Friday, 30 January 2009

The Secret Life of Elephants – behind the scenes of the filming.

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From BBC Wildlife Magazine

For the new BBC1 series ‘The Secret Life of Elephants’ we’ve revealed the elephant’s hidden world - the depth of their emotions, their remarkable intelligence, and the intimate complexities of their family life. We spent three months in Kenya, filming the elephants and following the work of Iain Douglas-Hamilton and the Save the Elephants research team. We wanted to tell the stories of individual elephants, which meant we spent every hour from dawn till dusk finding and following our stars across the Samburu reserve. We focussed on the most dramatic moments in their lives – a calf from the day of her birth, a bull using tactics to win a mate, a matriarch making decisions to protect her family. We followed the research team on missions across northern Kenya to protect the elephants; we see them helping a community terrorised by crop raiding bulls, uncovering an outbreak of poaching which killed two of their best known elephants, and tracing the new dangers on ancient elephant migration routes.

After weeks of hard work, we were rewarded with astonishing glimpses into the elephant’s lives. But we couldn’t have imagined that we’d become so directly involved in a life or death operation to save a baby elephant’s life.

Our filming team spotted a calf, just a few weeks old, in a pitiful state. She’d badly injured one of her front legs, and was having serious trouble keeping up with her mother. It’s a difficult dilemma – is it better to step in and help, or let nature take its course? But as we’d been finding out, elephants feel emotion deeply. Letting this distressed calf and mother suffer was not an option for the Save the Elephants team.

A wildlife vet was called in – he needed to examine the calf, but there was one literally enormous problem: Her 3 tonne, highly protective mother. To save the calf, her mother had to be anesthetised first. But the huge female started to fall on her chest, sphinx-like, a position where an elephant’s lungs can be compressed by their own body weight. Worse, the calf clung to her side – if she fell over suddenly, the calf would be crushed underneath her.

The team were shouting for help - there weren’t enough people to push over the mother, and hold back the baby. There was no hesitation, all of us on the production team leapt out of our cars and rushed in. Out hearts were pounding as we tried to hold the calf away from her mother – she was amazingly strong – she knocked several people over, and it eventually took five of us to hold her steady. Others wrapped tow ropes from a truck around her mother, and a combination of horsepower and manpower pulled her onto her side so her breathing could stabilise.

The vet examined the calf, and found her leg was badly broken. He felt it would heal, but the risk was slow spreading infection in the bone. The vet gave her a life saving injection of antibiotics, and with relief, we watched as mother and calf were reunited.

The months of working with the Save the Elephants researchers culminated in a true team effort, and we all felt privileged to have played a part in saving that baby elephant.

By Holly Spearing, producer
BBC Wildlife Magazine

Review: The Secret Life Of Elephants

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BBC One, Wednesday 28th January, 9pm

Hear from the programmes Producer speaking with BBC Wildlife Magazine in The NatureWatch 'Tales from the Field' Section

The following Review is By TV Scoop
The Beeb do wildlife shows like no one else. Exciting, informative and easy watching. Secret Life of Elephants was an entertaining way to pass the time. I got to watch as the elephants went about their day, doing elephanty things and was kept interested for the most part. Almost enough to forgive its failings.

After a recent drought, the Save The Elephants team were anxious to make sure all of them were safe. Luckily, most of them were fine and the babies were all OK (I have to admit, I was pretty worried - those baby elephants are cute!) Everyone seemed fine except poor little Mirrow who'd hurt her leg. She was limping and couldn't keep up with everyone else.

So, it was down to the elephant team to save her. Hurrah! Except that this wasn't any normal wildlife show rescue. It appeared to be produced by the Eastenders team. So instead of seeing what happened to the poor little tyke, the story switched completely and focused on a bull elephant and whether or not he was going to get laid. Hang on just a second, BBC! I was watching the story about the cute baby! Bring her back! I didn't appreciate the soap opera style filming at all.

When they finally did pan back to Mirrow, it was all very dangerous and her tranquilised mother managed to fall onto her chest and stop breathing. Everyone was very worried indeed, but then with the help of a car to pull her over, it was all fine. Some anti-biotics for baby and she was out of the woods too. Her broken leg should heal just fine. Although she was stupid and thought a truck was her mummy when she came around. That was quite funny. They were about the same size. Female elephants weight about three ton apparently. Wow.

It's clear to see that without people to help them, these elephants would be in even more danger. You never get to see the people who help when you watch David Attenborough. Seeing poached elephants, and the teams of people who live in Kenya and save the elephants lives was a great insight. If only I could have got past the soap opera feeling I'm sure I would have enjoyed it much more.

Oh, in case you were wondering, the bull elephant did get laid in the end. It was a bit like when Scott and Charlene finally got together in Neighbours.

For more reviews like this visit By TV Scoop

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Zoo Quest for a Dragon goes online

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BBC Archives puts groundbreaking Attenborough series online

As part of the BBC’s Darwin season, and supporting David Attenborough’s new documentary “Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life”, the BBC Archive is taking audiences back 53 years to join David on one of his first adventures for the BBC; ‘Zoo Quest for a Dragon’.

First broadcast in 1956, ‘Zoo Quest for a Dragon’ was the third series of the iconic ‘Zoo Quest’ show that saw David travel to Indonesia in search of a Komodo dragon. All six episodes of this ground-breaking series, along with a special interview with David about the evolution of ‘Zoo Quest’ are featured in the collection – allowing a new generation to enjoy this series online.

The collection also includes rarely-seen photographs dating back to 1955, and previously unpublished documents, and, including audience reports, handwritten letters from Attenborough to the team back in London and letters of thanks to friends he made along the way.

David Attenborough said:
“Zoo Quest was a true adventure in all senses of the word. Looking back to over 50 years ago, it’s interesting to see how the BBC’s natural history documentaries were just as popular then as they are today.

Although the technology in those days wasn’t quite as advanced as it is today, I am pleased that this series of ‘Zoo Quest’ was the first time the Komodo dragon had been seen on British television.”

Image: One of the presenter's letters from Sumatra

The audience report, also included in the collection, shows the documentary was a big a hit at the time, with comments such as “A most fascinating trip, whilst enjoying the comfort of one’s fireside, to places of great interest which are only names to most people. Thanks for a tip-top conducted tour” with another saying "We regard Attenborough as the finest type of young Englishman - unpretentious, humorous, resourceful and humane with his animals. A grand boy!"

David’s clothing expenses request for the six week expedition, dated 17th April 1956 for a grand sum of £20.10, has also been made available, featuring requests for one Tropical Suit at a cost of £10.00 and 6 pairs of long stockings.

London Zoo featured heavily in the Zoo Quest series, with conservationists from the Zoo accompanying Attenborough on his travels.

David Field, Zoological Director at ZSL London Zoo, said:
“'Zoo Quest’ is integrated with our history, and helped us to bring some of the world’s most beautiful and exciting inhabitants to our Zoo, assisting with the conservation of these species and the education of the public”

“Charlie, an orphaned orangutan featured in Episode One, was actually rescued by us during this expedition to Indonesia, and went on to father the first orangutan to be born at London Zoo, establishing our breeding programme.”

Source: BBC Ariel 2009

Natural World: Man-Eating Tigers of the Sundarbans

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BBC 2 and BBC HD 8 pm

Tiger experts in Bangladesh have a problem: how can they encourage local people to protect the beautiful and endangered Bengal Tiger when so many of these animals have developed a taste for human flesh? The Sundarbans forest is one of the biggest tracts of mangrove forest left in the world. It’s rich in wildlife and provides important forest resources for communities living around its edge. But up to 50 people are killed by tigers each year and now the boldest animals are sneaking into villages at night. This gripping film reveals the tension and heartache of living so close to a killer cat and follows the bold attempt by one village to teach street dogs to scare away the rogue tiger on their doorstep.
Watch a behind the scenes clip Barnaby Goes Bangla about the composers visit to Dhaka.

Film Credits
Produced & directed by INGRID KVALE; photography CHRIS OPENSHAW TANJILUR RAHMAN; additional photography PETER PILAFIAN; camera assistants KHAIRUL ISLAM, RAJESH KUMAR; sound by SEAN MILLAR ERIC BURGE; film editor: STEVE WHITE; music by BARNABY TAYLOR; Colourist & online editor CHRISTIAN SHORT; dubbing editor GEORGE FRY; dubbing mixer GRAHAM WILD; graphic design ALISA ROBBINS & CARL CHITTENDEN; script consultant SUE WESTERN; pta JO AVERY; research CHRISTINA HOLVEY DINA MUFTI; logging NICK COCKAYNE; production co-ordinator MARIE-ANNE HENDRY; Associate producer DAN REES; production manager DI WILLIAMS; series editor TIM MARTIN.

Monday, 26 January 2009

What Darwin Didn't Know

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Tonight at 9pm on BBC 4
(also being broadcast on the BBC HD Channel)

Documentary which tells the story of evolution theory since Darwin postulated it in 1859 in 'On the Origin of Species'.

Evolutionary biologist Professor Armand Marie Leroi charts the scientific endeavour that brought about the triumphant renaissance of Darwin's theory. He argues that, with the new science of evolutionary developmental biology (evo devo), it may be possible to take that theory to a new level - to do more than explain what has evolved in the past, and start to predict what might evolve in the future.

Directed & Produced by: Tim Lambert
Executive Producer: Anne Laking

Guardian: "...a suitably celebratory examination of the evolution of evolutionary's a study made all the more crackly by Leroi's fossil-dry asides. Among the case studies are an Edwardian brainiac who crossbred 53,000 evening primroses. "Well," drawls Leroi, eyebrows hovering like bitchy zeppelins, "he was Dutch..."

Radio Times: "a top-class film."Time Out: "fascinating and occasionally demanding, this doc is exactly the kind of thing BBC4 does best."

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Launch of Eden Channel

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Eden goes live at 9am on 26th January with a schedule packed full of high-end premieres. From the scale and beauty of Superstorm, Ganges and Wild China to the revelation and intimacy of Tribe (series 3), Elephant Diaries (series 2) and Tribal Wives – that will play alongside landmark series such as Planet Earth, Ray Mears’ Extreme Survival, Life of Mammals and Full Circle with Michael Palin.

Further information about the programmes can be found at:

Eden can be found on:
Sky Channel: 532
Virgin TV Channel: 208

London 26th January 2009:
A life-like 16ft high sculpture of an iceberg featuring a stranded polar bear and its cub was launched on the Thames today to mark the launch of the new Natural History TV channel Eden


Lifelike floating sculpture brings issue of melting ice caps to London

A 16 foot high sculpture of an iceberg featuring a stranded female polar bear and her baby cub was launched on the River Thames today providing Londoners with a timely reminder of the dangers of global warming.

The sculpture, which was specially commissioned to mark the launch of Eden, a new digital TV channel devoted to natural history, graphically brought to life one of the most iconic images of climate change – the melting ice caps.

A team of 15 artists spent two months constructing the 20ft by 20ft square structure which was launched in Greenwich, South East London at 6:30am, before travelling up the Thames to stop beside Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament for a national photocall. The structure weighing 1.5 tonnes was winched into place in freezing temperatures, before travelling 7.5 miles along the Thames.

The melting of the ice caps will not only affect the polar bears, there will also be serious repercussions for the two billion people who depend on the glacial meltwater that feeds their rivers. The polar bears’ presence in London highlights these issues which will also be addressed in Eden’s Fragile Earth series which will run throughout the week.

Broadcaster and eminent wildlife conservationist, Sir David Attenborough says: “The melting of the polar bears’ sea ice habitat is one of the most pressing environmental concerns of our time. I commend Eden for highlighting the issue; we need to do what we can to protect the world’s largest land carnivores from extinction.”

Eden’s Channel Head, Adrian Wills, says: “The Earth is a fragile place and we were keen to launch with a message that would draw attention to the uncertain state of our finely balanced environment. Our aim is to reflect one amazing world, with one amazing channel that can address issues like climate change whilst providing an entertaining, informative experience by airing a range of high-end premieres, landmark natural history programmes and first class wildlife documentaries."

Now the polar bears’ have finished their journey along the Thames, they will be taking the message about global warming to Hampstead Heath as well as key cities across the UK including Birmingham and Glasgow.

The Thames is familiar with unexpected visitors. In January 2006 a seven-tonne bottle-nosed whale became trapped in shallow water near Battersea Bridge. Crowds gathered as the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) attempted to save its life. But despite the team’s efforts to move it into deeper water, the whale died.

Other mammals which have strayed into The Thames include a family of Harbour Porpoises, which were spotted near Vauxhall Bridge in December 2004. Three years previously, a Bottle- nosed dolphin was discovered swimming past Tower Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Natural World: Polar Bears and Grizzlies Bears On Top Of The World

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Tonight: BBC 2 - 8PM

This moving film reveals the differing fortunes of a mother polar bear and a mother grizzly bear, and their new-born cubs, in a rapidly-changing world. The shrinking Arctic ice may be making life much tougher for polar bears, but it's offering new opportunities for grizzly bears to the south. Where once the lives of white and brown bears could not have been more different, in summer-time they now meet along shores and islands almost all the way to the North Pole. Amazingly they have even interbred. It's a remarkable story of how bears - ever intelligent and resourceful - are adapting to a warming world.

Produced and Edited by Mark Fletcher
Series Editor: Tim Martin

Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life

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Sunday 1st February, 9pm, BBC One

From the Guardian
The Tree of Life is one of Sir David's most personal programmes. It is the “fabuloso” story of how Darwin changed “the way we see the world and our place in it”. Sir David leads the viewer gently through Darwin's journey to the Galápagos Islands and his observations in his garden at Down House in Kent that formed his theory of natural selection; that all life forms originated from a common simple beginning and evolved through mutations that created new species and led to the extinction of others over hundreds of millions of years.

We are taken on Sir David's own journey, too, as he returns to the rocks where he hunted for fossils as a child in Leicestershire, and shows us his own well-thumbed copy of Darwin's work, which he encountered for the first time at 18. “I didn't read it cover to cover. I read chapters. But it is very readable.” He starts quoting the exquisite conclusion to the book, which describes “an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds...”

The book didn't transform his life because he was already aware of evolution. “I rather wish I'd been brought up a creationist who had a Damascene moment: ‘Yes! Now I see it.' But it always seemed clear that we were related to monkeys.”

Darwin wasn't exactly his hero - “hero somehow implies somebody with a sword having a battle” - but “he was the epitome of wisdom. You knew he had the answer to most things.”

Darwin's theory shocked and appalled a Victorian world in which almost everyone believed that God micro-managed the Universe, creating each species. What thrills Attenborough is that Darwin's theory is being bolstered by modern science of which Darwin had no inkling, such as genetics. “DNA happened after I left university!” he exclaims. “I walked past the lab daily but Crick and Watson hadn't done it then. The recent proof of these things is so exciting.” He loves the fact that “there's an awful lot about evolution that we don't understand” and that there are whole university departments churning out new research.

He believes that Darwin changed the world in a way very few others have done. “Copernicus, perhaps. The Sun becoming the centre of the solar system. That's fairly life-changing.” I say that to the layman it is still quite hard to get your head round evolution. “The theory that the first woman was made out of the rib of Adam - now that is quite a difficult one to believe,” he counters.

Of course, Darwin does not theorise on the creation of the Universe, and many Christians have made their peace with him. “The Pope has. The Archbishop of Canterbury has. They all say , ‘Yes, of course, the Book of Genesis is only a myth, a creation myth. Come on, grow up'. That's what civilised religious people say.”

His beef is with those who want to teach creationism or its offshoot “intelligent design”. A recent survey found that a quarter of science teachers in state schools believe that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in science lessons. “That is terrible. That is really terrible,” says Attenborough. Richard Dawkins has said that it is a national disgrace. “I don't know about national; it's a human disgrace that you don't recognise the difference between these things,” says Attenborough.

Read more here

Monday, 19 January 2009

Review of Natural World: Mountains of the Monsoon

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The Pogeyan, a new mystery cat
By Darren Naish re-Published from Tetrapod Zoology ' Science Blogs'

I've pretty much given up on TV. I occasionally watch a few things (The IT Crowd, Doctor Who, QI, Never Mind the Buzzcocks), but I'd be very happy to not have a TV at all. Once in a blue moon, however, there is something really good. On Friday evening (Jan 16th), BBC 2 screened 'The Mountains of the Monsoon' as part of its The Natural World series. This featured wildlife photographer and environmentalist Sandesh Kadur as he travelled about the Western Ghats in quest of wildlife.

The Western Ghats evidently has some awesome wildlife. There are dholes, tigers, leopards, elephants, sambar, gaur, jungle cats, leopard cats, lion-tailed macaques, scimitar-babblers, green pigeons, woodshrikes, eagle owls, fish owls, great hornbills, and hundreds of frogs, lizards and snakes. Several frogs that Sandesh has photographed are new, as-yet-undescribed species, and a shieldtail snake that Sandesh caught and handled was also suggested to be new.

The most famous herp of the region is, I would say, the bizarre, fat, purple frog Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, which you'll know well following its publication in 2003 (Biju & Bossuyt 2003) [previously discussed here on Tet Zoo]. The documentary included film of the animal, probably the first taken and certainly the first shown on TV (I think) [adjacent image, from 'The Mountains of the Monsoon', shows Sandesh holding a Nasikabatrachus. Image © BBC]. I hadn't previously realised how large Nasikabatrachus is, nor how fat and wobbly its back is. Incidentally, the idea that Nasikabatrachus is most closely related to the sooglossids (Seychelles frogs) was mentioned during the documentary. This relationship has been recovered in most phylogenetic studies (Biju & Bossuyt 2003, Frost et al. 2006, Van der Meijden et al. 2007). However, an alternative possibility - that it's actually more closely related to the African pig-nosed or shovel-nosed frogs (the hemisotids) - has also been suggested (Nussbaum & Wu 2007).

The pogeyan

Anyway, the documentary mostly focused on something even more novel: namely, the unresolved identity of a mysterious large cat. Sandesh saw this cat about ten years ago. His sighting occurred during broad daylight, in the high-altitude grasslands around Anamudi, the highest peak south of the Himalayas. Unfortunately the cat was not photographed or filmed. It was large, long-tailed, and had rounded ears and a uniform darkish grey colour. It does not match any known cat, and might therefore represent a new species. In an effort to film the animal, Sandesh set up a camera-trap (a chirping model of a black-capped chickadee was used as bait), and also used a heat-sensitive camera. Unfortunately neither effort yielded any images of the cat....

Read more at Tetrapod Zoology

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Natural World: Mountains of the Monsoon

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The Natural World, BBC 2
8pm Friday 16th January

Rather than joining the family business, Indian wildlife photographer Sandesh Kadur committed himself to documenting the natural treasures and zoological wonders to be found only a few hours drive from his native Bangalore. Although less than 10% of the Western Ghats remain untouched, these mountains are one of the most biologically diverse places left on the planet. Their unique beauty and mystery are embodied for Sandesh in a chance sighting he had 10 years ago with a strange, all-grey feline unlike anything he had ever seen before – but known by the local tribal people as the pogeyan. Whether or not this enigmatic cat-in-the-ghat really is a new species, the pogeyan has become for Sandesh a talisman – offering some hope for the future in nature’s ability to survive the unprecedented pressures which 21st century India is subjecting its last wild places to. This is the story of Sandesh Kadur’s journey through one of India’s last wildernesses and his quest to document and show why preserving such wild places matters to modern India.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Secret Life of Elephants

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14 Jan 2009, 21:00 on BBC One

First in a series of three programmes revealing the emotional and dramatic lives of elephants in Kenya's Samburu reserve.

As the day begins, there is great excitement in one elephant family when a new baby, named Breeze, is born. But her first few weeks look set to be the most dangerous of her life. Meanwhile, elephant experts Iain and Saba Douglas-Hamilton face the huge challenge of fitting a radio collar to a three-tonne female elephant with an entire herd looking out for her. Breeze faces her first big test, crossing a river, and the research team investigate when one of their best-known bull elephants is found dead in suspicious circumstances.

Back in the reserve, a young calf becomes injured and cannot keep up with his herd. His mother sticks with him, but will he survive without the support of a family? There is further tragedy when a matriarch dies. In unique footage, a herd of elephants visit her body, and appear to mourn her death.

Click below to enlarge the image for more information.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Nature's Great Events

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Nature's Great Events coming soon to BBC One. More information in the BBC Press Pack

Using state of the art filming technology, Nature's Great Events on BBC One captures the Earth's most dramatic and epic wildlife spectacles and the intimate stories of the animals caught up in them. From the flooding of the Okavango Delta, in Africa, to the great summer melt of ice in the Arctic and the massive annual bloom of plankton in the northern Pacific Ocean, each of the six programmes features a different event set in one of the world's most iconic wildernesses. The series is narrated by David Attenborough.

The characters include tiny grizzly bear cubs emerging from their den in snow-covered mountains; baby elephants struggling to survive against drought and lion attack in Africa; humpback whales hunting as a team; the world's largest concentration of dolphins and sharks gathering off the coast of South Africa; and polar bear families navigating their precarious way on ever-thinning ice.

The world-renowned BBC Natural History Unit uses sophisticated high definition cameras, cutting-edge aerial, underwater and ultra slow-motion filming techniques to capture in intimate detail some of the audience's best-loved wildlife, as their lives become entwined with these dramatic events.

As the Earth is rapidly changing, we can no longer take these great natural events for granted. By filming the events and their fluctuations this series takes the pulse of the planet.
A BBC/Discovery Channel/Wanda co-production. The series producer is Karen Bass and the executive producer is Brian Leith.

Nature's Great Events is also being simulcast on the BBC HD channel – the BBC's High Definition channel available through Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media. With up to five times more detail than standard definition television, HD gives you exceptionally vivid colours and crisp pictures to make Nature's Great Events a truly cinematic TV experience.

For more information see the BBC Press Pack

Mark Carwardine: Last Chance to see... Again!

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Nadège Laici for The NatureWatch

“I’ve been asked to talk about my life but this could take years so for tonight I’ll just talk to you about what I’ve done last year.” Mark Carwardine smiled widely and turned the lights off.

It must have been a chilly evening of March and I was stuck in my chair unable to look away from the screen where the most amazing wildlife spectacles were projected. Two hours before, one glance at a photo on his website of a couple of blue whales taken from the air had convinced me to give up my laundry plans.

I can now confirm it with jealousy and admiration, Mark Carwardine encounters more wildlife in a year than most people dream to encounter in a lifetime. He has been literally everywhere on the seven continents, supporting the most diverse and varied conservation projects. A zoologist and renowned photographer, Mark has also presented numerous wildlife related programmes on BBC 4. He is chairman of the judging panel for the Wildlife photographer of the year and writes monthly columns for BBC Wildlife and Wanderlust. Mark has also written more than 50 books mainly on wildlife but also on conservation and travel based themes, one of them being “Last Chance To See” co-written with Douglas Adams and published in 1990.

I approached him at the end of his talk, holding on tightly to the last issue of the “Missing Link”, the University of Bristol Natural Sciences Magazine, that I’d dared to bring. He drew a little whale in the book I brought for him to sign and accepted to give me an interview.

Mark Carwardine began travelling around the world with Douglas Adams in 1988 to look for some of our planet’s most endangered species. They made a successful radio series about it and subsequently wrote a book describing their adventures which became a best-seller.

“Originally, Douglas stuck pins in a world map as where he would really like to go… And then I stuck pins where the endangered species are and we compromised and went for a mixture… but the whole idea was to pick animals that aren’t to obvious to most people and to pick the ones that are really charismatic and really different like the Aye-Aye and the Komodo Dragon. And of course at that time most people haven’t had heard of most of these animals.”

Each chapter of the book covers one of the trips made by the pair. The first one tells us about the time they met in 1985 when Douglas Adams was sent to Madagascar with Mark to look for the almost extinct Aye-aye. The encounter finishes with Douglas Adams saying to Mark : “I’ve just got a couples of novels to write, but, er, what are you doing in 1988?”

They began their adventures journeying to Komodo to see its famous Dragon. On their way to meet the White Rhino in Zaïre, they saw the Mountain Gorillas, then on to search for the Kakapo in New-Zealand, the Yangtze river dolphin in China and on the last leg of their epic journey they found the Rodrigues fruit bat in Mauritius.

“They are really different, each one represents a different issue. So one might represent haunting and poaching and another one would be Rainforest destruction and so on so you cover different themes within each chapter and have a whole range of different animals.“ Mark had a sip of his orange juice, looking grave. “I think they listed the latest account, 16 300 endangered animals and plants you can chose from, so everything from the Giant panda, which everyone has heard of, to the No-eyed Big-eyed Wolf Spider which is in Hawaii, that nobody has heard of.”

Mark just started filming a BBC TV series at the beginning of 2008 inspired by his book “Last Chance To See”. In January, he went to the heart of the Brazilian Amazon with Steven Fry to film the Amazonian manatee. There, they joined their forces to produce a the series that they are now co-presenting.

The unusual partnership of Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine made the book simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious. Mark ensured me that they will keep this spirit in the series.
“I did the travels with Douglas Adams twenty years ago and so there is a history, we can actually have a look back for the first time ever in a TV series. We have a chance to see what has happened over a long period of time, see how the animals that we went to look for are doing. Douglas died, about six years ago now and he was good friends with Stephen Fry, who I knew. Stephen seemed like the obvious person to take his place being genuinely interested in wildlife and conservation, so I contacted him and he said he’d like to. We took the opportunity with the twenty year anniversary to look back. We are looking for partly the original animals, and partly a whole load of new ones.

The aim of the series is to get people who wouldn’t normally watch a wildlife program or a wildlife series to think about conservation. The whole idea was not to have a heavy documentary style that only very keen people would watch but no one else would… because it’s too boring!

On working with Steven
Steven Fry has a much more popular appeal, a whole different take on it. The first program we have maid has loads of very funny bits and it’s very entertaining as well as having a serious thing, and I think that’s the aim of the series. It will maybe attract people not necessarily that interested because of Stephen and everyone will go away with at least some sort o idea of what conservation is all about. So the whole idea is it’s entertainment and there’s a message.
Stephen has an incredible knowledge about everything already but he hasn’t been to the majority of these places, hasn’t done roughing it very much and so that’s all a big adventure and a new experience for him. The idea is to look at things from a fresh perspective; if you’ve been involved in conservation for a long time you don’t necessarily see things from a side view, which is interesting. I went originally to all the places and I’ve been back since and know them reasonably well. I act then as a guide, introducing them to people and then in between we go of with Stephen, looking for the animals.”

The book was a real success and had such an impact on many people that I wondered what Mark was expecting from the series.

“I spoke to people who said that as a result of reading it they change their career and got involved in conservation and so on. That’s fantastic! That’s exactly what we hope might happen. Television has a much bigger impact than a book in many ways so who knows, it might just hit a pool of people to go off and do something. I think the more people who actually can be aware of some of the details of what’s happening in conservation rather than that sort of background noise of observation, then the better.”

Of course it has been proved many times in the past, wildlife TV programmes have helped to shape attitudes towards nature and conservation. So what is the best way to do it?
“It’s got to be a combination of hope and shock. If you have a completely negative television series it would be too depressing and everyone would give up. It’s like walking around and say: The end of the world is now! It’s not a good way of inspiring people. So it’s much more important to say: We’ve got really serious problems and not pretend they’re not serious, but then meet the people who are devoting their lives to doing something about it and learn what needs to be done and how it can be done and thus inspire people to do something. We have to be honest but we also have to make the point that there’s actually something that could be done, that most of these animals can be protected and saved if there is the world to do it. It’s a matter of hitting a balance between honesty and inspiration. I think that’s where individual people come in. Most of them have been there all these years and they are still devoting their lives to saving individual species. In most cases a lot of these species have been really seriously endangered that are still here because of the few individuals, not because of big conservation groups, meeting or conferences. These individuals live in the field and do everything in their power to save them. That is really inspiring, the fact that one person can make the difference, it’s cliché but it’s true.”

Because some of the species they went to see are even more threatened now than twenty years ago (The White Rhino and the Yangtze river dolphin are even believed to be extinct), I thought that finding them again would be more difficult now but Mark’s views were different.

“Twenty years ago, you couldn’t phone or email these places so we had to do it by telex which banged away one letter at that time and the message came out. It took us ages to get replies and it was much more difficult travelling around. Now you email and you get a reply that same day, you can fly to many more places we could then, there were boat trips to islands and there’s tourism and so on… so setting up the trips is a lot easier. In most cases the same people are there, working on the same animals. We were in the Amazon doing the first shoot and we met the same lady who was already studying the Amazonian manatee twenty years ago when Doug an I first met her in the same place. But the actual finding of the animals is going to vary, two of the eight species we picked for the book are now extinct… that says everything. Some of them are doing better than twenty years ago; the Aye-aye is now relatively easy to see, whereas it wasn’t when we went. The Komodo Dragon is pretty much the same and the Kakapo is doing a little better".

This reminded me of an interview made after the filming of “Planet Earth”, some of the crew members were also working on “Life on Earth” filmed twenty years beforehand. They were saying how they were both depressed and touched after coming to the same places and finding them completely changed and even sometimes destroyed by human intervention. Did he fear that happening to him?

“All the time. You rarely go back somewhere and see it has improved, nearly everywhere you go back two years later and it’s worse. There’s less wildlife and there’s more people. They’re places where you could go and be the only one in the whole reserve or national park and now there are hundreds of thousands of people and the wildlife is in general harder to see. It is quite depressing sometimes travelling around the world because you really do see a decline. A man I was talking to the other day was describing a scene in East Africa with 72 vehicles of Tourists around one pride of Lions…But tourism can help as well, there would be no Mountain Gorillas without it. It has to be well managed though so you have a situation where the money from tourism is being put back into national parks or into conservation of species and habitats but where it’s not allowed to get out of hands and destroy the wildlife. It’s a really delicate balance and you don’t get that many places who got it right.”

Mark Carwardine continued telling me about conservation and I couldn’t stop asking him questions about his marvellous adventures. I saw the twinkle in his eyes every time he was describing one of his favourites wildlife encounters.

“I think watching blue whales from the air, in an aircraft with the door off is pretty spectacular… because you get the idea of the scale of the animal slowly swimming below, that’s quite exciting.”

I remember with shame hearing myself saying: “You don’t even realise how lucky you are…” He looked right into my eyes and smiled. “No, I do!” When he had to go, we said goodbye and I walked away feeling ten feet tall.

Nadège Laici

I would like to thank Rachel Ashton and of course Mark Carwardine for their generous help. (written in small)

Future Shoots
The final line-up is still being discussed (there are currently no fewer than 16,306 endangered species to choose from) but this is the plan so far:

PROGRAMME 1: Amazonian manatee and West Indian manatee (Brazil and Florida).

PROGRAMME 2: Northern white rhino (now extinct), mountain gorilla and African lion (Uganda and Congo).

PROGRAMME 3: Aye-aye (Madagascar).

PROGRAMME 4: Kakapo (New Zealand).

PROGRAMME 5: Komodo dragon (Indonesia).

PROGRAMME 6: Yangtze river dolphin (China) and a selection of endangered whales, dolphins and porpoises (Mexico).

Please visit : to follow Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine online in their incredible journey to some of the most remote places on earth in search of animals on the edge of extinction through exclusive video and blogs.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Creatures Like Us

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Produced by the BBC Natural History Unit for Animal Planet
A modern day 'Animal Magic'

21.00 Episode 1: ‘FAT CAMP’
Can Morris the obese dormouse slim down and get back into the wild? Dormouse expert Julian Chapman and dietician Dr Amy Plowman try to help him shed a third of his mass.

21.30 Episode 2: ‘EASY COME….EASY GO?’
Dimisi the silverback gorilla is reluctant to leave the village and get a girlfriend at Chessington, so keeper Craig must use all his skills to persuade him.
Episodes 3 & 4 1st broadcast - Friday 16th January
Episodes 5 & 6 1st broadcast - Friday 23rd January
Episode 7 - 1st broadcast – Friday 30th January

Episode 1& 2 repeated
Saturday 10th January - 16.00/16.30
Sunday 11th January - 18.00/18.30
Monday 12th January - 16.00/16.30

Eps 3 - 7 repeated at same times as Eps 1 and 2


Natural World: Cuckoo

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BBC 2 - 8PM
9th January 2008

The sound of the cuckoo is to many the very essence of spring, yet behind the magical call is a bird that's a cheat, a thief and a killer. Just how does the cuckoo trick other birds into accepting its eggs and raising its young? Why don't the duped foster parents react as they watch the baby cuckoo destroy their own eggs and chicks? And why do they work so relentlessly to feed a demanding chick that looks nothing like them and will soon dwarf them? In CUCKOO, astonishing new photography is combined with unique archive footage and the latest scientific findings to solve a puzzle which - as narrator David Attenborough explains - has perplexed nature-watchers for thousands of years.

Producer: Mike Birkhead
Series Editor: Tim Martin

Monday, 5 January 2009

Radio 4's In our Time: Darwin

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From GiantsOrbiting
In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of 'On the Origin of Species', the BBC is airing a season of landmark TV and radio programmes under the title Darwin: The genius of evolution.

This week Radio 4 presents the series Darwin: In our Time which began today with the first programme On the Origin of Charles Darwin. Melvyn Bragg talks to Darwin biographer Jim Moore, UCL geneticist Steve Jones and Christ's College fellow David Norman, as well as college librarian Colin Higgins; to uncover Darwin's personal evolution from childhood through to Cambridge graduate.

The first in this series leads us through Darwin's troubled upbringing as the fifth child of a large and well-off family, to his escape from Edinburgh University after failing a medical degree, and on to his life at Cambridge training to be a clergyman, where he would be seemingly unimpressive at his studies.

The programme also takes a geographical perspective leading the presenters and listener around the common haunts of Darwin's student life.

The Darwin: In our Time series promises to be a fascinating journey through what was a very difficult time for such revolutionary ideas.

The next in this series will see Darwin journey to South America on the Beagle voyage and will be broadcast on Radio 4 at 9am on Tuesday 6th January.

You can read the full review at GiantsOrbiting.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Natural World: Great White Shark - A Living Legend

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BBC 2 - 8PM
South African naturalist Mike Rutzen is crazy about Great White Sharks. He never saw JAWS, so he doesn't share the terror that's made these sharks the world's most feared predator. For ten years Mike has been swimming with Great Whites, without the protection of a cage. He's spent so much time in their company that he's learnt to read their body language and to think like a shark - it's this knowledge that keeps him safe. Mike's quest to understand them better now takes him into the heart of a seal ambush site where he hopes to witness their hunting behaviour from underwater.

Producer: Joe Kennedy
Executive Producer: Ellen Windemuth
Series Editor: Tim Martin

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Presenter Interview: Saba Douglas-Hamilton

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From Times Online
“Fear is what you feel at night when you have come to your senses,” says Saba Douglas-Hamilton. The young anthropologist props her chin on a slender, bronzed wrist and fixes me with intense hazel eyes. “My biggest fear is that we don’t wake up in time to this insatiable devouring of natural resources and pollution that threatens every lifeline, and we lose everything.”

The naturalist – once described as having the “effortless sex appeal of a young Anna Ford” – captivated the powers that be at the Natural History Unit when she arrived with her father, the zoologist Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton, in 2001. Since then she has fronted series such as Big Cat Diary, which she says was “quite macho” before she came into it. “It was two men out in the bush. When I came in, it did soften a bit, and people realised that, actually, girls can do this too.”

She is fresh from filming a three-part BBC series The Secret Life of Elephants, about her father’s Kenyan-based charity, Save the Elephants. As a graduate she trained with Blythe Loutit, the revered rhino conservationist, in the Namibian desert. Loutit, who dedicated her life to pulling the last of the desert-adapted rhinos from the brink of extinction, was “a real eco-warrior who lived on absolutely nothing”.

Her take on the emotions and awareness that large mammals display attracts vast audiences. Elephants, for example, have traits such as empathy and a sense of mortality, and plan for the future in a way that “makes them a lot more like us than we think”. At present, she says, of all the money given to animal charities, most goes to domestic pets. She hopes, by helping people to engage with wild animals, to redress the balance. “The rhino, for example, may look like a throwback from a prehistoric era, but it thinks and feels and does things for intelligent reasons.”

Douglas-Hamilton bases herself on the outskirts of Nairobi in her “biodegradable house” – a ramshackle hut that she built with her husband, Frank Pope, a writer and marine archeologist. “It’s easy to forget how lifestyle affects the environment – eating Chilean sea bass or buying ivory. Don’t buy ivory! It equals dead elephants, most often killed illegally. If you like sushi or tinned tuna, be aware of what species you are eating, where they come from and how they are fished. I feel very strongly that we need to bring a stronger conservation ethic back into making films, how we’re selling stories, how we’re awakening people’s consciences.”

She grew up in the Kenyan wilderness with her younger sister, Dudu. Her father introduced her to their extended family of 400 elephants at just six weeks old – so understanding animals is second nature. “I find human beings far more scary than animals because they are much more unpredictable,” she says. She likens film crews to “parasites. We go out there, find the best stories, suck out all the information, take beautiful images and then leave. The scientists who are there day in, day out, collecting data and finding those stories are the real heroes. Like rangers taking bullets from poachers, they are in the front line. My job is to link these worlds. What I love is to bring the wilderness into people’s sitting rooms and then, hopefully, they’ll feel a passion for what’s going on”.

Presenter Interview: Miranda Krestovnikoff

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From Times Online
“It has been mentioned I have to glam up a bit,” laughs Miranda Krestovnikoff, a biologist by training and a presenter of Coast, her sea-tanned face beaming from across her kitchen table. “But I’m very much a jeans-and-wellies sort of person: you’d look slightly stupid if you were wading around in the undergrowth wearing a large pair of earrings.” Krestovnikoff, seven months pregnant with her second child, is on a mission to make us appreciate our native treasures. “I’m passionate about British countryside and the British coastline. To have an amazing experience, people think you’ve got to go somewhere wild and remote – they forget the diversity of wildlife we have in this country.”

Krestovnikoff was one of scores of young, eager and privately educated Bristol University biology graduates banging on the door of the BBC’s Bristol-based Natural History Unit.

“It was a slow start,” she admits, “but I got my break looking after frogs and toads for a cameraman who introduced me to people at the BBC. I started as a science researcher for wildlife programmes, and then became the resident zoologist and presenter for Fox Television’s World Gone Wild in 1998.” She has extensive knowledge of marine and other wildlife, a gung-ho attitude and an ability to encourage even the most tongue-tied field researchers to talk.

She credits her husband, Nick, as much of the reason that she can have a child and hold down the demanding schedules. “We’re a team, and having that sort of relationship is really critical in a job that’s so transient. One minute you’re working and the next your contract has come to an end.” And the future? “I’d like to do more green-based things on television. It’s not just conserving species, but getting the message out about our environment and the world we live in. It is such a fragile place, we are massive consumers and just don’t think about our actions enough. Somehow it’s going to have to change.”

Wildlife broadcasting, too, needs to evolve. “If you’ve got the right expertise, qualifications and you fit the bill, then I don’t think it’s any harder for women to get into wildlife presenting. But to stay and make a big name for yourself is difficult. As a woman, you might make it for a few years, but somebody younger or more glamorous than you is going to come in. Whereas with men, it’s the voice of authority. I’m prepared for the worst.”

For now, she is embracing what she has. “Every day that I work, I’m learning something. If I’m in the middle of Pembrokeshire on a boat looking at puffins, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.” Not that she doesn’t sometimes question herself. “The weather in this country is so extreme, and there are frequent moments, when diving and filming with a big heavy mask on, when it’s hard to breathe. When I’m roped to a boat in murky, freezing-cold water, trying to work against the current, I do think, ‘What am I doing? I’m mad.’ ”

Presenter Interview: Dr Charlotte Uhlenbroek

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From Times Online
It takes more than a pretty face to follow in the footsteps of Sir David Attenborough. Wildlife television presenting was once a man’s world. A documentary on baboon behaviour or ocelot extinction would call for a bearded naturalist like David Bellamy, or the cheery anthropomorphism of Johnny Morris. But now this territory is facing a climate change all of its own, as it is invaded by a new breed of presenter: feisty, intelligent, eco-aware – and female. Though a publicist for Sir David Attenborough assures me that he is “obviously not replaceable”, his grip on the title of king of the jungle may not be as firm as it once was.

Dr Charlotte Uhlenbroek flings open the door to her Bristol-based home, auburn hair tumbling over her green safari shirt. I have caught up with Uhlenbroek the day before she flies to Uganda to film a chimpanzee series for Channel Five. Great apes are this zoologist’s speciality. She lived in a hut for four years on the edge of Lake Tanganyika, following chimps through the forest and recording their long-distance calls for her PhD, alongside the revered primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall.

Uhlenbroek’s big television break came in the late 1990s. “I’d spent months analysing chimp vocalisations in a soundproof studio back in Bristol,” she explains – work that revealed that chimp communication involves not just one type of call, as was previously thought, but several different long-distance calls. “The BBC heard there was a girl up the road who had been working out in Gombe, and asked if I wanted to go back to present a series called Dawn to Dusk, and that they’d pay me!” Presenting came naturally to the young primatologist. “I was talking about chimps that I knew incredibly well. I was just turning to the camera as if it was a friend. I felt like a conduit.” Her ability to decipher primate behaviour, her blue-chip zoological credentials and look of “an eco-friendly Lara Croft” meant she was soon fronting BBC2’s Chimpanzee Diary. Since then, her eager, breathy tones have become a TV fixture. We have seen her swing through the jungle canopy, scale mengaris trees in Borneo and inspect pink-toed tarantulas in the Amazon.

Male journalists have noted Uhlenbroek’s “athletic, almost innocent sexiness” and her “tight sleeveless tops”; one wished “these frivolous young females dancing about” would stop making wildlife programmes. She appears unperturbed. “I’m a scientist. I’m coming in from a point of some expertise. Otherwise audiences think, ‘Why is she telling us this; how does she know?’ ” She doesn’t have a game plan. “I’m very much here and now and take things as they come. Television is a very fickle industry.”

Presenter Interview: Nick Baker

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From BBC New Talent website

Nick is a broadcaster, author, naturalist, zoologist and has presented 'The Really Wild Show' for around ten years. He gets involved in field work, supporting conservation projects and is trying to build a zoo. Along with some of his many creatures Nick was also involved in the selection process for 'Serious Jungle'. Here he talks about his own love of wildlife, explains how he became a nature reporter and gives some advice to young explorers, like those who will go to the Andes, before they face the camera for the first time.

Q. Did you keep lots of pets when you were young?
I kept them in a cage with one of my mum's old stockings stretched over the top of it. We went away on holiday and the stockings laddered.
Listen to the full answer

Q. Now that you are 'grown-up', a well known naturalist and broadcaster, do you still keep pets?
I've got 3 tanks of frogs ... a turtle in the kitchen ... a spare bedroom full of snakes ... plus about 80 tarantulas, various scorpions ... (and much more).
Listen to the full answer

Q. How did you become a wildlife presenter?
I was chasing butterflies around down here in Devon ... and at the same time I was setting up a club for kids called the 'Bug Club'.
Listen to the full answer

Q. What advice can you give the young adventurers before they face the cameras in Serious Andes as reporters?
When you look at a camera you've got to forget about the fact that it could be broadcast to millions of people ... have a one-sided conversation with a pepperpot!
Listen to the full answer

94 staff, 35 tons of kit, a £300-a-night hotel...BBC defends cost of Big Cat Live

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By Caroline Grant, Mail Online
The programme might have been about Big Cats, but its crew apparently acted more like fat cats. The BBC has been criticised for housing 94 staff on its Big Cat Live series in a £300-a-night luxury safari camp in Kenya. The production team also chartered 17 planes over the three weeks of filming.

The hotel and travel bill for the programme potentially came to almost £600,000, it was reported. The news comes at a time of widespread cost-cutting across the BBC, which is also reeling from the backlash against the taunting of Fawlty Towers star Andrew Sachs by two of its star presenters, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross.
The corporation's Natural History Unit has been forced to reduce its staff and budget by nearly 30 per cent.

The unit has lost ten of its 25 producers and scores of other jobs have been cut. Its radio output has also been slashed. Big Cat Live was promoted as one of the most ambitious outside broadcasts ever attempted on television and audiences were promised a journey into 'the heart of wild Africa'. Its crew, including presenters Kate Silverton and Simon King, were treated to four-star hotels during their stay. The show, which was broadcast on BBC1 and the web, tracked the movements of leopards, lions and cheetahs 24 hours a day. It attracted around 4million viewers when it was aired in October last year.

The production crew reportedly needed 13 lorries and dozens of cars for the 35 tons of equipment used. Generator trucks, giant batteries and satellite equipment were transported into the heart of Kenya's Masai Mara, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Neil Nightingale, the head of the BBC Natural History Unit, defended the cost of the programmes. 'We produced eight hours of primetime TV, as well as providing material for news, Radio 4 and CBBC,' he said. 'The cost per hour was very reasonable in terms of output. This took 90 people three weeks.' Mr Nightingale could not say what the programme had cost.