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Discovery Channel uses Yuma ranges

By Lance Cpl. Aaron Diamant | | April 14, 2011

Wild Horizons, a wildlife film production company, spent several days in the Yuma Dunes on the Barry M. Goldwater Range filming reptiles with high-speed cameras to show the intricacies of their movements and abilities as part of the desert segment of the upcoming Wild Planet: North America documentary series for the Discovery Channel.

Using cutting-edge film technology, Discovery Channel teamed with Wild Horizons in a multiyear production deal to capture the world, continent by continent in high definition, as it’s never been seen before, said Alicia Decina, Wild Horizons assistant producer. Commissioned by Discovery Channel for showing on its networks worldwide, Wild Planet: North America, which began filming in 2009, will kick off the project.

The seven-part documentary takes an all-encompassing view of the North American continent from the Arctic to Mexico and covers topographical features including mountains, forests, deserts, plains, coasts and rivers and the animals residing in them.

The fringe-toed lizard, one of the stars of the shoot here, has adapted to life on the unstabilized desert dunes, meaning they are free-blowing, non-stationary dunes. The only dune complex of this type in Arizona is found on the Goldwater range, making it an ideal place for the film crew to get the type of shots they need, said Randy Babb, Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist.

“We’ve been able to get some simply amazing shots out here,” said Paul Stewart, Wild Horizons videographer. “We got some great footage of the lizards in the blowing sand, and he comes in and out of the shot simply because the sand is blowing so hard. They’re truly remarkable creatures.”

The reptiles filmed here also included the diamondback rattlesnake, leopard lizard and zebra-tailed lizard. But the reason for filming the fringe-toed lizard was its uniqueness and specialization for its extreme environment.

“The fringe-toed lizard is one of the most highly-specialized lizards in the United States, made specifically for life on the sandy dunes,” said Babb. “They have fringe on their legs to help give them traction through the soft sand, and countersunk jaws, interlocking eyelids and nasal valves to keep sand out.”

The 2.8 million acres of aerial bombing and gunnery ranges controlled by Marine Corps Air Station Yuma have 30 specific locations for weapon impacts, and entry is restricted to authorized persons only.

With so many acres protected from human encroachment, the ranges are also prime habitat for many desert dwelling reptiles, including the flat-tailed horned lizard, which is only found in the Yuma area and a protected species in the State of Arizona.

“I love this range,” said Babb. “It provides a great environment for these animals, and for biologists who can get the proper permits to be out here, a great place to study them.”

Wild Planet: North America is set to premiere in late 2012.

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