Monday, 31 March 2014

16 of our closest animal relatives! In celebration of #MonkeyPlanet on BBC One

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He's best known for his love of creepy-crawlies, but this week 'cuddly' George McGavin returns to our screens in search of primates, in three-part documentary series Monkey Planet. “The series is a celebration of the animal group to which we belong” says George.

George and the Monkey Planet team visited 11 countries from Borneo to Ethiopia and Japan to film a diverse range of species in their natural habitats, but sometimes just finding them proved to be the biggest challenge. “It’s very rare you turn up and things just happen, we spent a lot of time tracking the animals down and some are hellish to film – they’re so quick. At other times, we couldn’t find them at all. One frustrating day we waited seven hours. We’d planted honey in a tree log and were trying to lure in a chimpanzee, but he never came. To top it off we got drenched in a torrential shower.”

"Primates are intelligent and resourceful animals but many species are threatened from hunting and habitat loss. I can only hope that we have the intelligence to see that they are an important part of the planet's biodiversity and have the resourcefulness to make sure that they survive.”

Two of the most surprising moments come when George gets up close and personal with Siswi, an orang-utan who uses soap to improve her personal hygiene, and when he meets a bonobo in America who can order his own picnic on a smart phone and toast marshmallows in a fire that he makes himself.

To celebrate this new TV series I've put together a collection of some of my own primate images. We are part of a remarkable family and George and Monkey Planet will show you why.

 Male Proboscis monkey, Borneo (Photo: Paul Williams) The monkey is also known as orang belanda which means "Dutchman" in Malay, as Indonesians remarked that the Dutch colonisers often had similarly large bellies and noses.

Female proboscis monkey with child, Borneo (Photo: Paul Williams)

 Black Howler Monkey, Brazil (Photo: Paul Williams)
Bonnet Macaques, Hampi, India. At the ancient temples of Hampi my camera was drawing constant attention from the macaques who tried to grab it. I noticed this scene in a corner where two mothers were feeding their young, I thought it the perfect scene, placing the monkeys in their temple environment. (Photo: Paul Williams)

Spectral Tarsiers in a tree, Northern Sulawesi. Resembling a cross between a gremlin and a tiny koala, the spectral tarsier emerges before dusk and spends the night jumping from tree to tree on the hunt for food. The local guides in Tangkoko nature reserve, assured me that this tree was home to a family of tarsiers. We arrived before dawn and waited - not long after it started to get light the tarsiers returned from a night of hunting. I was able to get this shot before they headed inside the tree to sleep.  (Photo: Paul Williams)

Japanese Macaque, Japan (Photo: Paul Williams)

Young Japanese Macaque, Japan (Photo: Paul Williams)

Rescued Javan Slow Loris in a holding cage, Jakarta, Indonesia. This slow loris had just been rescued from illegal trade in Jakarta. I could see despair in his eyes but I knew that he would soon be released back to the wild. (Photo: Paul Williams)

Red leaf monkey, Danum Valley, Borneo (Photo: Paul Williams). It was a momentary hug and the cheeky little monkey stuck out his tongue at just the right time for me to get the shot.

Lion-tailed macaque sitting on a roof, South India. (Photo: Paul Williams)

Lion-tailed macaques grooming on a specially built bridge. These bamboo bridges connect fragmented forest near a village in the Malnad region of Shimoga district, South India. (Photo: Paul Williams).

Dusky Leaf Monkey, Ipoh, Malaysia (Photo: Paul Williams)
 Long-Tailed Macaque with a young baby, Borneo (Photo: Paul Williams)
Long Tailed Macaque, Borneo (Photo: Paul Williams)
I was visiting Danum Valley in Boneo when I saw this pig tailed macaque from my car. I stopped and watched as, oblivious to my presence, it carefully picked at the fig fruit it was holding. (Photo: Paul Williams)
Hanuman Langur, Western Ghats, India (Photo: Paul Williams)

 Hanuman Langurs, Sri Lanka (Photo: Paul Williams)

The Sumatran orangutan is endemic to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia where its population has decreased by 86% over the past 100 years. The most recent estimate (Wich et al, 2008) is that less than 6624 Sumatran orangutan still survive in the wild - this is decreasing every year. The loss of forest cover is the main cause of this decline. Between 1985 and 1997 61% of the forest in Sumatra was lost due to logging, infrastructure development, internal migration, and plantation development. The Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered and is listed as one of the twenty-five most endangered primates in the world (IUCN, 2006). (Photo: Paul Williams)

Orangutan and child, Bukit Luwang, Sumatra (Photo: Paul Williams)

Male crested black macaque at an old camp fire, Tangkoko, Sulawesi. At Tangkoko nature reserve I spent a day following a troop of black crested macaques, when I became intrigued by a male who had separated from the main group. I followed him as he walked across the black sandy beach towards an old fire pit. He dug around inquisitively, moving the burnt out pieces of wood as if he was building a fire, but then he started to chew on the charcoal. He may have been using this as a form of self medication to help relieve indigestion. (Photo: Paul Williams)

Female crested black macaque with a child, Tangkoko, Sulawesi (Photo: Paul Williams)

Lar Gibbon, Sumatra (Photo: Paul Williams)

Silver Leaf Monkey, Bako NP, Borneo (Photo: Paul Williams)

Human, Cambodia (Photo: Paul Williams)

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Dirty cars get the most beautiful frost feathers

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Words by Angela Brennan, photos by Paul Williams

A film maker has captured beautiful shots of frost feathers on a car window - which probably formed thanks to DIRT. Paul Williams, 34, took the image on a parked car on a frosty morning in his hometown of Bristol. Scientists believe crystal feathers tend to form more easily on dirty windshields and are more likely to create bigger patterns.

Paul, a wildlife film maker with the BBC natural history unit, took the photos with his mobile phone while heading to work. He said: “Beautiful patterns in nature always grab my attention and as I walked down the street the car was glinting as if coated in jewels."

“I knew that I didn't have long, my train was due and the sun was starting to melt the intricate frost feathers. It may have been something peculiar to this car, as I didn’t spot any other with these feathers. It could be because the car was dirty, seems to help crystal patterns develop." So, it seems that people who keep their cars clean are less likely to get such beautiful patterns.

James Nevell, a science and engineering tutor at the University of West of England’s International College, said dirt tended to enable crystals to form more slowly - creating bigger, more elaborate patterns.

He said: “If a car is clean, it’s harder for crystals to form and when they do it tends to need to be colder. This means it’s a quicker process and patterns tend to be more uniform. But the patterns on this car are large and bold. I would expect it is because the windscreen was dirty, which gave the molecules something to latch onto. This gave more opportunity for seed crystals to form early in the night, when the temperature is milder, so growth could take place over a longer time. It seems there were just a few starting points, which slowly spread outwards as the temperature cooled, to form this beautiful pattern.”