Thursday, 29 March 2012

Elephant Vs Kamikaze Bees & Wrestling Wanna-Bee Queens! - Queen of the Savannah

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Tonight, 8pm BBC Two - Queen of the Savannah

Tonight the BBC Natural World takes you into the world of the queen African honeybee. She rules the Savannah but her throne is won with sororicide - she must kill her sisters to succeed. Once crowned, an army of kamikaze bees will defend her and the colony from all who would be a threat - even fending off elephant intruders. Eventually the queen leads her colony on a one-way journey across the savannah to the great Mount Kenya. 

"Honeybees are such fascinating creatures, and living wild in Africa they face more challenges and drama than most people would imagine. They’re like our British honeybees wild and dangerous cousins! Bee Vs Bee - only one will be queen!" - Verity White, Producer

Bee Vs Bee - only one can bee Queen

Bee Vs Elephant

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Micro-Deadlies and Action-Steve Backshall - move over Barbie! #deadly60

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I don't usually write about toys, or commercial products, but I couldn't resist this one. If I was a young lad I would be saving my pocket money to buy a set of micro-deadlies. The long awaited range of 'deadly' toys was recently revealed at this years London toy fair, and the most popular are set to be the micro-figures or 'micro-deadlies'. Along with a mini-Steve there's 25 to collect including a wolf, king cobra and polar bear.  

As Steve says "The giant Pacific octopus is really cool and it’s an animal that’s really special to me because I had a particularly tough time trying to find it in the wild, on the show. It took 5 days of scuba diving – 3 or 4 times a day in absolutely freezing waters. It wasn’t until the very last dive that we found this giant octopus, which was about 9-10 feet in arm span. It came out and was physically playing with me on the seabed. And, you know, the Micro-deadly version looks great! I just think it looks like some ancient sea monster!"

What's more, these micro-deadlies come in separate parts, so you can create your own deadly beasts by switching heads, legs or arms from one animal to the body of another.

Move over Barbie, there's also a set of fully articulated, 10-inch Steve Backshall action figures including desert Steve, jungle Steve and arctic Steve!

Steve and Micro-Steve at the London Toy fair Photos by Paul Nomad

Steve and his micro-deadlies Photos by Paul Nomad

Move over Barbie it's Deadly Amazon Steve!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Deadly 60 - Steve Backshall, Komodo Dragons, Hyenas and all things DEADLY

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Steve Backshall and his long-suffering crew return for a brand-new series of deadly encounters with animals hoping to earn a place on his hallowed Deadly 60 list. Steve's search for deadly animals takes him and the crew to South Africa. This time they're looking for one of the most iconic of them all, the ferocious great white shark. He gets some fantastic views of this king of the ocean, and to demonstrate their awesome hunting prowess, he has a special trick up his sleeve. Just as feared by many is the Water Buffalo, known locally as the black-death. Steve takes to the skies to track down a huge heard of this notoriously bad tempered bovine beast before being charmed by the snake-stomping secretary bird.

Episode 1: Steve is on his home turf, scouring land, sea and air, for some of the deadliest critters that the UK has to offer.

Episode 2: In the medieval Ethiopian city of Harar, Steve Backshall has a unique and potentially lethal encounter with a pack of spotted Hyenas.

Episode 3: Steve Backshall travels to Indonesia in search of three very different reptiles, including the Komodo Dragon. 

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Cute Slow Loris loves being tickled? Success for BBC Natural World (Pls RT & help raise awareness)

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The rise and fall of the Slow Loris - from obscure fur-ball to internet sensation and TV star. How the BBC Natural World, and a passionate scientist are making a difference to the future of this enchanting little primate.

Just a few years ago the slow loris was an obscure little creature that only primatologists really knew about. It became an instant celebrity when more than 12 million people watched a YouTube video of a loris being tickled in a Russian flat. Sadly this sudden popularity has fuelled a boom in the international pet trade which has pushed the slow loris closer to extinction. They are being sold internationally on the internet, in pet shops, and are particularly fashionable in Japan. According to the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society, women are fond of them because "they're easy to keep, they don't cry, they're small, and just very cute".

Please help raise awareness of the illegal trade in Slow Lorises by posting helpful comments on YouTube videos like the one below.

Jungle Gremlins of Java

In January the BBC film ‘Jungle Gremlins of Java’ was shown on BBC2. It followed primatologist Dr. Anna Nekaris, who leads the Little Fireface project, as she travelled to Java to uncover the plight of the slow loris. Here she had noted that an increasing number of slow lorises were being offered for sale at markets, while they were becoming a rarer sight in their native forest homes.

Dr Anna Nekaris and a captive Loris

Some of these lorises are bought for use in traditional medicines, as they are believed to have magical properties. In North Sumatra, the slow loris is thought to bring good luck if it is buried under a house. In Cambodia, loris bones are used by hunters to heal their own broken limbs, and women drink a concoction of loris blood and rice wine to alleviate childbirth. In Java it is believed that putting a fragment of loris skull in drinking water will make a husband more submissive, and that eating loris meat will improve his virility.

Most of the lorises being sold in markets however are headed out of the country, and into the international pet trade.

Dr Nekaris told BBC News: "Most of the animals that get into people's homes as pets are wild animals. They aren't captive bred and it's a real dark pathway through which they have to go to get there. In order to get into someone's house, the animals have to go through a lot of cruelty and suffering in order to be pets and that's really decimating the population."

Despite their big-eyed baby Ewok appearance, the slow loris is one of only a few poisonous mammals. They produce a secretion on their brachial gland (a gland on their arm), which, when mixed with their saliva, creates a volatile, noxious toxin that is stored in the mouth - if threatened the loris is cable of biting, and injecting this poison into the wound. It's enough to deter clouded leopards and sun bears, and it has been known to cause death in humans through anaphylactic shock. 

Dr Nekaris told BBC News "The real threat to the slow loris is that in order to avoid being bitten [illegal pet traders] pull out the loris's teeth with pliers or nail clippers. So the animals, once they're in the trade, they can't be reintroduced to the wild because they have no teeth. Those that are rescued from the pet trade without teeth would not be able to feed properly or fend for themselves."

Success for Little Fireface & BBC Natural World

Since 'The Gremlins of Java' was shown there’s been a huge internet outcry – many of the viral YouTube clips have been removed, a series of international pet dealers have been busted in Thailand and two campaigns have been set up in Asia to save the species.

Please help The Little Fireface Project to continue their work

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Which is better Sifakas or Guitars? There's only one way to find out... watch BBC Natural World TONIGHT!

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Natural World: Madagascar, Lemurs & Spies - Thurs 15th March, 2012, 9pm BBC2

Last year I was contacted by primatologist Erik Patel who produced Trouble in Lemur Land. He wanted to raise awareness of an ever increasing threat to Madagascar's unique and diverse wildlife. The crisis at the heart of his film is the illegal logging of Madagascan hardwood, and in particular the devastating effect of the wide scale loss of Rosewood on the enchanting silky sifaka lemur, one of the rarest mammals in the world. Erik, who has been studying sifakas for 10 years, told me that less than 2000 these sifakas remain in the wild, and only in a small region of northeastern Madagascar. None have ever survived in captivity.

Read more about Eriks project and the Madagascan Hardwood Crisis in my post from last year.

Now Erik has teamed up with BBC Natural World to bring us 'Madagascar, Lemurs & Spies'. In this film he joins forces with Sascha Von Bismark, a Harvard Graduate and ex-Marine who runs the Environmental Investigation Agency in Washington DC. Together they investigate whether there is a link between these endangered lemurs, illegal logging and expensive guitars in the USA. 

Erik Patel, The Primatologist:
"I'm amazed we all made it out in one piece! From the icy summit of the Marojejy massif at dawn to undercover filming of rosewood stockpiles and a leading rosewood gangster; a lot more could have gone wrong than busted cameras, aching knees, and severe weight loss. Filming silky sifakas in mountainous rainforest takes incredible patience and extreme tolerance to nasty weather, bad food, and perpetually wet, filthy clothing."

Photo: LV the Silky Sifaka Facebook group - LIKE HERE

Tuppence Stone, The Producer:
"it was his commitment beyond his research to activism which made for a really strong story. I was impressed by his role to make sure illegal logging got noticed, and the realisation he was not alone. In Madagascar there are many unsung heroes who helped us, taking risks to try to change the world."

John Brown, The Cameraman:
"’s difficult to appreciate quite how challenging working in Madagascar’s rainforests can be. Most of the time we couldn’t see more than the tip of a tail of the Sifakas, and that would only be a half glimpse through 40m of foliage. Every now and again they would take pity on us and co-operate, and we’d be rewarded with beautiful behaviour that would make us forget the misery and revel in the privilege of spending time with one of the planet’s rarest and most engaging primates."

See clips and read more on the BBC programme page.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

USA on Ice - Top Moments of #FrozenPlanet - Polar Bears, Penguins & Alec Baldwin!

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If you are in the U.S. then prepare for a televisual treat. Frozen Planet made a storm in the UK when it was broadcast towards the end of 2011 - now the BIG FREEZE is coming to Discovery.

Produced by my colleagues here at the BBC Natural History Unit - it is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring productions we have ever made. The reverent tones of Sir David Attenborough graced the UK version but you folks will be treated to a performance by Alec Baldwin. Whatever your preference of narrator, rest assured that this is a not-to-be missed event that
transcends even television! 

This is what I wrote in the lead-up to the UK Premiere: 
"Frozen Planet will whisk you away to a glistening alien world where giants roam and the earth creaks - Polar Bears, Narwhals, Elephant Seals, these are animals and landscapes that fuel the imagination. Not since 1993 and 'Life in the Freezer' have we seen a series on the poles as ambitious as this. You may think that it's just going to be another series about polar bears and penguins, but believe me this is going to be a landmark event in television history." Read more of my preview, and see images and clips, HERE

(may not be visible to people outside of the US)

Frozen Planet's Top Moments

The Killer Instinct

A pod of orcas spyhopping amongst the breaking sea ice, Ross Sea, Antarctica. The orcas spyhop through gaps in the ice to determine how they can reach new fishing grounds.  (BBC/Chadden Hunter)

Leopard Seal attacks Adele Penguins on an ice floe. But what goes up...

...Must come down!  A pod of killer whales, worked in perfect unison for 3 hours, creating waves and tipping the ice floe to get hold of this terrified seal (BBC)

A sea lion chases a gentoo penguin onto land - both are like fish out of water and the sea lion struggles to make a kill. (BBC)

Wolves bring down a bison in an adrenalin-pumping pursuit. (BBC)

Gray owl swoops down for prey under the snow (BBC)

Criminal Penguin

An Adélie penguin steals the show - and a whole lot more - in the funniest scene of the series. A chaotic colony of male birds scurry around, collecting pebbles to build nests before the females arrive. One male is oblivious to the thief who sneaks pebbles from his collection every time he turns his back. (BBC)

Play the Criminal Penguin Game

Adelie penguin adults make their chicks chase them for food after returning from the sea. This draws them chicks away from the large creches in the colony and deters other greedy chicks from collecting food from penguins that are not their parents! (BBC/Jeff Wilson)

The Gentle Side of Polar Bears

A pair of two-day-old polar bear cubs (BBC)

A polar bear mother and her two cubs (BBC/Jason Roberts)

Young polar bears relaxing in Hudson Bay, Canada. (BBC/Nick Garbutt) 

The Brinicle of Death

If I remember just one thing from Frozen Planet then the 'Brinicle of Death' will be it. Not only for the 'how on earth did they film that' sense of awe and respect, but also for the 'holy cr*p, that's something out of science fiction' disbelief. A simple explanation is that a brinicle is like a finger of ice that reaches down from the frozen sea surface, when it touches the sea floor it freezes everything around it. It blew my mind, not only how incredible the phenomenon is, but also how on earth it was filmed. 

"With timelapse cameras, specialists recorded salt water being excluded from the sea ice and sinking. The temperature of this sinking brine, which was well below 0C, caused the water to freeze in an icy sheath around it. Where the so-called "brinicle" met the sea bed, a web of ice formed that froze everything it touched, including sea urchins and starfish" - Doug Anderson 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

End is Nigh? Solar Storms - The Threat to Planet Earth #Horizon

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Britain could face widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals, after the earth is hit by a once-in-a-generation “space storm”, Nasa has warned - Telegraph March 2012

(Solar Flare - Image: Nasa) 

Solar Storms - The Threat to Planet Earth
Horizon, BBC2, Tuesday 6th March, 9pm

This year we have a new sort of weather to worry about: and it comes from our nearest star. Scientists are expecting a fit of violent activity on the sun which will propel billions of tonnes of superheated gas and pulses of energy towards our planet - a coronal mass ejection. These ejections will unleash a shockwave of energy, a 'solar storm', into the earth at speeds of over a million miles per hour. Fortunately we won't feel it ourselves, but the earth's magnetic field will. The result could be both beautiful and chaotic.

A severe solar storm can create havoc by damaging communications systems such as those used in air traffic control and the emergency services, and even everyday electronic devices like computers and mobile phones. On March 13, 1989 a severe solar storm caused the collapse of the Hydro-Québec power grid. Six million people were left without power for nine hours. But all was not lost - one of the planets most spectacular displays, the aurora borealis, was witnessed as far south as Texas.

Usually this light spectacle is restricted to polar regions, stimulated by frequent low level 'solar winds' that hit the Earth on a daily basis. As the electrons from the sun bombard the earth's upper atmosphere, they strike atoms of nitrogen and oxygen and in the process emit light - the aurora borealis, and aurora australis in the South.

The big solar storms that are predicted for 2012 will supercharge the auroras making them brighter and more colourful than ever. So when the TV fizzles out, and the world begins to collapse, don't despair. Grab a beer and sit back in awe to watch a light show that will make Vegas look like Blackpool!

While you wait for that, tune in to Horizon tonight and meet the space weathermen who are trying to predict what's coming our way.

Horizon Produced and Directed by – Ben Fox Series Editor – Aidan Laverty 

Solar Flares & Coronal Mass Ejections

This composite image demonstrates an intense Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) (SOHO/EIT/LASCO)

In this picture, the Sun's surface is quite dark. It shows coronal loops lofted over a solar active region. Glowing brightly in extreme ultraviolet light, the hot plasma entrained above the Sun along arching magnetic fields is cooling and raining back down on the solar surface. (Nasa) 

The Storm Hits Earth

 The arc of light heading towards the earth is a coronal mass ejection, which impacts the earth's magnetic field (shown in purple), causing magnetic storms (USGS) 

Aurora Australis south of Australia as seen from the international space station (Nasa)