'Egypt' on PBS: the long view

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Africa dominates PBS this week for two hours of exotic documentaries.

Ancient Egypt and modern Kenya are the focal points of the National Geographic's ''Egypt: Quest for Eternity'' (PBS, Wednesday, 8-9 p.m.) and ''The Most Endangered Species . . . George Adamson'' (PBS Wednesday, 10-11 p.m.). Check local listings in each case.

''Egypt, produced by Miriam Birch for the National Geographic and WQED/Pittsburgh, is an electronic travelogue through 3,000 years of Egyptian history, showing the lives of its people. Narrated by Richard Basehart, it also visits the headquarters of some of the Egyptologists and archaeologists still excavating, still piecing together the symbols that they hope will prove to be the keys to unlock the secrets of ancient Egypt.

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The documentary visits many of the most fabulous sites - Luxor, Abydos, the Valley of the Kings and Queens, Abu Simbel. The Thebes necropolis is viewed from the air as well as on the ground. This superbly photographed film points out the flaking off of so much of the interior decorations caused by the changing weather conditions, new ways of irrigating crops, which increase humidity, the increased flow of carbon-dioxide released by well-meaning tourists.

How long will the fabulous legacy of the Pharaohs remain more or less intact? Two hundred years more, some say. But most will not predict exactly how long - although everybody fears that even with better preservation methods it could be only a matter of time until most of what remains in its natural habitat will disappear. But films such as this will help preserve the heritage for future generations.

''Egypt'' is a permanent record of dynasties and kingdoms that attempted to eternalize themselves with art and architecture. The film itself is a fine example of one art form honoring another, one art form practicing a subtle method of preservation of another art form.

'The most endangered species . . .'

George Adamson's late wife, Joy, wrote ''Born Free,'' the story of Elsa the lioness and her cubs. Now widower Adamson, in the midst of a vastly changed Africa, carries on their interest in rehabilitating outcast and orphaned lions and endangered species of all kinds.

However, the most endangered species of all is the George Adamson kind of man. That's what ''The Most Endangered Species . . . George Adamson'' (PBS, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 10-11 p.m., check local listings) is all about.

Narrated by John Huston, this oddity of a film follows the daily life of Adamson, now the warden of an isolated game reserve in ''true brutal'' Kenya, and his young assistant, Tony Fitzjohn. Since there are only a few lions left in the area, Adamson is a relic of the latter colonial days during which, the program suggests, Imperial England tried to compensate for its sometimes questionable activities in Africa by making a last-ditch effort at conservation.

It is simultaneously a sad and inspiring sight to watch these men struggle with their consciences, allow their innate feeling for wildlife overcome everything else. Their conclusion that animals have as much right to live in freedom as humans somehow results in these keepers of the beasts living in a kind of cage for humans in the midst of the wild Kenya jungle.

''The Most Endangered Species'' is a production of Mafuta Mingi in cooperation with KUHT/Houston. One hope that beautifully photographed and informative films such as this one may prove to be the zoos of the future.

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