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December 2016 Volume 34 Number 13



POLAR EXPLORERS Unique images of the private lives of young polar bears

C H E R N O BY L 2 01 6


HIGH ROLLERS Why dung beetles are vital investments for our future

WELCOME RETURN RACE FOR LIFE How Eddie the white-tailed eagle is lifting Ireland’s spirits

The fascinating world of Galápagos’ marine iguanas

A UNIQUE HOLIDAY THAT HELPS NATIVE WILDLIFE The Isle of Carna offers a unique opportunity to escape to your own private wildlife island on Scotland’s West Coast and help conserve native Highland species at the same time! Our Self-catered ‘Escape’ package starts from just £1,200 a week, with shorter breaks available. This includes the whole island, accommodation for 6-8 in one of our cosy cottages, a self-drive boat to explore the beautiful Loch Sunart, all essentials, transfers and 24 hour support. Furthermore, the proceeds of all our guests help fund our conservation projects on Carna, protecting native species and habitat for the long term. 8S½RHSYXQSVIERHFSSO]SYVIWGETIZMWMX : : 01972 500 208

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Find out more on p76

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Get in touch EDITORIAL Tel 0117 314 7366 Email Post BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, 2nd Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN


Welcome... At the end of October some of the BBC Wildlife team spent time with readers on a holiday to the Scottish Highlands (hello to those of you who were with us!) close to the home of the herd of reindeers Amy-Jane Beer writes about on p20. I caught sight of four of them in one of the forest car parks at Loch Morlich, being harnessed to a sledge, presumably doing a dry run for their fund-raising Christmas activities. When you’re close up to them you can

see what amazing creatures they are, with their velvet-covered antlers, widesplayed hooves and intelligent eyes. But its the facts that Amy-Jane reveals about them that are truly eye-opening. Those animals that currently range the foothills of Cairngorm Mountain look so very at home it’s hard not to imagine them one day becoming commonplace in our wilder, mountainous areas, along with the ptarmigan and mountain hares that we were also fortunate to see on the trip. Sheena Harvey Editor

Contributors AMY-JANE BEER “Reindeer in the Christmas edition?” asks Amy-Jane Beer. “That could be really cheesy if they weren’t such fascinating animals. I’m especially eager to see what part they might play in a rewilded Britain.” See p20

December 2016

FRED PEARCE Journalist Fred visited Chernobyl, Ukraine, 30 years after the nuclear disaster. He found a thriving radioactive wilderness. He says, “Without people, the exclusion zone has become a window on Europe’s wild past.” See p28

ELIZABETH WHITE Elizabeth was the producer of the Islands episode of BBC’s Planet Earth II. “Islands are evocative and poignant places – it was a pleasure to make a film about them,” she says. See p

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ON THE COVER: Polar bear: Daisy Gilardini; Reindeer: Frank Lukasseck/Getty; eagle: Fritz Polking/FLPA; iguana: Tui De Roy/NPL

BBC Wildlife




CONTENTS December 2016



Amy-Jane Beer meets the hardy reindeer braving the snowy Cairngorms




20 Scottish reindeer

Last of the Mohicans? Chris Packham pines for the crested tits of Highland Scotland’s conifer forests


December highlights Spot springtails, sea buckthorn, sanderlings and more this month


Hidden Britain

Discover how reindeer cope with Arctic conditions

28 Chernobyl 2016 The post-nuclear wasteland where nature thrives

34 Alley cat An Indian leopard stalks the streets of Mumbai

Why wrens huddle together to combat the chill on the coldest winter’s nights


47 Watch whales in Mexico Join our reader holiday for close encounters with grey whales in Baja California

70 Race for life

Why dung beetles are the industrious, unsung heroes of waste recycling

84 Polar explorers

14 Latest science research

BBC Wildlife

The inspiring project reintroducing white-tailed eagles to Ireland

76 High rollers

Admire harbour porpoises, marsh harriers and Christmas crafts at RSPB Rainham Marshes Reserve


36 Welcome return

The voracious Galápagos racer snakes that prey on marine iguanas

Wild events

Can hunting help lions? Plus Why tits make friends


Britain: when 11 Hidden wrens have to tolerate each other for warmth

Dramatic new photos of polar bears on the sea ice of the Canadian Arctic


Norway wolf cull plans Two-thirds of the country’s wild wolves to be killed

52 No national bird for UK Calls for the robin to be officially recognised are turned down

53 My agenda Jon Madge on how garden planning helps birds, bats and pollinators

54 Conservation insight Why protecting seagrass is key to saving the dugong

57 Mark Carwardine The Bonn Convention on migratory species explained

58 Analysis Impact of CITES’ decisions on endangered species December 2016

ecosystems rely 76 Why on dung beetles

photos of 84 Spectacular Canadian polar bears

EDITORIAL Editor Sheena Harvey Features Editor Ben Hoare Environment Editor James Fair Section Editor Sarah McPherson Production Editor Jo Price Art Editor Richard Eccleston Designer Benedict Blyth Picture Editor Tom Gilks Contributors Rob Banino, Paul Bloomfield, Hilary Clothier, Sue Gent, Jenny Price, Samantha Stocks, Wanda Sowry, Rob Speed ADVERTISING Group Ad Manager Tom Drew 0117 933 8043 Ad Manager Neil Lloyd 0117 300 8276 Brand Sales Executive Sophie Mills-Thomas 0117 314 8816 Junior Brand Sales Executive Tara Hennell 0117 314 7357 Senior Classified Executive Dan Granville 0117 314 7397 INSERTS Laurence Robertson 00353 876 902208 MARKETING Subscriptions Director Jacky Perales-Morris Digital Marketing Manager Mark Summerton Direct Marketing Manager Aimee Rhymer Internal Communications Manager Carolyn Wray LICENSING & SYNDICATION Rights Manager Emma Brunt 0117 314 8782; Director of Licensing & Syndication Tim Hudson PRODUCTION Ad Co-ordinator Sophie Loats Ad Designer Rachel Shircore Production Director Sarah Powell Production Co-ordinator Lily Owens-Crossman


IMMEDIATE MEDIA COMPANY BRISTOL LTD Publisher Marie Davies Publishing Assistant Rosa Sherwood Managing Director Andy Marshall Chairman Stephen Alexander Deputy Chairman Peter Phippen CEO Tom Bureau

How Galápagos marine iguanas run the gauntlet of racer snakes

36 Every month Can the white19

Chris Packham

Reindeer: Ann & Steve Toon/Getty; beetles: James Hager/robertharding/Alamy; polar bear: Andy Skillen; iguana: Elizabeth White/BBC; eagle: Danny Green/; illustration by Mike Langman

Chris’s latest unsung hero


Subscription offer Get your BBC Wildlife digital subscription today


Book reviews


TV and radio Elephant Family & Me

106 Q&A Which mammals are most likely to kill their own?


Your feedback


Inside the image Tips on photography


Your photos




Tales from the bush

December 2016

tailed eagle reestablish itself in Ireland?

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Peter Cairns/Northshots


The Scottish crested tit, Lophophanes cristatus scoticus, is a smaller, darker subspecies of the European race. Birds are easier to see in winter when foraging for invertebrates among lichen on lower branches, where they also cache food for colder spells.


The average number of crested tits in the Scottish Highlands after the species’ breeding season, a figure that drops as winter progresses. Between 1,000 and 2,000 pairs nest here in spring.


LAST OF THE MOHICANS? he practical, camel-coat colouring of the crested tit is offset by that outrageous, two-tone topknot and brings to mind a Christmas commuter on the way home from the obligatory office party who’s still wearing a silly hat. These endearing little birds are common and widespread on the Continent, yet confined to the pine forests of the Scottish Highlands in the UK. Ancient Caledonian woodland, such as Abernethy Forest in Speyside, is the species’ stronghold, though some populations have spread – albeit at much lower densities – into surrounding conifer plantations. But the question remains: why are crested tits totally absent from many other areas of apparently agreeable habitat, including all of England and Wales? “This is the great conundrum,” says Martin Cook from the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club. “Some places, such as the pinewoods of Deeside in Aberdeenshire, North-East Scotland, appear to be every bit as suitable as Speyside. It may well be that the Cairngorms present a barrier to recolonisation, but that still doesn’t explain why crested tits aren’t already there. Were they once there and died out for some reason, or were they never there? The simple truth is: we just don’t know.”


FIND OUT MORE For more details of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, whose emblem is a crested tit, go to



BBC Wildlife



GOOSEY GANDER Watching tens of thousands of ‘pink feet’ moving en masse from overnight roosts on coastal mudflats to feed on arable fields inland – all against a salmonhued sunrise – is one of the most uplifting wildlife spectacles there is. Long skeins fly overhead in tight formation (“like cyclists in the Tour de France,” as Simon Barnes puts it in his new book The Meaning of Birds), calling constantly with highpitched honks. Large winter flocks visit major estuaries from the Wash northwards, with numbers in Norfolk growing due to a rise in the production of sugar-beet, which is a favoured food. FIND OUT MORE Book a dawn walk to see the geese at RSPB Snettisham.


CHRISTMAS JUMPER Here’s an aptly named invertebrate. Springtails – tiny, wingless arthropods usually less than 6mm long – have a two-pronged lever called a furcula folded underneath their abdomen. When released, it catapults the creatures into the air and away from potential predators. Some species of springtail – there are around 250 in Britain – have also developed a natural ‘antifreeze’ that enables them to remain active all winter. FIND OUT MORE See springtails catapult into the air at

UK HIGHLIGHTS The essential wildlife events to enjoy this month, compiled by Pete Dommett. Q SEA BUCKTHORN

Clockwise from top left: Laurie Campbell; Danny Green; Oliver Smart; David Whitaker; Mike Lane; David Chapman; Brian Valentine

MERRY BERRY The attractive orange berries of this spiny, coastal shrub develop in autumn, but are often still on the branches well into December. They’re highly acidic, so birds tend to eat them as a last resort when other fruits – such as hips, haws and sloes – have been gobbled up. In particularly cold spells though, they provide an important food source for wintering fieldfares and redwings. The first frosts can cause the berries to ferment so birds that gorge on them become ‘drunk’. FIND OUT MORE Discover more about British plants at


BBC Wildlife

December 2016







We Brits like to think of blackbirds as one of ‘our’ species: they took the bronze medal (and 11 per cent of the vote) in the 2015 poll to find Britain’s national bird. But many of those turning up in our gardens at this time of year might not be British at all. The UK blackbird population more than doubles in winter, swelling to 10–15 million individuals, as migrants arrive from continental countries – including Sweden, where this is the national bird – to escape colder conditions further north and east. Parties of these European visitors often contain young males, identified by their black, rather than yellow, bills. GET INVOLVED Send your

Watching these little waders playing chicken with the waves is the highlight of a wintry walk along the UK’s sandy beaches. They scurry in and out of the surf, searching for food – such as shellfish, sandhoppers and shrimps – while trying not to get washed off their feet. They may look comical, but sanderlings are hardy birds, arriving on British shores after their breeding season in the Arctic. TOP TIP Watch sanderlings on a rising tide to be rewarded with close-up views.

sightings of winter migrants to www.


TEDDY BOYS In eastern England, the rutting season of this small, non-native deer is now in full swing. But, without antlers to lock together, how do rival males determine mating rights? The teddy-bearfaced bucks do battle with their sharp, 6cm-long tusks. It’s not uncommon to see scarred animals in winter, though most clashes stop short of bloodshed; instead, adversaries size each other up by walking in parallel until one buck backs down. The species is in decline in its Asian homeland, yet thought to be increasing here, In fact, East Anglia and Bedfordshire holds around a tenth of the world’s total population. TOP TIP Deer forage in the open in winter so are easier to see. Try RSPB Strumpshaw Fen.

GOOD FOR YEW The waxy red covering, or aril, of yew berries isn’t toxic to mammals – dormice and squirrels eat them – but the single dark seed they contain is. Birds can happily consume both, however, and thrushes, finches and nuthatches feast on them in winter. Yew trees featured on BBC Radio 4’s Natural Histories on 22 November. Catch-up with the programme at SHADES OF GREY Female grey squirrels lead loved-up males on a merry dance this month. Chattering excitedly, the males race helter-skelter after a female, around tree trunks and along branches, before she eventually selects the best suitor. In urban areas, confiding greys offer the chance to observe these courtship chases close-to. KISS ME QUICK Mistletoe has fat white berries that offer a seasonal treat for birds such as blackcaps, which spread the seeds by wiping their sticky bills on branches. But this pretty parasite is in decline due to the loss of traditional orchards (apple is its main host tree). Pucker up while you still can. FESTIVE FLIER As its name suggests, the December moth is one of a handful still on the wing at the year’s end. It’s well wrapped up against the cold with a furry, chocolatecoloured coat. Usually found over much of Britain and often lured to lit windows.




WRENS IN WINTER very winter day, in late afternoon, the bird-feeders empty and the light fades quickly. Apart from a few species that make showy displays around roosting time, such as starlings, most birds just drift away into the darkness. The odd robin sings after dark, but on the whole few of us know – or have ever seen – what happens to small-bodied birds on long winter nights. Blue and great tits creep into cavities in trees or walls, or into nestboxes, alone, where they sit out the darkness. Robins head for dense vegetation just above the ground, often among ivy (a godsend for little birds). Flocks of finches and sparrows use thick bushes and low conifers. They all need shelter and security from predators. Birds’ experiences of winter nights couldn’t be more different to ours,


spent inside secure, heated homes. On cold nights, as the temperature falls towards freezing, small species are at risk – and many die.

Bringing loners together Wrens are well aware that their lives hang in the balance on cold nights and change their behaviour accordingly. On mild nights wrens roost alone, often in one of their famous domed nests, made of moss, leaves, grass and other vegetation. They’re also known to use nests belonging to other birds as well as holes in trees, nestboxes and buildings. There’s even evidence that they might build nests specifically for roosting. But when it’s cold, rainy or windy, wrens resort to sharing roost sites. More awkward still,

ROOSTING FACTS OBritain’s smallest bird

– the goldcrest, pictured right – weighs just 5g and in extreme cold can lose a fifth of this overnight. Goldcrests often huddle in a globular mass with their tails all sticking out.

Illustrations: Mike Langman

ODespite a hot-tempered

nature, robins will also roost communally in extreme wintry conditions. OA recent study by the BTO

and University of East Anglia found that Scottish wrens

December 2016

are, on average, larger than those in milder southern Britain and better able to survive overnight frosts. OTreecreepers, too, suffer

greatly in winter – but for them, wind and rain are worse than sheer cold. They squeeze into bark crevices for shelter.

Late-arriving wrens face quite a struggle to jostle their way to the warmth at the centre of the nestbox huddle.

they’re compelled to huddle together to keep warm. It is a simple law of physics that very small organisms, with high surface area to volume ratios, lose body heat more rapidly than larger species. And one way to combat this is effectively to make a larger organism – by cuddling up. Wrens are highly territorial so this must be stressful for them, but the alternative is worse. The birds don’t sit comfortably; in large roosts they squat in rows, with heads facing in and tails out, and the precise arrangement is worked out by much squabbling. Most wren roosts are small, so it must take extreme conditions to produce some of the remarkable counts that have been made: 61 wrens in a single nestbox; 30 in a hole in a thatched roof. The case of long-tailed tits is slightly different. These tiny birds don’t roost in holes, but instead huddle along a perch low down in thick vegetation. They huddle much more often than wrens do, on all but the warmest nights, and their assemblage consists of related

birds, usually a breeding pair with their latest offspring and some extra adults. It doesn’t stop the pre-sleep jockeying and jostling for position, though.

Centred on survival Recently scientists measured how important this jostling could be. Studying captive long-tailed tits, they found that across a range of temperatures a long-tailed tit loses 0.75g per night on average, equivalent to 8.9 per cent of its body weight. But a long-tailed tit stuck outside the huddle loses more – an average of 0.79g per night, or 9.4 per cent of its weight. These differences might seem small, but could mean the difference between life and death. The scientists also found that, despite the jostling, the same birds tended to occupy the chilly outer spots. Even in family groups, there was a clear hierarchy, with the older, dominant birds staying in the middle. On a freezing night, with life in the balance, there’s no room for sentiment. By DOMINIC COUZENS Author, ornithologist and bird guide

BBC Wildlife



RSPB RAINHAM MARSHES WHERE New Tank Hill Road, Purfleet, RM19 1SZ AREA RANGER Nicole Khan

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT In winter, Rainham Marshes is alive with thousands of wintering birds. Nothing compares to witnessing spectacular swirls of lapwings, wigeon, and other waders and ducks as they are spooked by hunting peregrine falcons and marsh harriers.

TOP WILDLIFE SPOT My personal favourite is seeing the activity of feeding birds on the Purfleet scrape, which can be viewed from its own dedicated wildlife watching hide, or from the comfort of the visitor centre.

JOIN ITS EVENT Our Christmas fair takes place on Sunday 11 December from 4pm. There will be family activities taking place, and crafts and gifts available to buy.



Harbour porpoises leap along the Thames’ tidal flow, and common and grey seals regularly enjoy the river on the exposed mudflats during low tide.

Our volunteers help with conservation, working with our education team, and more. Visit community-and-advice/volunteer.

See if you can spot the secretive water rail at Rainham Marshes this winter.


17 -28

Lego mallard: Adam Finch/WWT; newt: Pekka Tuuri/EWPY; aye-aye: National Museums Scotland; avocets: Andy Hay/RSPB; Nick: Seb Chandler; Nicole and water rail: RSPB


Jan X

GIANT LEGO BRICK ANIMALS TRAIL Kids and big kids alike can enjoy a trail taking in 11 individually designed 1.5m LEGO brick animals at London Wetlands Centre, with some inspired by species at the centre, including the mallard (left) and the rare Hawaiian goose. Normal entry fees apply.

9Dec -23 Apr

26 Nov -15 Jan





This fascinating mixed media exhibition takes an in depth look at the world of primates. Discover more about their social systems, tool use, and their relationship with humans at the National Museum Scotland, Edinburgh. An adult ticket costs £10.


13 -27 Nov

Feb T


This free exhibition celebrates the work of some of Europe’s best wildlife photographers, showcasing winning images from the contest at the Horniman Museum, London.


Take a cruise down the River Exe to see one of Britain’s conservation success stories — the avocet — alongside other waders and wintering wildfowl. An adult ticket costs £17 for non-RSPB members and £14 for members.


BBC Wildlife


SPEAKERS’ CORNER NICK DAVIES WHAT The Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature WHEN Friday 2 December, 7 to 8pm WHERE Great North Museum, Hancock, Newcastle

With over 30 years of research behind him into the battle between cuckoos and their hosts, Professor Nick Davies of the University of Cambridge provides a fascinating insight into this remarkable and somewhat bizarre behaviour. “The sight of a little warbler or pipit feeding an enormous cuckoo chick is astonishing,” he says. “Why are the hosts apparently so stupid?” Nick will be answering this question in his illustrated talk, discussing the evolutionary arms race between host defences and cuckoo trickery. The talk is free to members of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, and there is a £3 suggested donation for others. Nick is the author of Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature (Bloomsbury, £16.99): December 2016

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DISCOVERIES The latest in scientific research from all over the animal kingdom.

Written by STUART BLACKMAN Lions are hunted across much of Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve.


THE HUNT FOR SUSTAINABILITY TROPHY HUNTING OF LIONS MAY HELP FUND CONSERVATION IN TANZANIA – BUT THE MODEL MUST CHANGE. motions run high over trophy hunting, as the outrage that followed last year’s shooting of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe proved. But new research offers an uncomfortable truth for wildlife lovers: hunting lions really does help conserve them – if it’s done properly. Conservation biologists from the universities of Kent, Queensland and Cambridge, including Bob Smith, have studied the effects of trophy hunting on lion populations in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve. The Tanzanian government divides much of the Selous into blocks, for which hunting rights

Stu Porter/Alamy



BBC Wildlife

Governmental are sold to commercial DID YOU KNOW? incentives, such as interests. Smith found QTanzania is home offering long-term that lion populations to up to half of the leases, might offer tend to be stable in world’s remaining wild lions. It’s also the most ways of improving blocks in which the important destination things. Smith has rights have been for hunters. Between other ideas, too. On owned by the same 1996 and 2006 it top of the hunting company for at least exported an average of 243 wild lion rights, the companies 10 years. In blocks for trophies each year. pay the state a fee which rights change for each lion taken. hands more frequently, “We’re suggesting that the fee however, sustainability is seen for the land goes up and the as a lower priority. fee for shooting individual “They were basically hunting animals goes down. The total all of the old males,” he said. amount [of revenue raised for the “That generates higher income government] will be the same, in the short term, but then the but there’ll be less pressure to number of lions available for shoot more animals.” trophy hunting goes down.”

Smith accepts that objections to trophy hunting are about more than just sustainability. “I find the idea of trophy hunting odd. I’ve never hunted anything in my life. But at the moment trophy hunting is playing an important role [in conserving the species].” “We just don’t have enough funding to conserve lions – to protect and manage these areas and tackle poaching,” Smith told BBC Wildlife Magazine. “If everyone who complained about trophy hunting gave us a pound, we could sort it. But they don’t.” SOURCE PLoS ONE LINK

December 2016


From top: Springer Heidelber; Krister Smith; Anup Shah/Getty; Nigel Bean/NPL; Hsi-Te-Shih

BEE�ING HAPPY New research suggests that bumblebees may experience emotion-like states similar to human feelings. “If I have a bit of dark chocolate, everything’s great for a while,” said Clint Perry of Queen Mary University of London. And a sugary treat has a similar effect on bumblebees. Perry trained bees to forage from mock flowers. Blue ones contained a weak sugar solution, green ones only water. Half of the bees were then given a taste of highly concentrated sugar solution before all were tested for their reactions to an ambiguous blue-green flower. Those bees that had received the treat flew faster towards the blue-green flower. “You could say they’d become more optimistic,” said Perry. Intriguingly, blocking the action of dopamine, a brain chemical that is central to emotional functioning in humans, dampened the effect. “If bumblebees have this fundamental element of emotional states, similar to those of humans, it could be that they also have subjective feelings,” said Perry.


This 48-million-yearold snake ate a lizard (which ate an insect) just before it died.




FOSSILISED FOOD CHAIN Germany’s Messel Pit has yielded many extraordinary fossils – mammals with preserved hair, turtles in the act of copulation and insects with their colours preserved. The latest find is just as impressive: a 48-millionyear-old fossil beetle in the stomach of a lizard that’s been eaten by a snake. “Since the stomach contents are digested relatively fast and the lizard shows an excellent level of preservation, we assume that the snake died no more than one to two days after

consuming its prey. And then, after it died, it sank to the bottom of the Messel Lake, where it was preserved,” said Krister Smith of Germany’s Senckenberg Research Institute. The discovery provides a rare insight into prehistoric food chains, which are notoriously tricky to fathom. The lizard, for example, was previously thought to have been herbivorous. And though it was of a type that is able to shed its tail, that doesn’t seem to have helped it in this instance.

SOURCE Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments LINK

Among Alfred Russel Wallace’s many scientific contributions was a line on a map. Snaking through the Malay Archipelago, it delineates the border between flora and fauna of Asian and Australasian origin. We now know that his line corresponds to the edges of two continental plates, which are being slowly squashed together by tectonic forces. Today, Bali and Lombok are only about 35km apart, but in terms of evolution there’s an ocean between them.

The crab-eating macaque has somehow crossed Wallace’s Line, but it’s a rare exception.


Bumblebees like sugar – but does it trigger an ‘emotional’ state?


December 2016

WHAT IS IT? It’s hard to understand how such a spectacular crustacean could have slipped under the radar for so long. But this colourful freshwater crab, which represents not just a new species but also a new genus, was discovered only when a scientist spotted specimens on sale at a Chinese pet market. WHERE IS IT? The crabs had been collected from Guangdong, southern China, where they live in hillside streams. Their long, slender legs may enable them to climb over the rocky terrain between pools. SOURCE ZooKeys LINK

This crab was destined for life in an aquarium before being spotted by a scientist.

BBC Wildlife




Grizzly bears are drawn to areas with plentiful berries – which can bring them into conflict with humans.


FATAL ATTRACTION On the face of it, Elk Valley in Canada’s British Columbia seems to be a perfect habitat for grizzly bears. A closer look, however, reveals that it’s a trap. Grizzlies are drawn to the valley by the local abundance of bilberries and buffaloberries. “In the absence of humans, those berries are really important to bears,” said Clayton Lamb, a biologist at the University of Alberta. The trouble is that there are a lot of

humans in Elk Valley. So bears soon discover anthropogenic sources of food, such as rubbish bins and livestock, which brings them into closer contact with humans and their vehicles. “In the past eight years we’ve lost 40 per cent of our grizzly bears in that area,” said Lamb. “That’s not normal.” Forty percent of those bear fatalities occurred on roads and railways. Another third were hunted.

From top: Hugh Rose/Alamy; Jack Jeffery; Michel Geven/Minden/FLPA; David Merron/Getty


FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS Good friends make good neighbours, if new research on the famous great tits of Wytham Woods is anything to go by. Great tits spend the winter foraging in flocks, pairing off in spring to raise chicks. But exactly where they choose to nest is influenced to a large extent by the relationships they formed during the winter. “They appear to choose their spring breeding sites to stay close to their winter flockmates,” said Josh Firth of the University of Oxford. “Not only do they nest closest to the birds with which they held the strongest winter social bonds, they also appear to arrange their territories so that they share home boundaries with those birds. Choosing breeding locations based on previous


BBC Wildlife

Perversely, the high death rate makes the valley even more attractive to incoming bears because it reduces competition for berries and territory. The consequence is an “ecological trap” in which the valley’s rich natural resources are serving as bait. Lamb calls it “a perfect storm of bear mortality”. SOURCE Journal of Animal Ecology LINK

Great tits nest close to feathered friends they made in winter.

social associations may yield benefits. “We know that familiar birds are more likely to cooperate in fending off predators,” said Firth. “It may also reduce the amount of energy expended on competitive interactions if individuals display less aggressive behaviour towards familiar neighbours.” SOURCE Ecology Letters LINK

HAWAIIAN CROWS USE TOOLS, TOO Nature reports that Hawaiian crows extract hidden prey with twiggy tools, like New Caledonian crows. The two distantly related species likely evolved the technique independently – perhaps to exploit the niche filled elsewhere by woodpeckers. COLD CALLING Close relatives of the housefly are key pollinators of Arctic flowers. According to research in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, muscid flies – and one species in particular – perform the bulk of pollination services for common flowers in northern Greenland. Unfortunately, Arctic muscids are declining. LOST WORLD LOST? Tourism is taking its toll on Roraima, the flat-topped mountain on the VenezuelaGuyana-Brazil border. Long lauded as a rare example of a pristine ecosystem, it is now threatened by introduced invasive species and water polluted with human faeces, reports the journal Diversity and Distributions. BIG BREATHS Most whale calves aren’t equipped with the physiological machinery needed to hold their breath for long dives. But most whales don’t forage under sea ice like belugas. Research in Journal of Experimental Biology shows that beluga calves can store large reserves of oxygen in their muscles.





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nipping through a mist net with scissors feels like a crime, but crouched in total darkness with a blackcap cupped in my hand, I know it isn’t. I cut the fabric and gently place the little bird in my pocket where five more are already secreted. Then I cut through the ties, roll the whole thing up and stuff it into Andrea Rutigliano’s bulging backpack. We don’t speak – if we’re caught by the poachers we’ll be shot at or beaten up. We’re on Cape Pyla, Cyprus, where an estimated 10,000 small birds are illegally killed every night to satisfy a business worth 15 million. The criminals are supplying the trade in ambelopoulia – a Cypriot so-called ‘delicacy’. Warblers and thrushes and whatever else has the misfortune to get lured into these nets end up boiled or grilled and served up as a ‘status’ dish costing 60–80 per head. So it’s big money and a big problem. But tonight it’s being confronted by a few remarkable young people brave enough to work at the coalface of conservation. I first came across the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) on Malta a few years ago and immediately liked their fearless attitude and no-nonsense approach. They


Unsung heroes + N AT U R A L H I STO R Y



Committee Against Bird Slaughter Andrea, Axel and the rest of grassroots group ‘CABS’ risk life and limb to save migrating birds in Europe.

get stuck in and I was pleased to join them in Cyprus. CABS is based in Germany and acts entirely within the law, liaising with police and customs officials to combat illegal bird-killing across Europe. Its members pride themselves on rapid reaction to wildlife crises. We need more people like them.

The fearless, motivated and international members of CABS.

On Malta Axel Hirschfield led us on a convoluted trail through the thick, dry scrub to a little glade where a trapper had nets set for thrushes, and a few metres away a tiny cage full of song thrushes was putting all heaven in a rage. The police duly arrived, confiscated the trapping materials and promised to investigate the situation further. Axel told me how CABS had bought a drone to fly over the Maltese countryside to spot illegal trapping sites. Unfortunately, it was shot down, like everything else that dares to fly over. He also told me how, while in France investigating ortolan bunting hunting, he and his colleagues had been shot at and then, while they were hiding in a cereal field, the hunters sped through the

crop in tractors trying to run them over. Axel has no doubt that the hunters were trying to kill him. (Earlier, when I explained that I was going to Cyprus, he warned me: “Be careful, be very careful.”) On the night cameraman Luke Massey and I were stumbling across Cape Pyla’s stony fields it was thick with trappers, their nets and their acoustic lures, all pumping out a cacophony of birdsong. Leading the way were Andrea and Bostjan Debersek with a map of all the trapping sites. Andrea had already been on the island for two weeks, out every night and up all day in a relentless assault on the illegal activities, and Bostjan was there to take over. As it got light we snuck off and started looking for birdlime sticks, releasing the captives and smashing up the sticky poles. That afternoon I met with all the CABS volunteers and what



a moment it was. Young, old, male, female and from all over the world… one young man had come all the way from Hong Kong. All unpaid, all highly motivated, all disenchanted with the lack of progress by the authorities and hell-bent on making a difference. This committed collective of activists was the most inspiring gang of gamechangers I’ve met in a long while and I salute them. CHRIS PACKHAM is a conservationist and presenter. OWould you like to comment on this issue? Let us know: email

BBC Wildlife


Mark Hamblin/

Rebranding Rudolf


A Thirties children’s book gave life to the Christmas reindeer that has captivated generations, but the real Rudolf is just as fascinating, says Amy-Jane Beer.


Roaming in the UK: the Cairngorms National Park has been home to a reindeer herd since 1952, when the first semi-domesticated animals were brought from Sweden.

REINDEER Tilly Smith with a few of the 150 Cairngorm reindeer that make up the UK’s only free-range herd.

From left: Les Wilson/REX/Shutterstock; Frank Lukasseck/Getty; Laurie Campbell


illy Smith is under no illusion about what brings visitors to Reindeer House in Glenlivet, on the flanks of Cairngorm. “They want to see Rudolf while he’s off duty,” she says. “But I don’t mind that, because it gives me a chance to show them that these really are no ordinary ungulates.” And Tilly, who is herder and co-owner of the Cairngorm reindeer herd, has a point. Reindeer, or caribou as they’re called in North America, are amazing, surprising creatures, well worthy of a serious naturalist’s attention. However, since being reinvented as a red-nosed children’s character by Robert L May in 1939, their fascinating ecology has been somewhat obscured. Reindeer are among the most widespread terrestrial mammals and their wanderings cover about one-fifth of the planet’s land. Up to half a million pregnant females of Alaska’s Western Arctic herd travel 5,000km each year, from forested wintering areas to calving grounds far north of the treeline. This epic migration – the longest of any land animal – takes the reindeer beyond the reach of wolves and they arrive early enough that the newborn calves are spared the onslaught of summer mosquitoes during the first few weeks of their lives. The births, in June, are synchronised, with tens of thousands of calves arriving on the same day. But on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, between Norway and the North Pole, reindeer don’t really migrate at all. These are the most northerly dwelling herbivores in the world, and an extreme example of Allen’s Rule, which says that warm-blooded animals from cold

climates tend to have shortened limbs, ears and faces to minimise their bodies’ surface area and reduce heat loss. Such is the diminutive stature of a Svalbard reindeer, that you’d be forgiven for thinking it an entirely different species to the dark, leggy woodland caribou.

UNCHANGED AFTER ALL THESE YEARS The taxonomy of reindeer and caribou has been reassessed more than once. But, unlike other widely distributed animals whose far-flung populations have been hived off into separate species, Rangifer tarandus is still regarded as one, albeit with 14 subspecies. Of these subspecies, two are already extinct and three are threatened. There’s another difference. Eurasian reindeer are mostly semi-domesticated, and some have been imported to North America as livestock. Caribou, on the other hand, remain fully wild. This should make for an interesting case study into the effects of domestication, but while domestication for livestock animals such as cattle and sheep led to dramatic physical changes, reindeer have barely changed at all. Domesticated reindeer are a little smaller than caribou, their wild relatives, and more variable in colour but, arguably, it’s the human herders that have adapted, not the reindeer. In reaping the benefits of a ready supply of antlers, super-warm hides, rich milk and meat, the ancestors of reindeer-herding peoples, such as the Scandinavian Sami, the Siberian Samoyed and Tungu, and the Mongolian Dukha and Tsataan all reverted to a nomadic, pre-agricultural way of life.



BBC Wildlife

December 2016

MEXICAN BATS ANTLERS are among the largest of any deer species and present seasonally in males, females and juveniles. They’re used to competing for access to scarce food resources.

TENDONS in the foot joint click as a reindeer walks. These sounds help herds stay together in low visibility and may even play a role in reinforcing social hierarchies.

FEET appear large for deer, with two toes and two large dew claws. These spread to distribute body weight and provide extra grip, especially on snow. EYES These are very sensitive to ultraviolet light to enhance vision during the long, dark Arctic winter.

NOSE Not red, but furry – and with an internal heat-exchange system. This warms each breath on its way to the lungs and cools exhalations so that water vapour condenses before it can be puffed into the air.

COAT Consists of an ultra-fine underfur and shaggy outer layer, with hollow hairs for insulation. Overall colour is much paler in far northern forms.


BBC Wildlife


BRITAIN’S LOST FAUNA Reindeer weren’t the only large mammals to roam Ice Age Britain in considerable numbers. Six-tonne woolly mammoths, straight-tusked elephants, woolly rhinoceroses and Irish elk, whose colossal antlers make the largest reindeer rack seem conservative, were all here in large numbers. All were hunted by Palaeolithic people. There were other predators too, including sabretoothed cats, cave lions and cave bears. This spectacular assemblage of mammals was able to mingle freely with those of continental Europe, of which these islands were part before the low-lying region known as Doggerland was inundated by the North Sea about 6,500 years ago.

The Irish Elk was an imposing animal with huge antlers. Its habitat stretched from Ireland to Asia.


BBC Wildlife

Even after thousands of generations of supposed domestication, tame reindeer can still do perfectly well on their own in the toughest of circumstances, as Tilly explains. “We manage them, but they live in a natural environment and would thrive without us. By contrast, a hill sheep farmer has to go out in all weathers to check on his stock, move them to lower ground or supply them with extra food. “When the Cairngorm weather turns filthy enough to keep me at home, as it does for a few days every winter, I don’t worry. I know the herd will be fine. The snow makes a perfect bed for them – they’ll be warm, they’ll find food and they never, ever, get stuck in snowdrifts.” A reindeer’s winter coat is probably the warmest of any mammal (there’s a very good reason the Sami and other Arctic peoples wear reindeer-skin boots). It’s made up of two layers: the under fur, with 2,000 hairs per square centimetre; and the outer fur, with an additional 670 ‘guard’ hairs in the same area. The latter are hollow, like those of the polar bear, with an air-filled cavity in each shaft, which gives the coat its extraordinary insulating properties. So little of their body heat escapes that reindeer can lie on, or even under, a blanket of snow without melting it. For much of the year, they’re at far greater risk of overheating than becoming too cold and they remain perfectly comfortable down to –40°C. Fur covers a reindeer’s nose, ears and small udder, possibly the least well insulated part of the body in females. The udder’s greatly reduced surface area, compared to that of deer and wild cattle in

Above: Visual displays of antler size are usually enough to determine dominance, but disputes between males with antlers of equal size can lead to physical aggression.



Clockwise from top left: Laurie Campbell; Theo Bosboom; Laurie Campbell/photoshot; Geoff Scott-Simpson; Alamy

Dual-layer fur provides good insulation against the harshest winter conditions.

temperate regions, cuts heat loss. But it means that milk is produced in relatively small quantities and must therefore be extraordinarily rich, containing 22 per cent fat and 10 per cent protein solids. A reindeer calf thrives on little more than a teacup’s worth of this miraculous nourishment a day (supplemented with grazed vegetation) and takes no more than 45 litres during its entire development.

RENEWING ANTLERS AND THE HIERARCHY Reindeer antlers are the largest of any living deer relative to body size. Those of moose grow bigger, but on an animal up to twice as tall and three or four times as heavy. In contrast to the permanent horns of cattle, which retain a living core, the hard part of antlers is dead tissue, like hair. Horns can’t be cast or fully replaced if they’re damaged, whereas deer antlers are renewed routinely. Reindeer are unique, however, in that it’s not only males that grow antlers, but females and calves as well. In energy terms, antlers are costly – and large ones extraordinarily so. In males they’re an indicator of strength, which rivals use to assess their ranking without resorting to fights. In any deer herd, the animal with the largest antlers tends to be dominant and this is where reindeer hierarchies get interesting. December 2016

Top: Reindeer in the snow-covered Cairngorms. Below: Young animals will be suckled for up to a year, but supplement their mother’s milk by grazing on vegetation.

Male reindeer, called bulls, begin to shed their antlers soon after the rut, in early winter. But females, or cows, and juveniles hang on to them until spring. So as conditions deteriorate and food becomes scarce, pregnant mothers rise through the social hierarchy, gaining access to the best of whatever food is available. Natural selection has effectively forced the larger male reindeer to stand down, giving way to the animals that directly represent the future of the herd. Reindeer are known to eat more than 350 different species of plant, favouring fresh browse including leaves but also taking grasses, sedges, fungi and lichen. In winter lichen are particularly important, most famously Cladonia rangiferina, otherwise known as reindeer ‘moss’. The animals use their hooves to dig through snow and find food hidden underneath, a technique called cratering. Indeed, the native American name caribou means ‘snow-shoveller’. But reindeer aren’t exclusively vegetarian and will happily scavenge meat from carcasses and chew bones for the calcium. There are even reports of reindeer hunting lemmings! And yet their influence on the landscape is surprisingly small, Tilly Smith says. “They’re not like red deer. The reindeer’s impact is much more sustainable because they move around more. And in winter, when red deer are at their most destructive, reindeer actually eat less. Their appetite declines and they’re so well insulated that they don’t waste energy keeping warm – reindeer can comfortably get by on the reserves they built up during the summer.” Reindeer also have surprisingly fragile teeth, so they can’t tear bark from BBC Wildlife



HOW TO SEE CAIRNGORM REINDEER O The Cairngorm Reindeer visitor centre at Glenmore near Aviemore is open most of the year, closing from late January to the February half-term. Guided tours to visit the herd on the hill take place daily starting at 11am, with additional tours in summer. O Dress for the conditions, which can change rapidly in Cairngorm –

Arctic blasts of freezing cold air are possible at almost any time of year. Forgot your boots? Hire wellies from the visitor centre for 50p. O In the run-up to Christmas, reindeer from the Cairngorm herd go on a tour that takes them all over Britain. For more information visit or call 01479 861228.

trees like red deer; when browsing a reindeer delicately strips the leaves without breaking a shoot’s growing tip.

David Tipling/FLPA

BRINGING REINDEER BACK TO BRITAIN The history of reindeer in Britain is long, but intermittent. Fossils found near Benson in Oxfordshire are almost half a million years old. Indeed, reindeer were probably the most numerous large mammals here at the end of the last Ice Age, and evidence of butchery shows they were being hunted and used extensively by humans. They were present in Yorkshire about 9,750 years ago and in Scotland 8,300 years ago, and there’s also evidence that suggests they may have hung on much later in some areas. Extinction was largely the result of climate change and the spread of extensive forests, but one part of Britain retained glacial conditions very similar to those now found north of the Arctic Circle. The Cairngorm plateau is a relict glacial landscape and in 1952 these mountains and the surrounding area near Aviemore was identified as the perfect place to establish a new reindeer herd. The plan was the brainchild of anthropologist Ethel Lindgren and her Swedish Sami reindeer-herder husband Mikel Utsi. Dr Lindgren had studied relationships between people and reindeer as far away as Mongolia, and justified importing their small herd to Scotland as an extra postwar meat source. In fact, Tilly suggests now, it probably had more to do with incentivising her new husband to move to 26

BBC Wildlife

Above: Adult reindeer in the Cairngorms graze through a light dusting of snow to get at the lichen underneath.

+ FIND OUT MORE Watch Canada’s caribou herds in the ‘Grasslands’ episode of BBC One’s epic series Planet Earth II.

Britain. “They were an amazing couple,” she says. “They followed their passion and were always up for a challenge.” Establishing the herd wasn’t easy, especially after Utsi died in 1979, taking much of his know-how with him. Responsibility for the herd then fell largely to the young keeper, Alan Smith, and new recruit Tilly Dansie. Alan and Tilly married in 1983 and took ownership of the herd in 1989 after Dr Lindgren’s death. They were immediately faced with the challenge of how to make a living from what had been a retirement hobby for their predecessors. They established a second herd at Glenlivet, boosting the overall number to about 150 animals, and converted part of Reindeer House into a visitor centre. Would reindeer make a good addition to a rewilded landscape in other parts of Britain? “Potentially, yes,” says Tilly. “We hear too much about predators in the rewilding debate. It sometimes seems that they’re the only thing that matters, but that’s an unbalanced argument. Reindeer could certainly play a part in rewilding. They don’t browse or strip Scots pine, and in the northern corries of the Cairngorms, where our herd roams, we’re seeing regeneration of Caledonian pine woodland. The same is happening in parts of Russia and Scandinavia.” For now, then, the main business of the Cairngorm herd is tourism – over 20,000 people visit every year. The usual reaction, Tilly says, is how small the animals are. Inevitably, young visitors also ask about Rudolf. “But if he’s the reason people want to come and learn about the real thing, he’s doing a great job. Reindeer are for everyone.” And not, it seems, just for Christmas. AMY-JANE BEER is an author and naturalist. Her latest book, Cool Nature: 50 Fantastic Facts For Kids of All Ages (Pavilion, £9.99), is out now. December 2016

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Three decades after Chernobyl’s nuclear disaster, Fred Pearce visits the exclusion zone where nature is rebounding in a surprising demonstration of extreme rewilding.


n old fire station in Podil, an up-and-coming district of Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, houses one of the scariest museums I have ever visited. The Chernobyl Museum recounts the 1986 disaster that unfolded after a reactor at the nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine overheated, causing a massive explosion that blew off its protective shield and exposed the burning uranium core to the skies for 10 days, releasing vast amounts of radioactive material into the air. The displays describe in brutal detail how the world’s worst nuclear accident unfolded. More than 300,000 people were evacuated from a hastily established exclusion zone covering a 30km radius around the plant, in Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus. But dozens of ‘liquidators’ – tens of thousands of firefighters, soldiers and ordinary citizens conscripted to put out the fire and clean up radioactive debris – died from radiation poisoning over the next few weeks. It’s estimated that the toll of premature deaths will top 4,000, most victims of cancers that developed over the following years. Nature was also blighted. In the months after the disaster, the intense radiation all but eliminated wildlife close to the plant. The needles of pine trees turned to the colour of rust in an area now called the Red Forest. Even the earthworms disappeared. But here is the strange thing. In the foyer of the museum, a recently created low-budget afterthought to the exhibits upstairs displays what happened next to nature in the exclusion zone. And the news is beguilingly good.

Visitors expecting images of a blasted wasteland, or animals glowing in the dark, are in for a surprise. Instead, pictured strutting round the exclusion zone are extremely healthy-looking grey wolves, wild boar, Przewalski’s horses (reintroduced at Chernobyl in 1998), hares, foxes, moose and even a brown bear or two. The panels quote biologists giving their verdict. Sergey Gaschak is scientific director of the Ukraine government’s Chernobyl Radioecology Centre, and has been monitoring wildlife since arriving as a liquidator in 1986. He says that the exodus of people has resulted in “a reinstatement [of nature] unique in Europe.” The exclusion zone has created “endless opportunities for animals and plants to prosper”. Marina Shkvyria of the Schmalhausen Institute of Zoology in Kiev agrees: “The exclusion zone for me is a window into the past of Europe, when bears and wolves were the bosses here.” So what is going on? The exclusion zone, which now covers over 4,100 sq km, is one of the most radioactive landscapes on Earth, yet seems to be in the pink of health. This matters not just for Chernobyl. There is no better place for researchers to unravel just what damage radiation does to nature. I travelled to the Chernobyl exclusion zone twice in 2016, on the second occasion attending an international workshop of scientists intent on unravelling this puzzle. What I have seen is that wildlife generally keeps away from the areas where people go: around the power plant; in the town of Chernobyl, where several thousand people live and work part time; and in Pripyat,


the model Soviet city evacuated after the disaster, which is now a post-apocalyptic attraction for day-trippers. But elsewhere, in the empty forests and wetlands that cover two-thirds of the zone, it mostly thrives. Radiation seems almost an irrelevance. Despite it, biodiversity in the Chernobyl exclusion zone is greater than elsewhere in Ukraine – greater even than in other protected areas. Earlier this year, the country’s ministry of ecology announced that it would turn its part of the exclusion zone into a wildlife reserve. At the workshop I attended, Shkvyria gave a cautious presentation on the wildlife boom, based on helicopter surveys of animal tracks in winter snow. She reported 40–50 wolves around seven dens she has mapped in the Ukrainian half of the zone, a dozen or so Eurasian lynx and just one or two brown bears. But later, over dinner, Gaschak told me those figures are far too conservative. “We can’t prove it yet. But I think there may be around 60–90 lynx and maybe even more wolves – and that’s just the adults. Wolves are everywhere on the Ukrainian side of the exclusion zone.”


ome say that the occasional brown bears are passing through from their ranges in national parks in Belarus or Russia. After all, they haven’t been native in northern Ukraine for a century. But, says Gaschak, “bears have been here permanently for over a decade, and we have seen cubs.” Afterwards, Gaschak took me to Buryakovka, one of the 113 villages evacuated after the nuclear accident. “We are only 300m from the centre of the western [ fallout] trace,” he said. Radiation was 50 times that of surrounding areas. At the end of a long, potholed and overgrown lane, amid half-a-dozen wrecked houses, he had set up two camera-traps. He took out the memory card from one of them and

Illustrations by Sue Gent December 2016

BBC Wildlife


plugged it into his laptop. It had recorded images made when passing animals tripped the shutter during the previous two weeks. Up popped a procession of Przewalski’s horses plus a fox, a moose and several red deer. The other camera-trap had captured images of wild boar, pine martens, grey wolves, foxes, raccoons (non-native), badgers and a couple of rutting male red deer. “I’ve seen lynx in this village, too,” he told me. Gaschak’s checklist of wildlife in the exclusion zone now features 178 species of breeding bird, including nine woodpecker, four eagle and eight owl species, as well as 59 species of mammal, among them the Eurasian beaver and otter.


he highlight of my visits to Chernobyl was the sight of a white-tailed eagle soaring above the cooling pond, looking for fish. The 12km-long pond, used to douse the burning reactor, is now one of the most radioactive bodies of water on the planet. Its giant catfish are radioactive, and so presumably was the eagle. But it didn’t seem to matter. The Ukrainian researchers are not alone in declaring that, in the absence of people, wildlife is thriving in the exclusion zone. Over the border in Belarus, where the government has created the Polesye State Radioecological Reserve in its half of the exclusion zone, researchers have found rising numbers of moose, roe deer, wild boar and wolves, and no evidence of a link to radiation levels. Though some highly radioactive isotopes emitted from the burning reactor decayed within days, we should be in no doubt that the exclusion zone remains radioactive. There is plutonium, which will hang around for thousands of years, and a lot more caesium-137 and strontium-90, isotopes with halflives of around 30 years, meaning that half of what fell onto the zone in 1986 remains today. And within this radioactive landscape are hotspots. Some correspond to the most intense fallout that settled as winds changed during the 10 days during which the reactor burned. Others are where seriously contaminated waste from the reactor was hastily buried near the surface in the weeks after the disaster. Unlike at Fukushima, the site of another major nuclear accident in 2011, where

the Japanese government is intent on decontaminating the landscape as much as possible to encourage its former human inhabitants to return, the cash-strapped governments of Ukraine and Belarus both decided to leave the radiation where it is and to create a permanent exclusion zone. With no plans to return people to the area, a wildlife reserve is a pragmatic solution. But whatever the motivation, the nuclear disaster has created Europe’s largest rewilding project: a cross-border zone the size of Luxembourg where the populations of many species are clearly increasing. But that does not mean nature is not being damaged by the radiation. A number of academic studies show apparent ill-effects of radiation on wildlife in the zone – often at levels lower than scientists have ever measured in the lab, and sometimes at near to natural background levels. This is a worrying counter-narrative to the stories of nature blossoming.


December 2016

Vasyl Yoschenko, a forest ecologist, told the workshop how the main trunks of Scots pines stop growing and instead divide into branches; the trees, normally tall and straight, become much more bush-like. And a series of studies by Canadian ecologist Tim Mousseau, now at the University of South Carolina in the USA, and his Danish co-researcher Anders Moller of the University Paris-Sud, have reported that places in the zone with higher levels of radiation suffer a range of lessvisible symptoms. They claim to have found fewer bacteria in birds’ feathers, damaged DNA in mice, fewer insects, and smaller craniums and reduced biodiversity among birds.


ost researchers at the workshop were sceptical of Mousseau and Moller’s findings. “We don’t see effects elsewhere at these levels – which are below natural background levels in parts of the UK,” said Nick Beresford of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster. For example, though Mousseau and Moller reported alarming declines in bumblebees, other researchers are finding them in good numbers through the zone. BBC Wildlife


WILDLIFE ESSAY Reaching conclusions about radiation impacts from such studies is undoubtedly difficult. There is little baseline data for the numbers or health of species before the 1986 accident; the doses received by species moving around in the contaminated zone and feeding on particular plants or prey are hard to assess; and, perhaps most troubling, many of the apparent correlations may actually be indications or something unconnected with radiation.


he disappearance of birds from the most radioactive area, the Red Forest, probably falls into this last category, said Gaschak. The most eye-catching absentee is the pied flycatcher but, as Gaschak points out, it is well known that this species doesn’t enjoy the birch woodland that replaced the pine trees there. (Bizarrely, many of the bird nestboxes put up in the Red Forest were instead occupied by hazel dormice. This rodent, which has been disappearing from much of England and Wales, is thriving in the most contaminated part of Chernobyl.) “Outside researchers often forget that the exclusion zone has different landscapes

and habitats. These can be much more important to wildlife populations than radiation,” said Gaschak. As statisticians insist, correlation is not necessarily causation. Equally, Mousseau and Moller may be on to something. Whatever the impacts of radiation, the rewilding of Chernobyl is clearly a fact. And it is mirrored in other radioactive exclusion zones. In recent months, as part of my research for a book investigating nuclear landscapes, I have seen similar things at Fukushima, where wild boar especially are in overdrive. And in a region behind the Urals in Siberia, an exclusion zone created after a major nuclear accident in 1957 now hosts more than 200 species of birds, including eagles and falcons, and 455 plant species, including locally rare ones such as lady’s slipper orchids. Some believe that the flourishing wildlife in the Fukushima exclusion zone means that humans could, one day soon, safely return full-time. After all, some already have returned to Chernobyl. Following the evacuations 30 years ago, almost 1,800 people sneaked back to live in their former homes among the radioactive forests,

growing vegetables, hunting animals and drawing water from contaminated wells. Most were old people, and they are dying out now. But a few hundred remain, and officials are now quietly recognising their right to stay. During my first visit, I sat for two hours in the front room of 78-year-old Markevych Fedorovych, drinking his vodka and hearing about his life in the zone and his brushes with authority, such as the policemen who try to stop him catching fish in the contaminated River Pripyat. “I just tell them my father and grandfather fished here and they have no right to stop me. They go away,” he said triumphantly. “Anyway, look at me – don’t I look healthy? There’s

NOBODY WANTS MORE RADIATION. BUT MANY ANIMALS DON’T LIKE PEOPLE, EITHER. THERE IS A TIPPING POINT. nothing wrong with my fitness,” he added, calling his new wife from the kitchen to reinforce the point. “Of course, I know a lot of people who died of radiation. But they were people who worked with cleaning up the contamination. The liquidators. The rest of us have done fine.” Bravado? Maybe. But Jim Smith of Portsmouth University, who has been conducting research in the exclusion zone for many years, insists that, away from the hotspots, radiation levels are low enough for people to live there, provided they don’t eat from the zone food that concentrates radioactivity, such as mushrooms and berries. Nobody wants more radiation. But many animals don’t like people, either. There is a tipping point. Above that level – as became clear in the months after the Chernobyl disaster – wildlife is knocked on the head, even if there are no people around. But below it, wildlife populations can benefit more from the absence of humans than they lose from the presence of radiation. What the tragedy of Chernobyl is starting to show is that the tipping point may be higher than we once imagined. Life for Chernobyl’s wildlife may be a short one, but it’s a merry one. FRED PEARCE is an environment writer. His latest book is The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will be Nature’s Salvation (Icon, 2016).


BBC Wildlife

December 2016


ALLEY CAT After dark, LEOPARDS prowl the suburbs of Indian megacity Mumbai, as Janaki Lenin reports.

Photographed amid a maze of alleys in a suburb on the edge of a forest in Mumbai, this leopard is among the world’s few urban big cats. Mumbai, a metropolis bursting with 21 million people, moves outwards every year, and there are residential complexes right next to the 140km2 Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). By day, people walk their dogs, pilgrims visit temples and holidaymakers picnic. At night, 35 leopards stroll along roads,




lounge on park benches and hunt around – sometimes inside – the apartment complexes. The leopards of Mumbai aren’t likely to starve anytime soon. Some live off the wild life, hunting chital deer in the heart of the national park. Others effortlessly pick off stray dogs, goats and feral pigs from its periphery. Leopards that frequent the adjacent ‘Aarey Milk Colony’ (a milk-producing development of more than 30 cattle farms in a suburb of

the city) don’t even have to exert themselves by running after prey. They tuck into an allyou-can-eat buffet of buffalo carcasses that are flung out in the open. When people moved into apartment blocks on the park’s edge, they didn’t realise they had signed up for a timeshare agreement on the use of the park. Some raised the alarm when they spotted leopards from the windows of their high-rise apartments; others demanded

that the authorities trap the cats. But a concerted campaign by trained volunteers, wildlife biologists and the park management authority, under the banner ‘Mumbaikars for SGNP’, helps to keep the peace. As a result, India’s financial capital sustains one of the highest densities of leopards on the planet. Long may it continue. OJanaki Lenin writes about the environment and conservation, and lives in India.

Nayan Khanolkar’s stunning photograph of a leopard strolling through the alleys of Mumbai’s Aarey Milk Colony won the Urban category of the 2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Return of the native

White-tailed eagles went extinct in Ireland a century ago. Lenny Antonelli visits an ambitious project returning these huge raptors to Irish skies.

Markus Varesvuo/

The sight of a whitetailed eagle plucking prey from the water is a common sight on Norway’s coast. If everything goes according to plan, it may soon become one in Ireland, too.

Below: whitetailed eagles like this one will migrate through Finland when they make their way to breeding grounds within the Arctic Circle.

The local boat crews help to watch over the eagles, and one Friday afternoon Kevin called Clare. There were hooded crows around the nest, he told her, and the adult female was making a strange noise. Clare studied the scene from the shore. “The chick was flat in the nest, I couldn’t see any movement,” she tells me. The next morning she went over to the nest with ornithologist Allan Mee, manager of the reintroduction scheme, who climbed the tree and found the chick dead. “Both adults were still there,” Clare says. “They’d been watching that chick for at least 36 hours. They wouldn’t leave it – they were trying to keep the crows away.” A post-mortem found a sheaf of crow feathers blocking the chick’s intestine. It was a heartbreaking setback, but

December 2016

Flying: Markus Varesvuo/; Valerie O’Sullivan (x3)


ur boat moves over clear green water, gliding towards the massive nest. Nearby a common seal dozes on a rock exposed by the low tide, while off to our stern another lifts its head above the water. It’s June and I’m on the Lady Ellen, a small boat piloted by ferryman Kevin Jer O’Sullivan. We’re motoring over Glengarriff Harbour, a sheltered bay dotted with wooded islands and surrounded by old oak forests, in County Cork in the south-west of Ireland. Kevin slows the boat as we approach the nest, high above in a Scots pine. But branches obscure the big white-tailed eagle chick, making him difficult to see. “Wait ’til I show you herself!” Kevin says in his broad Cork accent. He points to the vast adult female on a branch right ahead of us. I’m stunned into silence. Later that morning, watching the nest from the shore, National Parks & Wildlife Service ranger Clare Heardman tells me this bird’s dramatic story. She and her mate were among 100 white-tailed eagles released into nearby Killarney National Park in 2007–11, as part of an ambitious plan to re-establish the species in Ireland. In 2014 the Glengarriff pair hatched their first chick, but it died after two weeks. The next summer two chicks hatched – again, one died, but the other chick developed well and Clare looked forward to it becoming the first eagle hatched in Cork in more than a century.



Clockwise from top: two whitetailed eagles seconds before being released into Killarney National Park; an eagle nicknamed ‘The Professor’ is prepared for his journey from Hitra in Norway to Ireland; Dr Allan Mee monitoring eagle activity on Lough Lein.

there was some solace to be had from the fact it had died of natural causes, rather than being poisoned or shot. Today, watching the latest chick, Eddie, under a bright blue June sky, Clare is again worried. Eddie has been slow to develop his feathers and is underweight. Clare is bursting with enthusiasm for white-tailed eagles, but wonders if Eddie might be suffering from lowlevel poisoning or a parasite. “Maybe he’s just a slow developer,” she says. “We’re nervous for this one, but hopefully he’ll fly.”

A NEW HOME FOR NORWAY’S BIRDS The bold plan to reintroduce white-tailed eagles to Ireland is being spearheaded by the Golden Eagle Trust, a charity established in 1999 to bring that other eagle species back to Ireland. In summer 2007, with the help of local ornithologists, Allan collected the first whitetailed eagle chicks from nests on Norway’s west coast. The chicks were flown to Ireland and kept in flight pens among the oak woods and lakes of Killarney National Park, where they learned to fly and became used to their new surroundings. Finally they were released in December 2016

early August that year. Allan left deer carcasses on the shore to help them through their first winter. The team repeated this for five years and by 2011 had released 100 birds. But the project depends on getting them to breed. In Ireland’s Lost Birds, naturalist Gordon D’Arcy writes that there were once 75–100 white-tailed eagle nests in Ireland. But the birds were driven to extinction here by the early 20th century, persecuted by gamekeepers in the era of Ireland’s big hunting estates, and by shepherds and small farmers. Some records say that the last known breeding took place in County Mayo in 1912. A hundred years later, in spring 2012, two of the released Norwegian birds were building a nest on an island on Lough Derg, 130km north-east of Killarney town. Schoolchildren in the lakeside villages of Mountshannon and Whitegate named the male Caimin, after a local saint, and the female Saoirse, which is Gaelic for freedom. Saoirse and Caimin didn’t fledge a chick that year, though white-tailed eagles rarely do at their first attempt. “We weren’t despondent that they failed, because we knew that was always likely,” Allan tells me. In spring 2013 Saoirse and Caimin laid two eggs, which hatched in May. Birdwatchers duly descended on Mountshannon, as its harbour provided the perfect place to watch the nest. And when the chicks were about seven weeks old, the Golden Eagle Trust installed a nestcam. Nobody could have predicted, though, the near-disaster that this would precipitate. Spooked by the camera, Saoirse and Caimin abandoned their nest. So Allan made frequent trips to the island to drop off food for the chicks. “Tesco’s finest mackerel,” he says with a smile. Mercifully, in July 2013 both chicks fledged. Not only were they the first Irish-hatched eagles to fly in a century, they’d also been partially reared by humans. “It was a learning curve, but the bottom line is we successfully fledged the chicks,” Allan says, before admitting that he would, naturally, be wary of installing another nestcam. In February 2014 tragedy struck – Allan received a phone call from a man who’d found a dead eagle. Allan went to pick up the bird, which turned out to be the young male from the Mountshannon nest. A postmortem found between 45 and 50 shotgun pellets in its body. “You think that here, at last, is real hope for the project – the next generation – and straightaway one of them gets shot,” Allan says. “That was tough to take.” Locals in Mountshannon were shocked too. “It looked like it was deliberate,” says Vera O’Rourke of the Mountshannon Eagle Group. “There’s no way you’d mix up that eagle for any other bird. That’s the most sickening part about it.” Of the 100 birds released at Killarney, 32 have been recovered dead so far. Some of these died naturally, while BBC Wildlife


Tagging: Alan McCarthy; nest re-use: Donal Glackin; chick & juvenile: Valerie O’ Sullivan


others hit wind turbines or power lines. Poisoning has been confirmed as the cause of 13 deaths, but Allan suspects that the true figure may be closer to 20 – it hasn’t always been possible to determine the exact cause. Until the Irish government banned the use of poisoned bait in 2010, such deaths were almost always an unfortunate accident – a farmer would legally lace a sheep carcass with poison to kill foxes and hooded crows during the lambing season, and an unwitting eagle would feast on it. But the practice continues in rural Ireland, and in a strange way the poisonings may actually have helped raptor conservation. When a stricken eagle is recovered by the Golden Eagle Trust, it can draw attention to the problem. “Shooting is very obvious,” Allan explains. “When someone’s shot a bird, there are pellets on the ground. But, until recently, poisoned birds were rarely recovered, making it difficult to prove. Tagging birds has changed all that – we’re now able to locate and recover poison victims. When we lose tagged birds, it makes the news, which shines a light on the issue.” Early in 2014, perhaps still spooked by the nestcam incident, Saoirse and Caimin abandoned their home island near Mountshannon. However, to the relief of locals, they built a new nest on another wooded island nearby, and that December 2016

Clockwise from top: eagles will re-use a nest from one year to the next but not without some tending; an adult bird at Lough Derg surveys the scene; one of the juveniles introduced to Ireland; Eddie the eagle is tagged for easier identification.

summer fledged a female chick, which was named Aoibheall. By this stage Mountshannon Village had become the proud owner of an eagle-watching hide, funded by the local council and equipped with telescopes and binoculars. More than 10,000 people visited in 2014 to see the birds; one estimate suggested that the eagles were worth half a million Euros to the local economy. Across Ireland six more pairs of white-tailed eagles laid eggs in 2014, including the birds at Glengarriff, although only Saoirse and Caimin were successful. In 2015 Saoirse and Caimin fledged another chick, a male named Cealtra, and – in a huge breakthrough – three other pairs also fledged chicks, including a second pair on Lough Derg.

EXCITING TIMES AHEAD When I visit the Mountshannon eagle-watching hut in June, Vera O’Rourke and local volunteer James Leonard update me on the latest breeding season. They tell me that, sadly, Saoirse and Caimin have failed to breed for the first time in four years. They say human disturbance is to blame, maybe a boat getting too close, or a drone that James that has seen near the nest. “I was looking through the telescope one day, and I could see the drone right over the nest,” he says. “I mean, that’s crazy.” What’s more, with no chick, visitor numbers to the eagle-watching hut are down this summer. But on the whole 2016 has been another successful year for Ireland’s white-tailed eagles, with a total of six chicks fledging from nests in Kerry, Cork, Clare and BBC Wildlife



O From May to August you can visit the eagle-watching hut at Mountshannon on Lough Derg, Co Clare, during the nesting season. Find out more at www. or Mountshannoneagles O In Kerry, hike Killarney National Park’s trails and keep your eyes skyward, or take a boat tour on the lakes: listing/boat-tours. If you

Top right: the viewing hut at Mountshannon draws plenty of visitors keen to see the eagles. Above: a whitetailed eagle swoops down on its prey in Norway.

Galway. Thirteen white-tailed eagle chicks have now fledged in Ireland. And when I meet Allan Mee at Mountshannon, he’s in relaxed mood: “At one stage I was picking up quite a few dead birds through poisoning and things like that, but now we’re at a much more exciting stage of the project.” Irish-hatched eagles might even start breeding soon. “It’s possible one could nest in 2017, which would be a real milestone,” Allan says. Meanwhile, down in Glengarriff, ranger Clare Heardman is still worried about Eddie. White-tailed eagle chicks normally fledge by 13 weeks, but when I visit in June he’s over 14 weeks old and still not flying. Though he is hopping and flapping around, he hasn’t left his tree. Later, on Tuesday 26 July, Clare texts me to say Eddie has made a short flight to a tree nearby. Technically, he’s fledged. But when I call back a few days later Clare sounds wary. Eddie isn’t moving far from the nest and barely flying. She talks again about the possibility of disease or poisoning, and mentions the high mortality rate of white-tailed eagle chicks in their first year. My heart sinks. “Eddie’s made history by being the slowest white-tailed eagle in Ireland to fledge,” Clare says. Then on Sunday 31 July, Clare gets a call from Kevin, the ferryman. He hasn’t seen or heard the chick all day. “Based on


BBC Wildlife

stay at the Lake Hotel (www.lakehotelkillarney. ie) beside Lough Leane, owners Niall and Joe Huggard will offer eaglespotting tips. O At nearby Glengarriff, take a boat tour around the harbour with Kevin Jer O’Sullivan (+353 87 7007760) or other local operators (www., who know the best spots to see the local eagles.

Eddie’s behaviour over the past week, this is unusual,” Clare tells me. “Normally he calls quite often, especially if one of the adults has arrived at the nest, and he can be really loud and insistent.” So Clare decides to take a look. She drives down to the shore, sets up her scope and starts scanning the harbour. It’s a busy bank-holiday weekend. Suddenly she spots an eagle flying low over the water. “I saw a blue tag and momentarily thought it was the adult male,” she tells me later. “But then I registered that it was the chick!” Eddie glided over the water, landed on a branch, then flew to another tree. It’s the first time Clare has seen him make such an assured flight after months of uncertainty. Over the next week Clare watches the young eagle make more flights over the rocky outcrops and sea-green waters of Glengarriff Harbour. His development is as fragile, yet as wildly exciting, as the scheme that brought his parents here from the forests of western Norway. OAs of October 2016 ‘Eddie the Eagle’ is healthy, while remaining close to his home nest and still being fed by his parents. The other five Irish white-tailed eagles hatched this year are also doing well.

LENNY ANTONELLI is a journalist based in Ireland who writes about the environment.

+ FIND OUT MORE For more information about Ireland’s eagle reintroduction projects visit

December 2016

Eagle: Peter Lewis/; viewing hut: Donal Glackin


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4 pairs


c440 pairs

The golden eagle was driven to extinction in Ireland by 1912, but was reintroduced to the Donegal uplands in north-west Ireland in 2001 by the Golden Eagle Trust and National Parks & Wildlife Service. The tiny population has struggled, fledging just 12 chicks since 2007, because of persecution and lack of prey caused by habitat degradation. But plans to bolster golden eagle numbers in southern Scotland through releases could yet see more birds dispersing naturally to Ireland. FUTURE PROSPECTS: Hopeful FIND OUT MORE:

Irish versus British wildlife


20,000 plus

From top: Ann & Steve Toon/Alamy; Dietmar Nill/NPL; Simon Phillpotts/Alamy; Nigel Dowsett/Alamy

Though the Irish Sea is a mere 21km wide at its narrowest point, the fauna of Ireland and Great Britain display striking differences, as these examples show. IRISH HARE POPULATION IRELAND


Not present




estimated 45,000

Ireland has relatively few native mammals. For example, dormice are not native, though a small population has been reported in County Kildare, possibly having arrived in imported hay bales. FUTURE PROSPECTS: Vulnerable in Britain FIND OUT MORE:



BBC Wildlife

The Irish hare is Ireland’s only native lagomorph. Long thought to be a subspecies of the similar-sized mountain hare (found in Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Peak District), some DNA studies suggest it is a separate species. Its coloration is highly variable, but often blonder than brown hares (introduced to Britain, probably by the Romans) or mountain hares in summer; unlike the latter, Irish hares seldom turn white in winter. FUTURE PROSPECTS: Good FIND OUT MORE: hare-preservation-


9,500 (England)

Ireland’s biggest bat is relatively common and widespread, but scarce in Britain – perhaps because the noctule, a competitor, is absent from Ireland yet common elsewhere. FUTURE PROSPECTS: Great FIND OUT MORE:





c300 pairs

Around 20–30 migrating ospreys stop off on Ireland’s east coast each year, but the species has not bred since being persecuted to extinction in the 18th century. However Ireland has plenty of fish-rich lakes and rivers, and nesting platforms are being erected to tempt wandering juveniles to linger and nest. As this raptor is expanding its range in Scotland, Wales and England, hopes of colonisation are high. FUTURE PROSPECTS: Hopeful FIND OUT MORE:


estimated 2,700 POPULATION BRITAIN

3,500 Though this elusive carnivore is thriving in the Scottish highlands, the Welsh population is for the moment tiny, and sightings in England remain exceptionally rare. In Ireland, the mustelid’s range has been spreading from the west ever since it received legal protection in the 1970s. It now occupies many parts of the island, in roughly half of its historical range, though it remains one of Ireland’s rarest mammals.





Most common in Scotland, red squirrels are virtually extinct in southern England and cling on in just a few pockets of Wales, driven out by invasive grey squirrels. In Ireland greys have also been competing with the native reds, but there is some evidence that the spread of pine martens may shift the balance. Research suggests greys avoid woodland where martens occur, potentially helping reds to bounce back. FUTURE PROSPECTS: Modest FIND OUT MORE:



Statistics most up to date available at time of going to press.

50,000 pairs


50 pairs


140,000 pairs

Britain has around 140,000 breeding pairs – yet Ireland had no ‘great spots’ until recently. They first nested in Northern Ireland in 2006, and on Ireland’s east coast three years later. There may now be 50 breeding pairs, mostly in County Wicklow. FUTURE PROSPECTS: Modest FIND OUT MORE:

December 2016

Whereas Britain has around 50,000 pairs of tawny owl, Ireland has none – but this could be about to change. The species has started slowly moving west, recently breeding for the first time on the Isle of Man, and in 2013 a wild tawny owl was spotted in Northern Ireland. However, there is concern that if the tawny owl does colonise, it could threaten Ireland’s fragile barn owl population. FUTURE PROSPECTS: Struggling FIND OUT MORE:

BBC Wildlife


From top: David Gowans/Alamy; TomsPhotos/Alamy; Laurie Campbell/Nature Photographers Ltd/Alamy; Nigel Pye/Alamy; Edo Schmidt/Alamy




Spend 12 nights on board M/V Searcher looking for dolphins, grey whales, humpback whales and California sea lions.

MEET PACIFIC OCEAN GIANTS BBC Wildlife Magazine has teamed up with The Travelling Naturalist to offer a special whale watching trip to the tip of Baja California, Mexico, which includes exclusive extras for our readers, worth over £300. While on this special wildlife holiday expert naturalist guides will also be helping you to look out for rare dwarf sperm whales and the largest mammal on the planet – the magnificent blue whale. Other fascinating marine creatures that can be found in the area include California sea lions, northern elephant seals and loggerhead turtles. There will be an abundance of birdlife to be admired throughout the trip: ocean-going seabirds such as shearwaters, magnificent frigatebirds, royal terns and Craveri’s murrelets, and land dwellers such as redtailed hawks, crested caracaras and turkey vultures. The journey will take you past the islands of Todos Santos and San Benito, into £5,395 per person (based on 2 sharing) San Ignacio Lagoon where the This amazing 14-day l All meals during boat has one of very few permits trip includes: the voyage to anchor. You will then travel l Return international l 1 night’s stay in San Diego, south past Magdalena Bay, flights from London California, on arrival around the tip of Baja California Heathrow l Guided activities during past Cabo San Lucas and north l Transfers in Los Cabos shore excursions into the tropical waters of the l 12 nights on board M/V l The services of the boat Sea of Cortez. Your first night Searcher vessel crew and expert guides will be spent in San Diego,

o on an exciting leviathan adventure of a lifetime from 7 to 20 April 2017 by joining this amazing 14-day whale watching trip. Take a 600km voyage in M/V Searcher around Baja California, Mexico, for the chance to witness the thrilling spectacle of grey whales in their calving lagoons. Eyeto-eye contact with these marine giants is an unforgettable experience and spring is one of the best times of year to see them. You’re also likely to catch sight of other cetaceans, including sperm, fin, minke and humpback whales, and three dolphin species, which are often seen in large pods.

Top left: Chris Breen; top right: Renato Granieri



December 2016

EXCLUSIVE EXTRAS FOR BBC WILDLIFE MAGAZINE READERS: l £100 voucher for Páramo specialist outdoor clothing l Personalised photobook, professionally printed and bound, worth £132 l Professional camera sensor clean, with Fixation, worth £55 l VIP lounge access on departure from London Heathrow, worth £29.99

California, before boarding at Fisherman’s Landing to embark on your voyage. Your accommodation for the next 12 days will be in air-conditioned cabins on a 29m long boat. The vessel has been designed to get you close to the animal action and has three wildlife observation decks and aluminium skiffs for viewing trips and shore excursions. O Visit and quote BBC Wildlife Magazine Baja to book. In association with

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Pete Cairns/NPL (captive)

Up to 47 wolves – 70 per cent of Norway’s population – could be killed in this winter’s cull.



decision to cull 70 per cent of Norway’s wolf population this winter has provoked international criticism and divided Norwegian public opinion. Thousands joined a ‘Let the Wolf Live’ protest outside Norway’s parliament in October, but politicians representing farming interests have defended the level of killing. Wolves from Norway’s expanding population have been killed under licence for several years. But the current cull will be on a different scale, targeting 47 of the country’s estimated 65-68 wolves. The justification is alleged predation of sheep. December 2016

Scandinavian wolf population, “This is mass slaughter,” said which has gone from near Nina Jensen, chief executive of extinction to an estimated 430 WWF Norway. “We haven’t seen animals in a few decades. anything like this in a hundred Fewer than one in six of these years, back when the policy was lives wholly within Norway, and that all large carnivores were to farmers are compensated for be eradicated.” sheep lost to wolf predation. Four entire packs, including But tensions run Norway’s largest, will high, with the Centre be killed in Hedmark. (formerly Farmers) This is a largely Party calling earlier rural area with many this year for all small sheep farms, Norway’s wolves where cull details The number of wolves killed last to killed. “This is are determined by year by Norwegian the hottest rural regional management hunters after issue in Norwegian authorities. more than 11,500 people applied politics right now,” Part of the current for a licence to said Duncan Halley, tension arises from a shoot them. a British ecologist rapid expansion of the


based in Trondheim. “The minority coalition government relies on support from three small parties, including the Centre Party,” Halley added. “With an election next September, short-term considerations are to the fore.” Before that election, and despite surveys showing that 80 per cent of Norwegians want large carnivores, it appears the country will soon be minus most of its wolves. Kenny Taylor

+ FIND OUT MORE Norwegian Large Predator Monitoring Program

BBC Wildlife


Does being feisty and territorial make the robin a suitable national British bird?


Cranes: Nick Upton/NPL; Martin: redsnapper/Alamy; sandpiper: Pavel S Tomkovich

Government says it has no plans to give robin “official status” despite public support.

The Government has rejected a call for the robin to be designated as the UK’s ‘National Bird’. Naturalist David Lindo – also known as the Urban Birder and the man behind the campaign – described a statement from Defra as “predictable and boring”, adding it had failed to understand the true purpose of the idea. “It’s not just about the robin,” Lindo said. “It’s about getting people connected to nature in urban areas, and the robin is the gateway to that.” Lindo launched his National Bird campaign in 2014, and in March 2015 a shortlist of 10

CONSERVATION WELSH CRANES A pair of common cranes fledged a chick in the Gwent Levels this year – the first to be born in Wales in 400 years. The adult birds originate from the Great Crane Project’s reintroduction site in the Somerset Levels, where more than 90 individuals were released over four years.


BBC Wildlife

species – including common garden species such the robin and blackbird, as well as rarer ones such as the puffin and hen harrier – was put to the general public. The robin won with 34 per cent of the more than 200,000 votes cast, while the barn owl came second. Now Lindo has asked Defra to back the robin too, and a petition on the UK Government and Parliament website has collected more than 12,000 votes, requiring a response. “The robin doesn’t need official status to make it an icon of the British countryside,” Defra said. “The Government is committed to protecting all wild birds, but has no plans to adopt a national bird at this time.”

Lindo said officials had missed the point of his campaign and what the robin represented. “Ours is a very different creature to that found in mainland Europe,” he said. “There, it is not tied to humans, but here it is an urban species and that makes it stand out. “The robin typifies Britain in many ways – it’s a feisty animal that stands up for its own territory. I’d like to see it put on stamps and the backs of coins to educate people living in cities that nature is right on their doorstep.”

Sperm whale numbers in the Eastern Caribbean are decreasing at such a rate that the entire population could have disappeared by 2030, researchers say. A study carried out from 2005 to 2015 has found a decline in the sizes of the whales’ groups started in 2010 and is averaging 4.5 per cent a year. An earlier study found what lead researcher Shane Gero called “astoundingly high calf mortality”, with nearly 30 per cent of young sperm whales not making it to their first birthday. Gero said entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with ships may be responsible for the decline, but others such as pollution, noise and tourism could also be playing a role.

James Fair

+ FIND OUT MORE See the petition for yourself:

Caribbean sperm whales are killed by ship strikes.



Martin Hughes-Games tells Radio Times why the BBC is to reduce his involvement with Spring- and Autumnwatch, though the BBC denied that any planned changes were connected with diversity.

December 2016

Robin: Ross Hoddinott/NPL; whales: Tony Wu/NPL; gorillas: Cate Gillon/Getty




GORILLAS IN SPOTLIGHT Escape of a western gorilla at London Zoo raises questions about the animals’ welfare.

Renowned great ape conservationist Ian Redmond has said London Zoo should give its gorillas more privacy. His words echo those of Sir David Attenborough following an incident at the zoo where Kumbuka, a male western gorilla, briefly escaped from its main enclosure in mid-October. Redmond – who studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda with Dian Fossey in the 1970s – said that the enclosure does not take account of the animals’ basic needs because it gives


them no privacy either from the public or each other. “Shouldn’t we be developing enclosures that reflect their psychological needs and welfare rather than the public desire to see them,” Redmond said. “Getting rid of glass walls and putting in peepholes for people to see them would help.” ZSL said in a statement that its gorillas can choose where they spend their time and enjoy plenty of privacy. “Kumbuka has fathered two infants in the last two years, helping us to preserve a backup population of this Critically Endangered species,” said ZSL’s Prof David Field.

The number of terrestrial mammal species threatened by the bushmeat trade. Hunting for food puts 7 per cent of all land mammals at risk, including western gorillas, Bactrian camels and several species of bear.

When I joined the garden group four years ago, we were tasked with making the wildlife garden at Cricklepit Mill – the Trust’s headquarters – more presentable, but weren’t given much more of a steer than that, so we came up with our own plan. The first thing we did was put in a bee and butterfly border for pollinators. We’d noticed the lack of insect variety in the garden because there was nothing to draw them in. By putting in a variety of wildflowers – such as rosemary, lavender, catmint and asters – there is now something in flower for most of the year. We’ve also cut up bamboo canes for mason bees and we had our first emergence this year. One of our volunteers is an amateur botanist, and she has recorded up to 200 plant species in the garden now – nearly double the

number when we began. We’re building a small pond, and have put in bird and bat boxes. We hope it can be a showcase for what other people can do in their own gardens. Working here has boosted my confidence. I was at a low ebb when I started – I’d been made redundant after 15 years working as a planner – and it has allowed me to use my garden design and project management skills. I’m studying for an RHS Level 3 Horticulture Certificate, and I’m hoping that I can eventually get a job working full time somewhere like the National Trust. But it’s also nice when people come round the garden and just say how lovely it looks.

+ FIND OUT MORE Wildlife-gardening tips: how-you-can-help/ wildlife-gardening


December 2016

Devon Wildife Trust

New research in Oryx has put the number of spoon-billed sandpipers between 210 and 228 breeding pairs. The Critically Endangered wader breeds in the Russian Arctic and overwinters in South-east Asia, and is the subject of intensive conservation efforts by groups such as WWT.

Checking in: Cricklepit Mill’s bug hotel.

BBC Wildlife





HABITAT Coastal and island waters in tropical and subtropical areas, with a minimum sea temperature of 15-17ËšC DIET Predominantly seagrasses (more than 30kg a day), but analysis has shown they also consume some marine invertebrates THREATS Entanglement in gillnets and shark nets, collisions with boats, loss of seagrass beds





BBC Wildlife

December 2016



INSIGHT DUGONGS PROTECTING SEAGRASS BEDS OFF THE COAST OF AUSTRALIA IS THE KEY TO ENSURING THE SURVIVAL OF DUGONGS, SAYS HELENE MARSH. ugongs are the world’s only strictly marine, herbivorous mammals and are part of the group known as Sirenians, or sea cows, that also includes manatees. They’re found in shallow, coastal waters from East Africa to islands off Australia’s northeast coast, such as New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Australia with a population of more than 100,000 dugongs is believed to be home to the majority of the world’s dugongs with Torres Strait between Papua New Guinea and the tip of Cape York the ‘dugong capital of the world’. They may do well in Australia because of its wide and shallow continental shelf, which is good for promoting the growth of seagrass on which dugongs

feed, but also because of the low human population density. There are many threats to the species: they’re caught and die in gillnets and shark nets, and are also hit by boats. Dugongs are also hunted by some native communities in the Torres Strait, but while many non-indigenous Australians disapprove of this, it doesn’t deplete the population. Loss of seagrass beds is another factor, particularly on the east coast of Australia where beds are being smothered by silt that runs off the land and after extreme weather events. And while efforts to conserve seagrass beds are meeting with some success, in many parts of the dugong’s range they haven’t even been mapped. Helene Marsh is an expert in dugong ecology at James Cook University.




+ FIND OUT MORE Dugong & Seagrass Conservation Project www.

Dugongs’ habitats


Pacific Ocean AFRICA

December 2016

Indian Ocean AUSTRALIA Brandon Cole

Dugongs can be found in coastal and inland water of the Indo-West Pacific, from East Africa to Vanuatu. This image was taken in the Red Sea.


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Mark Carwardine’s



WHAT IS THE BONN CONVENTION? The Bonn Convention is the colloquial name for the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Also known simply as the Convention on Migratory Species (or CMS), it’s a treaty designed to bring together all the countries through which migratory animals pass in order to coordinate essential conservation measures.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? Migratory animals are especially vulnerable because they move back and forth across national borders. Excellent protection in one country means little if a species is unprotected after it leaves. So the convention is needed to provide ‘passports’ for migratory animals to cross borders freely.

because there weren’t enough signatories – or Parties – to have any real impact, but it has improved its record in recent years. There are two obvious problems. First, it doesn’t have regulatory teeth – instead, it provides a mechanism for nations to come together to address problems facing particular migratory species, and so it has relatively few legally binding agreements. Second, while there are now 124 Parties, many strategically important range states – including the USA, Canada, Mexico, China, Japan and Russia – have not signed up (though they can, and sometimes do, ratify particular regional agreements). The UK has been a signatory since 1985.


Ole Jorgen Liodden/

THAT SOUNDS DIFFICULT It is. Take European turtle doves, for example. A single dove flying from West Africa to the UK may pass through half a dozen countries (it spends roughly six months of the year in Africa, 2 months on migration and 3 months in the UK). For it to survive its twice-yearly journeys, each country en route must provide safe passage. And that’s clearly not happening – it may be why we’ve lost 96 per cent of our breeding turtle doves in the past 50 years.

SO ISN’T THE CONVENTION WORKING? It is working, to a degree. It got off to a slow start, partly December 2016

The Secretariat – the convention’s coordinating body – is administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Bonn, Germany. It collaborates with a wide range of governmental and non-governmental partner organisations, from BirdLife International and the IUCN to the International Whaling Commission and the Bern Convention.

HOW DOES IT WORK? Rather like CITES (see November’s ‘At a Glance’), the Bonn Convention lists species in different appendices. Migratory species threatened with extinction

The CMS has secured protection for Albatrosses along their migratory routes.



MARK CARWARDINE is a frustrated and frank conservationist. O Every month he demystifies some of the most important issues affecting the world’s wildlife and assesses the organisations that protect it.

throughout all or a significant portion of their range are listed in Appendix I, and Parties are obliged to provide them with immediate protection. Migratory species that need (or would significantly benefit from) international cooperation are listed in Appendix II, and Parties are encouraged to protect them. The appendices include everything from sperm whales and snow leopards to yellow-breasted buntings and loggerhead turtles. The convention also develops guidance on how to mitigate threats to migratory species.

WHO MAKES THE BIG DECISIONS? Big decisions are made at ad hoc conferences and the triennial Conference of the Parties. These range from legally binding treaties (called Agreements) to less formal Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs). To date, seven Agreements have been signed, including the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels and the Conservation of Populations of European Bats. There are MOUs on migratory sharks, the slender-billed curlew, West African populations of the African elephant and 16 other species, taxonomic groups and populations. The 12th Conference will be held in October 2017 in the Philippines. O Find out more at the CMS


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Illegal exploitation of hardwoods is the largest component of the illegal wildlife trade and worth up to $7bn a year.




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December 2016

AGENDA ANALYSIS Pangolins are now fully protected under CITES, but will this reduce the high levels of trade?

Ivory poaching has reduced African elephant populations by an estimated 30 per cent in seven years.


Clockwise from left: Nick Garbutt/NPL; Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty; Xiao Lu Chu/Getty; Jurgen & Christine Sohns/FLPA

Odds on a resumption of the legal ivory trade have receded.

from ones being held back in the late 1980s, said Travers, when the concept of sustainable use of ivory was widely accepted. “This could start a longterm discussion that will move us from being exploiters to guardians of wildlife,” he said.

The issue of how to reverse the massive escalation in the poaching of elephants for their tusks dominated the conference. Two countries – Namibia and Zimbabwe – requested the right to legally trade in ivory PANGOLINS stockpiles but this was defeated, So-called scaly anteaters are while Botswana said it will targeted for scales and meat. voluntarily treat its elephants Pangolins have received the as having a greater level of highest protection possible protection than they actually do. under CITES, with trade in all According to Will Travers of eight species now banned. the Born Free Foundation, this Conservationists describe was important. “Botswana has pangolins as the most trafficked one third of Africa’s elephants, mammals in the world – it’s been and this was delivered at estimated that at least 1 million ministerial level with all the individuals have been traded for clout that this gives,” he said. their meat and scales since 2000. The Zoological Society of Listing on Appendix I of London (ZSL) said a resolution CITES won’t automatically end calling on countries to shut trade because enforcement in down their domestic ivory many of the consumer countries markets was also highly of South-east Asia and the Far significant. Prof Jonathan Baillie East is weak. described it as “an important Theoretically, all international moment in turning the situation trade in the four Asian species around for Africa’s elephants”. was already illegal, but it was still CITES delegates also decided taking place in large quantities. to abandon all discussions of whether – in the future – the international ivory trade will ever Too many be re-opened. African grey parrots are The discussions taken for the at this year’s CITES pet trade. were very different December 2016

$80 The price per kg a poacher can make from the tusks of a single elephant, and a typical elephant carries 10kg. Smuggled ivory fetches $1,800/kg in Asia, and carved ivory up to $6,000.

grey parrot has been uplisted to Appendix I of the convention. This means all trade in wild birds is now banned. Native to Central Africa, it is popular as a pet in Europe, the USA and the Middle-East. An estimated 1 million birds were taken from the wild in the 1980s and 90s, with those in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) heavily targeted. The ban was opposed by the DRC, but experts say too many are being harvested and populations are declining.

TIMBER The situation was confusing enforcement efforts, said Dan Challender, of the IUCN’s Pangolin Specialist Group. “Now it’s unambiguous – wild-caught pangolins cannot be traded internationally for commercial purposes from either Africa or Asia,” he added. But if these listings lead to prices rising, that could increase poaching. “We need to monitor the impact on markets and prices, trade dynamics and pangolin populations,” Challender said.

AFRICAN GREY PARROTS Once widespread birds badly impacted by the pet trade.

One of the most heavily traded birds in the world, the African

Timber species valued as furniture are given protection.

The listing on Appendix II of more than 250 tree and shrub species from the Dalbergia genus shows how attitudes within CITES have changed. David Newton, of the wildlife-trade monitoring group Traffic, said it was very hard to get timber listed – and trade regulated – when he attended the CITES meeting in 2002. “I think there is a new acceptance that timber species need to be listed,” he said. Dalbergia wood is shipped to China as ‘rosewood’ or ‘hongmu’ and made into furniture and musical instruments. With all species listed on Appendix II, exporting countries BBC Wildlife


AGENDA ANALYSIS CITES NIB CHEETAHS According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), 300 cheetah cubs are taken from the wild in East Africa every year and smuggled into countries in the Arabian Peninsula, with more than 80 per cent dying en route. Cheetah range states and destination countries have agreed to improve cooperation in tackling the trade, and to a more unified approach dealing with social media which promotes it.


The bones of lions bred for the canned hunting industry are sold into Asian markets and are ultimately made into products marketed as tiger bone wine.

will have to carry out a “nondetriment finding” to show that trade is not having a negative impact on the survival of the species in the wild. But Newton warned that many countries have a lot of work to do to get the appropriate governance in place.


From top: National Geographic Creative/Alamy; Imagebroker/FLPA

Trade in lion bones may lead to increased poaching, critics say.

South Africa has been allowed to continue to breed lions in captivity for their body parts after this year’s conference. Countries were asked to consider banning all trade in their bones by transferring lions from Appendix II to Appendix I but this was rejected. Conservationists say this is an ever-increasing market. Between 2008 and 2014, it’s estimated that 4,900 lions’ worth of bones were exported to Asia for use in products ultimately marketed as containing tiger bones. While most of these come from captive-breeding operations in South Africa – the so-called canned-hunting 60

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industry – critics say it allows for wild lions to be targeted. “As long as loopholes exist that permit captive-bred lions to be farmed, we will see an escalation in wild African cats being killed for the same markets,” said Dr Luke Hunter of the big cat conservation group Panthera. Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation said a lion carcass in Mozambique was now worth up to $1,500 at the supply end.

121 The number of tigers confirmed as being killed by poachers in 1995, the highest total in the past 25 years. The lowest was in 2011, when only 13 deaths were verified as being for the trade in body parts such as skins and bones.

“People are being apprehended with lions parts,” he said. And while Travers accepted this is not the biggest issue facing the species – habitat loss and persecution are – he added: “That’s irrelevant. CITES confines itself to international trade, and it has to pay attention to what it is competent to do.”

RHINOS Arguments around legalising horn trade have not gone away.

A proposal to legalise the international trade in rhino horn from Swaziland was heavily defeated this year, with 100 delegates voting against, 26 in favour and 17 abstentions. This doesn’t mean the debate around whether permitting limited and regulated trade in horn would help conserve rhinos in Africa has disappeared. According to Katherine Johnston of Save the Rhino International, shortcomings in the Swaziland proposal were highlighted in a report published by the IUCN and the wildlifetrade monitoring group Traffic.

The casques – solids lumps of keratin sitting on their bills – of helmeted hornbills are the reason they are poached. Called ‘red ivory’, these casques are carved into artefacts, and though international commerce in the species has been banned since 1975, delegates agreed to step up efforts to curb the trade for a species classified as Critically Endangered.

BARBARY MACAQUES These North African primates have been transferred onto Appendix I of CITES, which will ban international trade in the species. Famed for living in Gibraltar, they are mainly found in Morocco, where numbers have more than halved in the past 24 years. An estimated 200 animals are taken from the wild each year to become pets or ‘photo props’ for tourists, from a total population of about 6,500.

Trade in Barbary macaques has been banned.

December 2016

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AGENDA ANALYSIS Thresher sharks, along with silky sharks and devil rays, were given protection under CITES this year.

CITES 2016: WHAT WE LEARNED Q BOTSWANA HAS about 130,000 elephants, one third of the total population in Africa. Nevertheless, numbers have declined by 15 per cent since 2010. Q PANGOLIN SCALES were reported to be selling for $645 per kg in China in 2014 – and have increased in value by 250 per cent in five years.

35 per cent of the total illegal wildlife trade, estimated to be worth at least $20bn a year. Q RESEARCH SUGGESTS that silky and thresher shark numbers have dropped by 7090 per cent in recent decades mainly because of exploitation for the fin trade.

Q THERE ARE MORE than 6,000 lions held in captivity by the canned hunting industry, which generates annual revenues of nearly $11m. Q THE ILLEGAL TRADE in rosewood timbers represents

The report said the proposal lacked detail on how trade would be controlled and who the trading partners would be. Nevertheless, it has played a role in highlighting the issue. “The proposal was symptomatic of a wide rift between animal welfare and pro-sustainable use organisations which need to find some common ground,” she said. There were also discussions about whether one key consumer country, China, should be more dilegent about reporting its progess in reducing demand. Demand reduction worked in the past, according to Save the Rhino, for South Korea and Taiwan, which were major horn consumers in the 1980s and 90s.


From top: Norbert Probst/FLPA; P & C Apps/Alamy

Small victories for those opposed to tiger farming.

The poaching of tigers for their bones, skins and claws continues to be an issue, and conservationists insist that the illegal trade is fuelled by the existence of tiger farms in China, Laos and Thailand. The Wildlife Protection Society of India says at least 36 tigers were killed in India for their body parts in the first six months of 2016 – a 40 per cent rise on the total for all of 2015. 62

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Conservation groups say tiger farms exacerbate demand. “Governments made it clear they see trade in the parts of captivebred tigers as a threat to wild tigers, because it fuels desirability for them,” said Debbie Banks of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Two developments at the conference have made tiger farming – whereby tigers are bred so body parts can be sold – marginally less appealing. First, delegates rejected a call from the Chinese that CITES end its opposition to tiger farming. An agreement reached in 2007 that tiger farms should be phased out is therefore still in place, though it isn’t binding. Second, Laos PDR announced it will close its tiger farms. It has three main facilities with 700 tigers, according to the EIA. But Banks said the decision not to ban the international trade in bones from captivebred lions was a blow to big cat conservation everywhere. “There is a massive, unchecked, unchallenged market for tiger bone wine,” she said. “You see it everywhere, and nobody is challenging it in terms of demand reduction.”

73 The number of white rhinos in Swaziland – in a proposal rejected by CITES the country asked to be able to legally trade in 330kg of stockpiled horns and harvest 20kg from natural deaths to yield $1.2m a year.

A proposal to open up the international trade in rhino horn was defeated.

SHARKS Silky and thresher sharks and devil rays given protection.

The listing of shark species, so that any legal trade in their meat or fins is regulated, is becoming more accepted by parties to CITES. Porbeagles, oceanic whitetips, all three species of hammerhead shark and all manta rays were put onto Appendix II in 2014, while seven species of sawfish were similarly listed in 2007. And this year, proposals for the silky shark, all three species of thresher shark and nine species of mobula (or devil) ray to be given protection under Appendix II were approved. Ali Hood, director of conservation of the Shark Trust, said that sharks have not been treated with the same level of concern as other marine species taken for consumption, such as white fish, tuna or billfish, but that this was now changing. However, some nations are still opposed to the use of CITES as a way of regulating the trade in sharks, she said. “In our view, CITES is part of a wider jigsaw of the effort required to secure a sustainable future for them,” she added. December 2016

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SNARED BY SERPENTS Even on the Galรกpagos, there are new wildlife stories to tell. Elizabeth White reports on filming its swarms of lizard-hunting racer snakes.


BBC Wildlife

December 2016


ew islands capture the imagination of wildlife lovers quite like the remote archipelago of Galápagos. Steeped in the history of Darwin’s voyage on HMS Beagle and his discovery of the process of natural selection, these farflung, volcanic islands in the East Pacific have a magnetism unrivalled on Earth. I have been a wildlife film-maker for 13 years – largely specialising in marine stories for the BBC – yet had never had the chance to visit. So tasked with making a programme about islands for Planet Earth II, it was unthinkable not to include a story based there. We settled on a sequence about marine iguanas, as they so nicely illustrate the ‘founder effect’ on islands, whereby a small population of animals in isolation can start to diverge genetically from its parent population, sometimes yielding one or more new species.

The marine iguana is thought to descend from terrestrial iguanas that arrived on the Galápagos islands by accident, probably washed out from mainland South America on rafts of floating vegetation or driftwood about 8–10 million years ago. Once cut off, a subset of these founders began to graze algae, and set in motion the evolution of lizards that are perfectly at home in the sea. Today, these lizards remain unique – the sole marine species among the 6,000 or so other lizard species on the planet. But the challenge for us was finding something new and different to say about these amazingly charismatic reptiles with their spiny dorsal crests, flattened tails for swimming and huge, blunt snouts suited to grazing seaweedy rocks. Their remarkable diving abilities have already received considerable attention, featuring in numerous landmark BBC natural-history series. Instead, we decided to focus on



December 2016

BBC Wildlife


Tui De Roy/

Galápagos marine iguanas are the world’s only marine lizards. They have adapted well to island life but their young still face predators.

Female marine iguanas burrow into sandy beaches to lay their eggs.

Clockwise from top left: Olivier Born/Biosphoto/FLPA; Elizabeth White/BBC NHU; Elizabeth White; Tui De Roy/NPL; Elizabeth White; Pete Oxford/Minden/FLPA; viper: Mark O’Shea/NHPA/Photoshot

THE RACER SNAKES LIE IN WAIT AMONG COASTAL ROCKS FOR THE HATCHLING MARINE IGUANAS TO HEAD TOWARDS THE SHORE. the animals that exploit the iguanas’ success, including Sally Lightfoot crabs that eat the lizards’ dead skin, finches that drink their saliva, and hawks and racer snakes that mainly predate hatchlings. The Galápagos racer snake is, like the marine iguana, an endemic. A constrictor by nature, it is relatively small – little more than 1m long when fully grown – and only mildly venomous. So to make its living here on an oftendesolate volcanic archipelago, it has had to be resourceful. Its menu is unsurprisingly varied, consisting of everything from insects to mice, rats, geckos, lava lizards and young birds. Anything it can get its jaws on.

SKILLED HUNTERS The racer snakes have also taken to hunting fish. In 2014, local biologist Godfrey Merlen observed that the snakes of Cape Douglas on the island of Fernandina – an active volcano and the youngest island of the group at around 30,000 years old – were catching blennies from rock crevices at low tide. This is a unique behaviour, not seen in any other terrestrial snake anywhere else in the world. Despite this varied diet, pickings can still be meagre, so any seasonal glut of food is a heaven-sent opportunity. Enter the marine iguanas. Just like turtles and other iguanas, female marine iguanas burrow into sandy beaches to lay their eggs – roughly four to six per nest – and the mass emergence of their babies in June provides a welcome bonanza for the snakes. Lots of them. Drawn by this annual bounty, the snakes are frequently so abundant that they cluster in groups, sharing nooks and 72

BBC Wildlife

Iguanas lose heat rapidly when feeding in the sea so bask on rocks to warm up.

TWO VENOMOUS ISLAND SNAKES Some of the world’s most venomous snakes can be found on islands. Shedao Island, off China’s Liaoning Peninsula, is home to a particularly venomous species, the Shedao Island pit viper. Living on an islet with migratory birds as the only prey, the viper has had to develop a more potent venom than its mainland relatives in order to quickly catch and immobilise its main food, seabirds. It’s a similar story on Ilha da Queimada Grande, off Brazil, where the golden lancehead (left) is said to be the most venomous viper on Earth. In both cases, scarcity of food means that prey Beware of the must be captured most venomous viper on Earth. and sedated rapidly.

December 2016

Wolf Volcano erupted for the first time in 30 years when Elizabeth visited the Galápagos.

Above right: larger marine iguanas dive to feed on seaweeds. Below: hatchlings must escape the jaws of racer snakes when they emerge from their burrows.

Iguanas on Fernandina Island. The species often lives in colonies where shallow reefs occur.

December 2016

crannies among coastal rocks as they lie in wait for the hatchling iguanas to head towards the shore. To film this predatory behaviour, we planned to arrive on Fernandina in late May, as the iguana hatching season begins. But first we had to get there. The Galápagos islands are carefully controlled for invasive animals, seeds and viruses, so after landing at the international airport, our first task was getting 34 cases of filming equipment through quarantine. Next we had to sail from the island of Santa Cruz to Fernandina, which lies to the far west of the archipelago – around 24 hours’ sailing time on what turned out to be a 100-year-old pirate boat. Our voyage could have been unremarkable, but soon after we arrived in the Galápagos, Isabela Island’s Wolf Volcano began to erupt, and we decided to detour via its north coast to witness the eruption. From 35km away the sky was illuminated with billowing red clouds reflecting light from the crater. By two o’clock in the morning we were alongside and could see the lava pouring down to the shore. The sky looked like it was on fire, and there were explosions from the BBC Wildlife


AS IT CAUTIOUSLY ASSESSED WHAT WAS AHEAD, WE WATCHED WITH JAWS TO THE FLOOR AS RACER SNAKES EMERGED FROM EVERY SINGLE CRACK IN THE ROCK FACE. Above: racer snakes watch and wait for hatchling marine iguanas to emerge from their burrows. Below: endemic to the Galápagos Islands, racer snakes tend to be dark brown with stripes or spots.

coastline as hot rock and water were thrown many metres into the air. It was the volcano’s first eruption in 30 years. The rest of our voyage to Fernandina proved uneventful. Even so, arriving at any location with hopes of observing wildlife performing a specific behaviour is always a nerveracking prospect. A weather event (such as El Niño, which, during our visit in 2015, was already taking hold on the Galápagos) can so easily wreak havoc with the usual timing of natural events. We had just three weeks to capture our sequence, which included racer snakes hunting iguana hatchlings.


During the course of that first afternoon, we watched four more hatchlings take their first steps in the world. Some were bold, walking across the sand with a swagger, while others panicked and bolted. Strangely, the latter were often more likely to be caught – snakes eyes are not especially sharp, but they do detect movement, so it might well be possible that the more confident iguana hatchlings have the upper hand.

THE GREAT ESCAPE Over the next 12 days, we worked intensively on our sequence, scanning the beach from dawn to dusk for any sign of hatchlings. Some chose to go towards the sea immediately, but many others were drawn by the apparent safety of the rocks, only to find themselves running for their lives. Only once did we see a trapped hatchling wriggle free of its snake captives, and I’m glad to say we managed to catch the action on camera. It is important to stress that the snakes were not in any way pack hunting or working together. Often the fights December 2016

Clockwise from top left: Elizabeth White; BBC; Wolfgang Kaehler/Photoshot; blickwinkel/Alamy; Elizabeth White; Stefan Huwiler/Imagebroker/FLPA

Fortunately, the shoot began well. We landed at Cape Douglas in the late morning, and as we climbed down the rocks and onto the beach, we immediately found a helpless marine iguana hatchling bundled into the middle of a ball of writhing snakes. We had clearly timed it OK. Observing an event and actually filming it are very different things, however. The next day we woke at five o’clock in the morning and two hours later were on the beach with ‘shaken-down’ filming kit. It was another five hours before we saw any hatchlings emerge, but when they did, the wildlife drama that unfolded was simply phenomenal. The crew and I had never seen anything remotely like it before. The keen eyes of our guide and ranger spotted a miniature dark head poking from the sand in the middle of the beach. After several cautious moments, the hatchling pulled itself from the sand and bolted at full speed towards the rocks. Pausing, as it cautiously assessed what was ahead, we watched with jaws to the floor as snakes emerged from every single crack in the rock face. The young iguana tried to climb the rocks and was caught in a Medusa’s web – immobilised by a single snake but soon trapped by around a dozen writing serpents all trying their luck at a meal. This was incredible and horrific in equal parts.




Elizabeth White


Above: a baby iguana moves across the sand slowly but is still spotted by racer snakes and chased down the beach. Left: the serpents wrap themselves around the iguana and compete to get their mouths round its head. Below: one of the snakes swallows its iguana prey.

Another must-have sequence we anything in such cold, damp conditions desperately wanted for our Islands isn’t easy. We tried using heat packs, episode was groups of chinstrap and holding the camera near the penguins battling turbulent whitewater cooking stove, but to no avail. Finally to land on an exposed beach. our boat was able to come in and Chinstrap penguins like to nest on we could place it in the engine room. remote, oceanic islands, such as After 24 hours of warmth and TLC, the Antarctic volcanoes – not the easiest camera sprang back to life, allowing of locations for a camera crew to work. us to finish the rest of our sequence. To document the largest colony of We filmed hundreds of penguins trying all, home to a remarkable 1.5 million to land on a steep stretch of beach by breeding adults, required a trip to surfing ashore on unforgiving waves. Zavodovski, one of the South Sandwich Islands. This remote Chinstrap penguins rocky outpost is seven days’ on Zavodovski sail from the Falklands. Island, Antarctica. Our team of five had to be self-sufficient for our two weeks on Zavodovski, which meant taking food, fuel, water and everything else we could possibly need. But on Day 3, disaster struck. A gigantic wave caught the edge of the cliff and – despite us being well away from the coast – drenched the camera for our gyro-stabilised unit. Drying

+ FIND OUT MORE Learn more about the islands’ wildlife from the Galápagos Conservation Trust: www. The spectacular book-of-the-series Planet Earth II (BBC Books, £25) is out now.

December 2016

between rival snakes were so fierce that they would begin to swallow each other – snake swallowing snake – in their drive to secure the meal. It can be very hard to film animals preying on other animals, especially when the victims are so young and it feels like all those efforts of growth within the egg have come to nothing within a few minutes of leaving the nest. Watching baby sea turtles emerge is equally tough, for instance – the desperate endeavours of all those tiny hatchlings struggling to fend off crabs, birds and other predators always tugs on the heartstrings. For me, as a producer and director, I am always utterly torn, between capturing an amazing piece of animal behaviour and wishing that every animal finds its way to the sea. Yet it’s worth it for the chance to reveal a little more of the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Our Planet Earth, Islands programme aims to show how these pieces of land surrounded by the sea are worlds apart, home to some of the most peculiar species of all. Whether they live on a huge and biodiverse island like Madagascar, or a relatively small and desolate one like Fernandina, Galápagos, being islanders drives animals to do things differently and pushes them to their limits. ELIZABETH WHITE works at the Natural History Unit and is producer of the Islands episode of BBC One’s Planet Earth II. BBC Wildlife


Piotr Naskrecki/Minden/FLPA

A pair of dung beetles work together to roll dung away in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. The dung will be hidden or buried.

DIRTY WORK One animal’s waste is another’s opportunity. Richard Jones answers a call of nature to celebrate the world’s unsung yet industrious dung beetles. 76

BBC Wildlife

December 2016



December 2016

BBC Wildlife



Clockwise from left: Andy Teare/Ardea; Piotr Naskrecki/Minden/FLPA; Pascal Goetgheluck/Ardea; DEA/S. VANNINI/De Agostini/Getty; Richard Becker/FLPA; Emanuele Biggi/FLPA; Mitsuhiko Imamori/Minden/FLPA; Ann & Steve Toon/NPL


ver since my dad showed me a massive blueblack dumbledor, probably Geotrupes spiniger, I’ve loved dung beetles. It clawed its way out through my clenched eight-year-old fingers and flew off across the South Downs, and my world was never the same again. It’ll be no surprise, therefore, to learn that my favourite exhibit at the British Museum is a giant stone sculpture of a 1.5m-long dung beetle. The sacred scarab was carved from green diorite sometime between 399 and 300 BCE, during the Ptolemaic era – already late in an enduring Egyptian fascination with dung beetles. The first beetlemania had reached its zenith 2,000 years earlier, when there was a Mediterranean-wide industry in carving scarab pendants, from Sardinia to the Levant. Dung beetles were revered by the ancient Egyptians. Whether this was a circle-of-life recycling awareness, or simply a marvel at their bizarre dung-ballrolling behaviour, is still open to polite scholarly debate. Nevertheless the ancient Egyptians created a deity in the beetles’ image – Khepri, the god of rebirth and sunrise. How things have changed. Today, dung beetles are declining. Twelve per cent of the world’s 10,000 species are thought to be endangered or threatened. In Britain, worries over our own dung-beetle fauna led to the launch of the dung beetle UK mapping project (DUMP) last year. For all their – to some – unsavoury habits, dung beetles are relatively well known in the UK, helped by good identification guides. Nevertheless, things are looking grim for the English scarab, Copris lunaris (not seen since 1960, in Sussex), Aphodius subterraneus (last glimpsed at Scarborough in 1954) and Onthophagus taurus (the last one was possibly observed in the New Forest in 1967).

ANCIENT ADMIRERS Since dung is still being dropped by animals across the globe, there must be some ecological shift to account for the scarabs’ now-altered fortunes. There are major ecological upheavals going on in the world of dung. The first is that dung beetles go unappreciated. How different it was in ancient Egypt! Scarabaeus sacer is 78

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Above: a dung beetle can roll a ball of dung across uneven ground up to 20m away. Right: dung beetles maintain healthy ecosystems by recycling waste.

10,000 Number of true dung beetle species in the families Scarabiidae, Aphodiidae and Geotrupidae.

usually reckoned to be the iconic dung scarab, but ancient Egyptian amulets portray no fewer than five or six genera, distinguished by the finely carved details of head fluting, presence or absence of ornate horns, and the delicate shape of thorax and wing-cases. There is no suggestion that the ancient carvers had much knowledge of scarab classification, yet they were obviously intimately familiar, on a personal and day-to-day basis, with these insects. Sadly that fascination has been lost: part of the widespread disconnection between nature and an increasingly urban human society. Dung beetles – and dung flies – are now unsung heroes. Since most of us no longer have to deal with our own ordure (thank the flush toilet for that), it’s easy to forget what a debt is owed to these tiny creatures. Without them we’d be up to our necks in our own and our farm animals’ output by now. In fact, this nearly happened in Australia, where 200 years after European colonisation dung from the nonnative farm animals was overwhelming the meadowlands. The problem is that not all dung is the same. Sheep, horse and cow droppings are approximately 65 per cent, 75 per cent and 85 per cent water, respectively. But because the native Australian dung beetles were adapted to much drier marsupial dung, which is about 40 per cent water, they could not cope. So the stock animal droppings lay where they dropped or splashed – unburied, uneaten, unrecycled. December 2016


Above: ‘roller’ dung beetle species are mostly tropical; there are a few species in southern Europe, but none in the UK. Left: a treasure of Tutankhamen features a scarab beetle. The ancient Egyptians admired dung beetles.

FIGHTING FOR SUPPLIES: ALLOCATION STRATEGIES Dung beetle adults eat little, but have various ways of ensuring that each of their eggs has enough to see the grub to adulthood.

The weasels’ climbing ability fascinated Robert, so he set up a feeding-box on wooden stilts with a twisted branch leading up to it, and got some amazing shots of them zooming up and down.




Species that roll dung away, called ‘rollers’ or telecoprids, are broad, stout, domed and muscular. Often a male and female pair work together, their hind legs grappling the dung ball while their short front legs push the ground. The dung ball is buried, or hidden in herbage, after a 1–20m journey. In some species the females stay to guard the brood ball.

These species, known as paracoprids, are broad and stout, but slightly flattened. Males are often armed with large horns on the head or thorax, for head-to-head pushing and shoving matches underground; the victor wins or keeps the female, the dung or both. Tunnels may be 15cm to 1.5m long, filled with sausages of dung, or carefully stocked cells.

Mostly smaller, these species, called endocoprids, live in or under the dung itself. They are more cylindrical in shape, usually without head or thorax horns. A few species make vague scrapes in the soil under the cow pat, but otherwise they exhibit no nesting or maternal behaviour. At best they lay 150 eggs and hope for a good outcome.

December 2016

BBC Wildlife



Clockwise from top left: Thomas David Pinzer/Alamy; Konrad Wothe/Minden/FLPA; Heinrich van den Berg/Gallo/Getty ; Anne&Steve Toon/NPL; Vincent Munier/NPL

Number of dung beetles that arrived in two hours to spirit away 1.5kg of elephant dung.

The usually quoted figure is that just 10 cows would smother a hectare of land in dung in a year. Something had to be done. Between 1968 and 1984, 1.73 million beetles of 43 Eurasian and African species more used to moister dung, were released into thousands of Australian meadows. Twenty-three imported species survived, and some of them did very well; the African Onthophagus gazella was off like a gazelle, extending its range by 50km a year, making a leap of 800km one year, and easily crossing 30km of open sea to colonise offshore islands. There is still much to be done on what is really a terraforming project to alter the ecology of an entire continent. New releases continue, and all Australian dung beetlers have their own species import wishlists. Yet while the mechanics of dung removal can be applauded – measured in financial terms according to meadow clearance, grass growth and meat and milk output – a cloud of doom has descended.

DEADLY DUNG Throughout the developed world, intensive animal production is now the farming norm, but to counter an increased disease and parasite load from large, closepacked herds, systemic insecticides known as ivermectins are routinely given in food, drenched onto the skin or 80

BBC Wildlife

WE ARE CREATING AN INSECTICIDAL PAT, WHICH KILLS THE VERY ORGANISMS THAT WOULD NORMALLY RECYCLE THE STUFF. Top left: dung beetles can be found in a variety of habitats. These tracks were photographed in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan. Bottom left: temperate and mountainous zones are home to ‘dweller’ species.

injected into farm animals. These synthetic, ‘broadspectrum’ pesticides are highly effective at killing off flukes, intestinal worms, skin warbles and botflies, but can pass almost unaltered in the dung. The result is an insecticidal pat, which kills the very organisms that would normally recycle the stuff. In one study, cows treated with a 0.2 mg per kg, by subcutaneous injection, were found to produce dung toxic to that saviour of the western Australian meadowlands, Onthophagus gazella, for seven days after administration. Excretion of just one microgram (that’s one-millionth of a gram) per kg of dung was toxic to the larvae of the yellow dung fly, Scathophaga stercoraria, once found everywhere. There is much talk by pro-ivermectin agri-businesses of the ‘sublethal’ effects on dung beetles – a euphemism, if ever I heard one, for ‘not dead yet’. Similar arguments are used to justify the non-lethal effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees, butterflies and other pollinators, but that doesn’t necessarily make these chemicals safe. One of the most insidious side-effects of ivermectins December 2016


THAT’S HOW THEY ROLL Discover the remarkable skills ‘roller’ species have to be able to move excrement. O Dung-rolling beetles use their broad, stout, toothed front legs, and bulldozer-bladed head, to craft a ball 20–80mm in diameter, depending on their body size. They may take a random initial direction from the dung pat, but they then maintain a dead-straight trajectory, even across uneven terrain, up to 20m away. O Barriers may mean a detour, but then the original outward heading is resumed. The beetles use sunlight to plot their course. A card helmet glued over the head, obscuring the sky, leaves the beetle walking around in aimless spirals. An experiment with a sunshade and a mirror tricks the beetle, causing it to recalculate and change direction; remove these and it reverts to its original tack. O Even under overcast skies, roller beetles ‘know’ where the sun is because they can detect light polarisation. A large polarising filter held over the beetle can mislead it to head off in another direction, but on removal it reverts to its original true line. O Species active at dawn and dusk, or at night, such as Scarabaeus zambesianus, also use the Moon’s light, though this is one-millionth that of the Sun. Scarabaeus satyrus can even detect the Milky Way (this was tested using glued-on cardboard hoods, both outside and in a planetarium).

is that they seem to make the dung more attractive to dung beetles, compared to pats from untreated heifers. There are fears that this will over-expose some keystone beetle species to the deadly dung. And the long half-life of the chemicals in the environment must reawaken worries about accumulation further up the food chain, as happened with DDT in birds of prey in the 1950s and 1960s. In Britain for example, owls and smaller raptors such as the hobby target dusk-flying dung beetles, while in autumn two-thirds of the UK’s cow pats get picked apart by corvids such as choughs, rooks and carrion crows, which feast on the fat dung beetle grubs inside. Farmers need to be able to raise healthy and profitable livestock, but the unthinking prophylactic administration of powerful pharmaceuticals is fraught with difficulties. It doesn’t take much to disorient a dung beetle so that maybe it forgets how to bury dung. The slowing of dung removal from ivermectin-treated herds has already started to occur. In an echo of the Australian cow dung debacle, ivermectins may eventually prove to be counterproductive. Meanwhile, out in the wilderness, specialist forest dung beetles are the ones we know least about. They often have small fragmented populations, rely on erratic transient or migratory dung suppliers, and are the ones most likely to suffer from human interference. These make up the majority of the 12 per cent of dung beetle species for which alarm bells are now ringing. December 2016

Above: Two Scarabaeus laticollis beetles clash heads while fighting over a dung ball in Sardinia, Italy.

You have to admire an entomologist who, when discussing dung beetles, refers to a mammalian anus as a “life-giving portal”. Such, though, is exactly the relationship between many animals and their associated faecal fauna. It’s a real shame that the common name ‘wombat anus beetle’ has not been readily adopted for Onthophagus parvus, which has prehensile claws to hang to the hairs on the wombat’s rear end, and which drops off to lay its eggs whenever its host defaecates. Similar anal-hair gripping has evolved in the tiny Pedaridium beetles on sloths in South American jungles. The length of the Finding the dung in which to lay eggs may be easy, world’s largest but weeks later, when the newly emerging generation dung beetle, of adult beetles is appearing, they now face the Heliocopris gigas. daunting task of locating a new host out in the forest. Habitat fragmentation and declining forest mammal


BBC Wildlife



From left: Nature Production/NPL; Alain Mafart-Renodier/Biosphoto/FLPA

THERE ARE REPORTS OF 4,000 DUNG BEETLES ARRIVING AT HALF A LITRE OF EXCREMENT EXPOSED FOR 15 MINUTES. humans. The large South American dung-roller beetles numbers make this ever harder; there may come a tipping were apparently unable to make do with howler monkey point at which time hosts are too scattered and too few for droppings or coatimundi scats. They are no more. the beetles to find, and these strange but fascinating insects will face oblivion. Most associations are not quite this species-specific, but VITAL INDICATORS there is a host–beetle size ratio that needs to be addressed. The megafauna extinction in Australia occurred Large dung beetles, especially when there are lots of them, 30,000–50,000 years ago, and while palaeontologists need a considerable pile of droppings. There are verified may mourn the passing of diprotodon (a hippo-sized reports of 4,000 tropical dung beetles arriving at half a litre marsupial), procoptodon (a horse-sized kangaroo) and of excrement exposed for 15 minutes – that’s nearly four and the marsupial lion thylacoleo, we as yet know nothing a half beetles per second. of the dung beetles that they once supplied. Today, the There is a mad scramble for possession whenever that so-called Anthropocene era threatens to offer up another ‘portal’ opens and, in the tropics at least, the only way to mass extinction, as elephants, rhinos, giraffes, gorillas secure enough of the raw material in which to lay an egg is and all the other charismatic species are hunted for meat to roll it away in a bolus the size of a tennis ball, or to dig a and trophies, or driven out by climate change, habitat tunnel and stuff it out of sight as quickly as possible. These destruction or human encroachment. beetles simply could not subsist on rabbit crottels or deer These potential extinctions make dire headlines, fewmets alone. Remove the large mammalian megafauna, yet their dung beetles are equally threatened. Smaller, and the dung beetles will go too. less endearing, less cute, less well known, they are In Argentina, palaeontologists are still unearthing nevertheless important cogs in the intricate ecology fossilised dung balls as large as (or larger) than those of the world. Like so many other insects, dung beetles rolled around in Africa today. But there are no dungare hugely diverse, yet amenable to scientific study rolling beetles this big in South America today, nor indeed – if we look closely at them, they can be a barometer are there any large mammals to supply the dung. With the of environmental health, an early warning system of end of the last glaciation about 15,000 years ago, the ice impending disaster in the biosphere. sheet retreated, allowing the first human colonisation of Dung beetles are chunky, lustrous, handsome, aweNorth America, across the Bering Strait from Chukotka inspiring. Just ask anyone who, as an eight-year-old, had a into Alaska. Within a few millennia humans had large scarab heave its way out through tightly spread right down to Tierra de Fuego – and that clamped fingers, then fly off into the evening spelled the end of many big mammals. sky like a miniature helicopter. Glyptodon (a giant armadillo the size of a Depth of the deepest smart car), mastodon (a large, hairy elephant) RICHARD JONES is an author, dung-beetle tunnel and megatherium (a ground sloth as big as a entomologist and frequent recorded, dug by polar bear) were soon gone, either hunted to contributor to the Q&A pages. His Peltotrupes profundus, extinction or because of climate change that book Call of Nature: The Secret Life of Dung a Florida deepdigger was at least exacerbated by the newly arrived (Pelagic Publishing, £16.99) is out in February. scarab.



BBC Wildlife

Top left: Dung beetle larvae hatch inside dung balls and feed on the excrement. Top right: southern ground hornbills feast on dung beetles lured by elephant dung.

+ FIND OUT MORE OLearn about UK

dung beetles, and record sightings, at www. dungbeetlemap. O Listen to a

programme on beetles in BBC Radio 4’s Natural Histories series: programmes/ b05w9l9z

December 2016

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A mother and yearling cub pause on an iceberg trapped in the sea ice in the Davis Strait off the coast of Baffin Island. After emerging from the dens, bears hunt around the bases of these giant ’bergs for unsuspecting seals.


BBC Wildlife

December 2016


Going with

THE FLOE Baffin Island is one of the planet’s most remote denning areas for polar bears. As the mothers and cubs emerge from their winter sleep, photographer Andy Skillen tracks them onto the sea ice.

December 2016

BBC Wildlife



BBC Wildlife

December 2016


LEFT Newborn cubs never stray too far from their ever-watchful mother while experiencing their first taste of life outside the den. During the first few months of the cubs’ lives, their mother has to balance keeping her new additions safe with the critical need to hunt and restore the bodyweight she lost over the denning period.

ABOVE Local Inuit trackers say the female cub is the one that always stays closer to the mother. Although this has not been the subject of any major study, there’s no doubt that, even in the early months, the cubs already exhibit differing levels of independence. LEFT Like mother, like son: a mother bear has a long two years ahead of her if she is to successfully ensure a new generation survives, and the learning process starts the minute they leave the den.

December 2016

BBC Wildlife


ABOVE Even in the brutally cold temperatures, long walks across the sea ice in search of seals can still cause bears to overheat. In this regard, the ridges of trapped icebergs provide a welcome chance to rest and cool off. RIGHT Adult polar bears are very conscientious about washing off the blood of a kill to prevent it becoming matted in the fur around their faces. Cubs, however, like to play with their food, which, as well as being messy fun also helps them learn about the importance of personal hygiene. FACING PAGE Measuring around 9ft (about 2.5m) from head to tail, mother bears have little to fear. With males even further out on the sea ice, the pressure ridges around the bergs closer to Baffin’s fjords and bays provide a relatively low risk environment in which to hunt and raise newborn cubs.


BBC Wildlife

December 2016


December 2016

BBC Wildlife



BELOW Emerging in March, after months in their den, young cubs are full of energy and the desire to explore their environment. At this point, their tireless mother has multiple roles to play, from mobile foodsource, to climbing frame, to oversized duvet.

ANDY SKILLEN is an award-winning wildlife photographer with a passion for all things polar. For details of Andy’s work, photography courses, trips and assignments, visit 90

BBC Wildlife

December 2016

ABOVE Dens on Baffin are virtually inaccessible, located high in the mountains, far from potential intrusions. The deep snow that lies on these granite slopes can make it difficult for cubs to keep pace with their trail-blazing mother, but it’s a small price to pay for the security the location provides. LEFT Play and interaction are important parts of a polar bear’s development and in such a harsh environment there’s no time to waste in terms of getting on with the job. With mortality rates as high as 50 per cent for newborn cubs, asserting dominance in the early months can literally be a lifesaver in the long term.

December 2016

BBC Wildlife


REVIEWS The reasons for the pygmy sloth’s smaller size and surprising swimming ability are explained in Planet Earth II.



ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL Revel in the exotic and everyday animals on Earth.

Planet Earth II: A New World Revealed By Stephen Moss BBC Books £25

Ten years on from the BBC’s goundbreaking Planet Earth comes Planet Earth II, which is currently filling our autumn evenings with breathtaking cinematography of wildlife and habitats from across the globe. If each episode leaves you wanting more, delve into this sumptuous, informative tome, which offers detailed accounts of the complex locations explored in the series and the wild animals that call them home. These characters range from Earth’s best known megafauna (bear, elephant, lion) to its smaller, more obscure denizens (the Martinique threadsnake, Grant’s golden mole, lesser noddy). As is standard now, the final chapter details the perseverance and endeavours of the camera crews, including a somewhat dangerous voyage to a remote lump of rock in the subantarctic to film chinstrap penguins, and how it feels to stand in the midst of one of the biggest locust migrations ever recorded. Sarah McPherson BBC Wildlife Section editor


BBC Wildlife

Charles Darwin’s Life With Birds: His Complete Ornithology By Clifford B Frith Oxford University Press £45.99

Dinosaurs: How they Lived and Evolved By Darren Naish and Paul Barrett Natural History Museum £18

A veritable library of books and articles has been written about Darwin, but this is the first to give a comprehensive and accurate account of the great man’s writings on birds. Attractively produced, it includes 40 colour plates, numerous black-and-white drawings and four appendices, which provide details of every bird that Darwin wrote about. A scholarly work that’s very readable, this book will delight anyone fascinated by Darwin or by birds – or both.

There are countless books on dinosaurs, yet this one sets itself aside. Covering everything from digital reconstructions of stegosaur locomotion to overhauling our understanding of the K-Pg asteroid-based extinction 66 (yes, not 65) million years ago, this clear and accessible book will appeal to anyone with an interest in evolutionary ecology. With the authors being titanosaurs of the palaeontological community and brilliant communicators, this book is a must-have.

Jonathan Elphick Ornithologist

Ben Garrod Evolutionary biologist

December 2016


Bill Bailey The comedian shares his passion for all things avian and a life watching British birds.

Sloth: BBC; Beatrix Potter: Frederick Warne & Co; Bill Bailey: Andy Hollingworth

Potter’s talent is vividly depicted in this collection.

The Art of Beatrix Potter: Sketches, Paintings and Illustrations By Emily Zach Chronicle Books £25

I’ve been a fan of Beatrix Potter my entire life. It’s always been her illustrations that appealed most, because unlike other animal caricatures, Potter’s were drawn from nature and, quaint clothes and bipedal

postures aside, they ring true. This beautiful book celebrates the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth and is part biography, part art collection. It visits the places that informed and inspired her, and tells the story of her isolated childhood, blossoming artistic and scientific talent – the latter stifled by the gender politics of the day – as well as her eventual success. The pages are crammed with Potter’s watercolour, pen and ink illustrations and a selection of the sketches she produced to document her world. Amy-Jane Beer Wildlife writer

How did you first become interested in birds?

It came from my parents. As a child, we’d go on outings to bird sanctuaries or wetland centres. I had a checklist of birds and I’d tick them off. What made you decide to write a guide?

The idea of a bird diarycome-sketchbook seemed intriguing and fun. Stories immediately came to mind. The book is light-hearted but useful – it fills a niche between a reference book and books that have an emotional connection with wildlife, such as H is for Hawk. I chose birds that are commonplace – species that anyone can see from their window, as I want it also to be a book for people who have never considered birds before. How does humour help to spread the bird word?

Knowledge Encyclopaedia: Animal!

How to Make a Wildflower Meadow

By John Woodward DK £16.99

By James Hewetson-Brown Filbert £20

In a digital world, some might find print encyclopaedias an anachronism. Yet, here’s one that shows us just how thrilling the printed page can be. Bursting with facts, cutaways and computer-generated images designed to wow its young readers, ANIMAL! celebrates Earth’s diversity but never gets lost in the madness. Every page offers context – whether evolutionary, physiological or taxonomic – allowing budding zoologists to get a feel for the natural order of life on Earth.

James Hewetson-Brown knows how to make wildflower meadows – his turf was used for the London Olympics and several Chelsea Flower Show gardens. In the most comprehensive guide to creating a meadow I’ve ever seen, he discusses the pros and cons of using seed, the merits of adding annuals and how to keep the display going for as long as possible. His book leaves us with no excuses not to try creating meadows of our own.

Jules Howard Zoologist and author

December 2016

Kate Bradbury Wildlife and gardening writer

Comedy is a way of getting across all kinds of messages. If people are laughing, you can slip in some learning.

every bit as dazzling as tropical birds. We also have lots of seabirds and all sorts of interesting migrants are blown in – the diversity is amazing. What’s been your most memorable encounter with a British bird?

I once saw a sparrowhawk take down a pigeon



outside an office in Soho. It was a very visceral bit of nature. I also succeeded in a challenge to see a redthroated diver on Shetland – that was a fantastic spot. Is there a species you’d like to see but haven’t yet?

The odder rarities, such as the corncrake, and rare visitors like the bee-eater, which I’ve seen in Spain.

What’s special about Britain’s birds?

Is there an unsung hero in the bird world?

For a small island we’re very well served. Yes, we have lots of little brown birds, but they’re all subtly different. And some of our species have extraordinary colours – jays and kingfishers are

Pigeons are almost discounted, but they’re amazing fliers. And wrens are incredibly hardy birds – I’ve heard them everywhere from the remote Highlands to town and cities.

O BILL BAILEY’S REMARKABLE GUIDE TO BRITISH BIRDS is a light-hearted look at 51 species, illustrated with sketches by Bill himself. (Quercus, £20): BBC Wildlife


A herd of African elephants became Gordon Buchanan’s latest adopted family.


LIVING AMONG GIANTS Join Gordon Buchanan as he’s welcomed into the mighty bosom of a Kenyan elephant clan. Elephant Family & Me TV BBC Two

Due to air around Christmas. See RT for details

To the casual observer, Gordon Buchanan might seem to have a deathwish. Over four Family & Me series, the Scottish cameramanpresenter has embedded himself with black bears, polar bears, wolves and gorillas. And his latest two-parter sees him stroll into a herd of elephants in Kenya. Yet Gordon is no thrill-seeker. Rather, he seeks to show how living with such animals can help us understand their behaviour, and how to protect them – and us. “Across the series we’ve looked at animals demonised by Hollywood,” says series producer Ted Oakes. “Yet these animals rarely kill humans. More people are killed by vending machines



Steve O. Taylor/

falling over.” Elephants, though, are a different proposition, as Ted admits: “They are among Africa’s most dangerous animals – they kill far more people than large predators.” So why did Gordon want to walk among them? “Every elephant film I’ve ever seen is shot from vehicles,” says Ted. “But the Africans who’ve lived with elephants for tens of thousands of years weren’t in vehicles. So we wanted to try to understand the points of view of both the elephants and the people who live among them. On foot, you get a completely different view of their world. You experience every sound – hear every twig snap, every bird tweet.” Walking with wild elephants would normally be suicidal, but these were no


BBC Wildlife

ordinary elephants. “It was only possible because of the history of these elephants, and the work of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust,” says Ted. “The trust rehabilitates orphaned eles and releases them into Tsavo East National Park, where they have been rewilded to form a 53-strong herd.” The series follows a first-time mother, Wendi, and her daughter, sevenmonth-old Wiva, who leads her mother and surrogate aunts a merry dance. As Gordon wins the herd’s trust, we’re rewarded with insights into their emotional family dynamics and some hope for the future of elephants. “They say it takes a village to raise a child,” laughs Ted. “Well, watching Wiva, it certainly takes a herd to raise a baby elephant!” Paul Bloomfield

DON’T MISS OUT! Catch up with any TV and radio programmes that you’ve missed at

December 2016







Ted Oakes

The herd is familiar with a few people they’ve known most of their lives. One of those is Benjamin Kyalo, from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, who has an amazing relationship with the elephants. They trust him completely. He took Gordon in and helped the elephants get used to him over several weeks. Were you ever worried?

We had to trust Benjamin: if he could mingle safely with the eles, so could Gordon. If you’re around animals for a while, they become bored of being nervous and start to accept you. While they know humans are dangerous, they learn to distinguish those that are harmless.

In a way, one predominant theme lies at the heart of every natural history film: reproduction – after all, life exists with the sole purpose of creating more life. Yet in this seven-part series, each episode in that endlessly repeated narrative is presented in eyepopping HD and with humour and insight to match. So while the life stages depicted may be familiar – young animals experiencing the world for the first time, courtship, caring for newborns – many sequences are startlingly novel. The team captured a number of filming

Tsavo East is home to about one third of the world’s population of giant tuskers – perhaps only 35 remain. It was incredibly moving when Gordon met Satao 2, one of the largest surviving tuskers – a truly colossal creature. What did you learn from the filming the series?

Humans and eles have a long history of conflict. Poor Africans living in rural areas have to deal with elephants killing them and raiding their crops – so you can understand why they retaliate. The overriding question of the series is: can we mend our troubled relationship with elephants? It’s like global warming: we can fix it – the doubt is whether we want to. TED OAKES is series producer of Elephant Family & Me. December 2016

firsts: infrared nocturnal footage of long-eared jerboas, for example, the result of a challenging mission into the Gobi Desert, and the creation of ‘crop-circles’ sculpted in sand by courting pufferfish – a behaviour first described

as recently as 2011. Aerial battles of booted rackettailed hummingbirds are dazzling, and after feeling the electrifying tension as a clan of meerkats mobs a cobra, you’ll never look at Aleksandr the same way again.

Download from £5.49 (RRP from £10.99) from life-story with the code LIFE50 by 04.01.2017. Ts&Cs:



The Human Hive

Monkeys: An Amazing Animal Family

RADIO BBC Radio 4 What was your highlight of the series?

A pair of booted racket-tailed hummingbirds.

Due to air 10 January. See RT

Ever heard of a lazy ant? No? The fact that not all individuals of eusocial species – that is, those with co-operative parenting, overlapping generations and division of labour – conform to type is just one of the surprises unearthed by Ben Garrod as he traces the evolution of eusociality. Meeting scientists and their charges, including not just insects but also bizarre ‘social

amoebae’ slime moulds, he explores the similarities (and differences) between those communities and our own to ask: why are such systems so successful – and are humans also eusocial? The answers, while intriguing, are also sometimes disturbing. “A female worker ant begins life as a nanny, then labours in construction, and finally becomes a soldier,” says Garrod. “Imagine if your grandma was forced to pick up a gun and go to war!” Ants are just one eusocial species that Ben Garrod investigates.

TV Sky 1 Due to air in December

Never work with children or animals, they say – so filming with animal babies would seem doubly ill-advised. Yet Patrick Aryee’s new three-part series, in which he meets the primates of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, features plenty of encounters with winsome infants. The premise is ambitious: to trace the evolution of monkeys, apes and lemurs over 65 million years, adapting to diverse habitat niches. Yes, he’s upstaged by baby baboons and lemurs, but the concept is strong enough to carry the cuteness. Patrick Aryee meets a baby chimpanzee.

Hummingbirds: Anthony Mercieca/; chimp: Offspring Films; ants: Leonid Serebrennikov/Alamy

How did you film among the elephant herd?


David Attenborough follows the greatest of journeys: from birth to new life.

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SHENTON SAFARIS Wow! Five different Leopards on one drive! is something we often hear at Kaingo Camp. ‘Kaingo’ translates as Leopard, and Shenton Safaris’ camp is aptly named for the many sightings of these beautiful animals. ‘Mwamba’ translates as Heaven and, sitting in the Bushcamp’s private hide, you can imagine you have indeed ascended, as the sheer numbers of birds and animals on display assault your sense of reality. Set in the prime game viewing area of the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, these camps are as unique as they are familiar. Feel at home and at ease whether you are sitting in the open ‘chitenge’ at Mwamba watching Elephants feeding metres away, or relaxing in the comfort of Kaingo’s lower deck, watching sunbathing Hippos and Crocodiles, while Pied Kingfishers hit the water with loud splashes in their never-ending search for food. |

Shenton Safaris’ Photographic Hides

Shenton Safaris’ trademark networks of innovative hides are as busy as ever this year and with up to a thousand nestingholes at the Southern Carmine Bee-eater colony, the viewing is spectacular! This hide is set in the middle of the river, close enough to the nests so as to afford impressive views of the action, but not too close so as to disturb the breeding birds. Intra-species action at the world famous Hippo Hide continues throughout the season, sometimes resulting in fatalities, which are thankfully consumed within days by hundreds of patient Crocodiles, many of them over four metres in length! Countless Elephants have made the crossing of the Luangwa River below Shenton’s Elephant Hide and the dramas played out will tug on your heart strings as babies make their first crossing, siblings frolic in the water and extended families meet and greet. December 2016

Mwamba’s Last Waterhole

The Last Waterhole is exclusive to Mwamba Bushcamp and is overlooked by the camp’s private hide. Thousands of birds and hundreds of animals visit this slice of heaven daily and every season the Mwamba Pride takes up residence in the area, lying in ambush watching the activity. The hide is perched on the water’s edge, mere metres from your camera lens!

Kaingo’s Ebony Grove

Stately African Ebony trees have created a grove unlike any other; the morning light in this mystical place has enchanted many a pro-photographer. These majestic giants fruit copiously, to the delight of the wildlife. A walk through the grove with Kaingo’s experienced guides will find you in the company of elephants, while you pick your way through a plethora of other species. BBC Wildlife


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BBC Wildlife


OUR EXPERTS SARAH MCPHERSON edits the monthly Q&A pages. Send her your questions.

RICHARD JONES is a writer and entomologist with a fondness for dung beetles.

HELEN SMITH is an ecologist and former president of the British Arachnological Society.



Meerkats are known to kill their own kind. Infanticide, for instance, is common.

is an expert on waders who formerly worked for the BTO.

GEOFF SAMPLE is a musician, sound recordist and author of Collins Bird Songs and Calls.



Which mammals most kill their own kind? A

As part of a study into the evolutionary development of lethal violence in humans, scientists at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas and Universities of Granada and Rey Juan Carlos in Spain examined the rate of conspecific killings across 1,024 mammal species. Territorial and social mammals, such as meerkats, lions, wolves, many primates and some sealions, topped the results table; solitary and non-territorial species - bats, whales or marsupials - came closer to the bottom. So where did we humans come in? “Our study provided reference values that enable us to compare conspecifc violence across species groups – including humans,” says lead scientist José María Gómez Reyes. “Compared to the average level of lethal violence across all the mammals in the study (0.3 per cent), primates are more violent (2.3 per cent). Compared to the average primate, humans are not particularly violent. Compared to primitive humans (2 per cent), modern human societies have lower levels of lethal violence.” Sarah McPherson


BBC Wildlife


wildquestions@ or post to Q&A, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, 2nd Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN

December 2016

Q&A The green hairstreak – Britain’s only butterfly of this hue.



What are the beetles on oak trees with extremely long noses? A



Why aren’t there more bright�green�butterflies? A

Green butterflies (and moths) are rare across the globe. Most ‘natural’ green insect pigments (in grasshoppers and plant bugs, for example) tend to fade, since they are chemically altered by light, and there is evidence that some are derived from chlorophyll eaten by the insects. The green of the hairstreak, though, is not a pigment, but a metallic refraction effect caused by submicroscopic parallel grooves on the wing scales, which reflect only green light. Metallic green beetles use a similar mechanism. In contrast, melanin (the default pigment

across most animals) is highly stable, as are yellow and red pigments, which occur widely. There may be an evolutionary mechanism at work here. Sedentary butterfly (and moth) larvae tend to eat green plants, and being all the same colour – as the caterpillars of many groups are – offers them camouflage. But the day-flying adults need to combine bright colours (for mate recognition) with muted cryptic undersides (to hide or roost), so in this case green just may not be necessary.

These are the acorn weevils Curculio glandium and C. venosus. The long snout (rostrum) has tiny but powerful jaws at its tip, which the female uses to drill a deep hole into the middle of a developing acorn. Then she turns round and using a telescopic egg-laying tube deposits a single egg into the centre. The grub feeds on the growing acorn and when it drops in autumn the larva chews an escape hole and pupates in the soil. All weevils have snouts of varying sizes, with length usually correlating with larval foodstuff and egg deposition site – so short-snouted weevils chew a much shallower hole. Males and females both have snouts, but the egg-laying female of the species almost invariably From little acorns, has the acorn weevils grow. longer. RJ

Richard Jones

Lots of species appear to be less diverse in appearance than humans.


Why are humans so variable while other species tend to look the same? December 2016


It’s not easy for humans to be objective about this one. After all, we probably all appear the same to most animals. But there might well be some truth to it. Highly social species must be able to recognise individuals, and while many species identify each other with their noses, we are visually dominant – as are chimps, which are also facially variable. We humans are also a cultural species, and

Clockwise from left: Klein & Hubert/NPL; Andy Sands/NPL; Blickwinkel/Alamy; Frans Lanting/FLPA


ideals of beauty need not be adaptive, but could change with fashions according to time and place. If certain features become desirable, they will become selected biologically. Indeed, variations in cultural preferences are thought to be a driving force behind differences in facial and physical characteristics of people from different parts of the world. Stuart Blackman

BBC Wildlife


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Q&A Sun-drenched: soaptree yucca plants on white sand dunes in New Mexico.


The glaucus’s projections known as Cerata aid in respiration.




Plants are in something of a catch-22 when it comes to sunlight. On the one hand, they need to soak it up to fuel the production of sugar by photosynthesis; on the other this renders them highly vulnerable to ultraviolet wavelengths in the sun’s rays which are harmful to all living organisms, particularly through the damage it inflicts on DNA. Plants cannot move into the shade when they’ve had enough sun. Nor can they use biological sunscreens, because this would

hamper photosynthesis. Instead, plants put their energies into repair rather than prevention. UV light activates specialised molecules within plant tissues that initiate a cascade of biochemical reactions leading to the deployment of enzymes that stitch broken strands of DNA back together. The precise mechanisms are not yet fully understood, but might one day yield new methods for protecting crops – and even perhaps ourselves – against the harmful effects of excessive sun. SB

It takes time and practice for young birds to fine-tune their songs.



Is it normal to hear juvenile robins singing? A

Juvenile song (known as subsong) is fairly common in songbirds, but is softer, more rambling and more tentative than the louder, fuller adult song. The bird is learning to form sounds in the same way that human infants babble. Songbirds have complex musculature around their syrinx and it takes practice to develop the fine control required for singing. They usually start practicing during their first summer and autumn, go quiet as winter sets in, then begin again in late winter December 2016

before crystallising on the full song as the breeding season arrives. There is also an auditory phase to song learning: young birds need to hear adults of their kind singing to fix an imprint of the full song in their minds. They are particularly sensitive to memorising song in the first few months after leaving the nest and then again, for many species, in late winter to early spring. That they manage to listen to – and selectively learn – their own species’ song out of everything else they hear is quite remarkable. Geoff Sample BBC Wildlife


From top: Rob Tilley/NPL; Justin Hart Marine Life Photography and Art/Getty; Jake Stephen/Alamy

Can plants get sunburn?

Butterflies and orchids might give them a run for their money, but few groups of animals or plants are as consistently gorgeous as the marine animals known as nudibranchs. And few nudibranchs are as gorgeous as the blue glaucus Glaucus atlanticus. But it is a beauty best viewed from a distance. Because a blue glaucus can deliver the sting of a Portuguese man o’ war – quite literally. These spectacular sea slugs patrol tropical oceans where they hang suspended, and upside-down, from the surface tension. Their favourite food is large, venomous, floating jellies. Not only are they immune to their prey’s potent venom, but they can incorporate the stinging cells into their own tentacles. Look, but never lick. Stuart Blackman

Britain’s Birds An Identification Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop & David Tipling “It’s not often a field guide comes along that can accurately be described as a game-changer, but this might just be one. . . . Unrivalled coverage of British birds. It’s an absolute must.” —Matt Merritt, Birdwatching Magazine Paper $35.00 £19.95

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HOW CAN I HELP... Scottish Wildcat Action What does the organisation do? 2


We work to restore viable populations of the Scottish wildcat. Our aims are to reduce the risks of hybridisation, disease and accidental persecution; to breed healthy wildcats for later release; and to gather and share data.

How are volunteers involved? Most help on the ground, doing anything from checking trail cameras to taking feral individuals to be neutered. Others raise awareness through research, events and photography. New scientific ground is being broken all the time so it’s an exciting project to be part of.


What’s a recent achievement?

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We recently completed the biggest-ever wildcat survey. 139 volunteers monitored 347 trail cameras, replenishing bait and checking more than 200,000 images. We found 19 wildcats, 44 hybrids and 40 domestic cats. The next step is to neuter the feral domestic cats and hybrids.

Is the work challenging?

W H AT C A N I S E E I N . . .

Nepal Six star species to spot in a landscape famously dominated by the icy peaks of the Himalayas. And if you manage to encounter them all, you can always try for the yeti.

Illustration by Dawn Cooper; volunteer: Scottish Wildcat Action


IBISBILL Upper Langtang Valley With its distinctive long, downward-curving bill, the ibisbill is regarded by birders as one of Nepal’s most sought-after species. It can be found on high-altitude shingle riverbanks.


HIMALAYAN MONAL Namche Bazaar The male’s stunning iridescent plumage makes it easy to see why the monal is Nepal’s national bird. It inhabits forested areas and higher grassy slopes where

December 2016

it feeds on roots, tubers, berries and insects.


WILD WATER BUFFALO Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve You will see plenty of domesticated water buffalo in Nepal, but this is the only area where you can see their wild cousins. Note their much bigger horns.


GREATER ONEHORNED RHINO Chitwan NP The one-horned rhino’s extraordinary folds of skin

and lumpy surface give this rare behemoth an armourplated appearance. Tighter security has seen numbers increase to 650 or more.


BENGAL TIGER Bardia NP Bardia’s tigers were heavily poached in the 90s and 2000s, but increased protection has seen numbers more than double to some 60 or more animals.


BHARAL Annapurna Conservation Area It was the bharal (blue sheep) that biologist George Schaller was researching in Peter Matthiessen’s famous account of their travels, The Snow Leopard. You’ll have to ascend above 4,000m to see it, though.

It can be! The best time to survey wildliving cats is winter, when they readily take the bait beside the trail cameras. Some of the cameras are in very remote locations that require real resilience to get to. Last year some volunteers used skis, one went on horseback and another on a mobility scooter!

How much time do you request? As much or little as people can give. Families or neighbours can share monitoring of a camera to make it easier. OVicky Burns, Scottish Wildcat Action A volunteer sites a camera in the hope of a wildcat snap.

BBC Wildlife



To balloon, spiders stand on tiptoe, raise their rear ends and dispense a puff of silk from their spinnerets, which carries them on the breeze.



How far can spiders ‘fly’? The autumn spectacle of gossamer on the breeze is a reminder that spiders – particularly our smallest species and the spiderlings of many larger species – can take flight by so-called ‘ballooning’. Most spiders travel relatively short distances, yet some become pioneers. Their rapid colonisation of isolated volcanic islands and Charles Darwin’s famous observation of thousands of tiny spiders landing on the rigging of The Beagle 100km off the South American coast attest



Can pine cones predict the weather? A

Pine cone scales are made of woody fibres that dry out when they contract, causing them to curl back (and the seeds to fall out). They remain sensitive to changes in the atmosphere and the fibres will expand and close the scales again if they take up moisture. They don’t predict weather changes, but their open or closed state does reflect the amount of moisture in the air. Other dead plant structures that control seed dispersal, such as the crown of ‘teeth’ on the necks of campion seed capsules, react similarly. The most beautiful examples are the tiny peristome teeth around the apertures of the spore capsules of mosses. These regulate spore dispersal and constantly open and close with the changing humidity, seeming to be alive even though made of dead cells. Phil Gates


BBC Wildlife

to their long-distance capabilities. Altitudes, too, are impressive, with individuals recorded in the aerial plankton several thousand metres above the Earth. Ballooning is an energetically cheap form of transport but, whatever the distance travelled, just going with the wind comes at a cost. Only a few aeronauts will survive their risky journeys – a price worth paying only when the chances of colonising pastures new outweigh the risks of overcrowding at home. Helen Smith


Do golden�plovers always stay in flocks? A

Over 400,000 golden plovers winter in the UK, with local breeding birds joined by arrivals from as far afield as Iceland and Russia. Inland, they are sometimes encountered in flocks numbering 1,000 or more, and are rarely seen on their own. The birds spend much of the day roosting, typically on open, ploughed fields where they can spy approaching predators. All changes as darkness falls. The birds spread out over harrowed fields, sugar beet stubbles and young crops, using their

Golden plovers take to the air when disturbed, then settle again.

large eyes to find invertebrates in the low light. A study has found that the birds key in on fields recently spread with manure and that, as by day, they prefer large, open fields. Daytime feeding is more likely in cold weather and after overcast or moonless nights. Over the past three decades the species has increased on estuaries; this may be linked to reduced invertebrate populations on arable fields. Graham Appleton December 2016

From top: Robin Loznak/Zumapress/Alamy; Wildlife gmbh/Alamy; Roger Tidman/FLPA



Photo: Stuart Nixon

Only 3,800 gorillas left: urgent support needed for Fauna & Flora International action plan by 26 December.

One of the world’s rarest apes faces extinction Population plummets by 77% from 17,000 to around 3,800

Without action now the Grauer’s gorilla could be gone forever – cut the coupon or go to to help protect the remaining 3,800 gorillas.

Photo: Alison Mollon

Gorillas like Chimanuka need your help Chimanuka is a silverback that lives in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. There are 17 gorillas in Chimanuka’s family including 5 females and 11 infants. Your support could help protect their natural habitat and ensure their future survival.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) have launched an emergency appeal to raise £130,489.56 from readers that will enable them to push ahead with the protection of new Community Reserves in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is crucial to the battle to save the Endangered Grauer’s gorilla from extinction. You can contribute by cutting the coupon below, visiting or calling 01223 749019. Please respond by 26 December.

and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks. These families are vital to saving the remaining Grauer’s gorillas from extinction. This gorilla protection has only become possible in recent years. Since the elections in the DRC in 2006, and the increased stability that came with them, conservation teams are starting to consolidate a series of community reserves to ensure the gorillas are fully protected. For the species to remain genetically viable, it is crucial that the gorilla families can interbreed and are not separated by deforestation and agriculture expansion in an unprotected area. FFI knows community managed land is a sustainable way to achieve this.

How you can help save the Grauer’s gorilla £130,489.56 is sought by 26 December to urgently protect a series of community nature reserves that will safeguard the gorillas in unprotected areas - where they are at risk of losing their habitat and being killed by hunters. These are a few of the items needed:

Photo: Gill Shaw

Consumed by conflict and caught in the grip of a severe conservation crisis, the Grauer’s gorilla – the world’s largest gorilla – is fighting for survival. Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has put out an urgent call to the global community to save the remaining 3,800 or so Grauer’s gorillas. Funds are sought immediately to help protect new community nature reserves that are essential to the survival of the remaining gorillas between the Maiko and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is a crucial step towards protecting these elusive and Endangered apes from complete extinction. The Grauer’s gorilla faces multiple threats to its survival – all of them due to human activity. A major expansion of agriculture and pastures in the DRC in recent years has put enormous strain on the gorilla’s shrinking habitat. Industry, too, has taken its toll, with natural habitats squeezed by extensive mining for gold and coltan – a mineral used in making mobile phones. Hunting and the continuing consumption of illegal ‘bush meat’ have also caused many apes to be killed. What’s more, continuous conflict has made it incredibly challenging to enforce wildlife protection. As a result, numbers of Grauer’s gorillas have plummeted. Just 15 years ago there were around 17,000 Grauer’s gorillas in the wild. Today, scientists believe that at most 3,800 may still remain alive. Conservationists are now calling for the species to be reclassified as Critically Endangered. We must act as quickly as possible to save the remaining gorillas and FFI needs your urgent help to do it. FFI wants to protect existing gorilla families in a vulnerable – currently unprotected – area between the Maiko

“The Maiko and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks in the DRC are home to some of the most endangered species in Africa, including the Grauer’s gorilla. However, as human populations in the region expand so too does the risk from habitat loss. A participatory form of conservation is giving these communities a means to exist and is helping the Grauer’s gorilla and other wildlife. Time is short and I urge supporters of FFI to quickly back this vital work that is crucial to the survival of the Grauer’s gorilla.” Sir David Attenborough OM FRS, Fauna & Flora International vice-president

£19,180 could fund the entire DRC conservation team for 6 months. £679.15 could pay for a satellite phone, to help the teams report and respond to emergencies £258.72 could pay for a GPS unit and batteries, to help the teams locate gorilla families in the dense rainforest £129.36 could pay for fuel to run the team’s off-road vehicle for a month £40.10 could pay for rations for a gorilla survey team Any donations, large or small, will be received with thanks and could go a long way to helping us to save the Grauer’s gorilla.

Cut the coupon below and return it with your gift to FFI, to help save the remaining 3,800 Endangered Grauer’s gorillas. Alternatively, go to or call 01223 749019. I want to help save the remaining 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas with a donation of £________ Title


Surname Address


Phone No

Please update me by email at

These community reserves are absolutely vital to the future of the remaining Grauer’s gorillas – because they will prevent the gorilla population becoming fragmented. To do all this FFI needs to raise £130,489.56 to protect 10,847.67 km2 of forest, where the gorillas are at risk. The £130,489.56 must be raised as soon as possible so that the team at FFI have time to plan ahead. Meanwhile unprotected gorillas are dying from the threats they face every day. The Grauer’s gorilla is on the very edge of survival. Together we can save it. Please send your gift by 26 December at the latest.

I enclose a cheque payable to Fauna & Flora International OR I wish to pay by credit/debit card Amex Mastercard Maestro CAF Type of card: Visa Card No: Issue Number (Maestro only):

Expiry Date: Security Code:

(Last three digits next to the signature)

We store your details securely and will never sell, trade or rent your personal information to other organisations. If you’d prefer not to be mailed or telephoned , please tick the appropriate box or contact us at any time. Please return to: Freepost FAUNA & FLORA INTERNATIONAL, The David Attenborough Building, Pembroke Street, Cambridge, CB2 3QZ, UK or go to to donate online now. Please note: If Fauna & Flora International succeeds in raising more than £130,489.56 from this appeal, funds will be used wherever they are most needed. Registered Charity No.1011102. Registered Company No. 2677068.



Want to get something off your chest? This is the place.





WRITE TO US BBC Wildlife, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN

Red admirals: enjoying an Indian summer?


Flurry of activity

Barn owls have set up residence in the boxes that Richard and Lisa have built (inset).


Barn owl; Gary K Smith/Getty

A few months ago, having spent over an hour on my local patch without seeing anything besides a few wood pigeons, I was ready to give up and go home. But then, to my delight, a barn owl flew out of a tree a few feet away from me. I’ve been watching wildlife in the area for over 30 years but had never seen a barn owl. I stood in amazement as the owl flew over the fields and out of sight. Inspired by what I’d seen – and keen that the bird should remain – I decided to build a nestbox with the help of my wife, Lisa. After we’d assembled the box our next task was to find a suitable location for it, which isn’t as easy as it seems. We eventually found the ideal tree: thick trunk, high canopy, surrounded by dense grassy fields and near the spot where I’d seen the barn owl. Once the box was in place, all we needed to do was wait. A month or so passed and on

one dry evening my wife, my father and I hid among the trees with a good view of the box. After about 30 minutes a barn owl emerged from the box. I froze to the spot but inside I was jumping for joy. I couldn’t believe it. The owl – possibly a male – was in no rush to leave. He stood on the platform, stretching and preening his elegant plumage. I’m pleased to say that, to date, not only is the owl still using the box but it seems another owl has made a home for itself in a second box we’ve made too! I’ve just finished my third box and hope to get it up in the next few weeks. All being well it will be as successful as the others. Richard Collins, Walsall Editor Sheena Harvey says: What a fantastic example of how doing your homework can provide wildlife with an environment to perfectly suit them.

Despite the disappointing numbers and sightings of moths and butterflies mentioned in September and October’s letters, this summer seems to have ended in a flurry of activity in our garden. My wife grows penstemon and verbena, and they’ve both attracted a great many insects. In a sample few days I’ve seen hummingbird hawkmoths, silver Ys, small coppers, small tortoiseshells and the everpresent red admirals. So maybe things will be better next year. David Anderson, Somerset

How can I help? I always get BBC Wildlife Magazine, which I really enjoy. I love animals. When I’m older I’m going to be a conservationist. It’s said that lion numbers are falling. I’d like to help. What shall I do? Jake Jenkins (aged 6), Newport Environment editor James Fair says: It’s great that you’re so keen to become a conservationist – make sure you spend as much time as possible outdoors, getting to know the birds, mammals, insects and plants in your garden


BE A WINNING WRITER The Letter of the Month wins a pair of HI-TEC Altitude Lite I waterproof boots, worth £59.99 and perfect for hiking. They are available in sizes 7–13 for men and 4–8 for women. For more information visit


BBC Wildlife

This month’s winner is Mark Smith who blogs about the wildlife he encounters in and around Warwickshire at Visit to read his blog posts and find out how you can join our Local Patch reporters project.

December 2016



O Enter our monthly online photographic competition at your-photos/photo-contest

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1 MAPLE TREE in Maine, USA, by Jackie Bedell 2 MALLARD in Water of Leith, Edinburgh, by Pat McKerrow 3 FROG in Kimberley, Nottingham, by Steve Adams

A welcome return

Lakeside dining I often visit a lake in West Sussex to photograph kingfishers. But, on a recent trip, I was amazed to see a carrion crow fly low over the lake, then dive into the water and catch a roach. After the bird surfaced, it went over to a fallen branch at the edge of the lake where it ate the fish, which I caught on camera (below). Michael Vickers, Via email

The two articles on pine martens by Ray Collier and David Bavin in October’s issue show the welcomed increase of this charismatic mammal in Scotland and Wales. I was spellbound when I saw Corrections my first pine marten from a I noticed a couple of errors in hide in Scotland. Since then your September issue. Firstly, I’ve been determined to see the Chris Packham’s ‘Must See’ 12 species of marten that thrive around the world in the wild. The fisher of North America is my one remaining target. Hopefully the articles will encourage BBC Wildlife Magazine readers to try and see this beautiful animal The crow, seen by and support its protection. Michael Vickers, John Harrop, Ruthin enjoys its catch. December 2016

Spare a ciggie? I had thought that smoking a cigarette to ward off midges was an old wives’ tale. But recently I saw a rook at a motorway service station in Cumbria tearing a cigarette stub apart, before lowering itself onto the remains and rubbing its chest on the tobacco. Another rook joined it shortly afterwards and did the same thing. Does this odd behaviour have something to do with parasites? Roderic Mather, Via email


and local area. Nothing beats good identification skills in the field! If you want to find out more about lions and and what you can do to help, try the big cat conservation group Panthera

each other as they are from the black rhino, and therefore should be regarded as separate species.

article refers to female roe deer as hinds, when the correct term is does. Secondly, in Helen Pilcher’s ‘The end of extinction?’ essay, it’s stated of northern and southern white rhinos that “the species are cousins”. In fact, they’re the same species, Ceratotherium simum. The northern and southern varieties are merely subspecies of this species. Billy Moon, via email Helen Pilcher responds: People have argued for a long time about the relatedness of the northern and southern white rhino. Some consider them separate subspecies – a term lacking a precise definition that tends to denote related animals that are genetically similar but geographically separate. But a 2010 study ( that examined the DNA of the two varieties found that they’re as different from

Jo Wimpenny responds: Various animals are known to ‘self-anoint’, applying various substances to skin, fur or feathers. Many birds will rub ants through their plumage to stimulate the insects to produce formic acid, which may kill feather parasites. The tobacco plant produces naturally high levels of nicotine, a potent insect neurotoxin, as a defence strategy against herbivorous insects. There’s some evidence that animals may utilise nicotine’s insecticidal properties; house sparrows have been observed building fluff from cigarette butts into their nests, and chicks that grew in these suffered fewer parasites than chicks in nests without the fluff. It’s possible that the rooks you saw gleaned a similar benefit , but it’s difficult to say for sure. It would certainly be interesting to explore this further!

N’aime pas les conkers I was interested to see the Q&A in the October issue on spiders and conkers. When we moved to France, neighbours told us that a bowl of conkers would keep spiders out of the bedroom. We took their advice and it seems to have worked. The 17th century Chapelle Saint-Benoît is not far from us. The guide there told me that its beautiful ceiling has been preserved because the wood used was spider deterring chestnut. John Coldwell, Marmande, France

QUIZ ANSWERS (see p121) The Wild Words are: 1B, 2B, 3B, 4A, 5C, 6A

BBC Wildlife



INSIDE THE IMAGE GREYLAG GOOSE BATHING DERBYSHIRE, ENGLAND Flexibility and adaptability can be some of the most useful attributes for wildlife photographers. I had ventured out on this particular day to photograph mute swans in the exquisite evening light that had been forecast, but on arrival I was met with leaden skies and not a single swan. What did catch my eye, however, were some greylag geese bathing exuberantly not far from my hiding place in a storm drain. Given the flat, rather uninspiring light and the cluttered, distracting backdrop, I knew that a conventional approach – using a high shutter speed to freeze the action – would result in images that would be mediocre at best.

TIME TO EXPERIMENT Situations such as these, however, offer the opportunity for a bit of creative risk-taking. I decided to try and reveal the motion in the birds’ energetic behaviour by using a slow shutter speed. Good fortune played her hand as the geese continued bathing, giving me ample time to experiment. I needed to find a shutter speed slow enough to capture the motion of both the wings and water droplets, but fast enough to give me a chance of maintaining critical sharpness on the eye. I eventually settled on a speed of 1/20 sec, and while my overall hit rate was pretty poor, this single image proved that the risk was worth taking.”


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1 4

CAMERA Nikon D4s LENS Nikon 200-400mm FOCAL LENGTH F4 VR lens @ 400mm, ISO 800 SPEED 1/20 sec at F11 EXPOSURE manual NOTES Gitzo tripod, Wimberley head


BBC Wildlife

December 2016


ANDREW PARKINSON Andy is a regular contributor to BBC Wildlife, and a contributing photographer to National Geographic magazine. He was named Bird Photographer of the Year 2016 in a British Trust for Ornithology contest.



There are three variables to consider when shooting movement: the subject’s speed of movement; your distance from the subject; and the focal length of the lens. For fast moving subjects, use a shutter speed of about 1/40 to 1/60 sec; for slower ones, try 1/20 and below. A tripod is essential.



To maintain focus on the eye I used the central focussing point which, on modern DSLRs, is always the most reliable. This forced me to place the bird centrally in the frame. In this instance accurate focussing was the most important factor.




The overcast lighting gives the image a wonderfully even, shadow-free tone and allows the subtle punctuations of colour on the goose’s bill and around its eye to really stand out.



The slow shutter speed highlights the varying speeds of movement captured in the image. While the wings and body assume a painterly, almost abstract tone full of motion and dynamism, the head and neck remain relatively static. The more you look at the bird’s face, the more it appears to lift out of the image.



The explosive streaks of water not only help to disguise and hide the cluttered, busy backdrop, but also fill the image with action and drama. Meanwhile, the water level perspective provides a small area of contrasting calm and a more intimate feel.

+ FIND OUT MORE For more photo advice visit wildlife-nature-photography/ tips-and-techniques

December 2016

BBC Wildlife



PHOTO E CHOIC is the place to see and share wildlife photos.



My best friend and I were driving to Orpen Gate in Kruger National Park, South Africa, when he spotted this southern ground hornbill. We stopped the car and I started snapping away. I had to keep zooming out as the bird kept coming closer. Suddenly I couldn’t zoom out any more so I took the camera away, only to realise that the hornbill was right next to the driver’s window. Jessica Murray,

The shot was taken in some woodland near our local quarry. I feed the birds there and I noticed a vole coming out to collect scraps of food the birds had dropped. I started putting food down for the vole and it snowballed from there. It took a few months but the vole will now take peanuts from my hand. I took this picture with a Nikon D500. The vole was using a D7100. Steve Gray, Derbyshire, UK



These young crocs are part of a breeding programme in Laguna Ventanilla, Mexico. The area’s crocodile population has suffered due to hunting and habitat loss but is returning to health thanks to this breeding programme. These juvenile reptiles were in a tank – along with some brave-looking turtles – on their way to be released. Danni Thompson, Kent, UK

The Swann OutbackCam is great for capturing photos and videos of wildlife. The durable and water resistant camera-trap, worth £149.99, has powerful night vision and a motion-triggered recording capability – it can film HD videos at 15 frames per second. SUBMIT YOUR PHOTOS O Enter our Your Photos competition and your image may run in the magazine: www.


While in Botswana’s Chobe Safari Park, I witnessed this tender moment between a mother elephant and her calf. The baby was struggling to climb a ridge and after three or four unsuccessful attempts mum gently wrapped her trunk around the youngster and helped it clamber up. Richard Tadman, Huddersfield, UK


BBC Wildlife

December 2016




I was in my garden one morning when I saw this jumping spider hunting a housefly so I ran inside to grab my camera and started following the pursuit. The spider was very fast, so it was quite hard to get the right shot. I had to take seven photos with different focuses and stacked them together to get everything in focus. Mostafa Ghroz, Jerusalem, Israel


I got this shot while diving off Playa Piskado, on the northern tip of Curaรงao. There were some hawksbill turtles feeding on fish being thrown back by local fishermen. The turtles were initially afraid of us but soon grew comfortable with our presence. We were down there clicking away for over two hours so it was great to see the end result. Luiz Felipe Puntel, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

December 2016

BBC Wildlife


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Win a prize with our brain-teaser.




Answers in our February 2017 issue

1) The sound made by dolphins


Across: 1 Slavonian grebe, 10 Robin, 11 Caddis fly, 12 Eurasia, 13 Spinner, 14 Lung, 15 King salmon, 19 Huhu beetle, 20 Blob, 22 Prairie, 25 Caspian, 27 Tennessee, 28 Ocean, 29 Cley next the Sea. Down: 2 Labyrinth, 3 Venus, 4 Nectarine, 5 Andes, 6 Gliridae, 7 Elfin, 8 Elytron, 9 Irwell, 16 Goldcrest, 17 Millipede, 18 Aberdeen, 19 Hepatic, 21 Banana, 23 Arnee, 24 Essex, 26 Spore.

OCTOBER PRIZE WINNER Elaine Blackman Presteigne

ACROSS 1 The ___ beetle is so named because it can emit the chemical cantharidin (7) 5 Insect-eating migrant bird in the family Hirundinidae (7) 9 Succulent plant, such as the Spanish bayonet and Adam’s needle (5) 10 Arabian camel with a single hump (9) 11 American relative of the nightjar that can be rufous-bellied or band-tailed (9) 12 Taxonomic groups ranked below ‘kingdom’ and above ‘class’ (5) 13 African country where the Boucle du Baoulé National Park can be found (4) 15 The ___ sandpiper is a small wader, rarely seen in the UK (8) 18 Tall plant with narrow leaves and a spike of white, pink or yellow flowers (8) 19 The red ___ is a fork-tailed raptor, once almost extinct in Britain (4) 22 Fibrous plant, native to China and related to the nettle (5)

24 Small nut-bearing tree, related to the cashew (9) 26 African tree with fleshy fruits, also known as dika (4, 5) 27 The ___ mousetail, a rose of the western US, is so-called because of its grubby appearance (5) 28 A small wood or copse (7) 29 Large forest bird of the Americas, related to the pheasants and grouse (7)

for its attractive, aromatic flowers (5) 6 Tree of the genus Quercus, named after a Syrian city (6, 3) 7 The ___ seadragon is a seahorse-like fish with frond-like protrusions (5) 8 African bird with a long, dark tail, also called a widowbird (6) 14 Parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in the bodies of caterpillars (9) 16 Dandelion-like yellow wildflower (9) 17 South American forest bird that feeds DOWN on insects, especially Formicidae (9) 1 White ___ is a climbing hedgerow plant, 20 Diving water birds that might be popular with caterpillars (6) great crested or black-necked (6) 2 Annual plant, Rottboellia 21 Tiny sea creatures such as those that cochinchinensis, widely regarded as an construct corals (6) agricultural weed (9) 23 The ___ giraffe is the largest giraffe 3 Species of eucalyptus tree, native to species (5) western Australia (5) 24 Cultivated violet with large, velvety 4 The male ___ robin has a brightly flowers (5) coloured crown (3-6) 25 The ___ snail is so named because 5 Plant of the mustard family cultivated its shell resembles a drill bit (5)

WIN A WACACO MINIPRESSO ESPRESSO MACHINE HOW TO ENTER This competition is only open to residents of the UK (including the Channel Islands). Post entries to BBC Wildlife Magazine, December 2016 Crossword, PO Box 501, Leicester, LE94 0AA or email the answers to by 5pm on 9 December 2016. Entrants must supply name, address and telephone number. The winner will be the first correct entry drawn at random after the closing time. The name of the winner will appear in the February 2017 issue. By entering participants agree to be bound by the general competition terms and conditions shown on this page. Immediate Media Company Limited (publisher of BBC Wildlife Magazine) would love to send you newsletters, together with special offers, and other promotions. If you would not like to receive these please write ‘NO INFO’ on your entry. Branded BBC titles are licensed from or published jointly with BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC). Please tick here m if you’d like to receive regular newsletters, special offers and promotions from BBC Worldwide by email. Your information will be handled in accordance with the BBC Worldwide privacy policy:

December 2016

The new Wacaco Minipresso NS is a compact espresso machine, worth £49.99, that can be taken with you on your travels. The hand-operated device requires no batteries or electricity and is compatible with Nespresso capsules. O For more information visit

A a snort B a click C a cry

2) The animal you associate with the adjective talpine A a lapwing B a mole C a finch

3) The name for a female fox A a mare B a vixen C a bitch

4) The offspring of an oyster A a spat B a tumbler C a fingerling

Find out the answers on p115

5) The collective noun for starlings A a murder B a tiding C a murmuration

6) The definition of chavish A the sound of many birds

chirping together B a track worn by rabbits or

rats near their holes C to frighten the crows from

the cornfields Questions set by ADAM JACOT DE BOINOD General competition terms and conditions 1. The BBC Code of Conduct for competitions can be found at and all BBC-branded magazines comply with the Code. 2. Competitions are open to all residents of the UK, including the Channel Islands, aged 18 years or older, except employees or contractors of Immediate Media and anyone connected with the promotion or their direct family members. 3. By entering a competition, the participants agree: to be bound by these terms and conditions; that their surname and county of residence may be released if they win a prize; and that should they win the competition, their name and likeness may be used for pre-arranged promotional purposes. 4. Entrants should follow the instructions for each competition carefully in order to enter. Entries received after the specified closing date and time will not be considered, and cannot be returned. 5. Entrants must supply their full name, postal address and landline telephone number. We will use entrants’ personal details in accordance with the Immediate Media Privacy Policy at www. 6. Only one entry will be permitted per person, regardless of method of entry. Bulk entries made by third parties will not be permitted. 7. The winning entrant will be the first correct entry drawn at random after the closing time, or, in creative competitions, the one that in the judges’ opinion is the best. 8. There is no cash alternative and prizes will not be transferable. Prizes must be taken as stated and cannot be deferred. We reserve the right to substitute the prize with one of the same or greater value. 9. Our decision as to the winner is final and no correspondence relating to a competition will be entered into. The name and county of residence of the winner(s) will be available (by sending an SAE to BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media, 2nd Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN) within three months of the closing date of the promotion. 10. The winner(s) will be notified by telephone or email within 10 days of the close of the promotion. 11. We reserve the right to amend these terms and conditions or to cancel, alter or amend a competition at any stage if deemed necessary in our opinion, or if circumstances arise outside our control. 12. If we cannot reach you, or if we have not received a response within two working days of the initial date of contact, we may re-offer the prize to a runner-up or in one of our future competitions. The prize will only be reassigned three times before it is given to charity. 13. We exclude liability to the full extent permitted by law for any loss, damage or injury occurring to the participant arising from his or her entry into a competition or occurring to the winner(s) arising from his or her acceptance of a prize. 14. The competitions are subject to the laws of England. 15. Promoter: Immediate Media Co Bristol Ltd.

BBC Wildlife 121

Tales from the

bush A WILD WORLD OF RIPPING YARNS WHO? JIM MANTHORPE is a freelance wildlife cameraman, photographer and writer based in the Highlands of Scotland.



The characteristic golden eagle plumage starts to show through a chick’s white fluff around three weeks after hatching.




s it possible to be blown away by a close encounter with wildlife without seeing anything? After what happened to me earlier this year, I think it is. I was filming a golden eagle nest for Springwatch and my hide was at the foot of a cliff, tucked among some mossy boulders topped by rowan and birch trees. Up on a ledge, about 40 metres away, was the eyrie, and for the first few weeks I was treated to incredible views of the lone, fluffy white chick being gently preened by her mother. The male came in once or twice a day with a grouse, a fox cub or some other delicacy. He’d present the food to the mother who’d then tear off tiny morsels and carefully place them in the chick’s bill. In those early weeks the chick needed a lot of care from its mother; its head flopped about from side to side and it even toppled over when trying to move. It was hard to believe that in less than 10 weeks, it would be soaring over the glen below me. As the chick grew and became more robust, the parents spent less time with

her, and the mother busied herself with collecting fresh foliage to line the nest. It’s thought that the leaves, particularly of rowan, have an antiseptic quality that keep the nest – within which accumulates the increasingly fetid corpses of small birds and mammals – free from pathogens. It was on one of these foliage-finding excursions that the mother caught me by surprise. Normally she’d head out up the glen and away from me, but this time she flew from the nest in my direction. Stuck in my hide I had a very restricted view and lost sight of her. Moments later a dark shadow briefly dimmed the sun, followed by a rush of wind and a gentle thud as the female eagle landed next to the hide, just a few metres away. The hide had a tiny window covered by a flap of material. I was desperate to pull

it to one side so I could watch what she was doing, but I knew that the slightest movement could spook her. If that made her fly off without returning to the nest, it would be bad for me – no prospects of good footage – but would be even worse for the chick. Because if the mother stayed away for any length of time, the chick could get hypothermic and die. So, although my heart was thumping, I just sat there trying to keep perfectly still as I listened to the sound of her tearing vegetation up from the ground. I’ve touched wild eagle chicks while helping to ring them, but it can’t beat being that close to a wild adult eagle that’s unaware of your presence, even if you can’t actually see it. This went on for a few short minutes, but eventually she took off with the vegetation she’d foraged, and I was able to relax. I still wonder what I’d have seen if I’d looked through the flap. But I’m glad I didn’t – seeing isn’t always believing.


122 BBC Wildlife

O Do you have a tale that you would like to share? If so, please email a synopsis of your idea to

December 2016

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