Animal Islands



Duration : 4x52 '
Support : Digital Betacam


Directors : Quincy Russell - JP Rivalain

Trailer :

Certain islands on our planet have been colonised by animals. Their hold, symbolic or real, on these pieces of land surrounded by water has given rise to some astonishing situations.


This series is an invitation to discover these unique places where animals rule and where their existence is determined by history and very special environmental conditions.




In the Bohai Sea to the east of Beijing, a small island emerges from the waves. It is Shedao, "the mountain of the little dragon", in appearance nothing more than an arid rock of thirty or so hectares in a region without specific interest.
Yet this island is a remarkable place. Coveted by numerous western powers and by traffickers of snakes and medicinal products, the island is highly protected by the vigilance of the Chinese authorities.


For, despite its banal appearance, Shedao conceals a natural treasure. It has inherited an exceptional geographical situation. In fact, this island is situated on an immense route of transhumance, a sort of aerial freeway linking Siberia with the warmer countries of southern Asia. Twice a year, in autumn and in spring, this route is used by millions of migratory birds, many of which are forced to make a stopover on Shedao.


The special character of Shedao can also be explained by an event in the history of the Earth.
Long, long ago, the level of the oceans was lower than it is today and Shedao was attached to the Asian continent. All living creatures were free to come and go on the Earth until the glaciers started to melt and the water level began to rise. Those who were able to fly or run could return to the continent but others found themselves trapped on tiny islands surrounded by ocean.


This is what happened to the snakes of the Gloydius species, a sort of rattlesnake without a rattle that lived in great numbers in this region.


These Gloydius snakes hunted land-dwelling prey such as rodents and rabbits, but they soon exterminated their prey, trapped as they were within such a restricted perimeter. So to avoid dying of hunger they were obliged to change their hunting techniques, and it is assumed that, at that time, the snake population was decimated by famine. However, some survived and continued to live on this island despite there being nothing to eat.


There are today 20,000 descendants of these snakes, 20,000 Gloydius shedaoensis living on this island of a mere thirty hectares. In other words, the island is covered in snakes.


Lost amid the icebergs of the Arctic is the small island of Uummannaq. On the rare occasions that the wind ceases to blow, the peacefulness of this icy village is interrupted by the breaking of icebergs and the howling of its five thousand dogs. Five thousand dogs – one thousand two hundred inhabitants, an unusual ratio in today’s modern times.

The existence of each inhabitant is closely related to that of the dogs. A sincerely deep relationship between humans and animals is anchored in centuries of tradition. Humans are outnumbered by the sheer quantity of dogs at Uummannaq, and have in a certain way turned them into the true masters of the island – demanding the humans’ constant attention.



Vanuatu, a small island country in the Pacific Ocean, has always attributed the pig with a symbolic, political and socio-economic importance. Possessing pigs is synonymous with a certain status of wealth and power. In this society, which has no monetary organization, pigs are the sole means of giving a value to objects and to humans. Pigs are currency.
Pigs influence politics, seal contracts, are the focal point of ceremonies and social life.
The archipelago's first inhabitants came from New Guinea by boat 3000 years ago. These pioneers brought with them only the bare necessities, and pigs were among them. Pigs were the first and only mammals to populate the islands. The nation's entire economy depended on raising and selling pigs.
A man without pigs is very poor indeed. A pig's value is a function not of its size but of its teeth and genital organs. The pig's teeth are looked after with great care. These teeth are regarded as jewels and confer upon their owner all the authority that he deserves. The more teeth a man has to offer, the richer he is. The pig's tooth is represented on the national flag and the Vanuatu coat-of-arms.
The pig is also integrated into the judicial, or rather penal system. An adulterer is liable to be obliged to give away his pigs. Release from prison can be secured with a payment of 20 pigs to the judicial authorities.


Pigs have a soul, are considered as family members and treated as such. They have an identity, a name, a first name, whereas women do not.
In Irian Jaya, west of Papua New Guinea, the Una have also preserved their myths where the pig is king…


The island of Tiwai is situated in the Moa River, in the east of Sierra Leone.
With a surface area of only seven square kilometres, the island shelters the world’s densest population of monkeys and apes: three thousand individuals representing eleven different species. These simian island communities have developed a unique social organisation and special behaviours.
The chimpanzees of Tiwai demonstrate an extraordinary ability to use tools. They handle stones with great dexterity, using them as hammers to open nuts, with the roots of trees as anvils. They also use sticks to extract the kernels of the nuts, instead of using their fingertips.
This knowledge and the different techniques are taught to the young chimpanzees by their elders.
Mutual assistance and solidarity are just two of the behaviours that are regularly observed.



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