Friday, 30 November 2012

Watch Sir David Attenborough relive his first Zoo Quest experience - 60 years in the wild

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If you haven't seen this series yet then you're missing a treat. Tune in tonight for the third, final and arguably most important episode ‘Our Fragile Planet’.  9pm on BBC TWO & BBC HD. (To be REPEATED Sat at 7:30pm) 

…for those that fancy a sneak peek, check out the exclusive clip below as sir David relives his first Zoo Quest experience. Quest for the Picathartes

A Personal Story of Change

In 'Our Fragile Planet' David Attenborough tells the surprising and deeply personal story of the changes he has seen, of the pioneering conservationists with who he has worked - and of the global revolution in attitudes towards nature that has taken place within the last six decades. In a journey that takes him from the London Zoo to the jungles of Borneo, he reveals what inspired him to become a conservationist and remembers classic encounters with mountain gorillas, blue whales and the giant tortoise, Lonesome George. These are all characters that have helped to change public attitudes to the natural world. 

Look at who Sir David has met over the years...

Quest for the Picathartes

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Amazing cats on camera-traps in BBC competition.

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The winners of this years BBC Wildlife Camera-trap Photo of the Year competition were announced this week bringing us a striking set of images which capture intimate, surprising and rare glimpses into the lives of some extraordinary and elusive creatures (see some of the images below).

I've been experimenting with cheap off-the-shelf camera traps myself, placing them in my garden to try and capture footage of the foxes and badgers that dig, play and scat out there at night. I didn't even know we had badgers until I saw the clip below. In the BBC Natural History Unit, we're developing an impressive arsenal of high resolution camera traps to try and capture HD footage for use in our programmes. Over the next few years you'll start seeing the rewards, allowing us to feature animals in the wild that have until now evaded even our most cunning and determined cameramen.

Fox Vs Badger in my garden

Anyway, enough of my foxy self-indulgence...

The rise of the camera-trap

As forward leaps in technology go, camera-traps have been relatively unsung in the world of professional photography. Yet the introduction of sensitive, affordable digital camera-traps has proved to be one of the most important developments for field researchers, effectively multiplying the eyes of scientists and conservation workers. Camera-traps don’t need to sleep or eat, but keep constant watch on key patches of habitat, ready to detect the action and providing priceless insights into wildlife movements, populations and distribution. 

Camera-traps are now considered a serious tool by some professional wildlife photographers, thanks in part to Steve Winters camera-trap image of a rare snow leopard that won him the prestigious title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2008.

Commenting on the use of trigger cameras rather than being sat behind the lens, Steve Winter said:

"I used to hate these cameras because they just gave you a record of an animal... Images are all about composition and light. If I cannot control that as if I would as I put the camera up to my face, then essentially I have failed. So I asked myself that if I did not like these cameras, how can I like them more. It turns out that snow leopards are the perfect species on which to use these cameras. They always come to specific locations to mark their territory. So I viewed the locations as movie sets. I put the cameras there, I put the lights there. I knew the animal would come; it was just waiting for the actor to walk on stage and break the beam." Source

Steve then did it again in 2012 winning The Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Photojournalist Award with these captivating images of Tigers in India. 

"My aim with this story, says Steve 'was to try to document the beauty of tigers, the serious threats they face and the heroic efforts to protect them.' Despite millions of dollars spent on tiger conservation over four decades, tiger numbers continue to plummet. Fewer than 3,200 remain in the wild, the majority in India." Source

Steve also came runner up in the 2012 WPOTY for The Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species, capturing this beautiful image of a pair of tiger cubs at a waterhole.

"These 14-month-old Bengal tiger cubs, cooling off in the Patpara Nala watering hole in Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India, turned man-eaters before they were two years old. Between them, they killed three people. But the authorities didn’t kill the tigers. Instead, they captured them and moved them to a facility for ‘problem’ tigers in Bhopal, from which they will never be released. But elsewhere in India and everywhere in their range, tigers are being killed in huge numbers. Fewer than 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, down from 100,000 a century ago". Read more here.

BBC Wildlife Camera-trap Photo of the Year 2012

No doubt building on the success of Steve Winter's incredible images, the Wildlife Camera-trap photo of the year competition was established in 2010. This competition is primarily aimed at researchers and conservationists working in the field and recognises the most visually exciting or significant camera-trap images. It offers us the opportunity to share the discoveries and triumphs of field researchers, and those organisations the chance to win funding for their projects.

Here's some of my favourite images of cats from this years competition winners.
See more images here.

Source: via Paul Williams on Pinterest Animal Portraits and overall winner: Leopard path by Zhou Zhefeng, China

Source: via Paul Williams on Pinterest Animal Portraits commended: Snow leopard by © FFI/Panthera/Alex Diment, Zorkul Nature Reserve, Tajikistan.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

AFRICA - BIG Attenborough Wildlife Spectacular - Exclusive sneak preview

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Last year we were transported to the icey wonderlands of Frozen Planet, but this years BBC winter WILDLIFE SPECTACULAR is sure to warm our cockles, captivate our minds and leave us in awe of a wild continent. Sir David Attenborough brings us Africa. 

UPDATE 9th Dec 2012: It's just been announced that the series will start on Wednesday 2nd January, 2013 at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. Strangely the schedulers have decided not to include it as part of our festive treats on the BBC but atleast this way it gives us something to look forward to in the dark post-festive gloom of January. They might repeat it on a Saturday or Sunday... plus ofcourse there's always BBC iPlayer.

This series aims to reshape the way we think about each region of Africa by revealing never before seen impressions of the world's wildest continent. From from hidden jungles to ice-blue glaciers, erupting volcanoes to lakes of poison.  Over four years the Africa team have travelled across the vast wilderness that stretches 8000 kilometres between the Atlas Range and the Cape of Good Hope, to  bring us images that defy belief. Prepare to be enthralled as Africa reveals extraordinary new creatures and behaviour never filmed before; exploding insects, eagles hunting giant bats, lizards that stalk their prey on the backs of lions, antelope-hunting monkeys and a nail-biting giraffe fight that will leave you speechless. Nowhere is more savage, more dangerous, yet more beautiful and alive than Africa.

"Our experienced team from the BBC’s Natural History Unit thought we'd seen it all before. We were wrong. Filming wildlife across the whole of Africa has become our toughest and most surprising assignment yet."- Series producer, James Honeyborne

Friday, 23 November 2012

David Attenborough: 60 years in the wild - Discover a stunning fact about the worlds most travelled man

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Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild. Tune in again, tonight at 9pm for the second episode 'Understanding the Natural World' (BBC TWO & BBC HD – REPEATED Sat 7:30pm).

…and for those that can't wait, check out the web exclusive below to discover a stunning fact about the most travelled man on earth.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Dodo's Guide to Extinction - Dara O'Briain's Science Club

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Dara O'Briain's Science Club - episode 3, Tues 20th Nov, 9pm, BBC2

Dodo's Guide to Extinction

A few hundred years ago, extinction as a concept made no sense to anyone. But then fossil finds and advances in geology showed that it's part of life, and a statistical certainty - even for human beings.

Dara O'Briain's Science Club - Episode 3, 20th November 9pm

Combining lively and in-depth studio discussion, with exploratory films and on-the-spot reports, Dara O Briain's Science Club takes a single subject each week and examines it from lots of different and unexpected angles from sex to extinction, Einstein to space exploration and brain chemistry to music. It brings some of the world's foremost thinkers together to share their ideas on everything, from whether computers are ruining music to whether or not we are still evolving. BBC programme page

More funky Science Animations from The Science Club

Friday, 16 November 2012

Not to be missed! Sir David Attenborough, 60 years in the wild

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Sir David Attenborough, 60 years in the wild. Tonight, 9pm on BBC2.

Like many of my colleagues in the BBC I've been lucky enough to work with Sir David Attenborough. He has inspired generations of wildlife filmmakers, conservationists and biologists and at 86 years old shows no signs of slowing down - for which we are all immensely grateful. So how best to mark his 60 years in the wild?

"The challenge was to do something different with the man who has been everywhere and done everything. Early discussions with David and Executive Producer Alastair Fothergill made it clear that it was David’s unique personal experience that would be the key; he has travelled more widely than almost anyone else before him and seen the wonders of the natural world before they were changed forever." - Miles Barton, Series Producer

In this new series Sir David Attenborough gives his unique perspective on over half a century of innovation in wildlife filmmaking - developments that have brought ever more breathtaking and intimate images of wildlife to our television screens, changing our view of life on the planet forever. He revisits key places and events in his filming career, reminisces with his old photos and reflects on memorable wildlife footage - including him catching a komodo dragon and swimming with dolphins. Returning to his old haunts in Borneo, he recalls the challenges of filming in a bat cave and shows how with modern technology we can now see in the dark. 

In the clip below you can still see the boyish enthusiasm and passion that first endeared him to the British audience, and eventually led him to be the voice of wildlife around the world. Here he reveals how a technique called imprinting has been used to allow film crews to fly with the birds.


David Attenborough takes us back to one of his first TV series 'Zoo Quest', and shows us how he used sticks and stones to catch a Komodo dragon.


I visited the now famous Gomantong caves in Borneo a few weeks ago, treading the boardwalk with a dozen other tourists. It's now hard to imagine just how remote this must have seemed when Sir David first filmed here in 1972. Few people outside of Borneo had ever seen such a wonder.

"In 1972 in a Goamantong cave he memorably choked at the top of a heap of guano amidst a cloud of swirling bats and 40 years later he discovered that the smell was just as potent... It was a long, hard day's filming with both temperature and humidity in the mid-eighties which didn’t seem to affect our presenter (also in his mid-eighties), as much as the rest of us. It concluded with a shot of an overheated Attenborough drinking cold water in thermalvision, which will hopefully join that crowded pantheon of memorable Attenborough moments." - Miles Barton, Series Producer

Throughout his life Sir David has been a pioneer and an explorer, revealing wild places and wild behaviour for the first time.


In this clip David reveals some of the CGI magic that has allowed him to walk with extinct creatures including the Giant Moa as seen in the Life of Birds. I had the pleasure of recreating T-rex in a similar way when I filmed with David for Life in Cold Blood.

60 years in the wild

In the studio with a Pangolin for Zoo Quest 1956 (copyright BBC)

Fur Seals on South Georgia Island - Living Planet (1984) See more images on the BBC page (copyright BBC)

Close to an Albatross Chick - Life of Birds 1998 (Copyright Ben Osborne, NPL)

Australia with a Monitor Lizard - Life in Cold Blood (2008) See more images on the BBC page (copyright BBC)

Antartica - Frozen Planet (2011) See more images on the BBC page (copyright BBC)

Pioneering 3D - Flying Monsters 2010

BBC Earth Unplugged - NEW channel - Meet Your Planet! @EarthUnplugged

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Check this out! A new YouTube channel from the BBC Earth has just launched. 

Earth Unplugged features a kaleidoscope of the wonders and curiosities of nature. Showcasing outstanding videos...from animals doing mind-blowing things on Zoo La La, to stories of survival in Amazing Animal Babies, Earth Unplugged is the place to meet your planet!

Please subscribe, and keep tuned for new videos from the worlds best wildlife TV producers (not that I'm bias ;-)

Monday, 12 November 2012

Attenborough, Cleese & Patrick Moore down the pub - "What has the BBC ever given us?"

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Naturally I'm bias - I love the BBC - but I'm not going to get on my high horse after yet another major crisis (I'm not important enough to have a high horse for a start), all I want to do is share this short video from 1986 that still holds true today.

John Cleese asks "What has the BBC ever given us?" 
(Keep an eye out for Sir David having a pint)
What do you think?


...and here's Mitch Ben in 2010 singing 'I'm proud of the BBC'

Thursday, 8 November 2012

If Attenborough had an Ark - 10 weird & wonderful creatures to save

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Natural World Special: Attenborough’s Ark, BBC Two, Friday 9th November, 9pm

What would you save? Click here to comment

David Attenborough chooses the 10 endangered animals from around the world that he’d most like to save from extinction. Tigers and pandas hit the headlines but for David it’s the unusual ones that interest him. In Attenborough’s Ark, David explains why these animals are so important, and highlights the ingenious work of biologists across the world who are helping to keep them alive.

“There are a lot of animals today that face the same fate as the dodo. I’ve been asked to take 10 species I would take me with me on my own personal ark. I could chose those that grab the headlines – the majestic tiger, the spectacular polar bear, the beautiful snow leopard or the magnificent mountain gorilla. They are all animals that I wouldn’t want to lose. But there are many other extraordinary creatures out there not in the limelight. These few give a glimpse of the outstanding diversity of nature.” - Sir David Attenborough

Sir David's Top 10 (in no particular order)

1. Darwin’s frog, “a very remarkable frog because the male gives birth to its young. It does so out of its mouth. He takes the eggs into his vocal sack where they develop into baby frogs. The layer of ash from the volcano is drying out and killing the vegetation that the frog relies upon. It is pushing Darwin’s frog to the edge of extinction.”

2. The second representative of the amphibians is the olm “One of the ultimate specialists. In Croatia, it was once believed these olms were baby dragons. It certainly is an odd looking creature. It has very tiny legs and an extremely elongated body, but perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that it lives for up to 100 years.”

3. The biggest animal on the list is the Sumatran rhino - the most threatened species of rhino. David tells the story of the first-ever Sumatran rhino to be born in captivity in Asia, giving hope to the rest of the species.

Wikimedia Commons: Willem v Strien
4. In Jersey, David introduces his favourite monkey - the mischievous black lion tamarin of Brazil - which is being bred successfully at Durrell Wildlife Park.

5. David’s other unusual 'passengers' include the solenodon - one of the few mammals to have a venomous bite, but in the Dominican Republic this isn't enough to protect them from introduced cats and dogs. “Solenodons are unique. If we lost these little creatures, we would not see anything else quite like them on earth.”

6. The northern quoll – a mouse-like nocturnal marsupial native to australia but at risk from the invasive toxic cane toads.

7. The marvellous spatuletail - a rare hummingbird from the foothills of the Andes in Peru. The males use their extremely long tail feathers to perform a flamboyant courtship display. Watch the clip from the series 'Life' here

8. The Sunda pangolin, an animal similar to anteaters but covered in large hard scales made of keratin. They are associated with magic and are heavily hunted for use in black market medicine. "It is one of the most endearing animals I have ever met,” “Huge numbers of them are illegally exported, mainly to China. In the last 15 years, over half of the population of sunda pangolins have disappeared.”

9. Sir David also choose a brightly coloured butterfly from New Guinea, Priam’s birdwing - the largest on Earth, for its “exquisite beauty” and because it “lifts the heart”.

10. Last but not least, its a creature that lives at depths of more than 3,000 feet and builds its body out of silica - a sponge romantically named the Venus flower basket. “This complex glass structure is a marvel of design. What is remarkable is that the sponge grows its glass structures and does not need a red hot furnace that human glass makers use. For me, these are some of the most beautiful and some of the most remarkable living organisms.”

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Hamster looks at Miracles of Nature, BBC1

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Here's another series that will be waiting for me when I get back from filming in Australia. Let me know if it's a 'load it up as I walk through the door' type of programme or a 'maybe I'll get round to it one day' show. Enjoy! Paul. 

This new three-part series for BBC One follows Richard Hammond as he investigates the extraordinary super-powers of the animal kingdom and finds out how a multitude of amazing creatures are inspiring inventions at the very forefront of science. In the first programme, he discovers how scientists have been able to build a flying submarine, prevent jet pilots losing consciousness, safely protect a light bulb dropped from space and waterproof a mobile phone, all thanks to creatures as diverse as a vulture, a giraffe, a woodpecker and a South American butterfly.

According to series producer Graham Booth, Richard Hammond devised the series himself, "He loves animals, he’s passionate about science and he likes an adrenaline rush' 'So a series looking at how nature inspired some of science’s most exciting breakthroughs was perfect for him."

"Who knew, for instance, that a harbour seal could 'feel' the size, shape, speed and direction of an object that had passed by 30 seconds earlier without even seeing or hearing it? Or that that remarkable ability would end up creating a 10-ton military truck capable of driving itself? And who would have thought that when giraffes bend down to drink the blood pressure in their heads gets so strong their heads should explode? Or that the way giraffes manage to stop that unfortunate event occurring is directly responsible for a flying suit that can stop fighter pilots passing out at the controls? Not me. Not until I started this job anyhow." - Graham Booth, Producer (source: Huffington)