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New Animal Planet show highlights Bronx Zoo animals and their humans

"The Zoo" premieres Feb. 18 at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet.

Animals are the main attraction at the Bronx Zoo, but what about the people behind the amphibians, reptiles, mammals and other wildlife?

Those dedicated professionals are essential to the zoo’s existence, and Animal Planet’s new show airing Saturday night will seek to capture that spirit.

“The great thing about the show is … it shows the diversity and the community of people that work together to deliver on our mission,” zoo director Jim Breheny told Metro. “PhDs and full-fledged scientists and veterinarians and plumbers and machine shop workers and carpenters who are all equally as dedicated.

“That’s the great thing about the community is everyone feels they are part of this effort.”

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Dave LaMattina, who works for one of the production companies involved in the show, Copper Pot Productions, learned about the behind-the-scenes action at the zoo as a boy from his uncle Jim and wife, Aunt Kathleen.

Twenty years later, LaMattina became a documentary filmmaker, and pitched the idea to Breheny.

“He was amazed to find out the depth of disciplines and science and all these different professionals who united to take care of animals, but really for a greater purpose — for conservation of species in the wild,” Breheny recalled.

RELATED:PHOTOS: Animals of the Americas at the Queens Zoo

“The Zoo” premieres at 10 p.m. Saturday and aims to dispel what Breheny calls “misconceptions” about modern zoos.

He feels particularly close to turtles and tortoises facing unsustainable harvesting in the wild. Turtles are taken for meat, traditional medicine and to be sold as pets. They aren’t measured in numbers, but in metric tons.

For people who believe animals should be left in the wild, Breheny said, “There really is no wild left.”

A crew filmed inside the Bronx Zoo for about eight months, four days a week. Breheny said the animals all noticed the new people in their habitats —even the crocodiles in the Madagascar exhibit, which, Breheny said, respond to commands better than his dogs —but they quickly adapted.

Viewers can expect to see a little of the interaction between man and beast in an episode that captures the bond between zookeepers and tiger cubs whose mom couldn’t take care of them, he added.

“Our job isn’t to keep animals in exhibits,” Breheny said. “Our mission is to save species in the wild. One way we can best communicate is to show people the collection of animals, the wonders of nature.

“You’re looking at these magnificent animals and in nature these guys are facing tremendous conservation issues and we’re at a point in time where we can maybe do something to maybe halt that.”

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