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`Nature' and Audubon turn lenses on Gal'apagos wildlife

Nature: The Gal'apagos PBS, Sunday, Nov. 2, 8-9 p.m., for three successive Sundays; check local listings. Filmed by Dieter Plage and Friedemann Koester for Survival Anglia. Writer and producer: Colin Willock. Host, narrator, and executive editor: George Page. Presented on PBS by WNET/New York. Gal'apagos: My Fragile World (A World of Audubon Special) WTBS/cable, Monday, Nov. 3, 10-11 p.m.; repeated Nov. 9 at 6:35 p.m, Nov. 13 at 9:05 p.m., and Nov. 29 at 10:05 p.m. Narrator: Cliff Robertson. Writer: Steve Zousmer. Executive producer: Christopher Palmer. Co-producers: National Audubon Society, Turner Broadcasting System, and WETA/Washington. ``Lonesome George'' is a male without a mate. Even if he weren't 600 miles east of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, he couldn't solve his problem by advertising in the personals columns of magazines or by searching in singles hangouts.

George is a tortoise.

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He seems to be the last survivor of the 14 species of giant tortoises that once roamed the lava ecosystems making up Ecuador's Gal'apagos Islands. Unless a mate is found for him by the Charles Darwin Research Station in the islands, he is doomed to spend his 100 or so remaining years as a bachelor.

Lonesome George appears in both these engrossing documentaries as a symbol of the dangers in upsetting an ecosystem. Both films concentrate on the fascinating collection of unique creatures found on the 16 islands. They also focus on many other species that have evolved by adapting to local conditions: sea lions, land and marine iguanas, hawks, red-footed and blue-footed boobies, penguins, flightless cormorants, swallow-tailed gulls, mockingbirds, seals, and woodpecker finches. ``Nature's'' three-part miniseries tends toward the scientific, starting with a segment on ``How They Got There'' and ending with ``How Long Will They Remain There?'' In between are some incredibly startling sequences that illustrate what narrator George Page calls ``a living showcase of evolution.''

Perhaps the most unforgettable of the famous wildlife cinematographer Dieter Plage's sequences is the magical one in which tiny turtles hatch and then find their path to the sea blocked by sleeping sea lions and the playful footage recording frolics between sea lions and iguanas. And who will be able to forget those delightful shots of sea-lion body surfers riding perfect waves in to the beaches?

One reservation: The show is charming, but a bit too Disneylike in a cutesy dance-of-the-sea-lions segment, in which ``the prima ballerinas of Gal'apagos waters'' waltz to music from ``Swan Lake.''

The Audubon special takes a more personal approach by concentrating on Tui De Roy, who has lived in the islands since her Belgian parent brought her there at the age of two. She has written about the Gal'apagos and photographed the wildlife there. In this film she acts as a kind of guide, taking viewers to areas seldom seen by tourists.

In both documentaries, however, the giant tortoises, the sea lions and, surprisingly, the prehistoric-looking iguanas prove to be the stars. Both films make firm pleas against destruction of the islands' ecosystems. Both also make the point that, since 97 percent of the islands are national park areas and tourists must have permits and guides in order to visit, the chances of great damage are limited. A viewer who can manage to see both the PBS and WTBS programs will come away with a fine sense of what Gal'apagos and Darwin are all about. If one wishes to choose a single show, the ``Nature'' miniseries is by far the more informative and entertaining.

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