting few weeks,” he said. “It was very rewarding. I arrived as a tourist, but then I left with something more special.”