Monday, 17 August 2009

VIDEO: The Vine Snake: Agumbe, India

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We discovered this juvenile vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta) dangling from a branch whilst tracking King Cobras in Agumbe, India. As you can see they are incredibly well camouflaged and move much like a vine blowing on the wind. They use this incredible camouflage to hide and hunt, swaying back and forth, moving closer and closer to an unsuspecting frog or lizard.  They are mildly venomous, and I can understand why a lot of the locals fear them, but there's nothing to worry about from this little chap. Its fangs would barely penetrate my skin, and although their venom is potent enough to knock out a few frogs it wouldn't have much effect on me. When they do attack they often have to chew a bit just to get the venom in! I've seen many pictures of these snakes, often with the limp body of a giant lizard dangling from their mouths, and so I was pretty excited to finally see one in person.

Although relatively harmless it's still a good idea to handle them gently and carefully - like you would any animal. The key is to just let them slide through your hands as if on a branch, and never 'grasp'.  I've read that when stressed vine snakes will inflate their bodies, making themselves look larger and more aggressive, and revealing black and white markings which look like a chequers board. The most shocking part of their threat display however, is that they gasp and open their incredibly pink mouths. I'm pleased to say that I didn't see any of this - my experience passed with a mutual understanding of curiosity!

If you're unsure about a snake then the best thing to do is keep your distance and let them get on with doing their snakey things.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Giant Crystal Cave

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13th August, 9pm. National Geographic Channel UK

Deep below Mexico lies a mysterious cave packed with extraordinary giant crystals. Among the largest crystals ever found, they have been formed by on of the deadliest environments on the planet.
Combining extreme heat with unbearable humidity, without the use of specialised suits and equipment the conditions in the cavern would kill a man within minutes. Yet, despite the danger, scientists are trying to work out exactly how the glittering structures were created. Journey underground with the experts as they embark on a daring mission to try and unlock the secrets of the crystal cave.
Naica Mine

Pandemic: A Horizon Guide

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BBC 4, Sunday 9th August, 22:00
In the wake of the swine flu outbreak virologist Dr Mike Leahy traces over 50 years of BBC archive to explore the history of pandemics - infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Inspired by the Horizon back catalogue, he tells the extraordinary story of smallpox - one of the most violent killers in history, the success of mass vaccination and the global politics of Malaria. Through the lens of television the programme charts our scientific progress from the early steps in understanding AIDS to the code cracking of SARS and deadly predictions of bird flu.

Each pandemic episode tells us something about the world - and our place within it. In his journey through the ages Dr Mike Leahy charts science's on-going battle with nature and questions which one is winning.
Producer/Director – Louise Bourner
Executive Producer – Andrew Cohen

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Walk On The Wild Side: Comedy meets Wildlife

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Coming this Autumn:
BBC One invites its audience to take a Walk On The Wild Side with a brand new comedy series that seeks to provide a long overdue forum for the views and opinions of the animal kingdom. It's a world of hip hop-loving badgers, dieting pandas and a marmot called Alan. They and a whole bunch of other characters come together in this new show, which combines comedy with jaw-dropping natural history footage.

Caroline Wright, Executive Producer, BBC Entertainment said: "Walk On The Wild Side is a potent mix of amazing wildlife photography, a fantastically talented group of comedy writers and performers and an amazing furry cast. Who could ask for more?"

The series features the vocal talents of some of Britain's most promising new comedians, including Jason Manford (Live At The Apollo, 8 Out Of 10 Cats), Isy Suttie (Peep Show), Steve Edge (Phoenix Nights, Star Stories) and Jon Richardson, combined with remarkable footage from the BBC's Natural History Unit.

Special guests will include family favourites Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, Barbara Windsor, Stephen Fry, Richard E Grant, Rolf Harris and Sir Tom Jones. The regular cast comprises Pal Aron, Rhod Gilbert, Sarah Millican, Harriet Carmichael and Harry Peacock.

Walk On The Wild Side was commissioned by Jay Hunt, Controller BBC One, and Mark Linsey, Controller Entertainment Commissioning.

David Attenborough: Bristol and Wildlife TV - more than an accident of History.

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From: Made in the UK online essays at the BBC
(Image from Aerial online)

THE NATURAL history unit in Bristol is a rare constant in an evolving broadcast world. Whereas other specialist centres of excellence have come and gone, the NHU has always been there, or so it seems. What happy combination of circumstances and talents made Bristol the ideal habitat for the unit, enabling it to grow into the most enduringly successful out-of- London production department in the history of the BBC?
You might argue that there has always been a strong interest in natural history in the West Country, and a long tradition there of self-educated, amateur naturalists. But the truth is that the NHU would not exist in Bristol, had it not been for the enthusiasm and passion of one man, and his belief in the public service ideals of the BBC. Desmond Hawkins was not himself a trained naturalist, nor a West Countryman. He moved as a radio producer to the BBC in Bristol after WW2 and started natural history production in Bristol with radio programmes such as The Naturalist and Birds In Britain, long before the arrival of television in the area. As a boy, I listened to those programmes, and I dare say my own passion was stoked by them.
Desmond Hawkins interviewing Sir Peter Scott
(Image from WildFilmHistory)
Global reputation In 1952 I began my career with the BBC in London, at the tv talks department in Alexandra Palace. I worked on anything from political broadcasts to archaeological quizzes. But before long I launched Zoo Quest, a series which took me all over the world and helped to determine the future course of my life. Meanwhile, in Bristol, Desmond Hawkins had decided that as soon as it was physically possible to make television programmes in the West Country, his team of natural history specialists would show these upstarts in London how it was really done. Hardly was Zoo Quest on the air in 1954 than Desmond had decided to launch his own series Look, with Peter Scott, whose bird sanctuary at Slimbridge was only 20 miles away. The fact that there was still no actual tv studio in the city, or for that matter any transmitter or tv sets in the region, did not deter him. He brought in an outside broadcast unit, ran cables and cameras into the large radio studio and piped the programme by landline up to London. So natural history tv programmes were being made in Bristol even before anyone in the region could watch them. Enthusiasm is infectious, and Desmond gathered about him a core of people whose passion for natural history equalled his own, so that by 1957 it was officially recognised as a production specialism in Bristol, and he set up the NHU proper there.
When I became controller of BBC Two in 1965, I naturally wanted to indulge my own passion for natural history. When BBC launched colour tv in Britain, I could think of no subject better suited to showing off the new technology. I commissioned from the NHU The World About Us, initially a series of 26x50 minute programmes that turned into a long-running strand, and helped to establish a global reputation for the unit. Bristol also produced Life, a magazine programme that covered natural history news stories. Productions like these, building on the foundation of its existing BBC One output, secured the future of the unit and bound natural history production ever more closely with its Bristol roots.
David Attenborough outside a cave entrance during filming of Life on Earth
(Image from WildFilmHistory)

At BBC Two, I also launched a style of documentary which would now be described as the ‘landmark’ series, taking a big subject and devoting 13 onehour programmes to it. The first of these was Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, followed by Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man. An obvious contender for the same treatment had to be the history of all life on earth, but that was a subject I hankered after tackling myself. As soon as I resigned from my management job, I suggested the idea to one of the most experienced producers at the NHU, Chris Parsons, who would later himself head the unit. This was without doubt at the time the most ambitious series to be produced in Bristol. We started work on it in the mid-1970s, and the ground-breaking Life on Earth was transmitted in 1979 to huge audiences, selling around the globe so that eventually it was estimated that 500m people watched it. There is a great deal of trial and error in producing natural history programmes, and the people who make them have built up extraordinary levels of knowledge and expertise. Waiting patiently week after week in freezing temperatures for a snow leopard to creep across a mountainside, or understanding precisely when and how to film the annual hatch of turtles on a starlit beach, requires special skills. So too does the post- production of natural history series, and once a commissioning momentum was established, over the years the NHU in Bristol attracted many satellite businesses and freelancers. The city has accumulated a unique set of trades and talents.
Cultural identity At the same time the cultural life of Bristol has benefited from the existence of the NHU. The world’s first wildlife film festival, Wildscreen, was held in the city, attracting visitors from all over the world. The University of Bristol would probably tell you that its zoology department gains greatly from the fact that the best natural history television unit in the world is within walking distance, and a close and symbiotic relationship has sprung up between the two. Producers and academics drink in the same pubs and exchange ideas, and many a promising young graduate has found employment at BBC Bristol. It may have been historical accident that the NHU was founded in Bristol, rather than London, but instinct tells me that when Desmond Hawkins produced the first natural history radio programmes there in 1946, he already saw far further than the wildlife that was on his West Country doorstep. Natural history programme making has become as much a part of Bristol’s cultural identity as seafaring or the wine trade. The skills it takes to make such programmes are now woven into the fabric of the city, and long may it remain so.
Read David Attenborough’s full article and the other Made in the UK online essays at the BBC

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Inside Nature's Giants

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Inside Nature's Giants dissects the largest animals on the planet to uncover their evolutionary secrets. Most wildlife documentaries tell you how an animal behaves, but by dissecting the animal and studying its anatomy we can we can see how an animal works.

Experts in comparative anatomy, evolution and behaviour put some of the most popular and enigmatic large animals under the knife. Veterinary scientist, Mark Evans, will interpret their findings, biologist Simon Watts tests the animals' physiology in the field and Richard Dawkins traces back the animals' place on the tree of life.

Visit the website to find out more and watch online on 4OD