wildlife december 2014

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How palm oil has gone from threat to solution


Big city

predators Why India’s leopards are uniquely adapted for urban living

December 2014 Volume 32 Number 13

“British papers are full of anti-wildlife propaganda”







Robert Fuller

Welcome As Chris Packham points out in his column this issue, whether it’s badgers, sharks, “killer” hornets, “huge” spiders or “dangerous” ragwort, the British media rarely let environmental understanding get in the way of a story. And that journalistic nose for news really starts twitching when city foxes stray into people’s homes, which puts our leopard cover story into real perspective (p36). In Mumbai, one of the world’s most populous cities, there have been increasing reports of conflict between people and the leopards who live there, though they are seldom seen. Just imagine the flurry of outraged alliterative headlines they would provoke in our own tabloids! But it turns out that the tension has partly been caused by leopard-translocation policies, which can now be reformed. As our writer Janaki Lenin explains, the good news from India’s cities is that by adapting we can co-exist with these incredible cats. In the UK, we could learn a great deal from that kind of attitude to wildlife. Matt Swaine Editor matt.swaine@immediate.co.uk December 2014


this issue

70 The number of Asiatic cheetahs thought to be left in Iran See p73 How starlings avoid mid-air collisions in murmurations See p20

FAST EVOLUTION Insects that go through complete metamorphosis may be less prone to extinction See p25

IN BBC WILDLIFE THIS MONTH CHRIS PACKHAM GUEST COLUMNIST “I’m fed up with our preoccupation with the cute and cuddly,” says Chris. “I long for the day when we all reach ecological maturity and accept that all life counts.” See p33 JANAKI LENIN CONTRIBUTOR Janaki lives in India on a farm that a leopard also calls home. She says: “We must realise that the destinies of many wild animals and humans are intertwined.” See p36 STEVE HARRIS CONTRIBUTOR Mammal expert Steve helped to judge our Camera-Trap Photo of the Year competition. “Camera-traps give us amazing insights into animal behaviour,” he says. See p68 TIM BIRKHEAD CONTRIBUTOR Tim has studied guillemots for 42 years. “A long-term study like this proves that sometimes you need lots of data to answer what seem like simple questions.” See p82

GET YOUR DIGITAL COPY Buy a digital edition of BBC Wildlife Magazine for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, PC or Mac. Visit iTunes, the Google Play store, Amazon or www.zinio.com to find out more. ON THE COVER: Female leopard in India by Sharad Agrawal; Chris Packham: BBC; rhino: Will Burrard-Lucas

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CONTENTS December 2014



Why a big cat in a big city needn’t mean a big panic

Wild 06 Survival skills Blizzard-defying squirrel Plus Moon jellyfish bloom


Seven wild spectacles See raven roosts, avocets and mountain hares

14 Plant identification Learn how to spot male and female plants

16 Reader’s wildlife blogs Beautiful kestrel painting

19 Wild challenge Twelve different lichens to look for and identify FREE Download online

20 Discover starling roosts How huge winter flocks co-ordinate their aerobatics Plus Eight top locations 4

BBC Wildlife

22 Seasonably sustainable Make your Christmas wildlife-friendly

24 Latest scientific research Shark personalities, killer chimpanzees and trouble for tree-roosting bats



36 Big city predators

49 Rare dolphins seen

How Indian leopards are adapted for city life, and people can live alongside these top predators

Hybrid dolphins discovered in the Outer Hebrides

50 Fall in use of rhino horn Public-awareness campaign reduces demand Plus Gamekeeper convicted

58 Vulture restaurant The community project to save Cambodian vultures


68 Camera-trap results Amazing winning shots boost our understanding of rare animal behaviour

77 Weird animal sex A celebration of sex’s most surprising secrets

82 The long game Why there are no shortcuts when researching a species

27 The best gadgets to film your garden wildlife

Mark Carwardine Firm action needed to protect summer songbirds


Badgers microchipped How microchipping could improve our knowledge

52 Save the orangutan Grow palm oil, yes – but in the right way

54 Your Feedback Stags battling underwater, hen harriers and your views on how to beat poaching November 2014

Join our





Slender-billed vultures dine at the ‘vulture restaurant’

More readers are sharing their wildlife experiences online l Why not join them on our website? www.discoverwildlife. com/forum l


A 42-year project on Skomer has helped guillemot research





89 Are whales bones heavy?

97 Overcoming the odds

33 New columnist

92 Make a wildlife hide Plus Which animal is fastest for its size, and why is bird excrement white?

Life Story book reviewed

98 Book reviews David Attenborough’s memoir, plus fossils, seabirds and chimpanzees

100 TV and Radio Arctic wolf packs, birds of paradise, swimming feral pigs and Sumatran tigers


Palm oil production doesn’t have to destroy rainforests

Chris Packham



JOIN US ON SOCIAL MEDIA... facebook.com/wildlifemagazine

Challenging the ecological illiteracy of the media


35 Bill Oddie Wild at Heart


Miracles of nature

46 Subscriptions Save 30% and choose a free book worth £25

102 Reader Holiday Don’t miss our exclusive holiday to Scotland

111 Christmas Quiz Win a Páramo jacket

112 Your Photos Share your best photos at www.discoverwildlife.com

114 Tales From the Bush Black rat under threat

EDITORIAL Tel 0117 314 7366 Email wildlifemagazine@immediate.co.uk Post BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, 9th Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN SUBSCRIPTIONS AND BACK ISSUES Tel 0844 844 0251 Email wildlife@servicehelpline.co.uk Post BBC Wildlife Magazine, FREEPOST LON16059, Sittingbourne, Kent ME9 8DF OTHER CONTACTS App support immediateapps@ servicehelpline.co.uk Advertising enquiries Laura Gibbs 0117 314 8760; laura.gibbs@immediate.co.uk Syndication Emma Brunt 0117 314 8782; emma.brunt@immediate.co.uk

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Leopard: Getty; Chris: Quinton Winter; dolphins: Hiroya Minakuchi/Minden/FLPA; guillemots: Mark Sisson/rspb-images.com; vulture: Neil Bowman; palm oil: Reuters/Corbis

domestic rabbit, why don’t conifers shed their leaves, three things you never knew about redwings.




Plus How wild is a





Chris Packham slams the British press

You won’t believe what bottlenose dolphins get up to


Survival skills Like their burlier grey relatives from North America, our native red squirrels don’t hibernate. “Reds are amazingly tough,” says Mel Tonkin of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. “They grow thick winter coats and will be out and about in all but the harshest weather, searching for the lifesaving caches of tree seeds and fungi that they hoarded in autumn. You can still spot their tracks even when there’s heavy snow cover.” This Cairngorms individual eyeballed photographer Jules Cox during a December blizzard so fierce that his camera kept refocusing on the driving snow. Your best chance of spotting a red squirrel in the Highlands this month is to check one of the feeding stations stocked all winter – try the visitor centres at RSPB Abernethy (there’s also a webcam) or the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of the Lowes reserve. Photograph by Jules Cox


Bloom boom Blooms of moon jellyfish, pictured here in a sea loch on Scotland’s Isle of Mull, are a reliable indicator of distressed oceans, says marine biologist Lisa Gershwin. “These jellyfish love disturbed ecosystems. They like warm water, as it makes them grow faster, breed more and live longer; they like having no predators and competitors; and they really like coastal construction, as it gives their polyp stages somewhere to settle and grow.” Figures for jellyfish populations around the globe tell a worrying story. “In Korea, researchers tracked small jellyfish for 20 years, recording a five-fold increase. In Japan, the massive Nomura’s jellyfish used to bloom every few decades, but now does so almost every year, with 500 million per day drifting into the Sea of Japan from China. And the infamous Mnemiopsis leidyi now makes up 95 per cent of all of the biomass in the Black Sea, having been inadvertently introduced in the late 1980s.” O Help out by reporting any jellyfish blooms you see to the Marine Conservation Society at http://bit.ly/1iYBeqn Photograph by Alex Hyde




Crab meet Painted ghost crabs feast on a dead sealion at Cerro Brujo Beach, on San Cristóbal island in the Galápagos archipelago. Enrique del Campo had just 30 minutes to approach and photograph the behaviour without scaring the crustaceans away. Most ghost crabs are solitary and aggressive, but painteds are highly social, assembling in pods that move in co-ordinated ranks across sandy beaches. “They will commonly scavenge when the opportunity arises, tracking down a carcass using chemoreceptors on the tips of their legs that ‘taste’ the sand,” says Thomas Trott, associate professor of biology at Suffolk University, Boston, USA. “However, their primary method of eating is ‘deposit feeding’, in which they use specially adapted mouthparts to sift micro-organisms from grains of sand scooped up on the beach.” Photograph by Enrique del Campo






T Our largest mustelid is a mammal that, more than any other, straddles the boundary between land and water. The otter can be seen in Britain year-round, though locating one is usually no easy task. But if you fancy a tracking challenge, search unpolluted inland rivers for the telltale spraints and prints left by animals that have been hunting spent salmon and sea trout, exhausted after their migration upstream to spawn. BEST SPOT Gilfach Farm Radnorshire




S For more than half a millennium Branta leucopsis was believed to grow underwater in barnacle shells before emerging onto land in autumn. Realisation dawned only upon the discovery, barely a century ago, of its remote breeding grounds in Greenland. Anyone who saw the tiny chicks’ clifftop leaps in BBC One’s Life Story will have a newfound respect for this goose – see it for yourself in the Inner Hebrides, home to over a third of the UK winter population. BEST SPOT Isle of Islay Argyll and Bute









+ BE A LOCAL EXPERT Share your best tips for watching wildlife in your local area on our forum at www.discoverwildlife.com

W More than 7,000 of these leggy piebald waders with a slender, upturned bill now winter in the UK – there were none just 70 years ago. In autumn British and Dutch breeders disperse from their colonies to gather in large flocks on a handful of sheltered estuaries and coastal lagoons along England’s south and east coasts. You can see them from land or water, with boat trips operating in Dorset’s Poole Harbour and Devon’s Exe Estuary, and in Suffolk along the River Ore to Havergate Island. BEST SPOT Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island Dorset

1. David Tipling; 2. Laurie Campbell; 3. David Kjaer; 4. Eric Médard; 5 & 6. Mike Lane; 7. Mark Hamblin








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T A few-score metres offshore, a flock of eider bobs in the swell. Like all British ducks the sexes look very different. The female is brown with dark stripes, while the male is white and black with a powdery green hindneck and rosy flush to his breast. This strictly coastal species favours rocky shores, where it dives for crustaceans such as molluscs. The bird is known as ‘Cuddy’s duck’ in Northumberland after St Cuthbert, a local saint. BEST SPOT Bamburgh




S The winter roosts of rooks and jackdaws have become established destinations for wildlife watchers, but those of the raven are less readily visited. Britain’s largest congregation assembles in a forest on the Welsh coast. Though numbers have dwindled to less than half their former peak of 2,000 birds, the sight and sound of hundreds of these hulking black forms gathering in the gloom remain impressive. Ravens may use their nightly roost to exchange news of animal carcasses to scavenge. BEST SPOT Newborough Forest Anglesey


X By December mountain hares have undergone a transformation that is unique across our three lagomorph species – moulting from brown summer fur to winter white. The intention is clear: to continue a camouflaged existence on moors and fells that, by rights, should be snowbound this month. However, our ever-milder climate means that much of the mountain hare’s patchy distribution may still lack a white blanket. Either way, December is a great month to spot hares on a rugged ramble across favoured hills. BEST SPOT Crowden Derbyshire


S For much of the day the rarest deer in Britain skulks and slumbers in dense waterlogged vegetation such as Norfolk’s coastal marshes and Cambridgeshire’s Fens. But as daylight evaporates this teddy-bear-faced cervid stumbles onto neighbouring fields for a night of browsing. If alarmed the deer typically freezes, utters a throaty cough then lopes towards safety. First introduced to Britain during World War II, our population has reached 4,000 individuals, one-fifth of the world’s meagre total. BEST SPOT Woodwalton Fen Cambridgeshire

December 2014

BBC Wildlife


Ben Hoare’s

INSTANT naturalist

Essential fieldcraft, skills and knowledge you need to discover the natural world.



hristmas is a time for gifts, wine and song… and also for discovering the rather special reproductive strategy of dioecious plants. While most flora have both male and female organs on the same plant, these species have either male or female individuals. “We have just 20 or so species like this in Britain, plus the willows and docks,” says botanist Trevor Dines of Plantlife. “Coincidentally, they include the three we associate with Christmas – holly, ivy and mistletoe.” Other dioecious species are red and white campion, dog’s mercury, stinging nettle, yew and juniper. Ash trees are often polygamodioecious – that is, there are a few male flowers on otherwise female trees, and vice versa; sometimes their branches are either all-male or all-female. Dioecy is important to the conservation of juniper. “Many relict juniper populations in northern England and on islands are single plants, so as lone males or females they are doomed,” says Trevor. “Plantlife is introducing specimens from the other sex to help them start setting seed again.”

Dispersal All five thrush species found in Britain in winter love holly berries, dispersing the stone fruit through their droppings. Mistle thrushes are often highly protective of their tree, noisily guarding its berries against other birds.

FEMALE HOLLY Ilex aquifolium

Male flower Has four prominent, pollenbearing stamens that splay out in an ‘X’ shape. Seen in spring and summer, from May.

Berries Only female holly produces berries, known as drupes. Botanically speaking, the fruit is the hard ‘stone’ at the centre, the exocarp is the red outer skin and the mesocarp is the fleshy orange layer in between.

Female flower A fat green ‘boss’ in the middle is the ovary, which forms the base of the yellowish stigma. There are also four stamens, but these don’t produce pollen. Flowering season as male flowers.

Leaves Evergreen. New low growth has more spines as it is within the browsing zone of deer; above 2–3m, leaves are smoother-edged. Fallen leaves decay slowly – look for their paper-thin skeletons on the ground.

Foodplant Holly is a key food for about 30 species of invertebrate, including the caterpillars of lovely insects such as the holly blue butterfly and privet hawkmoth.

Clockwise from centre: Steve Round; John Bebbington x2; Bob Gibbons x2; Colin Varndell; Bob Gibbons

A CLOSER LOOK AT DIOECIOUS PLANTS Dog’s mercury Forms carpets in shady ancient woodland; flowers February–April. Flowers on male plants resemble yellow catkins, and on female plants develop into paired fleshy fruits. But spreads mostly by rhizomes, creating single-sex patches on woodland floors.


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Red campion

Abundant plant of woodland, hedgerows and verges, with a long April–August flowering period. Female flower has five tall white styles (the structures that bear the stigmas) at the centre; the male flower has a cluster of 10 yellowish stamens.

+ FIND OUT MORE Hear the excellent Radio 4 series Plants: From Roots to Riches at www. bbc.co.uk/radio O Plantlife’s site: www.plantlife.org.uk

December 2014




Don’t race around reserves: get in the habit of stopping frequently to pore over leaves, fungi, invertebrates and whatever else catches your eye. Lots of birds flock in winter, but not all flock members are alike. Scan carefully to spot different plumages or species.

Species-recording websites and apps have proliferated like mushrooms after rain, so how does the average citizen scientist know which are the most worthwhile and will pass data to relevant biological records centres? Here are three of the most important in Britain, which allow you to manage your records and share them with experts and communities of fellow naturalists. l iRecord All taxonomic groups; many smartphone and tablet apps also feed their data to iRecord. www.brc.ac.uk/irecord l BirdTrack Birds and now also dragonflies; the BTO’s main online recording portal. www.birdtrack.org l Sealife Tracker Marine life: a much under-recorded area. www.naturelocator.org/sealife.html

GARDEN WATCH Four highlights to look out for on your patch in the New Year.


Bat hibernation PHILIP BRIGGS

When do bats enter hibernation? It’s triggered by shorter days and hormonal changes, typically starting from mid-October. But in mild weather bats may remain active into November or December, particularly in the warmer south and west and cities.

How do bats choose winter roosts? They need undisturbed places with a cool, constant temperature and high humidity, such as caves, mines, tunnels and cellars. Six UK bats may hibernate in trees: the brown long-eared, noctule, Nathusius’ pipistrelle, barbastelle, Leisler’s and Bechstein’s.

Which species hibernate in houses?

O Centipedes such as the abundant species Lithobius forficatus stay active all winter in leaf litter and compost heaps.

O Bullfinch numbers are down 39 per cent since 1967, but garden visits are up. Offer sunflower hearts to attract them.

Pipistrelles often roost in houses in summer, but in winter are much less conspicuous, though you may find them in outbuildings or tucked away in gaps. Callers to the Bat Conservation Trust helpline have seen bats in log piles and even behind a picture on a wall!

What changes do they go through? Bats enter an extended torpor to conserve energy stores, by reducing their metabolic rate. Their heartbeat slows, they may breathe just once an hour and their body cools, usually to within 1–2°C of ambient air temperature. Clockwise spiral from top: Chris Gomersall; Rupert Soskin; Steffen Hauser/Alamy; David Whitaker; Alex Hyde; Steve Round

Do bats wake up mid-hibernation? Bats wake frequently to drink and may also mate in winter. On warm days they emerge to feed – especially long-eared bats, which pick crawling invertebrates off surfaces and so are less reliant on air temperatures being high enough to sustain flying insects. O Goldcrests can be amazingly tame – look for them flitting around garden conifers. They may even visit fat balls.

December 2014

O Mahonia flowers are a lifeline for any drowsy queen bumblebees that awake on unseasonally mild midwinter days.

O Philip Briggs manages the National Bat Monitoring Programme for the Bat Conservation Trust: www.bats.org.uk

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YOUR WILD BLOGS Local Patch Reporters are readers based around the country, creating blogs about wildlife at home and abroad. Follow them at www.discoverwildlife.com Robert painted this kestrel from studies he made last year.

ROBERT FULLER NORTH YORKSHIRE “I was surprised to discover that a pair of kestrels, two jackdaws and a tawny owl had been inspecting a nestbox in my garden. I put the nestbox up to attract the kestrel pair, and in spring rigged a camera so I could watch them. After the falcon chicks fledged, it was occupied by stock doves that abandoned two eggs. A video I took shows a kestrel taking an interest in the eggs. I’m hoping the kestrels will use the nestbox again, as a chick would make a good model for next year’s paintings!”


FINCHES OF EAST FINCHLEY BLOG http://bugwomanlondon.com NAME Vivienne Palmer OCCUPATION Writer, accountant and IT trainer

A goldfinch (to p) and a male chaffinch shar e a feeder.

MERCANTOUR MARMOTS BLOG http://yalakom.org/ NAME Alzira Alaniz OCCUPATION Freelance writer and translator

“I live in East Finchley, London, and my environment is very urban as I’m not far from the city centre. My garden has lived up to the name of the suburb I call home as about 20 finches regularly visit my feeders. I’ve been busy taking photos of chaffinches and goldfinches (left) with my new camera, and have been identifying males and females.” Alzira took this photograph near Vignols.

“Roubion, France, is a charming medieval town and a great base to explore Mercantour National Park, which hosts a rich array of flora and fauna. You are likely to spot marmots around Vignols from October to March – they betray themselves the moment they decide to run away.”

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“In October I went to a beach clean at Spurn Point, organised by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Surfers Against Sewage. Other volunteers and I collected rubbish near the observatory, then boarded the Unimog (below) to gather a line of fishing litter along the strandline and lots of plastic bottles in the dunes at the end of the peninsula.” Jonathan and other volunteers filled a Unimog with rubbish.

ALEX OXFORDSHIRE “I saw this common darter (right) while out walking with my family. Due to the rain over the previous couple of days the river was rather high. The dragonfly wasn’t bothered by our presence when we sat down to watch it whizz around – instead it landed on Mum’s hand while she was trying to take a photo. We also took some great videos of the insect hovering.”

A common darter poses for Alex.

WANT TO SEE YOUR NATURE JOURNAL IN PRINT? Then post blog updates on our forum: www.discoverwildlife.com/forum

BBC Wildlife

December 2014

Experts by nature

With almost 170 years unrivalled expertise in sourcing, cleaning and seed blending, The Ernest Charles Co. range now includes a choice of four beautifully handcrafted premium bird tables and a range of specialist seed blends that contain only the finest ingredients. * E E R F T 10 0% WH EA To ensure we develop the most nutritious and vital wild bird feeds, we work closely with the UK’s leading bird research organisation, the British Trust for Ornithology.




www.ernestcharles.com The Ernest Charles Co Ernest Charles Co *May contain trace elements of wheat due to the manufacturing process.




WILD challenge LICHEN Lichens are full of character and colour. Download this guide at www. discoverwildlife.com and tell us what you see this month!

Beard lichen

Map lichen


Common greenshield lichen FLAVOPARMELIA CAPERATA


Tufted lichen, found in tangled clumps on trees and shrubs; mainly in west. Apothecia is cup- or disc-shaped.

Widespread leaf-like lichen in large, lobed patches on trees and rocks; green thallus has warty granules.

Green or yellow encrusting species, with black apothecia; dark border. Common on uplands and coasts.


ichens are symbiotic entities, each made up of a fungus and a photosynthetic alga. The fungal structure, or thallus, provides shelter and protection for the algae, which pay rent by leaking nutrients. Lichens generally favour clean air and humidity, so are found in greater abundance and diversity in western Britain. But wherever you live, there will be lichens nearby. There are three main forms: leaf-like foliose lichens; encrusting or crustose types; and tufted or fruiticose forms. Look for swollen spore-producing bodies called apothecia, which can be highly distinctive and intricate. Lichens are informative, too. Ecologists use pollutionsensitive lichens as indicators of air quality, ‘natural navigators’ refer to growth patterns to gauge direction, and historians can use the spread of lichens to estimate the age of buildings, gravestones and ancient monuments.

Illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole



Tree lungwort

Devil’s matchstick




Encrusting lichen; yellow inland or deep orange in coastal areas. Roof tiles, walls, rocks and sea defences.

Leaf-like lichen with dimpled green or brown thallus; sometimes clads whole trunks or rocks. The west.

Tufted lichen of heath and moorland; scaly stems, single or branching, have scarlet apothecia.

Oakmoss/Stag lichen

Bloodspot lichen

Sea ivory




Widespread tufted lichen with a flattened, branching thallus. Shaggy clumps on trees and fenceposts.

Encrusting lichen of upland rocks from Snowdonia northwards; thallus is circular with red-brown apothecia.

Tufted lichen. Thallus branches are contorted; swollen apothecia near tips. Spray zone on coasts.


How many of these beautiful lichens can you spot? You can post your pictures on our forum and we’ll feature some of the best in the magazine: www.discoverwildlife.com


Black tar lichen

Orange sea lichen

Dog lichen




Encrusting species of coasts; covers rocks around the high-tide mark with large, irregularly shaped patches.

Encrusting lichen common in the splash zone of rocky beaches; one of several coastal species in its genus.

Creeping lichen associated with heaths and moors. Its dark brown to pale grey lobes curl when dry.

BBC Wildlife


Hunting raptors O Starling roosts are often targeted by peregrines (left) and sparrowhawks, triggering dramatic evasive action as the flocks split and reform. Visit http://bit.ly/1wvt9CL to see a simulation from the University of Warwick.

Assembly flocks

Main: Laurie Campbell; clockwise from left: Laurie Campbell: Sam Hobson; Colin Varndell; Drew Buckley; David Tipling; John Waters/NPL (captive)

O In late afternoon starlings fly to the roost site from their feeding areas up to 50km away. As dusk approaches they gather nearby on wires, trees and aerials, from where ever-larger flocks head off to join the main murmuration.

Peak murmurations occur during cold snaps from December to February. Aerial displays last longer in clear, calm conditions.

DISCOVER starling roosts New research shows how huge winter starling flocks co-ordinate their massed aerobatics. hape-shifting congregations of thousands of starlings at dusk, called murmurations, have an almost volcanic energy. “Carousels of birds chimed and merged, like iron filings made to bend to a magnet,” writes Tim Dee in The Running Sky. But explaining how starlings gather in such numbers and mostly avoid mid-air collisions (fatalities are

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BBC Wildlife

known in some flocking species) has long provoked much debate. Now a multi-disciplinary study by the University of Warwick has found that flock density is key. “A bird is safer from predation if it joins a big, dense flock,” says researcher Dan Pearce. “So in theory large flocks would eventually be totally opaque. But we discovered that birds select

the optimum density so they never quite get that packed. If you look at photos of flocks, there will always be gaps where you can see the sky. “Each starling constantly monitors the trajectories of about six or seven of its nearest neighbours, while also making adjustments so that it can still see light areas – that is, patches of sky. It must always be able to gather vital information about its surroundings.” Amazingly, this process is entirely instinctive. “The birds do it almost without thinking,” says Dan. December 2014

WILD DECEMBER BEST LOCATIONS Starling roosts vary in size and shift location from year to year – here are some of the most reliable.

European arrivals O Many British starlings remain here all year but move to milder coastal, western and southern areas in winter. Their numbers are swelled by migrants from the Baltic, Scandinavia and Russia that may double the population to about 16 million birds.

NEAR GRETNA, DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY Roost site is mobile; recently it has been to the west of Gretna, over the village of Rigg.

ALBERT BRIDGE, RIVER LAGAN, BELFAST Big city-centre starling roosts like this are sadly uncommon today.

RSPB SALTHOLME, NEAR MIDDLESBROUGH Flocks gather against a dramatic backdrop of heavy industry.

Safe roost sites O For protection from terrestrial predators such as foxes, starlings often roost in Phragmites reeds growing in water. Dense conifers and ledges on bridges, seaside piers and buildings are also used.

RSPB LEIGHTON MOSS, LANCASHIRE A medium-sized reedbed roost, featured on Autumnwatch.

ROYAL PIER, ABERYSTWYTH Watch from on the pier itself or along the seafront parade.

RSPB FEN DRAYTON LAKES, CAMBRIDGESHIRE Perhaps the most accessible of several roosts in the Fens.

RSPB NEWPORT WETLANDS Large reedbed roost that attracts local pylon-nesting peregrines.

SHAPWICK HEATH/RSPB HAM WALL, SOMERSET Probably Britain’s largest roost. Very popular, so avoid weekends. For more great locations, visit www.discoverwildlife.com

Warmth and chatter O Roosting starlings perch close to one another for communal warmth. Before sleeping, they often preen en masse, and there is a theory that they also exchange information about good feeding sites, though this is difficult to prove. Roosts are certainly very noisy, with thousands of birds calling in a tumult of sound.

December 2014

UK STARLING ROOST SURVEY The Society of Biology and the University of Gloucestershire are organising a national starling murmuration survey this winter. To join in, you need to estimate the size and duration of flocks, and record the time, weather, air

temperature and if any birds of prey were in the vicinity. O www.societyofbiology.org

BBC Wildlife



Seasonably sustainable Enjoy the warm glow of a sustainable Christmas. Environmentalist Julie Hill explains how to reduce your footprint and help wildlife in the process. 1


Use greenery to brighten your home, such as holly and ivy from your back yard – and when you take the decorations down in the New Year, they can be added to an eco-pile in your garden. A birdfeeding wreath is easy to create, and has the added value of supporting your garden visitors in the coldest season. Make the circular base from twisted twigs, wind holly and ivy round the wreath, and stuff fat and seeds into the scales of pine cones.

Holly: Colin Varndell; sprout: Alamy; bird table & lights: Shutterstock; potato printing & tree: Wanda Sowry



Encourage your children or grandchildren to potato-print brown paper to wrap your presents in, and, once gifts have been exchanged, try to keep the paper to use again. Or give presents in reusable, personalised fabric bags. You can make your own tree decorations or garlands out of recycled cards or wrapping paper kept from previous years.



Many wildlife charities offer the chance to adopt a species on behalf of someone else, or to purchase annual membership as a gift. Alternative ideas include buying seeds for your relative or friend to start their very own mini-meadow, or a wildlife home for them to put in their garden, such as a birdbox, insect hotel or hedgehog house.



According to the Carbon Trust, LED Christmas lights on average consume between one-fifth and oneeighth of the electricity of non-LED equivalents. When you leave the house remember to turn the lights off – make sure that the switch is easily accessible. Or you could put them on a timer.


When sourcing your Christmas meal, do your best to support local businesses and buy organic. Try to buy ethically produced meat that hasn’t been reared on a factory farm, and vegetables that haven’t travelled thousands of kilometres in order to reduce your carbon footprint. Any raw food waste (such as potato peelings) can be added to the compost pile in your garden – visit www. lovefoodhatewaste.com for more advice on cutting down the amount you throw out.



According to recycling body WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme), in 2007 about 250 tonnes of Christmas trees that could have been recycled for composting and wood chippings were thrown out after Christmas. Fortunately many councils now set up tree-recycling points. Another option is to add the tree to an eco-pile in your garden and allow it to rot down – such areas make brilliant habitats for insects, which in turn attract birds to your back yard. Visit www.recyclenow.com/ what-to-do-with/christmas-trees to find out more.



There are arguments for artificial trees that can be used again and again. But if you prefer a real one, consider getting a living tree that can be kept in a pot and brought out each year. Some plantations use herbicides to control weeds, so do check when you buy your tree – and try to source it locally. + FIND OUT MORE The Secret Life of Stuff: A Manual for a New Material World by Julie Hill is available now (RRP £8.99, Vintage Books).


BBC Wildlife

December 2014


Not seeing the wood for the wind farm What? Tree-roosting bats are attracted to turbines. It is tree-roosting species that are mostly likely to be killed in close encounters with the turbine blades of wind farms, and new research shows why. Tree roosters, such as the hoary bat in the USA (left), are attracted to turbines from downwind, especially at relatively low turbine speeds when the air currents they generate are similar to those around the tall trees that the bats hunt around and roost in. SOURCE PNAS LINK http://bit.ly/1FwntgZ


Frog princess 4 USA

Whale song in a foreign accent What? Researchers have discovered that orcas can communicate like dolphins.

What? We’ve found a new poison dart frog in Central America. A new, bright orange species of poison dart frog has been described from Panama. The beautiful, but deadly, amphibian has been named Andinobates geminisae in honour of the wife of one of the scientists behind the discovery. One can only hope that Geminis took it as a compliment. SOURCE Zootaxa LINK http://bit.ly/1CpXCCW

From left: Michael Durham/Minden/FLPA; Mark Carwardine/NPL; Marcos Ponce; Anup Shah/NPL; Alex Mustard/NPL; Alex Hyde/NPL

Orcas that are housed with bottlenose dolphins utter clicks and whistles that are intermediate between both species, according to a new study. It’s not that the whales have learned to speak dolphin as such – it’s more akin to speaking English with a French accent when in France. But their ability to adjust their vocalisations to whoever is around them may facilitate social cohesion between different groups of whales. SOURCE The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America LINK http://bit.ly/1z0qgOO


Gang welfare What? Male-bonding monkeys may have set the scene for human civilisation. Not all male primates are violently competitive (see the chimp story on p25). New research shows that male Guinea baboons park their differences and form co-operative bonds, even with unrelated individuals. The result is that the species can form large, cohesive social groups. It also raises the intriguing possibility that a similar development in human ancestors paved the way for our own remarkably co-operative societies. SOURCE PNAS LINK http://bit.ly/1wb56rP


BBC Wildlife

December 2014


4 UK

Vive la change! What? Metamorphosis could explain the wide diversity of insects. The evolution of distinct larval, pupal and adult stages may be behind the staggering diversity of insects alive today. A new analysis of the insect fossil record reveals that groups such as butterflies and beetles, which undergo complete metamorphosis, have diversified faster and been less prone to extinction than others, such as grasshoppers and cockroaches, that start life as miniature versions of the adults. The advantage of complete metamorphosis may be that it reduces competition between adults and young. SOURCE Proc. Roy. Soc. B LINK http://bit.ly/1wlREkR


Predatory personalities What? Sharks can be introverts and extroverts, too. It’s hard to tell from their cold, unblinking stares, but individual sharks have rudimentary personalities. New research shows that while some small spotted catsharks seek out social connections, piling on top of each other in conspicuous heaps, others eschew company and attempt to blend in surreptitiously with their surroundings. SOURCE Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology LINK http://bit.ly/1wc3HTI

Discoveries The latest news in scientific research, by Stuart Blackman. 4 AFRICA

Natural born killers What? Humans not to blame for chimp violence, say researchers. Male chimps have a ruthlessly violent side – even ‘murders’ of other chimps are not uncommon. But is this behaviour entirely natural, or has it been exacerbated by habitat loss and other human impacts? An analysis of the circumstances surrounding 152 documented killings shows that ‘murder’ rates don’t increase with human disturbance, but do increase with population size and the number of males in a group. It’s better seen as an effective way of monopolising food or mates, argue the scientists. SOURCE Nature LINK http://bit.ly/XiEoRY

December 2014

+ GET IN TOUCH If you see some interesting behaviour or an unusual species, share it at www. discoverwildlife. com/forum

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WILD DECEMBER To get this woodpecker photo BBC Wildlife Local Patch Reporter Robert Fuller used a remote device to trigger the DSLR seen in the background.


Film local wildlife New camera technology gives you amazing insights into natural history. o matter how big your garden, there’s a fair chance you have wildlife coming close enough to film according to Kate MacRae, a self-taught remote-camera expert. “Cameras in nestboxes and at garden feeders are the best way to start filming wildlife,” she explains. “Everyone can attract birds to their garden, even if all they’ve got is a balcony.” “I’ve just started a project at a house with seven acres of land. The owners knew they had plenty of wildlife, but wanted to see more of it. Almost immediately we captured footage of a kingfisher by their pond, and the next thing we want to see are their local otters.” While you know that birds are likely to appear at a feeder, capturing images of mammals may require tracking skills. “I use a lot

Woodpecker & curlew: Robert Fuller


of this new technology in the classroom,” says Kate, who is a primary-school teacher. “Before we set up the various gadgets, the pupils first have to look for signs of where an animal might have come into the grounds. We’ve managed to get images of a roe deer, a badger and a fox with a pheasant in its mouth. Trailcams and cameratraps are really exciting for the kids, and they love looking for places where animals may be visiting to decide where to set up next.” BBC Wildlife Local Patch Reporter Duncan Richardson uses small computers to record wildlife in his garden: “I’ve got one to record the weather, another controlling a nestbox camera and a third for filming hedgehogs that come into my garden.” Turn over to see how easy it is to get started…


December 2014

WANDA’S TIPS Using a Bushnell NatureView Cam HD Max I’ve been experimenting with this top-of-the-range trailcam, which is so mobile I take it on holiday. It’s superb for close-up details of birds and insects, but it’s best to position it away from swaying bushes that trigger the sensors. Try a few angles and adjust the sensitivity to get good images. My favourite shots include tawny owls (see p31), swallows and foxes (above). Wanda is the picture editor of BBC Wildlife. BBC Wildlife


“We’ve used it” BBC Wildlife Local Patch Reporters reveal their favourite digital camera kit. 1


This device allows you to fire your DSLR camera remotely, letting you place your camera very close to the subject while you are some distance away. Telephoto lenses produce a short depth of field, but by deploying the PocketWizard I can use a wideangle or short lens and get all the information of the background too. This gives a totally different point of view, with the wildlife in context with its environment. It works particularly well over long distances, in buildings and through glass, and is especially handy if you don’t have an expensive telephoto lens. I have had fantastic results photographing kestrels, curlews (right), tawny owl chicks, lapwings, pheasants and great spotted woodpeckers. www.pocketwizard.com


Nesting curlew, as seen by Rob’s DSLR and PocketWizard. His traditional photo hide is in the background.




I’ve been using the Outback for around six months and it’s remarkably good at surviving everything that the Cornish weather can throw at it. It is light, easy to program, can be left in situ for ages and is great value for money. The batteries last a long time and you have the choice of stills, video or time-lapse. The highlight for me was capturing a fox right outside our conservatory door when we were expecting to find frogs or maybe a hedgehog. The fox was making a beeline for the beer trap in the flowerbed – I’m not sure if it was after the beer or the slugs. The trailcam has also revealed how many toads we have in the garden. It does fog up during damp nights, which interferes with its sensors, but this issue affects most trailcams. www.swann.com


I’ve been using my Spypoint for two years – it’s simple to operate, with options to record video and take still photographs. With a little practice you can capture great footage using this trailcam, but it can take a bit of experimenting to learn the most suitable settings and what position is best for the lens – I’ve had many clips where the lens has been tilted too high and only caught the top of an otter’s head! The device is well waterproofed and works with both Macs and PCs, and the black LED is good for covert filming at night. The ed Sara has film sensitivity settings can be e of illiant footag br tricky to figure out – you need rs with her local otte ailcam. to make it sensitive enough to a Spypoint tr be triggered by moving wildlife, but not so sensitive that it takes a photograph every time a leaf moves. However, it would be nice to have a closer focusing lens (which some Bushnell NatureViews offer; see p27), because I have lost potentially great clips when otters have come to investigate the trailcam, but are out of focus and overexposed.

A garden fox filmed by Annabel’s Sw ann trailcam .


BBC Wildlife



December 2014




USED BY GENEVIEVE LEAPER PRICE From £15 (depends on the model)

These infra-red day and night cameras with a four-channel receiver aren’t actually sold with nestbox use in mind, but for home security or baby monitoring. I’ve been using them since 2012 to film tree sparrows, stock doves, red squirrels and blue tit nests. The system is good for monitoring a number of boxes at once, and you can display footage from several cameras on the same screen. Higher resolution would always be good; likewise a stronger wireless signal. But these devices are great if you plan to monitor a range of nestboxes or locations in one particular area, or if you want to make your own nestboxes for a variety of species. That obviously requires certain DIY skills and significant time to set up.

It was very exciting when red squirrels started using one of my boxes. Two females visited for grooming sessions and occasional daytime naps, though they preferred the large nestboxes for overnight sleeping. Sadly the pair don’t visit any more, but we hope they’ll come back soon. It is very important to realise that these wireless cameras still need power and therefore cables. Many do offer the option to run on batteries, but they only last a few hours – and you can’t keep changing batteries in a nestbox.

Even security cameras can be adapted to record wildlife.



This was easy to set up and a pair of blue tits were popping inside after a few weeks. The camera’s resolution is good and it works at night, too. I have my nestbox at the school where I work, so my class could watch the daily dramas. At first we observed moss and grass build up, then to our dismay the parent birds got rid of it all. But finally they completed the nest and we had our first view of the eggs. They all hatched and we watched the young fledge just outside my classroom. It was a great experience for all of us. www.rspb.org.uk (an ultra-high-resolution model is pictured above)



This Brinno unit is so easy to use and you can decide whether you want it to shoot once every five minutes or once every 24 hours for really long projects. It is a great way to watch things that happen over a long period of time, such as leaves falling off trees or bluebells growing. We have used it to film sunsets, the moon rising, stars moving across the sky and the tide coming in. I have also filmed a ladybird walking up and down a plant, which was funny. The unit has a nice wide-angle lens, but handles close-up, too. The downsides are that I had to buy a waterproof case separately, and when it’s in the case you can’t shift the lens to different angles. I’d also like a way of securely attaching the camera (like I have for my trailcam) so that it’s at less risk of being stolen. www.brinno.com




The Rasberry Pi is a small computer designed to get kids into programming and it can do some amazing things. I’ve got one mounted on a wall, attached to an HD camera, taking a picture every 10 minutes to create a time-lapse of a year in the life of my garden. It’s wonderful to watch the branches and leaves on the trees reach up to the sun each day. I’ve been using another Rasberry Pi triggered by motion sensors to take HD video inside my blue tit nestbox. The camera costs £20, and the quality is exceptional. I’m planning to also link this to a sensor that can monitor temperature inside the nest and register when parents return to feed the chicks. I’d like to use this data to look at what factors contribute to chick survival. www.raspberrypi.org


I’ve been using GoPros for a few years and have recently started using them in the garden to monitor wildlife. This model shoots in high definition and its fisheye perspective gives a wide-angle view that means you rarely miss the action. It’s much smaller than a trailcam, and more flexible so you can put it in places where you might struggle with other cameras. My main gripe is the lack of battery life – just a couple of hours or even less in cold weather conditions. www.gopro.com



Don’t overlook tablets as multi-purpose wildliferecording gadgets. I use a variety of wildlife apps on my Google Nexus, such as iSpot, iRecord Butterflies, iRecord Ladybirds, Bee Count and Big Butterfly Count. It is rather like having a notebook with extras. The apps help me to identify species, the microphone allows me to record birdsong and the camera has taken good shots of fungi and flowers. www.google.co.uk/nexus

December 2014

BBC Wildlife



How to film wildlife in your garden Create the perfect set-up to monitor wildlife in your home...



1 TRAILCAM Trailcams can be set up anywhere and then moved easily from one location to another. Unlike nestbox cameras, they don’t require wiring up and work right out of the box. They are triggered by motion sensors and record to an SD card, so that you can easily see the results. There are a host of budget systems on offer for around £50–100, but spend over £150 and you get higher-quality images.


2 NESTBOX CAMERA By installing a simple nestbox camera you can get an intimate view inside the nest and an immediate idea of how successful each brood has been. You need to connect this type of camera to a TV or computer by feeding cables l Nestbox cameras wil through an airbrick or windowthis kind of you e giv frame air vent. Some even view as a live TV feed. come with small microphones, so that you can hear as well as see what is going on. In winter cameras can be converted to a range of other uses.

3 BIRDFEEDER CAM Even a balcony or smaller garden will attract birds, and investing in a specialist feeder camera gives you a ringside seat to observe behaviour up close. Plenty of ready-made models are available, but you can also adapt nestbox cameras for this purpose – just make sure they are in a weatherproof housing. This can easily be adapted from plastic food containers.

Illustration by www.sjcillustration.com; tit: Duncan Richardson; pigeon: Jack Perks; tawny owl: Wanda Sowry

4 POND CAM CCTV technology, converted nestbox cameras and trailcams can all be used to capture wildlife around your garden pond. Frogs, toads, birds and small mammals are all possibilities here, and you could use GoPros or similar systems to get photos underwater.

5 BURROW CAM It’s easy to start experimenting with cameras in places other than nestboxes. “Things really started for me when I began to create my own ‘burrow cam’ using an upturned wicker basket with an adapted nestbox camera attached on the inside,” says Kate MacRae. “It took a few days for mice and voles to find the food I’d left inside. In the daytime there was enough light for colour images, and at night the infra-red continued the live feed to my TV.” 30

BBC Wildlife

6 MARTIN CAM There are a range of specialist nestboxes for birds, from tawny owls to house martins, as well as for mammals such as squirrels and hedgehogs. The technology used in the cameras is the same, but the nature of the nestbox and the location in which you put it obviously changes. Choose boxes appropriate to the wildlife in your area and position them carefully.

Adapted nest box cameras can deliver shots like this .

December 2014

3 1





It pays to experiment with a trailcam – you never quite know what you’ll get.



There are a number of cameras that enable timelapse photography. You can buy cheap apps for your smartphone that allow you to create simple time-lapse sequences, and you can also program computers like a Raspberry Pi or buy a dedicated unit (see p29). The joy of this form of photography is the ability to reveal processes in nature that are often hidden, such as plants growing.

Being able to track wildlife behaviour against the weather starts to deliver some really powerful data. BBC Wildlife Local Patch Reporter Duncan Richardson has set his Rasberry Pi to record the weather every five minutes, and is hoping to use this to look for a correlation between weather, breeding times and blue tit chick survival rates, while also monitoring how often chicks are fed.

December 2014

BBC Wildlife




Chris Packham The ecological illiteracy of our media is disgraceful — it’s up to us to challenge it.

Illustration by Quinton Winter


was knee-high to a grasshopper when I lost my heart to a ladybird. I was in awe of that beetle as it posed, ruby red and glistening, like a blob of polka-dotted blood on the tip of my little finger. And I fell hopelessly in love. Though, to be honest, that ladybird could just have easily have been a maggot or a flea, because I am a lover of life. All life. So the scaremongering, anthropocentric propaganda that adorns our TV screens, radio and newspapers is frankly appalling. Take the exploitation of animals in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here. We have grown out of bear baiting, so why tolerate this barbarism in our living rooms? Exposing children to such carnage can only be confusing: why is one species of animal valued over another? Who gets to decide the hierarchy, anyway? As a society we need to move faster towards a more biocentric culture: there’s simply no time to be making a mockery of the very wildlife that sustains all life on Earth. I have nothing against Ant or Dec, but they’ve hardly helped their audience of millions to value the species that mesh our world together. I’m A Celebrity is an easy target – but it gets worse. It’s a crying shame how few journalists (and, for that matter, politicians) who talk about wildlife with such confidence understand basic ecology. Much reporting about the environment is a national embarrassment. Our terrormongering hacks characterise us as a spineless society of wildlife ‘wets’ by publicising nonsense about killer creatures in our midst. I am sadly spoilt for choice here, for any number of species have been unjustly demonised. In March this year, tabloids reported that Lydia the “killer

fish” had been spotted 1,000 miles off Cornwall; Lydia, an underwater weapon of mass destruction en route to terrorise our green and pleasant land. Except that her species, the great white shark, kills under 15 humans a year, whereas we slaughter tens of millions of sharks annually. We are 1,000 times more likely to be killed by lightning and 1.3 times more likely to have our life terminated by a falling vending machine than to be taken out by a shark. We also have a 100 per cent chance of not being a victim of shark

attack if we stay on dry land where we belong. A perfect opportunity to celebrate the potential arrival of a 16-millionyear-old superstar off Blighty was thwarted by prejudice and ignorance. Top work. Vespa velutina, the Asian hornet, was also in the dock this summer, for conspiracy to sting vast numbers of Britons to death. Trial by tabloid media found this beauty guilty, yet the “deadly invaders” never actually crossed from northern France. Their stings killed precisely one man in France and a handful in their native homeland. Even common wasps are not exempt from hysteria caused by media hype. I am mightily sick of people asking: “But what are wasps for?” I reply: “What are you for?” If only the media used their powers of communication more responsibly, maybe these people would know that wasps perform vital ecological roles of pollination, predation and parasitism in their gardens. Then there are anti-spider tirades, raptor-hating rants, spectacularly ill-informed pieces about neonicotinoid pesticides, the badger cull, the dangers of ragwort or that doubt climate change, by people to whom objective science is a foreign language… I just find it depressing that journalists so often dent progress, when they could be helping to shift perceptions away from humans as supreme beings, disconnected from the rest of the natural world. As an impassioned zoologist and broadcaster, I find this is a hard pill to keep on swallowing. While the promotion of speciesism continues unchecked in the media, the value-to-action conservation gap widens – and that keeps me up at night.


December 2014

CHRIS PACKHAM is a conservationist and broadcaster. Our regular columnist Richard Mabey is currently a visiting fellow at Cambridge University.

BBC Wildlife




Bill Oddie We need to persuade everyone to appreciate and preserve the miracles of nature.

Illustration by Quinton Winter


his month I’ve been thinking about the teachings of the various faiths. Both Buddhism and Hinduism condemn any kind of cruelty to any living being – nature is sacred, and humans are not considered superior. Islam states that animals must be treated with kindness and compassion, and is opposed to hunting purely for sport. Such hunting is also banned by Judaism, which upholds the view that an act of cruelty against an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty against a human being. So far it appears that most believers – whatever their religion – would be automatic members of the League Against Cruel Sports. Alas, throughout most of history Christians would have been less easy to recruit. A basic tenet of early Christian belief was that animals had neither reason nor souls. Humans were thought greatly superior, and entitled to treat creatures – wild and domesticated – as a commodity. The Roman Catholic Church even condoned a list of acceptable uses of wildlife, which included food, clothing and domestication as pets or beasts of burden. In more recent times, animals’ use in experiments and scientific research has also been deemed acceptable. Of course, many people would argue against the morality of this, but on grounds of animal welfare rather than conservation. Ironically the most potentially destructive category on the ‘what we can do with wildlife’ list might appear to be the most innocuous. ‘Leisure’, in many countries, does not mean birdwatching – it means bird hunting. For years, many of us have been despairingly aware of the massive slaughter of migratory birds in the Mediterranean region. I witnessed it in Malta

in the spring, and was due to visit again this autumn but was warned off for my own safety. The hunters were becoming increasingly aggressive and violent, and may well have targeted me – literally! Instead I watched reports on YouTube, and in the relative absence of birds – dead or alive – I couldn’t help admiring the Maltese architecture, especially the churches. There are a lot of them. It’s a very Catholic country. I found myself thinking like God (no delusions intended). All religions talk of the wonders of creation, and most include

nature and wildlife – something for a creator to be pretty proud of, I’d say. I know that if I had come up with the concept of birds flying for thousands of kilometres in spring and autumn, and being able to navigate by the stars and the Earth’s magnetic pull – some so accurately that they return to the exact same places year after year, I would be pretty pleased. I would also be well miffed if thousands of my little migratory miracles were blasted out of the sky, and left to die for no reason at all. It might even be a sin. Such were my thoughts when a miracle happened. Up on my screen popped a news item featuring auxiliary bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, out with a team of birders from BirdLife International. There he was focusing his binoculars on a kettle of circling honey buzzards, and explaining that they were God’s work and not to be shot at, but to be admired and enjoyed. A miracle indeed. A bishop with bins! Whatever next? Well, how about a pope with a ’scope? Pope Francis took his name from the patron saint of birds, and his recent pronouncements have been encouragingly liberal. And I have heard a rumour from a genuinely ecclesiastical source that his next ones will be on the theme of the environment. Added to which, the Pope must be feeling a bit guilty about releasing white doves at the Vatican that plummeted and got mugged by crows. Happily, you can find the Pope on Twitter. Here’s a message you can send him that comes in at under 140 characters: “@Pontifex Dear Pope, please help to stop the massacre by declaring the mindless killing of birds an affront to the Almighty.”


December 2014

Former Goodie BILL ODDIE OBE has presented natural-history programmes for the BBC for well over 10 years. He featured in Springwatch earlier this year.

BBC Wildlife


Unnecessary conflict: in March 2009 a leopard mauled three people in Guwahati, Assam, before it was tranquillised.

Barely a month goes by without reports of leopard attacks on people in India. But, says Janaki Lenin, it’s perfectly possible for us to live alongside these big cats – even in such a densely populated country.




Main: Aditya Singh/Alamy; inset: AFP/Getty

This leopard was photographed in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan. But big cats don’t have to be confined to parks – with a few precautions, people can live safely alongside them.

In February this male leopard caused chaos in Meerut, northern India, injuring several people. Locals were told to stay indoors, while schools and shops were shut.

Clockwise from top: Hindustan Times/Getty; Praveen Siddannavar; Caisii Mao/Corbis; Biju Boro/AFP/Getty; Dhritiman Mukherjee


eopards seem to be popping up everywhere in India, and if the media are to be believed they are up to no good. In February this year one created panic in the city of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, and in August a middle-aged woman made headlines around the world when she single-handedly killed a leopard that had attacked her. The incident took place in Uttarakhand, not far from the setting of Jim Corbett’s 67-year-old tale The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag. India hasn’t conducted a leopard census, but one estimate puts its population of these big cats at 10,000– 20,000. With numbers of tigers, their mortal enemies, shrinking drastically in the country to 1,520–1,909 (2010 figures) over the past century, leopards may have gained ground. Not only do they prowl through forests – they also sneak stealthily through agricultural land, villages, towns and even major metropolises.

OUT�OF�DATE THINKING Those who believe wild animals ought only to live in wilderness areas doubt that leopards and humans can co-exist peacefully. Surely these predators do not belong in farmland and urban parks where they are likely to cross paths with hapless humans? India’s Forest Service, conservationists and public certainly thought so in the past, and many still do today. Wildlife managers feared that leopards roaming fields meant nothing but trouble, so caught them for release in reserves. Sometimes, to prevent a feline exodus, they also introduced captivebred deer as prey and dug water holes in the forests. 38

BBC Wildlife

For years, few considered what became of these relocated animals. Most assumed that they were relieved to get a lift to their old homes and settled down happily ever after. If any leopards attacked people, disturbance in forests and lack of prey or water were reckoned to be the causes. But in the early 2000s, for no apparent reason, leopards suddenly turned on humans in rural Junnar, in the Pune district of Maharashtra state. They killed 18 people and injured 33 more between 2001 and 2003. Junnar valley was no wildlife tourism destination – it was a fertile valley of sugar cane, bananas, corn, onions and cauliflowers. There were no forests as far as the eye could see, not even on the low hillocks on the horizon, and the only large animals here were cows, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs. Satellite maps of preceding decades showed the landscape had not altered for 20 years, so it was not clear why the leopards’ behaviour had changed. Then wildlife ecologist Vidya Athreya, who lived near Junnar at the time and now works for Wildlife Conservation Society India, discovered that the state’s Forest Department had trapped leopards from farmland and released them in forest areas. The numbers were staggering: between 2001 and 2003 it trapped leopards on 103 occasions within 4,300km2, the size of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire put together.

Leopards often visit villages in Assam, north-east India, but this one was sadly killed by local people.

December 2014

URBAN LEOPARDS Leopards may be active by day or night, modifying their behaviour to fit around human activity. This one is pictured with a female jackal.



Alayne measures the teeth of a tranquilised adult male (the same cat as shown on p37). The canines can be 6cm long. as shown on p37). The canines can be 6cm long.as shown on p37). The canines can be 6cm long.

An innovative scheme called ‘Mumbaikars for Sanjay Gandhi National Park’ helps residents on the outskirts of this city forest in Mumbai to live with leopards, by addressing their legitimate concerns about large predators prowling their apartment complexes. The project has organised better rubbish collections, provided a bus service for children who would otherwise have to walk to school through tall grass, and installed streetlights at strategic locations. The result is that the big cats and people are less likely to encounter each other. O Visit www.mumbaikarsforsgnp.com

The cats were set free in two wooded areas 40–65km away – a small forest in Malshej Ghats, and the larger Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary. Leopards trapped in neighbouring districts were also released in the same locations. Overzealous forest officials were taking the strategy of dealing with leopards living among humans to a whole new level.

DEADLY MISTAKES Above: officials transfer an adult male to Nagaland Zoological Park, Rangapahar. Right: another photograph of the leopard in the inset picture on p36, before it was caught by the Forestry Department.

December 2014

This project had tragic and unforeseen consequences, unleashing a bunch of cats. They attacked humans within a region the size of Greater London, close to the forests where they had been dropped off. “It’s puzzling why leopards started attacking people in a region that had seen few incidents prior to the largescale translocation exercise,” says Athreya. “Perhaps it was down to the stress of being displaced. This is a highly territorial species with a social system.” Territory is key to a leopard’s survival: it provides security, food and mates. Outside it, leopards are all too vulnerable. Malshej BBC Wildlife


A leopard rubs his cheek against a tree in Nagarhole National Park, Karnataka, to scent-mark his territory.

when people managed to live alongside large carnivores,” Ghats and Bhimashankar had their own leopards that she muses. “We just need to accept these animals as part would have been possessive of their turf. Rather than risk of the landscape. There is hope: even today a country battling residents, the displaced animals tried to walk with a billion-plus people and the world’s highest back home, often travelling hundreds of kilometres past numbers of livestock still retains the largest population unfamiliar villages, noisy highways and busy railway lines. of wild tigers and the sole surviving – and growing – The Junnar leopards were not refugees from a forest; population of Asiatic lions. In countries with far fewer they belonged there, according to Forest Department humans, lions and tigers are fast disappearing.” records. Until the relocation project the animals were While working in Junnar, Athreya heard of the only a minor nuisance, taking occasional livestock. neighbouring valley of Akole in Ahmednagar district, Finally the department re-caught about 60 leopards and sent them to a lifetime-care rescue centre for wild animals not open to Camera-traps are now recording the public, and the spate of attacks leopards in built-up on humans at last abated. parts of Mumbai.

MAYHEM IN MUMBAI The management of nearby Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai followed a similar trend. Leopards found outside the park were caught and dumped inside the forest. In June 2004 alone leopards killed 10 people, and as a result more than 30 leopards were then removed to a rescue centre. The leopard density here, about one per 2.5km2, is the highest in the world. Athreya believes that the wildlife managers need to remember their history. “India has to look to its past 40

BBC Wildlife

December 2014



DIET Leopards will eat almost anything, from insects to frogs, calves and deer, and they are also scavengers. Though Indian cities seldom support many deer, they do have booming populations of stray dogs and feral pigs because of inefficient waste removal. These are a ready source of prey.


HABITAT Provided there is shelter, leopards can use a wide range of landscapes – forested as well as open, and wet as well as arid. India’s farmland offers plentiful cover in the form of dense stands of tall crops such as banana trees, sugar cane and corn. In urban areas, parks and rocky hillocks with caves provide safe hideaways.


PROTECTION Since the 1970s, India’s wildlife legislation has outlawed the killing of leopards. This represents a reprieve from campaigns in the 19th century, when the cats (along with tigers, wolves and other predators) were declared vermin and poisoned, trapped or shot. In some parts of India, leopards and tigers are venerated.


ADAPTABILITY Leopards are remarkably adaptable animals. Often diurnal in forests, they will switch to a completely nocturnal lifestyle in villages and towns. Being solitary hunters that prey on a variety of small and medium-sized animals, they’re able to maintain a lower profile than tigers or lions despite living among humans.

Above: a varied diet enables leopards to live close to human settlements in farmland or on the fringes of cities. This individual has killed a large spotted deer stag.


TOLERANCE This is arguably the most important factor. Even where there is a happy combination of abundant prey, shelter and protective wildlife laws, these adaptable cats still cannot thrive if their human neighbours feel that the danger they pose is too high.

Imagine seeing a leopard on your roof! The cats regularly stray into Mumbai parks and gardens from the adjacent Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

Clockwise from left: Praveen Siddannavar; Dhritiman Mukherjee; Zeeshan Mirza; Krishna Tiwari

where leopards lived in farmland without coming into conflict with humans. This area looked no different from Junnar. In the early morning men drove motorbikes laden with milk canisters down dirt paths, children walked to school past marigold fields and groups of women in bright saris crouched on the ground laughing and chatting as they weeded vegetable plots. And a short distance away, hidden by a thick curtain of sugar cane stalks, leopards slept, often on their backs with their legs in the air. By fixing GPS collars on two leopards, a male and a female, Athreya studied their movements. While hunting among people, not once did these cats mistake an adult or child for prey. The leopardess gave birth to cubs in a sugar cane field within 100m of a school’s entrance, where hundreds of children ran back and forth on weekdays. The leopard wandered through the school’s courtyard at night when silence ruled. But these were not quiet-seeking country leopards. They were at home in the bustle of Akole. While humans slumbered indoors, these leopards lounged on rooftops, watching the streets and bylanes below for stray dogs and feral pigs. They often made their way to the market in the town centre, where fishmongers and chicken vendors


December 2014

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BLACK BEAR Black bears raid rubbish tips and fruit trees in the urbanised northeastern USA and the western states of Montana and Colorado. Meanwhile Anchorage in Alaska is known for both its black and grizzly bears, which may be seen rummaging through dustbins on the outskirts of town, while the remote Canadian town of Churchill is popularly called the polar bear capital of the world.



Mountain lions, often known as cougars in North America, are the same size as leopards with a similarly catholic diet. Wiped out across the continent over preceding centuries, they are now steadily gaining ground and are increasingly seen crossing suburban roads. One even frequented Griffith Park in Los Angeles; others have been spotted outside Baltimore and Washington DC.

Spotted hyenas range across much of sub-Saharan Africa and about 1,000 are reported to live in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Since they scavenge anything even vaguely edible, people tolerate them as walking waste disposal units; they also prey on stray dogs and cats. Another species, the brown hyena, lives near urban centres in southern Africa, such as Johannesburg.

threw fish heads and offal at the far corner of a patch of open ground the size of a football pitch. Clouds of dust rose as pigs and dogs fought over the stinky mess, unaware of leopards watching the melee. But few townspeople saw these large predators. Much to Athreya’s amusement, camera-traps snatched images of the secretive animals in places where people insisted no leopards lived. But livestock owners in the outskirts knew of the predators. They herded their stock through the day and secured them in sturdy barns for the night, not giving leopards a chance at a free meal. Indeed, by studying the cats’ scats, Athreya found that more than half of their diet consisted of domestic dogs and cats, even though goats were seven times more numerous.


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In cases when farm animals do get taken, most Indian states recompense the owners. To put this unique situation in perspective, a high density of people (266 per square kilometre, according to the 2011 census) live in the same area as a large number of leopards (five per 100km2). By comparison, the Chilla mountain range of Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand state, where there were no people, no farmland and few tigers, had a density of nine leopards per 100km2.

PLAN FOR PEACE Leopards are the most adaptable of cats. As long as their human neighbours do not raise a big fuss, they can thrive across diverse Indian landscapes while people go about their daily lives. We just have to remember that. During the 19th century, the British colonial government declared tigers and leopards to be vermin, December 2014

Coyote: T Kitchin & V Hurst/Photoshot; bear: D M Jones/Minden/FLPA; cougar: Steve Winter/Getty; hyena: Daryl Balfour/photoshot

COYOTE Coyotes have never been more widespread in North America. Their expansion was helped by the 19th-century extermination of cougars (below) and wolves, their main competitors and predators, and coyotes are today thriving in many metropolitan areas. Up to 2,000 are said to live in the greater Chicago area alone, living on rodents, fruit, white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbits and birds.

A leopard passes Mumbai apartment blocks after dark.



From top: Praveen Siddannavar; Krishna Tiwari; Arun Kumar

Two researchers at India’s Nature Conservation Foundation, MD Madhusudan (‘Madhu’) and Sanjay Gubbi, won a prestigious award from the Whitley Fund for Nature in 2011 to study the factors influencing human– leopard conflict in the south-west state of Karnataka. The researchers are using GPS collars to understand how leopards captured in well-populated areas and released into more natural habitats respond to such translocation, which is widely used as a conflictmanagement tool in Karnataka. The project also encourages the media to provide less sensational accounts of encounters with leopards, and runs a public-awareness campaign, distributing pamphlets and posters to over 200 villages. “We should never forget the devastating cost that some of our poorest people pay for wildlife conservation,” says Madhu. “So it’s crucial to get local people on board.” O Visit www.ncf-india.org and www.whitleyaward.org

Above: provided there’s shelter, leopards can raise young in a wide variety of landscapes. Left: Sanjay Gubbi examines a male leopard wearing a radio-collar.

offered bounties and employed people to wipe them out. Today extermination is out of the question, for leopards enjoy the highest level of protection under Indian wildlife laws. Meanwhile keeping farmland leopards in captivity and giving them a decent quality of life there is prohibitively expensive, and as we have seen moving the big cats can cause deadly problems. So the inevitable conclusion is that people, both in the countryside and the suburbs, have to live with leopards. There is no other option. The good news is that it’s possible to do so with little conflict. While the risk of a runin with a wild leopard is never zero, if people are careful the chances can be kept low. As Athreya says, “The Akole area is not always peaceful, but the local residents – like people in most parts of India – are rarely antagonistic.”

EASY LIVING The question is whether people in other parts of India with different cultural backgrounds, such as Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kashmir, can be convinced to live with leopards. “Humans and leopards are probably managing this more peacefully than we give them credit for,” smiles Athreya. “Sadly conflict is the dominant discourse in the media today, so as readers we focus on the most negative form of interaction between the two.” Researchers can help by focusing less on conflict and more on neutral interaction. Athreya adds, “The media need to help people live with these animals, and forest departments need to change their management from reactive to proactive measures, where sympathetic dialogue with locals is crucial.” Authorities have now stopped moving leopards around at Junnar and Sanjay Gandhi National Park. A decade after the deadly attacks of the early 2000s, the predators have returned to both places, and the big cats and humans manage to share the neighbourhood once again.


JANAKI LENIN is a journalist who lives south of Chennai, India. Her book My Husband and other Animals relates her life with herpetologist Romulus Whitaker (Westland, Rs250). 44

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December 2014

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Survival skills Like their burlier grey relatives from North America, our native red squirrels don’t hibernate. “Reds are amazingly tough,” says Mel Tonkin of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. “They grow thick winter coats and will be out and about in all but the harshest weather, searching for the lifesaving caches of tree seeds and fungi that they hoarded in autumn. You can still spot their tracks even when there’s heavy snow cover.” This Cairngorms individual eyeballed photographer Jules Cox during a December blizzard so fierce that his camera kept refocusing on the driving snow. Your best chance of spotting a red squirrel in the Highlands this month is to check one of the feeding stations stocked all winter – try the visitor centres at RSPB Abernethy (there’s also a webcam) or the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of the Lowes reserve. Photograph by Jules Cox

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What is the best way for us to beat poaching? h SEE YOUR ANSWERS ON P55

Key features suggest that this individual is a hybrid of two different species of dolphin.

COMPARE & CONTRAST The key ID features of Risso’s and bottlenose dolphins.

Beak Just visible in the water, it’s like a bottlenose dolphin’s but unusually short.

Dorsal fin

Nicola Hodgins/WDC; iillustrations: DK Images


The fin is the size of a Risso’s dolphin fin; there is Risso’slike scarring on the flank, too.

Blunt forehead, scarring on body, large upright dorsal fin.

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN Long beak or rostrum, sloping head, smaller dorsal fin.



he discovery of hybridised dolphins in the Outer Hebrides demonstrates just how little we know about our marine wildlife, according to a leading cetacean campaigner. The three dolphins, photographed off the Eye Peninsula on the Isle of Lewis, all exhibited characteristics of both bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins, said Nicola Hodgins of Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). Bottlenose–Risso’s hybrids are not completely unknown – at least 13 have been born in captivity, though 12 died within just a few months. December 2014

In general, Measurements the hybridised taken from three individuals had cetaceans that abnormally short stranded on a bottlenose beaks beach in County The number of Risso’s and Risso’s-like Mayo in the dolphins catalogued off foreheads that 1930s suggest the Isle of Lewis over two summers in the late 1990s. were more sloping they were also than is usual. The hybrids of these dorsal fins were large and more two species, but this is the first similar to a Risso’s dolphin, time photographs of living, wild while the coloration varied hybrids have been taken. between the two species. “What this has shown is that “We don’t know why the two we don’t understand what’s are mixing,” Hodgins said, “but going on in the seas around the we don’t believe that they are UK,” said Hodgins. “Everyone is competing for food.” interested in the oddities, but the The discovery adds urgency to important thing is to protect these the need to protect this area of animals for the long term.”


The Minch, which is believed to have a resident Risso’s dolphin population – an area from the Butt of Lewis to Stornoway has been proposed as a Marine Protected Area (MPA). “We are not looking to ban fishing, but we need to be aware of threats to dolphins from other developments such as offshore windfarms or aquaculture,” Hodgins said. James Fair

+ FIND OUT MORE WDC has been monitoring Risso’s dolphins off Lewis for five years. Download the report from http://bit.ly/1olZcoA

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BIRDING CRIME� BUSTERS Citizen scientists help nail raptor poisoner.

There’s nothing special about rhino horn, says this poster in Hanoi, Vietnam.

FALL IN USE OF RHINO HORN CAMPAIGN TO DEBUNK MYTHS SUGGESTS PEOPLE CAN CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOUR. public-awareness campaign that’s being run in six major cities in Vietnam has reduced demand for rhino horn by 38 per cent, according to new research. The campaign, which aims to debunk the myth that rhino horn has medicinal qualities, is being run by the Humane Society International (HSI) and the Vietnam Management Authority of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). HSI’s Dr Teresa Telecky said that the success provided a “ray of hope” that measures adopted in consumer countries could reduce rhino poaching in range states. “The results demonstrate that, even in a relatively short period of time, our campaign has succeeded in significantly

David Aldridge/Cambridge University; Charlie Best; Monique Vanstone

From left: EPA/Alamy; RSPB; Tom Marshall


CONSERVATION MUSSEL POWER An environmentally damaging shellfish originally from Ukraine has reached the UK after already creating massive problems in the USA. The quagga mussel was found for the first time in Britain in a reservoir near Heathrow Airport – conservationists say it could cost millions to control.


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altering public perception and influencing behaviour,” she said. HSI surveyed 1,000 people in August 2013, and found that 4.2 per cent of them said that they bought or used rhino horn, while 52 per cent believed it had a medicinal value. A similar poll, carried out one year later, found that only 2.6 per cent of people said they were rhino-horn users, and only 38 per cent believed that it had medicinal uses. CITES secretary-general John Scanlon said that it was a promising start, but 2.6 per cent of 90 million people was still a lot. “There are fewer than 25,000 rhinos left in the wild – a very small proportion of humans can drive a species to extinction,” he added. Tom Milliken, of the wildlife-

trade monitoring group Traffic, praised HSI for targeting women’s groups, children and businesses to raise awareness, but questioned whether demand had been reduced by the stated figures. “They may be rushing to suggest something that is not absolutely demonstrated by this single poll,” Milliken said. HSI and CITES have finished the first year of a three-year campaign to cut the use of rhino horn in Vietnam. The polls did not ask how often consumers took it or in what quantities, and do not therefore indicate the level of demand. James Fair

Records contributed by amateur birdwatchers helped convict a Norfolk gamekeeper of illegally poisoning birds of prey. Allen Lambert argued that the bodies of nine buzzards found in his home had been dumped there by a disgruntled dog walker. But BTO director Dr Andy Clements said that data obtained from its Breeding Bird Survey and BirdTrack provided “proof that populations of the bird in the area are consistent with the number of birds that Lambert was suspected to have poisoned”.



HSI’s work to reduce rhino poaching is summarised at http://bit.ly/LKVeDB

Anyone can contribute to BirdTrack. Join in at http://bit.ly/1co7q2y

briefing “THE DRIVE AND INVENTIVENESS OF ANIMALS IS AMAZING.” David Attenborough in his latest natural-history series Life Story, currently airing on BBC One.

December 2014


MARK CARWARDINE TIME FOR ACTION ON SUMMER SONGBIRDS Microchips under the skin may shed light on badgers’ lifestyles.

BADGERS CHIPPED IN BATTLE AGAINST BTB Microchipping could improve our knowledge of badgers.

Badgers in Cheshire are having microchips implanted under their skin as part of Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s vaccination programme. The chips will tell the trust whether an animal has been immunised against bovine tuberculosis (bTB), reducing

the need to revaccinate the badger if it is retrapped. But it also hopes that the microchips will help them build a better picture of where badgers roam. “Of 99 vaccinated this year, 23 have been chipped,” said the trust’s Richard Gardner. “They might tell us how far they range, and help us understand levels of TB – or lack of it – in them.”


33m The greatest recorded

Blue whale numbers off the coast of length for a blue California have almost recovered to prewhale – most measure 24–27m, and females whaling levels, according to a researcher can be up to 10m from the University of Washington. The longer than males. estimated population of 2,200 individuals is likely to represent 97 per cent of what it would have been before they were targeted by the whaling industry. “Our findings aren’t meant to deprive California blue whales of protections they need,” said Cole Monnahan. “They are recovering because we took actions to stop catches and start monitoring.”

SPOONBILL SIGHTING The largest recorded single flock of spoonbills in the UK was sighted in the lagoon off Brownsea Island, Dorset, in early October. The birds are thought to have come from Holland or Belgium. “It’s only a question of how long it will be before they start breeding here,” said Paul Morton of Birds of Poole Harbour.

December 2014

he once familiar soundtrack of summer – the gentle purring of turtle doves, the screaming of swifts and the unmistakable songs of cuckoos – is fading so fast that it will soon be replaced by a deathly silence. The latest report on the state of the UK’s birds, just published by a partnership of organisations ranging from the RSPB to Natural England, makes seriously depressing reading: in less than 20 years, we have lost 88 per cent of our turtle doves, 49 per cent of our cuckoos, 43 per cent of our nightingales, 40 per cent of our swifts… and much more. It’s hard enough to look after birds that stay in one place, but even harder to protect those that spend only part of the year in the UK. I’ve been following the progress of a cuckoo called Livingstone – satellitetagged by the BTO, in Scotland, on 21 May 2013 – and in a single year he travelled to no fewer than 20 different countries. He flew to France and from there to Italy, Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Congo and Gabon; then he returned via Cameroon,


Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Algeria, Spain and France, before arriving back in Scotland almost exactly a year later. Just imagine trying to keep a world traveller like Livingstone safe. Clearly, much of the blame does lie outside the UK. For example, hunters and trappers in the Mediterranean are obvious culprits.

IN ONE YEAR A CUCKOO CALLED LIVINGSTONE TRAVELLED TO 20 DIFFERENT COUNTRIES. But we must take responsibility, too. As umpteen more reports testify – from last year’s State of Nature to Defra’s most recent analysis of wild bird population trends – there is ample evidence of shocking declines among our resident species, too. I know we need research to identify problems, priorities and solutions. And I know people will say that things are being done. But it’s clearly not enough. What use are reports that merely record the decline – and even disappearance – of our precious wildlife?

Mark Carwardine is a zoologist, photographer, writer, conservationist and BBC TV presenter.

BBC Wildlife


SOLVING RIDDLE OF THE PALM OIL BOOM ONCE REGARDED AS THE ENEMY OF ORANGUTANS, PALM OIL IS NOW SEEN AS THEIR POTENTIAL SAVIOUR – BUT ONLY IF IT IS GROWN IN THE RIGHT WAY. JAMES FAIR REPORTS. ne sequence producer Jonathan Clay directed for the BBC Two series Wonders of the Monsoon involved a team of conservationists shooting an orangutan out of a tree. The storyline – in which a female orangutan is, in fact, anaesthetised and relocated out of an isolated forest fragment – illustrates the corrosive impact of palm oil plantations on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. But while Clay wanted the sequence to create an emotional connection for viewers between these rare great apes and our shopping habits, boycotting palm oil is not the solution, he says.



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Most environmentalists these days agree with him, even though palm oil is a huge threat to orangutans and many other species – one quarter of the 1.24 million ha of Indonesian rainforest lost between 2009 and 2011 was for palm oil, and in some areas it was 75 per cent. Palm oil is a vital ingredient in the food and toiletries we buy, but if those products didn’t contain palm oil, it would be something else such as soya or coconut oil. And as leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt says, “[Palm oil has] a lower environmental footprint than any of its principal competitors.” Or, put another way, the yield per hectare from palm oil is at least six times higher than for other comparable crops. So, instead of calling for a boycott, Porritt (and many others) has been trying to persuade the major growers, traders and endusers to commit themselves to ‘sustainable’ palm oil, so far with limited success. Now, says Richard George of Greenpeace, there is a glimmer of light. Five of the major palm oil traders – the middlemen who buy from the growers and sell to the product manufacturers – have

Orangutans have been one of the species hit hardest by converting rainforest into palm oil plantations.


FORESTS Virgin rainforest is prized by companies wanting to develop a palm oil plantation – timber can provide a source of income while waiting for the first crop.

PLANTATIONS Palm oil plantations are barren monocultures compared with rainforest – some bird species can survive in them, but they are no habitat for large mammals.

December 2014



85 %

of all palm oil is grown in either Indonesia or Malaysia. Thailand, Colombia and Nigeria are the next most significant growers.

PALM OIL production has more than doubled since 2000. Roughly 55 million tonnes are produced every year, accounting for about a third of global vegetable oil output.




of land has been converted to palm oil plantations across the world – that’s an area of land eight times the size of Wales or about double the size of Scotland.

7,300 The estimated number of Sumatran orangutans in 2004, a decline of 80 per cent in 75 years. Numbers of the Bornean orangutan (a different species) were put at 45,000–69,000.

December 2014

TRADERS Palm oil trading companies have a huge influence over the industry but are almost unknown – Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar International are two big players.

Some are going even further – members of the Palm Oil Innovation Group set aside land for wildlife in order to offset loss of biodiversity in a plantation.

FOREST MITIGATION Brazilian company Agropalma, for example, has protected 64,000ha of Amazonian forest to compensate for the 39,000ha where it grows palm oil, and jaguars, tapirs and giant armadillos have all been recorded on this land. “Environmental impacts cannot be avoided in an economic investment,” said director Marcello Brito, “but they can be mitigated against.”

INGREDIENT MANUFACTURERS Another step in the palm oil chain that the public is largely unaware of – products such as shortenings and cake stabilisers use palm oil.

+ FIND OUT MORE People of the Monsoon, episode 5 of Wonders of the Monsoon, is on iPlayer until 2 December: http://bbc.in/1G1YF0K O More information about products that contain palm oil: http://bit.ly/1s6VuLx

PRODUCT MANUFACTURERS Half of the packaged products found in western supermarkets contain palm oil, including cereal and bread.

BBC Wildlife


From left: Thomas Marent/Minden/FLPA; Reuters/Corbis; illustrations by acutegraphics.co.uk

MILLS & REFINERIES The need to process palm oil helps obscure where it comes from, but campaigners say this part of the supply chain could help promote the sustainability agenda.

committed to only sourcing palm oil that has not resulted in the loss of ‘High Carbon Stock’ forest. “They all have deadlines by which they have said they will have eliminated the problem products,” George said. What’s more, these five traders buy and sell more than half of the total global production. Other traders have promised to halt clearances for a year. So while there are a number of uncertainties, including a challenge to the definition of ‘High Carbon Stock’, George is cautiously optimistic that most companies are making a serious commitment.

Conservationists on the ground in Indonesia do not necessarily believe that sustainable palm oil is going to halt rampant loss of biodiversity. Ian Singleton, of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, says there is still a lack of transparency about where the major companies get their palm oil from. With the government on Sumatra attempting to open up massive areas in the north to new developments, he said he was “pessimistic about the future of the forests and the orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants that depend on them”. From 13 December this year, thanks to a new EU labelling scheme, consumers will be able to check any product for whether it contains palm oil (though it won’t have to tell them if it was ‘sustainable’ or not). But in the end, said Greenpeace’s Richard George, the public can only do so much to save the orangutan. The long-term solution is to make sure that suppliers and end-users are doing the right thing, and putting pressure on them, he added, is the only way that will be achieved.




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LETTER OF THE MONTH These stags had been head-to-head under the water before one of them came up for a breather.

PICK OF THE TWEETS Forest rangers warn visitors: “Stop Taking ‘Selfies’ With Bears.” http://on.wfmy.com/ 1u2PLN2 @WhySharksMatter

Alligators can go through 3,000 teeth in a lifetime! @NationalZoo


MORE PHOTOS ONLINE www.discoverwildlife.com

RUT BENEATH THE SURFACE I was photographing a large red deer stag, who had about 25 hinds with him, at last light in Bushy Park in Surrey when another large male appeared on the other side of the stream. Both stags were roaring furiously, and the first stag entered and crossed the stream to confront the newcomer. Using his height to his advantage, the challenger got stuck in and forced his rival backwards. He then put his head under the water and lifted the other stag up with his antlers. Stag number one broke free, and they went head-to-head with their heads submerged beneath the water for about a minute and a half.

Just as I was convinced that one of them would drown, the original male leapt out of the stream and ran off, leaving his usurper to give an almighty roar and claim his prize – the hinds. I have never seen such behaviour before, and no other photographers I have spoken to have either. Mark Ollett, www.markollett.com Environment editor James Fair says: What an amazing experience. Have any other readers seen anything like this, or other common species exhibiting behaviour that was unexpected or unusual? Let us know by email or letter using the addresses at the top of this page.

Good to see Chris the Cuckoo has made it back to the Congo — 4th time! Boy, he’s clocked a lot of miles. @billmarkham99

Wolves, widespread in Ireland not long ago, are not just beautiful & enigmatic. They’re vital for healthy ecosystems http://bit.ly/1tyYCnZ @Irishwildlife Follow BBC Wildlife at twitter.com/WildlifeMag

BE A WINNING WRITER The Letter of the Month wins a pair of HI-TEC V-Lite SpHike Mid waterproof boots, worth £79.99 and perfect for hiking. They’re available in sizes 7–12 for men and 4–8 for women. For more information, visit www.hi-tec.com/uk


BBC Wildlife

December 2014

YOUR FEEDBACK Explode-a-cone Ben Hoare’s article on exploding seedpods (Wild, September) intrigued me, and I was surprised to discover that the cones of Norfolk pines, which grow in some gardens on New Zealand’s North Island, also explode. The cone is packed with tightly wedged, weighty seeds that boast sharp hooks, and they disintegrate with an audible bang. The seeds are flung large distances, so if you’re nearby and one goes off – duck. Bill Gasson, New Zealand

Preventing poaching The claim, in ‘Seven radical ways to beat poaching’ (October), that new “approaches are starting to bear fruit” is just blind optimism. Every 15 hours a white rhino is killed in Southern Africa. Instead of celebrities saying how “jolly cross” they are, they need to shame the users of rhino horn and other products. But even if this happens, members of the Chinese middle classes buy rhino horn because it’s expensive, not because it inflates sagging libidos – just as people purchase foie gras because it lets them brandish gastronomic badges of honour. Meanwhile range-state countries need to adopt a shooton-sight policy for poachers. Tourism is vital because where you have tourists, you have eyes, and the animals become a meal ticket for many, not a few. Decreased levels of poaching in Nepal coincided with the return of tourists, while the oldest elephant in Tsavo was taken just after the Foreign Office issued an absurd warning on travel to Kenya. Paul Goldstein, Exodus Travels

December 2014

BRAY WATCH I’ve been traipsing up and down Bray Head, on Valentia Island off the coast of County Kerry, in search of whales since I was 13 – always with no luck, though I’ve seen plenty of smaller cetaceans. Finally, in July this year, my fortunes changed. Strong winds had once more appeared to have thwarted my quest, but just as I was packing up our gear my father saw a huge splash north of the Skelligs. I swivelled my ’scope, and saw a humpback whale launch itself out of the swell. It then breached 12 times in 10

Your article highlighted the need to understand economics if poaching is to be beaten, yet failed to explore the impact of destroying seizures of illegally traded products such as ivory. Neither the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) nor the wildlife-trade monitoring group Traffic can point to any analysis of the impact of this policy. By analogy with the trade in other banned substances, destroying contraband simply pushes up the rewards for those who manage to evade the law. Until there is real evidence that destroying confiscated ivory helps wild elephants, surely it makes more sense to stockpile it? John Burton, World Land Trust

Harrier plan There is genuine conflict between hen harriers and red grouse (A Brush With Nature, October), but science has shown that if you lose red grouse shooting, you lose both hen harriers and the incentive to manage heather moorland. For two years a group of stakeholders, including the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the RSPB, the Moorland

The view from Bray Head – the islands in the distance are the Skelligs.

minutes, one of four humpbacks cruising north to the Blasket Islands. But that wasn’t all. After losing sight of this group, we spotted the telltale spout of a fin whale, accompanied by two others. Finally ‘bagging’ two

species of great whale felt like a great achievement.

Association and Natural England, has been working to produce a recovery plan for hen harriers that also ensures the future of grouse shooting and the moorland that provides a breeding habitat for waders such as curlews, golden plovers and lapwings. Andrew Gilruth, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

collar and bell can reduce cat predation by a third, according to the RSPB. Dulcie Fairweather, Devon

Richard Mabey has revealed what is wrong with conservation in this country. No matter what we do, we are banging our heads against a brick wall because the Government is cap in hand with the moorland owners, and with this status quo there are not going to be any changes in how our uplands are used. Maybe it is time we took our uplands into public ownership and ‘rewilded’ them (as George Monbiot has suggested). Or, failing that, the National Trust, RSPB and other conservation groups should band together and buy huge swaths of hill and moorland to protect them. Oliver Craig, Edinburgh

Cat deterrents I was saddened to read the news of a domestic cat mauling a wryneck, a rare woodpecker that had flown here 5,000km from Africa, especially because it could have been prevented – ultrasonic deterrents are now available, and a correctly fitted

Sean O’Callaghan, www.facebook.com/KerryWildSide


Share pictures on our forum: www.discoverwildlife.com

Hip seeds In your Wild Challenge page on wild berries (September), you wrote that dog rose fruits have a stone at the centre. I think you are referring to rosehips – I’ve been collecting them for several years to make syrup, and I can assure you that they have a number of seeds, not unlike chilli pepper

1 WE ASKED YOU... THE BEST WAY TO BEAT POACHING 6% Understand the economics

10% Embrace technology

1% Use celebrities

1% Exploit DNA

45% Treat it as a crime

0% Harness free trade

35% Engage with user countries

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YOUR FEEDBACK seeds in size and appearance – and not a single stone. Eva Vogiatzi, Via email Features editor Ben Hoare says: And making syrup is an excellent idea, because rosehips have at least a 25 times higher concentration of vitamin C than other citrus fruits!

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Ebola’s wild source Now that world leaders are putting their collective resources behind tackling Ebola on the frontline, can we look at the cause of this terrible disease? Eating bushmeat and trapping live animals – which are common in many countries in Africa, and in other parts of the world too – is the main vector by which Ebola (and other diseases) is transmitted to humans. If it is to

Reducing marine litter I recently helped get balloon and lantern releases banned by my local council. I assembled a document quoting the views of organisations such as the British Veterinary Association and the WWF. With input from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and the National Farmers’ Union, councillors voted unanimously to ban these damaging releases in future. There is a wealth of information out there. The MCS has a ‘Don’t Let Go’ campaign, and Surfers Against Sewage has just released its own Marine Litter Report. Contact your council and insist they consider a ban: it’s a small decision with huge consequences. Paul Vates, Chesham

CROSSWORD ANSWERS OCTOBER ANSWERS Across 8 Pupate, 9 Hop, 10/24d Pond skater, 11 Harvestman, 12 Cley, 13 Passer, 15 Ice plant, 16 Meadows, 18 Swimmer, 22 Assassin, 25 Lichen, 27 Fish, 28 Appalachia, 30 Flea, 31 Eye, 32 Flukes. Down 1 Puma, 2 Canvas, 3 Bedstraw, 4 Chamois, 5 Sponge, 6 Speculum, 7 Andean, 14 Ape, 17 Death cap, 19 Wildlife, 20 Ewe, 21 Snapper, 23 Shield, 26 Cactus, 29 Ilex.

OCTOBER PRIZE WINNER Rebecca Miller Kidlington, Oxfordshire

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A dewy web – one of your favourite signs of autumn.

@CountrysideBen The first hard frost on the car – beautiful close up.

geese and looking up to see a straggly V make its way across the sky.

Christine Storer The rich rustic colours of autumnal leaves, hedgehogs making their beds and squirrels burying food.

Jan ‘Lazy’ Baxter Misty mornings making dewy spiderwebs!

@magthorpe The smell – open the door and take a deep breath! Glenn Gregory Leaves changing colour, mist and deer rutting. @MilletsFalconry Frosty mornings! Cairngorms Nature Hearing the honking of

@KatieAnne179 The sight and sounds of wild geese flying overhead. Laura Coulson Crows cawing on the rooftops. Oliver Craig Leaves changing colour, birds arriving or leaving, days getting colder and shorter. I am not a summer person – spring, autumn and winter are my life.


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PRICES Subscriptions UK £51.87; Republic of Ireland £49; Europe £49; Rest of World £54 BBC Wildlife champions ethical wildlife photography that prioritises the welfare of animals and the environment. It is committed to the faithful representation of nature, free from excessive digital manipulation, and complete honesty in captioning. Photographers, please support us by disclosing all information – including, but not restricted to, use of bait, captive or habituated animals – about the circumstances under which your pictures were taken. BBC Wildlife provides trusted, independent travel advice and information that has been gathered without fear or favour. We aim to provide options that cover a range of budgets and reveal the positive and negative points of the locations we visit. The views expressed in BBC Wildlife are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the magazine or its publisher. The publisher, editor and authors accept no responsibility in respect of any products, goods or services that may be advertised or referred to in this issue or for any errors, omissions, mis-statements or mistakes in any such advertisements or references. © Immediate Media Company Bristol Limited 2014. All rights

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December 2014

Jinny Goodman/Alamy

I agree with Mark Carwardine about captive dolphins (September). I have been swept up in the euphoria of SeaWorld. It was not until later that I thought of the dire lives that captive dolphins must lead. Then, on a boat trip in New Zealand, I had the thrill of watching dolphins play close to the boat and swim with people in the water. There were no trainers to make them perform, and so it was a far more humane way for us to interact with them. Jacqueline Daley, Stockton-on-Tees

be addressed, more effort must be put into education and the sustainability of these nations. Let’s get proactive and help people to conserve their environment. Simon Marsh, Predator Conservation Trust

Our wildlife rangers and project teams are there to help rescue animals in urgent need. From gardens in Britain, to rainforests in Borneo, we’re there to make a difference. You can make a difference too, by adopting an animal for yourself, your family or your friends this Christmas.

Tel: (01403) 249832 www.careforthewild.com/adopt Registered charity number 288802

�¤�¡® ª������e ��vent¦¡�£ �� � ������ ª�¡�� �� ¡�¨�¡���� �¡��¤§¡�£ Four young water voles set off on an epic journey along the Great River — but with danger lurking at every turn, will they ever find a safe place to call home? � Boys and girls aged 9+ will love these stories � Beautiful gifts, illustrated throughout

Artwork © Simon Mendez

� Packed with fascinating wildlife facts – written by water vole expert Tom Moorhouse

¨������� �� ����£���£ ��� ������ ©A. L. Harrington

Watch Tom talking about THE RIVER SINGERS on YouTube

Barrie Britton/BBC

A group of Critically Endangered slender-billed vultures fight over the spoils on offer at a ‘vulture restaurant’ in Cambodia.


BBC Wildlife

December 2014



Vulture RESTAURANT No group of birds has suffered a more catastrophic decline than the vultures of southern Asia. Tim Harris visits a Cambodian project encouraging local people to be their guardians. December 2014

BBC Wildlife


Above: slenderbilled vultures make short work of a dead cow at the Veal Krous vulture restaurant. Right: red-headed vultures (this is an adult) also join the feast.


BBC Wildlife


t’s still pitch-black as we leave the Veal Krous tented camp near the village of Dongphlet. As we walk into the clearing where the hide is located, Sophoan Sanh, our guide, signals for us to be quiet.“If we make too much noise, the vultures won’t come for their breakfast,” she says with a smile. Sophoan works for the Sam Veasna Center, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) partner in Cambodia. We heed the advice and take up our positions inside the hide, which is dug out of the ground so that we can see the action at eye-level. At around 6am the whoosh of a very large bird passes low overhead, followed by some flapping and an evil-sounding hiss. I risk parting the reedy screen a few centimetres and notice that the sky has lightened slightly, revealing the silhouettes of several vultures at the top of a tree. Much closer, just 30m away, several of these giants are already jostling with each other on the ground. As the sun comes up over this corner of the northern plains of Cambodia, not far from the Laos border, the diners’ identities are revealed. Most are Asian white-rumped vultures, but there are also a handful of red-headed vultures with their strangely perplexed expressions. The latter seem to spend most of their time standing around doing very little, but

they are clearly one step up in the pecking order. Then come the slender-billed vultures with their black, snake-like necks, perfect for pushing deep inside any dead animal. Screams, hisses and the sound of wings flapping… this is the accompaniment to the end game as the bones of a cow are stripped of their last morsels of flesh.

FEEDING TIME Over the course of the next couple of hours I counted 51 white-rumped vultures. As recently as 1985 this magnificent species was described as being “possibly the most abundant large bird of prey in the world” – there may have been 40 million of these natural waste-disposal units in India alone. But now there are only a few thousand left. Has there been a more dramatic avian collapse since the demise of the passenger pigeon? Yet at the Veal Krous vulture restaurant, the high drama of these scavenging birds ripping apart a carcass is still a frequent event. “One of my favourite memories here,” says Sophoan, “is watching at peak feeding time as the three gangs of vultures competed with each other, when suddenly a golden jackal chased them away and took their place.” White-rumped vultures favour light woodland, often very close to human habitation, and roost and nest colonially in tall trees. “Like most December 2014

Clockwise from top right: Neil Bowman x2; Alamy; Neil Bowman x2; Johnny Orn

vultures, the white-rumped is not fussy whether the carrion it eats is fresh or putrid. And they’ll devour any maggots, too,” says Johnny Orn, the charismatic director of the Sam Veasna Center. “A group was once watched picking clean the bones of a bullock in 20 minutes flat.” Smaller numbers of slender-billed and red-headed vultures participated in the Veal Krous feast. The former is a species of dry, open country, usually away from villages, and joins communal roosts but is a solitary nester. “It is subordinate to white-rumpeds at carcasses, so seems to turn up in bigger numbers when its relatives are not around,” says Johnny. The third member of the triumvirate, the red-headed, is classed by the Zoological Society of London as an EDGE species, which stands for ‘Evolutionarily Distinct (with few close relatives) and Globally Endangered’. This species does not roost in large groups, and breeding pairs are strongly territorial. During filming for BBC Two’s recent documentary series Wonders of the Monsoon, cameraman Barrie Britton noticed that each vulture directs aggression almost exclusively at members of its own species. “The vultures would often wade through a melee of feeding birds just to pick a fight with a particular member of their own species,” he says. “The red-headed ones seemed to change the brightness of their heads – they became a more vivid red when they were trying to intimidate rivals, while the slender-billed vultures had particularly impressive threat displays, bending their wings back to expose the white undersides.” Despite their behavioural differences, all three species have been virtually extirpated. It is now well documented December 2014

that the collapse in vulture numbers on the Indian subcontinent – down by a staggering 99 per cent since the mid-1990s – was brought about by the use of diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug administered to prolong the working lives of domestic animals (see box). Describing the situation in India before and after the drug took its toll, environmentalist Tony Juniper commented on an RSPB blog: “Each year the vultures were eating about

Top left: birders bring in revenue for poor local communities. Top right: special dug-out hides give an eye-level view. Above: the messy remains of a meal.

DICLOFENAC A KILLER DRUG Diclofenac is a non-steroidal antiinflammatory drug developed in the 1970s as a treatment for arthritis and sprains in humans, but it has also been used as a veterinary medication. In the 1990s it began to be widely administered to sick livestock in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. However, when the animals died their carcasses retained the diclofenac, so that when vultures ate the flesh it caused kidney failure, gout and death. The Indian government finally banned its veterinary use in 2006, and Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh followed suit. But five years after the Indian diclofenac ban it was

still available in 36 per cent of the country’s veterinary pharmacies, and consignments meant for humans were illicitly diverted for use in cattle. Nevertheless vulture populations have started to recover in some areas. Meanwhile an alternative drug, meloxicam, has been found to be an effective painkiller in cattle and does not kill vultures.

BBC Wildlife



The redheaded is a medium-sized vulture, but its wingspan is still over 2m.

12 million tonnes of rotting flesh. With the vultures gone this became food for wild dogs. Their population rocketed and more dog bites and human rabies infections followed. This in turn led to an estimated 50,000 or so more deaths than would otherwise have been the case. The cost of this and other consequences on India’s economy was (over a decade or so) put at an eye-watering US $34 billion.” Cambodia’s vulture populations had gone into freefall long before the advent of diclofenac in India, reflecting the collapse in the country’s megafauna during decades of internal strife and war, and more efficient animal husbandry that produced a cleaner countryside. Shortly before the Indian vulture crash, Cambodia held only a small proportion of the world’s multi-million-strong populations of Asian white-rumped, red-headed and slender-billed vultures. Yet that is no longer the case. In fact Cambodia stands almost alone in having vulture populations that have stabilised. But it is not just an Asian problem. In Africa, too, diclofenac is hitting vultures hard, and they also face other serious threats on that continent. According to French ecologist Jean-Marc Thiollay, in the West African countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger there has been a 98 per cent decline in the population of four large vulture species in the space of just 35 years. Big falls have also been noted in East and Southern Africa. Mass poisoning and other persecution, habitat change and declines in large ungulate populations


have all played their part. Diclofenac has also been licensed for veterinary use in Spain and Italy, two of Europe’s key countries for vultures. Diclofenac may yet be banned in the EU, but in the meantime this gives vulture conservation in Cambodia, where the drug has never been an issue, some global significance. If these birds become extinct in places such as Dongphlet, what hope is there anywhere else?

SLOW BUT STEADY RECOVERY The Cambodian Vulture Conservation Project was created in 2004 to co-ordinate the activities of several agencies, including BirdLife International’s Cambodia Programme and the Sam Veasna Center. Seven vulture restaurants were established, the first of which was at Veal Krous, and an annual census programme was launched to monitor population trends of the three Critically Endangered species. A cow is slaughtered regularly at each restaurant to supplement the vultures’ diet. In June 2004 the census showed 42 red-headed, 90 Asian white-rumped and 25 slender-billed vultures attending the stations, a total of 157 birds. Six years later the respective figures were 46, 201 and 42, giving a combined total of 289. The restaurants were clearly working. The researchers also monitored vulture nest sites and feeding stations, carried out health checks on the birds, and interviewed government officials, hunters and wildlife traders to collect data on threats. Satellite transmitters were attached to some birds to assess their ranging patterns. “Results from vulture censuses over the past several years have been encouraging, with new nests recorded and even population increases,” says WCS biologist Tom Clements. “With continued investment,

CAMBODIA’S CLEAN�UP CREW Three threatened species visit the vulture restaurants…

From left: Neil Bowman; Tony Heald/NPL; Neil Bowman/FLPA x2




Gyps bengalensis

Sarcogyps calvus

Gyps tenuirostris

RANGE South and South-East Asia, from Pakistan east to Vietnam POPULATION Formerly several million; estimated 3,500–15,000 today POPULATION DECLINE Over 99.9 per cent since the mid-1990s STATUS Critically Endangered

RANGE South and South-East Asia, from Pakistan east to Vietnam POPULATION Formerly hundreds of thousands; estimated 3,500–15,000 today POPULATION DECLINE In India, 91 per cent between mid-1990s and 2003 STATUS Critically Endangered

RANGE South and South-East Asia, from India east to Cambodia FORMER POPULATION Formerly hundreds of thousands; estimated 1,500–3,750 today POPULATION DECLINE In India and Nepal, 97 per cent between mid-1990s and 2007 STATUS Critically Endangered


BBC Wildlife

December 2014

Clockwise from bottom: Johnny Orn; Martin Hale/FLPA; Neil Bowman x2

IBIS RICE HOW FARMING CAN HELP TO SAVE A GIANT An innovative agricultural project in Cambodia has created the Ibis Rice brand, giving a boost to the threatened giant ibis (below), the largest member of its family and sole representative of its genus. Numbers of the giant ibis crashed as a result of hunting, deforestation and the drainage of trapengs (seasonal pools) where it feeds – with a global population of as few as 350 individuals, it is now classed as Critically Endangered. The surviving birds are today concentrated on the northern plains of Cambodia, particularly around the Khmer village of Tmatboey. Here villagers have come to see themselves as stewards of the birds’ future, and are working with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Sam Veasna Center to grow Ibis Rice, produced locally without draining the seasonal pools, cutting down trees or hunting the ibises. Villagers earn extra money by hosting visiting birdwatchers keen to see this global rarity.

An adult and two subadult red-headed vultures. Vultures of the same Aggression at show carcasses is species often mostly between members aggression – these of same species. arethe red-headed.

these critical populations can survive and grow.” Even better, the Veal Krous restaurant has become an integral part of the life of the Dongphlet community. “Conservation is important for our next generation,” says Prak Bunthy, a deputy chief of the forest community. The initiative works because the Sam Veasna Center ensures that the village benefits financially from any visitors who come to watch, photograph or film the vultures.

COMMUNITY BENEFITS “There are two ways that we reward the community,” explains Johnny Orn. “Firstly we pay the people who cook for tourists and provide tents, as well as the guides who take visitors to the restaurant and the rangers who protect vulture nests. Secondly we collect $30 from every tourist each time they visit the restaurant. We bank the fees until there is a meeting with all of the villagers and they decide the infrastructure to invest in.” The Sam Veasna Center pays $450 for every cow that is slaughtered. Since the project started in 2008, at least $100,000 has been spent on the Dongphlet community, and about $40,000 of that has come from ecotourism organised by the centre. Everyone benefits, and the Sam Veasna Center is already applying the ethos of community involvement elsewhere in Cambodia, for example by taking birders to see rare Bengal floricans. No one has any illusions that it is going to be an easy task to nurture vulture populations back to sustainability. And there have been real setbacks. Vultures have died after ingesting poison targeted at other species, and there have been cases of deliberate attacks with guns and slingshots. But the local community seems to be totally committed. Prak says, proudly, “We, the villagers of Dongphlet, are determined to protect these amazing birds.” TIM HARRIS is a birder who visited Cambodia’s vulture restaurants in 2013. His most recent book is RSPB Migration Hotspots (£25, Bloomsbury).

December 2014

DICLOFENAC HAS BEEN LICENSED FOR ANIMAL USE IN SPAIN AND ITALY, TWO OF EUROPE’S KEY VULTURE COUNTRIES. Below left: villagers vote on how to invest vulture restaurant fees. Below: a white-rumped vulture warns a rival vulture to back off.

+ FIND OUT MORE Wonders of the Monsoon is out on DVD now, and on Blu-ray on 1 December: www.bbcshop.com l For more information about Cambodia’s birds and birdwatching in the country, visit www.samveasna.org/bird-sites.html l Learn more about ZSL’s EDGE project at www.edgeofexistence.org

BBC Wildlife




Photography in The Peak District: 17 – 19 April 2015

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Birdsong, Bikes and Boardwalks, by Paul Phillips.

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HIGH TECHNOLOGY, NEW DISCOVERIES T The most prestigious camera-trap competition has been overhauled with new categories for research and photographic achievement. THE JUDGES Mark Carwardine

is a wildlife photographer, conservationist, award-winning author of more than 50 books, and a TV and radio presenter. Read his latest column on p51.

Rosamund Kidman Cox is a former editor of BBC Wildlife. She produces the Wildscreen Photography Festival and is an affiliate of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Steve Harris is one of the leading mammal experts in the UK, and professor of biological sciences at Bristol University. He also contributes regularly to BBC Wildlife Magazine.

Elliott Neep is an awardwinning nature photographer and photographic guide. Based in the UK, he specialises in the wildlife of Britain, Africa and the polar regions.

Wanda Sowry is the picture editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine. She has a great love for the weird and wonderful, and an expert eye for the best in wildlife photography.

his year saw a record number of entrants to BBC Wildlife Magazine’s Camera-Trap Photo of the Year competition. In five years it has grown into the world’s most prestigious recognition of the role that new technology plays in our understanding of the natural world. “After talking to researchers and photographers, we decided to overhaul the competition,” says BBC Wildlife editor Matt Swaine. “We wanted to offer two separate awards: one for the most striking photograph, and another for the image that had done the most to advance our understanding of a species. The entries surpassed expectation.” Our panel of experts viewed an astonishing 877 images that made the final cut. Among them were an Amur leopard discovered outside its known range in China, whitelipped peccaries displaying ingenious behaviour in Peru and a European lynx feeding on its prey in Switzerland. “The judging process was tough, but we had an exceptional panel of judges,” adds Matt. “With photographers Mark Carwardine and Elliott Neep, scientist and mammal expert Steve Harris, the expert eye of our picture editor Wanda Sowry and the experience of Rosamund Kidman Cox, we were well equipped to take on that challenge.” You can go online to see more of the entries, but here are the finalists. After much deliberation, the judges reached a unanimous decision in awarding the £3,000 prize to our Overall Research Winner: the image of an Iranian cheetah on p73. We are delighted that this money will go back into research and help the funding for this project. Our thanks go to our sponsor Lowepro for supporting this award. And though competition was fierce, this striking image of a black rhino in Zambia was finally named our Overall Photography Winner.



WILL BURRARD-LUCAS CATEGORY Animal Portraits SUBJECT Black rhino, Zambia In the 1980s poachers wiped out black rhinos in the Luangwa Valley. For more than 10 years the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) has been successfully reintroducing them to North Luangwa National Park. During the early dry season in June 2013 I was working with FZS to track and photograph some of these incredible animals. Rhinos often use the same trails through the bush and frequent the same feeding areas and water holes, so I set up my camera-trap in a clearing that this rhino regularly visited and left it there for about a week. I composed the shot so it would incorporate the starry sky and got this special night-time image. www.burrard-lucas.com

MARK CARWARDINE SAYS: A strikingly original picture of a familiar subject. I love the dramatic lighting and gorgeous night sky, while the low angle adds impact.





CATEGORY Animal Portraits SUBJECT Mule deer, USA

CATEGORY Animal Behaviour SUBJECT Goitered gazelles, Iran

This mule deer was seeking refuge in deep snow on a windswept ridgeline on the Snowy Range, Wyoming. This photo was taken at dawn in March 2014, but the camera was actually set up to try to capture a cougar. Walking this ridge, I had found several sets of cougar prints leading to a place with melted snow, blood and deer hair – clear evidence of a kill site. So I set up my camera in a rocky area that animals travelled through along the ridge. This picture of a mule deer walking past at dawn was the first in my photo set. Later a family of cougars came by, and during the next six weeks I discovered three more kill sites.

In this image a male goitered gazelle is showing aggressive behaviour towards a female in Miandasht Wildlife Refuge, a reserve in North Khorasan Province, north-east Iran – gazelles often compete over water sources in the desert in summer. This picture was taken in August 2012 by Iran’s National Cheetah Monitoring Program, run by the Iranian Cheetah Society, in partnership with the Iranian Department of Environment, the Conservation of Asiatic Cheetah Project and Panthera.




BBC Wildlife

December 2014


LAURENT GESLIN CATEGORY Animal Behaviour SUBJECT European lynx, Switzerland After being reintroduced to Switzerland at the beginning of the 1970s, the European lynx is now roaming the Jura Mountains and the Alps after more than a century of absence. This was the first time I had photographed this young male in the Jura Mountains range – his mother had killed a roe deer the day before, and he was feeding on the prey. The last time I photographed him he was a beautiful adult male marking a woodpile, and had found his own territory about 96km away from this spot. www.laurent-geslin.com

ELLIOTT NEEP SAYS: The Eurasian lynx is a highly elusive animal of nocturnal or crepuscular habit. To capture a behavioural image of this quality and intimacy is an outstanding achievement, as even just glimpsing this animal is rare.

December 2014

BBC Wildlife








CATEGORY British Wildlife SUBJECT Fox, UK

CATEGORY British Wildlife SUBJECT Badger, UK

I envisaged this image a while ago, but it took longer than I thought to get the photo. Foxes scavenge along the shore of the River Thames in London after dark, looking for food that has been washed ashore or any waterfowl they can predate. I was delighted the picture showed as much of the landscape as possible to depict the fox in its urban habitat.

Two years ago I found a place near Wimbledon Common that is rarely visited by people where I could photograph badgers. London is a huge city that is home to millions, but I have discovered another side to it. Here wildlife exists alongside human activity, and this is what my image illustrates. Late one evening in early spring this omnivore was captured foraging near a busy road – you can see the streetlights in the background.

STEVE HARRIS SAYS: For me this photograph sums up everything vulpine: the fox is about to start its nocturnal perambulations in a world juxtaposed with our own.


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December 2014


IRANIAN CHEETAH SOCIETY CATEGORY Rare Species SUBJECT Asiatic cheetah, Iran According to the Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS) there are fewer than 70 Asiatic cheetahs left in Iran, thanks to habitat loss, poaching, land development and severe drought. This photo of Arash, an adult male, was taken in Naybandan Wildlife Refuge, South Khorasan Province, in May 2013. He is being monitored by Iran’s National Cheetah Monitoring Program, implemented by the ICS in partnership with the Iranian Department of Environment, the Conservation of Asiatic Cheetah Project and Panthera. The ICS relies on camera-trap technology to explore the population size and status of the cheetah in this Middle East country. www.wildlife.ir

ROSAMUND KIDMAN COX SAYS: It’s hard to believe this is a cameratrap shot, so perfectly is the animal posed and exposed against a desert backdrop that firmly places it in Iran.


TACUGAMA CHIMPANZEE SANCTUARY CATEGORY Rare Species SUBJECT Duiker, Sierra Leone During a biodiversity-monitoring survey run by Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the Western Area Peninsula National Park, we discovered a small population of Jentink’s duiker present in the area, though the species was thought to be extinct here – there are only about 2,000–3,500 individuals left in the wild. The animal lives in scattered groups in a forest that is a biodiversity hotspot. However, this valuable habitat and its inhabitants are close to the capital Freetown, and are sadly threatened by land clearance, bushmeat hunters and urban sprawl. www.tacugama.com/home

December 2014

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THE CREES FOUNDATION CATEGORY New Behaviour SUBJECT White-lipped peccaries, Peru White-lipped peccaries are a threatened species that move in huge herds and have a key role to play in the tropical rainforest ecosystem. This image was taken at the end of the dry season in August 2012 at a mammal clay lick on the reserve of the Manu Learning Centre, operated by The Crees Foundation. Threatened white-lipped peccaries are known to drink from the water pools and soft clay that gathers in the lick, but in this photo the larger individuals are breaking up the alkaline rocks and clay to eat. This behaviour introduces alkali to the water pools, which neutralises the toxins contained in the food a peccary eats and also allows other species to have access to essential salts. www.crees-manu.org

WANDA SOWRY SAYS: It is amazing to see such a large number of these active mammals captured on camera.


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December 2014


WWF-CHINA CATEGORY New Range SUBJECT Amur leopard, China This image was taken in the Dongning Forest Bureau, Southern Laoyeling, Heilongjiang Province, in July 2013 by the WWF-China Asian Big Cats team. It is the first photo of an Amur leopard found in this area, and encouraged us to research and identify individual leopards in this range. In August 2014 a preliminary survey showed that five to seven Amur leopards now live in Southern Laoyeling. The main conservation aim of our team is to double the number of wild Amur leopards in China by encouraging local and national support to protect the subspecies and its habitats. The Amur leopard is on the brink of extinction – only 50 animals are left in the wild worldwide. www.tx2.org.cn/English/


PANTANAL GIANT ARMADILLO PROJECT CATEGORY New Behaviour SUBJECT Giant armadillo, Brazil This is the first image, taken in July 2013, of a five-month-old baby giant armadillo playing outside the burrow with its mother. Cameratraps have enabled the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project to monitor this youngster for one year from the age of four weeks. It was previously believed that the offspring of giant armadillos became independent at six weeks old. However, from monitoring the species with cameratraps, we now know that the baby is completely dependent on its mother for at least the first six months. www.giantarmadillo.org.br

December 2014



You can see all of the winning, runner-up and commended entries in the BBC Wildlife Camera-Trap Photo of the Year competition on our website: www. discoverwildlife.com. To find out how you can take your own camera-trap images, see p27.

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Sex IN THE Nature has come up with many weird and wonderful ways of swapping genes. Here Jules Howard celebrates sex’s most surprising secrets.



Solvin Zankl/naturepl.com

Two Drosophila melanogaster mating. The sperm of this fruitfly is 40 times longer than the human variety.



Bdelloid rotifers reproduce asexually.

WORLD WITH NO MALES Sex costs a lot of energy, so why not evolve to bypass it altogether? Well, one group of animals has. Bdelloid rotifers (the ‘b’ is silent) are tiny creatures found in bird baths, ponds and puddles. When wet they come to life and hoover up micro-organisms. When conditions become dry again they shrivel up into a ball and are blown from place to place. There are billions of them on Earth, and every single one is female. According to their DNA, they haven’t had sex in perhaps 40 million years. Without mixing up their genes through sex, the rotifers should fall prey to bacteria and viruses, their defences outmanoeuvred. Yet they are still here. How? It seems that drying up then blowing from place to place may allow them to outflank and outlast their parasites. In their world, males add no genetic value.

1. Wim van Egmond/Corbis; 2. Eric Baccaga/naturepl.com; 3. Alamy; 4. Corbis; 5. Alamy

EGGSTRAORDINARY Reproduction using eggs and sperm is like a lottery. Some species hope for success by investing in thousands of cheap tickets, whereas others buy fewer tickets that offer a safer return. Fish are some of the world’s most frivolous gamblers. Among the most prolific vertebrate egg-layers is the ocean sunfish – it’s believed that the female produces as many as 300 million eggs in a single spawning event. The largest eggs in the world are also produced by fish. Whale shark pups hatch from enormous egg capsules within the mother’s body. Each capsule measures over 30cm long, and females may produce more than 300 at a time. Interestingly, a whale shark’s diet is rich in the freefloating eggs of other fish species.


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PANDAS ARE GOOD AT SEX Giant pandas are widely chastised for being unable to ‘get in the mood’ in captivity, and for having a window of ovulation (about 36–48 hours) too tiny to be practical. The reproductive life of Edinburgh Zoo’s Tian Tian and Yang Guang shows just how difficult it can be to encourage the species to breed normally in captivity. But in the wild, pandas are masters of sex. Even though their territories can be enormous, males and females locate one another at exactly the right time for ovulation, primarily by monitoring chemical sex messages left on trees via squirts of urine. They also communicate

vocally. Males bleat when they approach a reproductive female, possibly offering an opportunity for her to assess his size and strength. A female in oestrus often mates with several males, so they have evolved one of the highest sperm counts of all bears, to better guarantee any offspring is theirs. As our understanding of the animal’s wild breeding improves, zoos adapt accordingly. For example, keepers liberally apply the urine of potential partners to panda enclosures in the run-up to breeding season. However, the use of ‘panda porn’ or ‘panda Viagra’ is much more controversial.



Many animals, especially fish, switch between egg-producing (female) and sperm-producing (male) phases during their lives. For instance, in many reef fish all of the juveniles are females and become males as they grow. These are known as ‘sequential hermaphrodites’, a phenomenon very common across a number of taxonomic groups.


The Spanish slug can lay up to 400 eggs a year.

In invertebrates, particularly slugs and snails, things go a step further – individuals possess male and female genitalia at the same time. In fact many slugs and snails even have the ability to fertilise their own eggs. With such flexible reproductive equipment, it’s no surprise that a number of invasive species are hermaphroditic. Among the most worrying is the Spanish slug, which has become a serious agricultural pest across much of Europe. A single egg transported in a flowerpot is all it takes to unleash this master and mistress of sex into new places.


ANIMALS HAD SEX ON THE MOON The diversity of mites’ sexual behaviour is staggering. There are mate guarders, harem keepers, warring males, macho show-offs, incest and cannibalism. Perhaps the most celebrated of all is the red velvet mite. Males create trails of silk in their territories that direct females to little packages of their sperm, called spermatophores. If one approves, she

will absorb the sperm into her body. Species of mite are everywhere – in the noses of seals, on the legs of chickens, in the ears of porcupines, in the middle of a sea urchin and within the rectums of bats. In fact it’s likely that eyelash mites Demodex spp. are having sex on your face right now. It’s probably the only animal to have had sex on the moon, carried by the 12 men Eyelash mites who have walked on it. (false-coloured red) on hair follicles (green).


China’s pandarearing facility at Wolong is one of only a few centres in the world able to captive-breed pandas regularly.




SINGING GENITALIA The variety of male genitalia in the animal kingdom is jaw-dropping. There are fin-like ones (sharks), barbed ones (cats, beetles and dragonflies), regenerative ones (seaslugs), lobes (turtles), hooks (mosquitofish), finger-like extensions (barnacles) and a detachable swimming penis (the Argonaut octopus). Some penises have become adapted for other sexual purposes. The lesser water boatman (right) frantically rubs its penis against a special comb-like structure on its body to pump out a mating call equivalent to almost 100dB. Relative to size, it’s the loudest animal on Earth.

Micronecta scholtzi is only 2mm long.

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One of sex’s greatest mysteries is why so many animals seek to pleasure themselves, rather than find reproductive opportunities with others. Lions, bats, walruses, warthogs, whales, dolphins and deer are just some of those known to partake in such ‘auto-eroticism’. Are such behaviours evolved, or are they emergent phenomena associated with something else, such as captivity? The marine iguana is one species where auto-eroticism is common – smaller males rub themselves against rocks as they approach reproductive females. The behaviour means that their resultant copulations are shorter, so smaller males are less likely to be interrupted by bigger, burlier rivals. According to research, the strategy is likely to increase their chances of a successful mating by 41 per cent – easily enough to Small marine iguanas level the be evolutionarily playing field with significant.



Dolphins are famous for being sexually adventurous. Here a bottlenose is trying to mate with smaller Atlantic spotted dolphins.



6. Pete Oxford/FLPA; 7. Erica Olsen/FLPA; 8. Brandon Cole/NPL; 9. Alamy; 10. Domingos Rodrigues

Monogamy rarely flourishes in animal groups because fidelity limits an individual’s reproductive potential. It only persists among the species where the result is a higher number of healthy offspring. In birds, where the raising of chicks may demand care from both parents, monogamy arises fairly frequently. But it has popped up in other species and groups, too: antelopes, prairie voles, some cichlid fishes and the Australian sleepy lizard (also known as the shingleback skink). None of these are true monogamists though – each may be inclined to change partners between seasons. Though many consider swans, albatrosses and emperor penguins to be nature’s most virtuous couples, all of these pale in significance compared with Eurasian bullfinches and jackdaws. Bullfinches are highly monogamous, and as a result males are modestly endowed and produce poor-quality sperm, not having any need for more sophisticated reproductive mechanisms. On the other hand, jackdaws remain faithful for life and stay near their partners year-round, even within bustling and complex colonies. They are perhaps the most monogamous of all common UK birds.


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Jackdaws mate for life. The mutual preening between this pair reinforces their bond.

December 2014






HOMOSEXUAL ACTS ARE WIDESPREAD Though animals rarely eschew sex totally with the opposite sex, observations of individuals partaking in homosexual activities throughout their lives are wonderfully common, from hyenas, lions, whiptail lizards, dragonflies and bed bugs through to orcas, koalas, barn owls, king penguins, mallards, sticklebacks and rattlesnakes, to name but a few. According to the experts, bottlenose dolphins indulge in homosexual activities as much as heterosexual activities. One of their favourite activities is ‘goosing’, when dolphins of the same sex nudge each other’s genital slits with their beaks. Other bottlenoses indulge in ‘socio-sexual petting’, when homosexual and heterosexual pairs stroke one another’s undersides with their outstretched flippers. Only in recent years have scientists begun to lift the lid on the evolutionary causes that may be responsible. Though homosexual animals in vertebrates obviously suffer from lower reproductive outputs, there may be evolutionary benefits such as kin selection, whereby non-reproductive offspring enhance the survival and reproductive chances of their siblings, ensuring their own family genes persist.



DUCK DRAMAS Being largely internalised soft structures, female genitalia can be tricky to study. Among the best understood are ducks’. Intense competition between male ducks has done remarkable things. They have evolved a long corkscrew penis that can be ‘exploded’ into a female’s reproductive tract, giving a male a greater chance Mallard sex than his rivals of successful is often a fertilisation. In response the rough affair. female reproductive tract has evolved into an anti-corkscrew, with pockets and dead ends. By modelling the tract of Muscovy ducks, scientists found that she can rebuff unwanted sperm – her reproductive passages only loosen enough to grant access to the males that she deems worthy. They’re the ones with the brightest bill, for those are most likely healthiest and less likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases.

SUPER-SPERM Just as natural selection chisels animals into all sorts of shapes and behaviours, it also works on their sperm. Famously members of the fruit-fly family have some of the longest sperm in the animal kingdom: those of Drosophila melanogaster are visible to the human eye, being almost 2mm long (about 40 times longer than our sperm), while other species have sperm cells an order of magnitude higher. Why do fruit-flies invest in such lengthy sperm? The female’s lengthy and convoluted reproductive tract (itself only slightly longer than the sperm) may be the reason, or long sperm could be an adaptation to block the sperm of rival males.

FATAL ATTRACTIONS Episodes of sex that are so intense the animal dies, known as semelparity, evolve when it pays more (in terms of offspring) for males and females to invest everything in one sex act than to stay alive and breed again next year. The Pacific salmon is a good example. Though not strictly semelparous, frogs and toads often live their last days during the breeding season. The energetics of mating are arguably worse for females than males – competition can be so intense that she drowns under a mass of rival suitors. But when this happens in the frog Rhinella proboscidea, death doesn’t spell the end – the males practise ‘functional necrophilia’, squeezing eggs from dead females which they fertilise in the water.

December 2014

For Rhinella proboscidea, sex is a matter of life after death.

JULES HOWARD is a naturalist and blogger whose new book Sex on Earth: A Celebration of Animal Reproduction is out now (£16.99, Bloomsbury Sigma). BBC Wildlife


Tim Birkhead and his students have been studying guillemots for 42 years, amassing a vast amount of data on the birds’ ecology and the health of our seas.


long game Much of what we know about bird behaviour is from patient field observation over many years. Tim Birkhead reveals why there’s no quick fix and long-term studies are vital. 82

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December 2014



Fergus Gill/naturepl.com


n a warm, clear and windless day in July my three colleagues and I gingerly descend the 100m drop from the top of the island into one of its main guillemot colonies. The beauty of this location is that for most of the climb the masses of birds cannot see us. They continue with the business of brooding and feeding their well-grown chicks. We set up our temporary camp out of sight at a traditional site behind some boulders and start to unpack our equipment: pliers, green-netting Brussels sprout bags, a carbonDecember 2014

fibre fishing pole, hundreds of heavy-duty colour rings each engraved with a unique number, and circlips for opening the rings. This is our annual visit to catch and ring several hundred guillemot chicks and 50 or so adult birds. I have been doing this for 42 years here on Skomer Island, south-west Wales, and the purpose is to keep this longterm study of the guillemot’s biology going. Only by having individually recognisable birds can we accumulate the information that allows us to understand how Skomer’s guillemot population works. When I started in 1972 there were just

2,000 pairs of guillemots, but since the mid-1980s the population has increased to about 25,000 pairs. Success at one level, but a far cry from the 100,000 pairs that were on Skomer’s cliffs in the 1930s.

KNOWING THE NUMBERS Like most other seabirds, guillemots lay one egg so their potential rate of increase is low, and they are long-lived, with an average breeding life of 20 years – our oldest guillemot on Skomer is a male in his early 30s. By knowing how long birds live, how many chicks they produce and when they BBC Wildlife


There are 950,000 breeding pairs of guillemots in the UK, 25,000 of which are on Skomer.

SKOMER’S GUILLEMOTS 10 THINGS TIM’S STUDY REVEALED 1 7 BREEDING SUCCESS is determined largely by the number of close neighbours. Guillemots breed at high density to deter predatory gulls and ravens that, given the chance, would eat their eggs and chicks.


HIGH NUMBERS and high-density breeding give guillemots the confidence to sit tight in the face of a predator. When the population was low in the 1970s, the birds were very nervous; they are much more confident now.

CLIMATE CHANGE also affects the survival of adult birds. Warm, wet, windy winters are becoming more frequent, and are taking their toll. When my study started, no-one had considered climate change and its effects on bird populations.


USING VARIOUS tracking devices, we have been able to see the massive movements Skomer’s guillemots make outside the breeding season – from Portugal to the Faroes – in search of food.





GUILLEMOTS ON Skomer have a high survival rate. About 95 per cent of adults survive from one year to the next, and approximately 50 per cent of chicks that fledge manage to reach breeding age.

THE SKOMER guillemot population is largely self-contained. Young birds usually return to breed there, sometimes close to where they hatched. Immigration seems to be rare: one bird ringed as a chick in the Baltic moved to Skomer to breed, but that’s unusual.

GUILLEMOT CHICKS on Skomer are fed mainly on energy-rich sprats; elsewhere in the UK they are fed sandeels. But in 2014 Skomer birds were catching more herring and cod-like fish, which may signal a change in the ocean, probably not for the better.

THE INCREASE in numbers since the mid-1980s (see p83) is good news but fragile. Elsewhere in the UK, guillemot breeding success is generally very low and populations are decreasing.


GLOBAL WARMING resulted in progressively earlier breeding between the 1970s and about 2005 – an advance of roughly two weeks. More recently, the breeding seasons have flipped between the earliest and latest in 42 years. Could climate change be to blame?


THE FOUR major oil spills of the past 40 years, including three hundreds of kilometres from Skomer, resulted in a doubling of the annual adult mortality rate.


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Tim discovered that guillemots usually return to their natal colony to breed.

The longer you study birds (here Bristol’s urban gulls), the more valuable your data.

first breed we can predict which way the population is heading. One of the hardest parameters to obtain is the survival of young birds: the proportion of the chicks that fledge that live to become breeding adults. Since most guillemots don’t start to breed until they are seven, and some not until they are 10 or 12, a long-term study is essential. It is also essential for other reasons: the environment isn’t static. Keeping a long-term study going for 40 or more years is not a trivial undertaking. Most of the Research Council grants that fund scientific research in Britain last only three or sometimes five years. Of course it is possible for researchers to acquire successive grants, but that’s far from certain, and even less certain during an age of austerity. Uninterrupted funding is what all long-term studies need. The plight of those engaged in longterm studies is made worse by the fact that governments and grant-awarding bodies want a quick return for their funding in the form of scientific papers. It requires considerable ingenuity to simultaneously produce spectacular short-term science as well as solid long-term research. Given the difficulties, why do researchers work so hard to keep their long-term studies going? The answer, as every biologist will December 2014


In his robin study David Lack used stuffed birds to see how territory holders reacted.

Clockwise from top left: Brian Tucker; Sam Hobson; courtesy of the Lack family; Andy Hay/rspb-images.com; Mike Lawrance/Alamy

OUR LIVES – BOTH BIOLOGICALLY AND POLITICALLY – ARE NOW DOMINATED BY SHORTTERMISM, QUICK FIXES AND SUPERFICIALITY. tell you, is that long-term studies are so much better at providing an understanding of a species’ biology. Our lives – both biologically and politically – are now dominated by shorttermism, quick fixes and superficiality. Many biologists I know pursuing long-term studies will admit that if they had stopped after three or five years, they’d have got it wrong. They recognise that both expertise and understanding increase exponentially year on year. They also acknowledge that the long view allows you to see that, far from being stable, the natural world is subject to all sorts of changes including, in the case of seabirds, climate change and overfishing. It is the desire to really get to grips with a biological system that gives researchers the willpower and tenacity to keep their long-term studies going. Projects spanning December 2014

recognised as individuals. Initially this meant giving them numbered metal leg rings, which was fine for easily captured (and recaptured) species such as tits or pied flycatchers that will breed in nestboxes. Indeed, the longest-running study, of great tits in the Netherlands, began in the 1930s. In 1945 the British ornithologist David Lack visited this project, which was run by Huijbert Kluijver, and on seeing its RECOGNISING INDIVIDUALS scientific potential he went back to Oxford Long-term studies also give us a chance to and established the Wytham Woods great understand the impact of unexpected events. tit study that continues to this day. A good example was the huge ‘seabird wreck’ Catching and recatching birds to read their earlier this year. For day after day in January rings is often difficult, so what was needed and February, unprecedented storms battered was a ring or rings that could be read from Europe’s western seaboard. Rough seas a distance without disturbing the birds. A make feeding difficult, and in the following combination of coloured plastic rings was weeks over 40,000 seabirds, including many the obvious answer, but the first attempt to guillemots from Skomer, starved to death and study birds without catching them was by were washed up on Atlantic beaches. James Burkitt, an Irish amateur ornithologist For most species that have become the who was colour-blind. Instead he used subject of a long-term study, the key was different types of metal rings on the robins finding methods that allowed birds to be he studied in Ireland in the 1920s. Inspired by Burkitt’s work, Lack also studied robins, but used plastic colour rings, as did Margaret Morse Nice in the USA in her now-classic song sparrow study conducted during the 1930s– 40s. Seabirds were a different Colour plastic rings – a simple idea that kettle of fish: any colour ring decades allow scientists to measure lifetime reproductive success; to explore the effects that age has on survival and breeding success; the effects of kinship – who is related to whom; and the way conditions in particular breeding seasons determine individuals’ subsequent survival and reproductive output.

transformed studies.

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LONG�TERM RESEARCH used on them had to last decades and survive persistent submersion in sea water. It was John Coulson, while studying kittiwakes at Durham University, who discovered the perfect material – a robust plastic made by what was then ICI, named Darvic. Darvic came in different colours, could be easily cut and moulded to fit any seabird’s leg, and wasn’t much affected by age or sea water. Birds were given either a combination of colour rings or a single ring engraved with numbers or letters to identify them.





Several generations of ornithologists used this simple technology to embark on longterm studies in the 1950s. These include George Dunnet – fulmars on Eynhallow in Orkney; Chris Perrins – mute swans on the Thames; Ben Hatchwell at Sheffield – long-tailed tits; Lars Gustafsson – pied flycatchers in the Baltic; Jamie Smith – song sparrows on Mandarte Island, British Columbia; and Andrew Cockburn – superb fairy-wrens in Australia. Perhaps most spectacular of all has been Peter and

Since 1946 great tits have been studied continuously at Wytham Woods, near Oxford. The study has produced detailed insights into the links between population density and size, breeding success, survival rates, immigration and emigration.

These gorgeous birds breed co-operatively, with the young staying to help their parents rear further broods. A long-term study has been able to examine the various ecological constraints that drive this rare behaviour, found in just 9 per cent of bird species.



On Mandarte Island ornithologists have built up one of the most comprehensive pedigrees for any bird, linking parents and offspring back over 25 generations. It reveals how genes and the environment can work together to influence the sparrows’ lives.

Peter and Rosemary Grant’s study of Darwin’s finches has provided, among other things, the most convincing demonstration of natural selection in the wild, by looking at the birds’ bill size before and after extreme environmental events caused by El Niño.

Tit: Hermann Brehm/NPL; wren: Dave Watts/NPL; sparrow: Donald M Jones/Minden/FLPA; finch: Visuals Unlimited/NPL

“LONG-TERM STUDIES LET US ANSWER NOT JUST THE QUESTIONS WE THINK ARE IMPORTANT NOW, BUT OFTEN QUESTIONS THAT BECOME IMPORTANT.” Rosemary Grant’s wonderfully informative study of Darwin’s finches on the Galápagos. A list like this, and it isn’t complete, gives the impression that there are lots of longterm studies. But my guess is that for every long-term study on birds there will have been several hundred short-term ones. The important point is that long-term studies are often disproportionately successful in terms of the quality and quantity of scientific publications they generate. As Ben Sheldon, who now manages the long-term great tit study at Oxford, says: “The unique value of long-term studies is that they enable us to answer not just the questions we think are important now, but often also the questions that become important.” Tim Clutton-Brock at Cambridge, who runs long-term studies of red deer on Rum and meerkats in South Africa, adds: “There are many ecological processes that can only be detected by data spanning several decades – and many important biological and ecological questions that can only be answered with long86

BBC Wildlife

term records of the life histories of individuals. Studies that can provide access to data of this kind are a vitally important research source for future generations – and their maintenance should be a priority for funding bodies.”

FUNDING ISSUES The Grants’ long-term project exploring Darwin’s finches spanned 40 years. Unless, as in the case of the Oxford great tit study, one can find both funding and a successor, 40 years seems to be about the limit of long-term studies. This in itself tells us that the success of such endeavours is strongly affected by the drive and enthusiasm of individual researchers. The Grants have now retired. Will anyone continue their work? Who will inherit their database? We simply don’t know. Long-term studies can also come to an end for reasons other than retirement. In some cases, the funding may simply run out, as happened with my study of guillemots on Skomer. This was especially

unfortunate because it coincided with the ‘wreck’ that killed thousands of guillemots, and unless I can find an alternative source of funds we will never benefit from a full understanding of the consequences of that massive additional mortality. Still, I’m hopeful. And I look forward to my visits to Skomer next year with my research assistant to search for colour-ringed birds to see who has survived the winter storms; to measure their breeding success; and to place rings on the legs of a new generation of chicks so that we – or someone else – can follow their fortunes for another 40 years.

TIM BIRKHEAD is a professor of ornithology at Sheffield University and co-author of Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin (£29.95, PUP).

+ FIND OUT MORE Tim discussed his long-term guillemot study on Radio 4’s Living World series. Listen to the episode at www.bbc. co.uk/programmes/ b04dh2gw

December 2014


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OUR EXPERTS KAREN EMSLIE is a science and nature writer with a penchant for the curious and quirky.

BEN GARROD is an evolutionary biologist who specialises in both primates and skeletons.




is a science writer who is mildly obsessed with evolution.

HENRY GEE is a senior editor of the journal Nature and an evolutionary biologist.



How wild is a domestic rabbit?



Since rabbits were domesticated relatively recently and in an identifiable location (1,400 years ago in southern France), they make ideal candidates for genetic research. Scientists from Uppsala University, Sweden, have explored the differences between tame rabbits and their wild genetic neighbours by sequencing the genome of a domestic individual and comparing it with that of its wild cousins. Domestication is a result of many small changes in the brain and nervous system, rather than domestication genes. A key one is reduction in flight response – pet rabbits face fewer threats. They also discovered that tame rabbits rarely completely lose their wild genes, which suggests they could become ‘genetically wild’ again if released. Karen Emslie

Ben Hall

is an author and associate director at the British Trust for Ornithology.


wildquestions @immediate.co.uk or post to Q&A, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, 9th Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN

December 2014

Rabbits were domesticated much later than sheep, cows, goats and pigs.

BBC Wildlife




C E TA C E A N S Douglas Finch Via email

Do whales have heavy bones to help them sink? A

It’s reasonable to assume that whales and other cetaceans would have heavy bones to counteract their huge amounts of fatty, buoyant blubber. However, there is in fact considerable variation in the skeletons of marine mammals. Generally speaking, bottom-feeding marine mammals such as dugongs and manatees tend to have dense, heavy bones to help them stay down, while surface-

feeding cetaceans, such as plankton-feeding baleen whales, have a low bone density, making them ‘positively’ buoyant and helping them to float. Cetaceans that spend their time moving up and down through the water column, such as dolphins and porpoises, are halfway between the two, so are ‘neutrally’ buoyant, ascending and descending with minimal effort. Ben Garrod



WANDERING STARS Unlike many migratory birds that are faithful to specific wintering grounds, redwings are nomadic. They follow the good weather and food supplies wherever they take them, sometimes as far south as Africa.

WAR CHANT The male’s breeding song, which consists of simple, repeating fluty phrases, sometimes concludes with a ‘terminating twitter,’ thought to signal a state of increased aggression to rival males.


Blue whales are 24–27m long and weigh 100–120 tonnes. Though their bones look big and heavy, they are low density, enabling the animals to float.


Much of what is known about the physiology of migrating redwings is the result of a study of 600 birds killed after colliding with Bardsey Lighthouse in Wales on 29 October 1995. SB + Find more redwing facts at www.discoverwildlife.com

P L A N T S Jason Carpenter Via email

From top: Doc White/NPL; Mike Langman; Lassi Rautiainen/NPL

Why don’t conifers shed their leaves? A In the tropics trees continuously replace old leaves with new ones year-round, but at higher latitudes winter brings the risk of frost damage. This is why many species drop the lot in autumn and replace them the following spring. However, this is a costly strategy in terms of the nutrients lost in the fallen leaves, so species that grow on poorer soils, including most conifers, hang onto their precious foliage throughout the winter. The small surface area and waxy outer coating of needles provide some protection against frost, but even this may not be enough at the highest latitudes and altitudes. This might explain why the larch, a deciduous conifer, appears to buck the trend. Stuart Blackman 90

BBC Wildlife

Conifers retain their leaves to offset the risk of frost damage with nutrients gained.

December 2014

Adult elephants – this one is in Namibia – need to eat 75–150kg of food every day.



Why are big organisms rare? A

There are several answers to this. The first is simply that the earliest organisms in any group tend to be small, and remain small – only a few evolve larger sizes. The second is that large organisms take a lot of energy to maintain. So they require larger spaces to live in, and competition with other large animals will ensure that there are fewer of them. The third is that larger creatures often run into problems of heat loss and support not suffered by smaller animals. Yet a fourth is that larger animals tend to have fewer offspring, keeping populations small and survival precarious. The fifth is that once they have become big, they need a huge standing stock of smaller creatures to feed on. It’s no wonder that the biggest creatures evolve in the sea – where the territories are vast, and problems of support and heat loss are minimised – and graze on enormous quantities of plankton that are further down the food-chain and easy to harvest.

From top: Tony Heald/NPL; M Hamblin/Robert Harding

Henry Gee




Florida, USA Many sites are over-run with snorkellers and kayakers, so you should try somewhere quieter. Save the Manatee recommends Blue Spring State Park.

December 2014



Cairngorms, Scotland You don’t have to go to Lapland to see reindeer – there’s a free-ranging herd in the Cairngorms at the Reindeer Centre, just east of Aviemore, with guided trips to see them.



Kruger National Park, South Africa The secretary bird is the raptor with the longest legs in the world, for stamping on snakes and other prey. Its range is most of sub-Saharan Africa, but Kruger’s as good a spot as any.

1 3

BBC Wildlife





I wanted to introduce a temporary hide to the edge of this sea loch on the Isle of Skye that I could use to photograph shorebirds. To decide on the location, I sat with the equipment I would be using to check range, perspective and lighting, then put the hide at the foot of a bank and beneath the skyline.

MAKE YOUR OWN WILDLIFE HIDE long telephoto lens alone doesn’t guarantee successful close-ups of wildlife – good fieldcraft is often crucial. Aside from careful stalking, using some form of hide can make a big difference. The permanent wooden hides common to nature reserves can be effective because wildlife becomes habituated to them, but the downside is that they are often never quite close enough, or in locations that provide a general view over likely habitat rather than targeted at anything specific. The alternative is to improvise or purchase a ready-made portable hide, or build something more permanent yourself. Portable fabric hides come in various guises and have the advantage that they are freestanding, lightweight and quick to deploy. Choose one that is shower-proof, of a colour matching the habitat in which you will be using it, and made from material heavy enough that your silhouette won’t be seen when the sun is behind you. You should also be able to secure it to the ground so that it won’t flap around. But the main thing is that your shelter is large enough and comfortable enough for you to spend a lot of time there: the longer you wait, the more you will see. Laurie Campbell



STEP 2 I added the canvas cover over the free-standing frame of the hide, then put stones in pockets sewn inside the hem along the bottom. These would keep the fabric stable and improve its waterproof qualities. I also moved a few rocks into position around the hide to reduce its profile in the landscape.

STEP 3 Lastly I added scrim netting and seaweed that I found cast up on the upper shore. This amount of camouflage is rarely needed solely for the animals’ sake, but another reason I use it is to conceal my hides from the public so I can avoid unwanted attention and disturbance.

O You can find our guide to camera-traps on p27. Visit

www.discoverwildlife.com for more photography advice.

EXPERT TIP Making your own hide can help you take such amazing close-ups as Laurie’s photo of a grey heron.

“You can also use a dome-shaped tent or pop-up shelter from an outdoor shop. It should be free-standing and dark in colour. Adding a scrim net will reduce the hide’s opacity.” Laurie Campbell, wildlife photographer

December 2014




Why are robins so tame? A

British robins readily associate with gardeners, but elsewhere in Europe they are shy and retiring birds of thick woodland cover. It may just be because continental robins, the migratory northern populations of which winter around the Mediterranean, have long been exposed to hunting in the southern part of their range, leaving the species particularly skulking in its habits, while in Britain we do not share the tradition of trapping and shooting small birds. Why other British birds are less confiding than the robin may be linked to feeding behaviour. Robins take most of their food from the ground, including invertebrates disturbed by larger animals. They may view us in a similar way, as they scavenge worms unearthed by the gardener’s spade. This behaviour persists because they have nothing to fear.

Robins may seem friendly, but they are aggressively territorial towards their rivals.

Mike Toms



From left: Mark Hamblin; Reinhard Hölzl/FLPA; Paul Sterry/Nature Photographers Ltd

Why do webs have ‘signatures?’

The wasp spider creates a web with a very visible zigzag.

December 2014

A A few spiders, notably the wasp spider Argiope bruennichi and conical spider Cyclosa conica in the UK, include a conspicuous streak or zigzag of pale, woolly silk through the middle of their web. But the meaning of the ‘signature’ is still open to debate. Though called a ‘stabilimentum’, it has nothing to do with stability and species across the world build stabilimenta in spiral, cross and ribbon forms. In Cyclosa it may well hide the spider, which further decorates the silk with its own moulted skins and prey remnants. Some of the more elaborate signatures may act like warning signs, preventing birds colliding with and destroying the web. Richard Jones Entomologist

Tadpoles can be seen in winter as well as spring.


I N T H E G A R D E N Heather Morgan Via email

What will I find if I go pond dipping in winter? A You can find plenty. Dragonfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs, a host of water beetles, water boatmen, backswimmers, water hoglice, leeches, mayfly nymphs, caddis fly nymphs – all of these creatures overwinter in ponds, and are active and easily visible on even the coldest days. In fact, for many aquatic invertebrates winter is an important time for growth in preparation for their crucial breeding endeavours in spring. There’s even an argument that pond food-webs become reenergised in winter, aided by the increased oxygen content (cold water retains more oxygen) and the influx of dead leaves in autumn on which detritivores flourish. Some ponds may also contain overwintering tadpoles, a phenomenon that might be more common than we imagine. In particularly mild winters adult amphibians continue to be active too – I have seen newts hunting in the water in mid-December. However, during colder wintry spells frogs may retreat to the depths where they sit motionless, breathing through their skins. So if you do go dipping, don’t disturb them. Jules Howard Zoologist O Don’t miss Jules’s article on the sex secrets of the animal kingdom on p77. BBC Wildlife



B I R D S Steve Ricketts Via email

Why is bird excrement white? A

The droppings produced by birds contain materials from the excretory (urine) and the alimentary (faeces) systems, a result of the two emptying into the cloaca, where the reproductive system also has an opening. Whereas the faeces contain undigested food remains, and so tend to reflect the diet in general composition, the urine is



Manners maketh penguin: a gentoo defecates away from the nest.

MAKE A FAT CAKE Help birds this winter when bugs and berries are scarce by ‘baking’ fat cakes. Get more garden advice at www.discoverwildlife.com

responsible for the white appearance seen in many bird droppings. The urine produced by birds varies widely in appearance, but is usually cream-coloured. It contains a high concentration of urates – the salts or esters of uric acid – and whitish crystals of uric acid are deposited after some of the water has been reabsorbed in the cloaca. It is these crystals that give the droppings their white appearance. The whitest droppings tend to be produced by seabirds and it is these, rather than those of other birds, that may be correctly termed guano. Some species, such as cormorants, use guano as a nesting material. MT

1 In a pan, melt lard or suet. Stir in a mixture of birdseed, raisins, oats, breadcrumbs and peanuts.

2 Make a hole in a yoghurt pot, thread it with string and knot it. Pack in the mixture.

R E C O R D B R E A K E R S Hannah Parker Via email

Which animal is fastest for its size? A This record is currently held by a Californian mite Paratarsotomus macropalpis, which races along at an average of 192.4 body lengths per second, though a top speed of 322 body lengths per second has been clocked. To achieve this feat it takes 135 steps every second.

In contrast, Usain Bolt manages roughly 5.3 body lengths per second over 100m, while a cheetah at full pelt reaches about 18 body lengths per second. Were Mr Bolt to match the mite’s top speed, adjusted for size, he’d travel at 2,295kph and manage 100m in 0.16 seconds. SB 3

Illustrations by Alan Batley

From top: B Stephenson/NPL; Ron Austing/FLPA

Cheetahs may be quick, but a much smaller animal is the fastest relative to its size.


BBC Wildlife

Leave the mixture to set overnight, then carefully cut the pot from the hardened mix.

4 Hang your fat cakes from trees and shrubs, and enjoy the visitors that come to feast.

December 2014

CATS, Bats, Bugs, and Lemurs

Birds of Australia A Photographic Guide


Iain Campbell, Sam Woods & Nick Leseberg

The Wild Cat Book

With photography by Geoff Jones

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Cats FIONA SUNQUIST and MEL SUNQUIST

Birds of Australia covers all 714 species of resident birds and regularly occurring migrants and features more than 1,100 stunning color photographs, including many photos of subspecies and plumage variations never before seen in a field guide.

With Photographs by Terry Whittaker

“The cats of the world are among the most captivating and charismatic of all creatures. From the mighty lion to the diminutive sand cat, each possesses the feline attributes of stealth, grace, and beauty. This marvelous book showcases the world’s cats in all their compelling diversity.” —Simon King

Paper £24.95 978-0-691-15727-6

The Amazing World of Flyingfish Steve N. G. Howell

Cloth £24.50

Bats A World of Science and Mystery M. BROCK FENTON and NANCY B. SIMMONS This is a richly illustrated guide to bats, covering species differentiation, habitat and range, behaviors, and analyses of the threats they currently face. Cloth £24.50

Planet of the Bugs Evolution and the Rise of Insects SCOTT RICHARD SHAW “Shaw’s unusual perspective on life can be delightfully askew: why, he asks, do we give our loved ones flowers instead of stink bugs, when many of the latter are just as colourful and sweet-smelling? Overall, readers should come away with a deeper appreciation of insect diversity and evolution’s sweep.” —New Scientist

This beautifully illustrated book presents flyingfish as you’ve never seen them before. It features more than 90 stunning color photos by renowned naturalist Steve Howell, as well as a concise and accessible text that explores the natural history of flyingfish, where they can be found, how and why they fly, what colors they are, what they eat and what eats them, and more. Cloth £8.95 978-0-691-16011-5


WILDGuides Britain’s Habitats A Guide to the Wildlife Habitats of Britain and Ireland

Sophie Lake, Durwyn Liley, Robert Still & Andy Swash A photographic guide to habitats, this lavishly illustrated book provides a comprehensive overview of the natural history and conservation landscape of Britain and Ireland. Cloth £27.95 978-0-691-15855-6

Cloth £19.50

A Sparrowhawk’s Lament

Extinct Madagascar Picturing the Island’s Past STEVEN M. GOODMAN and WILLIAM L. JUNGERS With Plates by Velizar Simeonovski

“A hauntingly beautiful book.” —Oliver Sacks Cloth £31.50

How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring

David Cobham with Bruce Pearson With a foreword by Chris Packham In this handsomely illustrated book, acclaimed British filmmaker and naturalist David Cobham offers unique and deeply personal insights into Britain’s birds of prey and how they are faring today. Cloth £24.95 978-0-691-15764-1

The University of Chicago Press � www.press.uchicago.edu 4RADE�ENQUIRIES�TO �50- � � �s�Distributed by John Wiley, 01243 779777

See our E-Books at press.princeton.edu






ccompanying the BBC One series presented by David Attenborough, Life Story is a coffee-table tome about the struggle for success that begins for every animal at birth. As his foreword states, “There is just one goal – to leave offspring, the next best thing to immortality.” Mirroring the six-part series, the book, by executive producer Mike Gunton and series producer Rupert Barrington, charts the journey from first steps to parenthood, uncovering the often herculean challenges along the way: learning to hunt, dispatching rivals, making homes, finding mates. The behaviour is astonishing (the archerfish that nails its prey with a deadly jet of water), mesmerising (the peacock jumping spider that waggles to impress the fairer sex) and heart-wrenching (the tiger cubs struggling against habitat loss and poaching). A selection of enjoyable makingofs from the 78 expeditions fill the final chapter – from creating an entire underwater studio to film one little fish, to scrambling up a scree slope without starting a landslide.

Bonobo: Theo Webb/BBC; peppered moth: David Chapman/Photoshot; manx shearwater: Mike Potts/NPL


An infant bonobo and his mother (her arm is just in shot). Bonobos are only weaned when four or five years old.


December 2014

Sarah McPherson Section editor l Subscribe and get this book free – see p46.

Requiem for a Moth

Percy Edwards Showdown

Night Rescue

Discover why we all depend on moths, and what makes mothfancying a very British pastime. http://bbc.in/1ptrrMZ

David Attenborough celebrates the life of the ornithologist and famous bird impersonator. http://bbc.in/1xG8M8N

Meet a bird rescuer who helps Manx shearwaters on their first migration. http://bbc.in/1rN6QI5

BBC Wildlife


A reconstructed Dimetrodon grandis – its sail-like structure may have been used in thermoregulation or sexual display.



Donald E Hurlberd, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History

Take a journey back in time to understand our evolutionary past.




By Paul D Taylor and Aaron O’Dea

By David Attenborough

By Nigel Holmes and Paul Raven

Natural History Museum Publishing £20.00

BBC Books (2nd edn) £25.00

British Wildlife Publishing £35.00

hile it will never be possible to fit a whole museum into a book, A History of Life in 100 Fossils showcases some of the most impressive, rare and even flat-out bizarre fossils ever uncovered, featured in stunning double-page spreads and chronological order. All shapes and sizes are represented – from a T. rex and an ichthyosaur to a perfectly preserved Discoglossus frog and microscopic coccoliths (plates of calcium carbonate formed by single-celled algae). In their authoritative text palaeobiologists Paul Taylor and Aaron O’Dea explore the background of the specimens, revealing what the Earth was like when each of them was alive, the social history of the person who found it, and how the fossil has improved our knowledge of the species concerned. I especially liked hearing how Helicoprion, a shark-like creature, flummoxed scientists for over a century with a mouth containing a spiral of serrated teeth. The result is no mere ID guide for fossils, but a beautiful and very readable portfolio providing fascinating insights into some of the best-kept secrets in palaeontology.


If David Attenborough is your hero, his inspirational memoir of over 60 years in broadcasting is a must-read. He’s a witty, self-effacing raconteur, generous to colleagues but ready to poke fun at bureaucracy, at one point noting drily that the early BBC voiceover work that launched his career was “Staff: No fee”. In this updated edition he includes the years since 2009, relating with Tiggerish enthusiasm the advances that are transforming wildlife TV, from helicopter-mounted Cineflex cameras to CGI, 3D and filming from drones. The only thing left to invent, he says wryly, is smelly-vision.

In this very readable book, the third in the British Wildlife Collection series, Nigel Holmes and Paul Raven navigate us expertly through the turbulent natural history of UK rivers. The authors’ writing is as lucid as a chalk stream and crammed with nuggets: did you know that marsh marigolds can bloom underwater, or that the scales of the freshwater fish bleak were used to make artificial pearls? The final chapter tackles our modern relationship with rivers with inspiring examples of restoration and improvement. If you have any interest in current natural history or conservation, this beautifully illustrated volume is a must.

Ed Drewitt Naturalist

Ben Hoare Features editor

Brett Westwood Radio 4 presenter


BBC Wildlife

December 2014


Don’t miss your chance to see this amazing painting up close.


Tsavo by David Shepherd

DAVID SHEPHERD: A WILD LIFETIME The renowned wildlife artist and conservationist David Shepherd will be showing and selling some of his spectacular oil paintings and drawings at the Rountree Tryon Galleries, London, in December. The exhibition includes a large collection of artworks from his archives, such as Indian Summer, Bull Elephant, The Last Refuge (a panda), Snow Leopard and Hot Springs of Yellowstone (a bison). Proceeds

2–23Dec from the sale of two of the paintings will go to the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, a charity that funds key projects in Africa and Asia working to save Critically Endangered mammals in the wild. Entry to the exhibition is free, and prices start at £650 for a framed original drawing. The Galleries are open 10am to 6pm weekdays (to 5pm Friday), and by appointment at weekends.

JOHN WRIGHT The natural historian explains how the pop singer Beyoncé inspired the scientific name for a horsefly. Why did you write this book?



TALES FROM GOMBE By Anup Shah and Fiona Rogers

Bloomsbury £25.00

NHM Publishing £40.00

Living such different lives from ours, roaming the oceans in all weathers and mostly visiting land only to breed, the subjects of this timely book have a romance and mystery that make them so special. Britain and Ireland are rightly famed for their wealth of seabirds, but until now we have lacked an up-to-date popular account. This book fits the bill admirably, and naturalist Marianne Taylor does an excellent job of providing evocative and informative descriptions of every species that occurs or has occurred around our shores. The text is greatly enhanced by the superb photographs, most of them by David Tipling.

Almost 55 years of research at Gombe has helped uncover the workings of chimpanzee society. From tool use to mother and child bonds, they have taught us not only about great apes, but also what it means to be human. Anup Shah first visited Gombe in 2003 on assignment for National Geographic magazine, and he returned with his wife Fiona Rogers for a three-year project to capture this intimate portrait of the members of the main dynasties. Their fine photography and observation skills do justice to the chimps’ lives, full of passion, drama, ambition and love.

Jonathan Elphick Ornithologist

December 2014

Matt Swaine Editor l Visit www.discoverwildlife.com to see amazing photos of Gombe.

www.bloomsbury. com, £14.99

Why do we use Latin names?

For science, a single stable name is essential for all of the species it studies. Common names are great but unstable. There are also far, far too many of them for any one species, and most organisms have no common name at all. So is naming a species after a famous person bad for science?

Eponyms – names borrowed from people – are often fun: Scaptia beyonceae, a horsefly blessed with a perfectly round and golden rear end, comes to mind. They are extremely common and go back to zoologist Carl Linnaeus who used them to honour friends. However, they tell us nothing about a species, and I for one prefer descriptive names. What is the most misleading Latin name you’ve come across?

A surprisingly high number are absurdly misleading. My favourite is Lichen aromaticus, which has no smell at all. The lichen was sent to the taxonomist who named it in a perfumed envelope. BBC Wildlife


Steve Goodwin

RSPB SEABIRDS By Marianne Taylor

is a witty tribute to the history and construction of the Latin names that catalogue our natural world.

Many find scientific names offputting, but beneath their stern exterior there is history, scientific and etymological sense, and often a great deal of fun. The subject is as much about people as it is about the natural world, providing endless tales of triumph and disaster.

V T O CH ICE KEEP IT IN THE FAMILY Gordon Buchanan embarks on his most ambitious project yet – to infiltrate an arctic wolf pack.

THE SNOW WOLF FAMILY & ME Two episodes, due to air in early January – check RT.

e’s already done The Bear Family TOP FACT & Me and The Polar Bear Family Q The arctic wolf & Me. Now wildlife film-maker is a subspecies Gordon Buchanan is off to Ellesmere, of the grey wolf. a remote island in the high Canadian It has smaller ears and a Arctic, for The Snow Wolf Family & Me, an muzzle ambitious two-parter for BBC Two. Filmed shorter to retain body over two seasons, the one-hour episodes heat in its icy homeland. see him gain the trust of a wolf pack and follow the cubs from birth as they struggle to survive in one of the most hostile places on Earth. Though the format may be familiar, close encounters with this subspecies are not – this is the first time arctic wolves have been filmed in such proximity. It’s also the first time this pack has ever had contact with people, their closest human neighbours comprising a small Inuit community more than 300km away. “It’s like going back to the Garden of Eden,” says series producer Ted Oakes. “Wolves are very misunderstood predators, persecuted worldwide and often demonised in feature films. This series gives a privileged insight into their true nature. It’s also a huge challenge for Gordon to overcome his fear and understand how their minds work.” As it happens, the wolves take to the presenter well, even trusting him to ‘cub-sit’ while they go off to hunt.


Sarah McPherson Section editor



Clockwise from top: Michael Becker/BBC NHU; Gavin Thurston/BBC; Beth Brooks/BBC; Kip Evans/Alamy





Three episodes, due to air in early January.

If you have a penchant for the baffling and bizarre then tune into Nature’s Weirdest Events, back for a fourth series of one-hour episodes in January and presented once again by Chris Packham (don’t miss his column on p33). Peculiarites to look forward to include the wildliving pigs introduced to the Bahamas in the 1990s, which paddle through the turquoise waters to score a free meal from passing yachts, and the carp in the Missouri River system in


BBC Wildlife

Illinois that leap from the water in their hundreds – a mass predatoravoidance reaction to motor noise in their waterway. As well as the odd, there’s the freaky – such as the Bobbit worm Eunice aphroditois, the 3m-long polychaete worm that steals into aquariums, lurking in the substrate and shooting its body out of the sand to catch prey. There’s also the

Unsurprisingly, the pigs seem to like their new Caribbean home.

remarkable, including the lone star cattle tick, which passes on a protein in its bite that bestows upon the victim an intolerance of beef, and is slowly converting a nation known for its love of hamburgers into vegetarians.


Autumnwatch, 28 October 2014 http://bbc.in/1sEDirI

December 2014

REVIEWS BROADCAST TV FIRST LOOK David Attenborough gets close to a greater bird of paradise at Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Qatar.

WINGED WONDERS An arctic wolf on Ellesmere. These wolves have no fear of humans, even approaching the filming helicopter.


21ST�CENTURY TIGERS TIGERS ABOUT THE HOUSE � WHAT HAPPENED NEXT Two episodes, due to air in late December – check RT for details.

Having charmed the nation species, such as working with last spring, Sumatran tiger Fauna & Flora International on cubs Spot and Stripe, born in conflict-resolution projects with Australia Zoo and hand-reared forest elephants. “It’s family by keeper Giles Clark, return to viewing, but also an interesting our screens for Christmas. look at what conservation means The one-hour episodes give an in the modern world,” says the update on how the youngsters producer Tom Jarvis. are faring one year on, offering an insight into the developmental milestones of young tigers in the wild. It also sees Giles take on his next mission: to visit Indonesia with his family to see the tigers’ ancestral home. Giles and There he does his bit to Spot, born safeguard the future of in August 2013. this and other threatened

December 2014

The colourful history of birds of paradise, presented by their best-known devotee.

ATTENBOROUGH’S PARADISE BIRDS Due to air in January – check RT for details.

ince the first specimens were brought to Europe in 1522, birds of paradise have captivated explorers, artists, naturalists and film-makers across the globe. Among them, famously, is David Attenborough, who presents this one-hour special. It’s a film he has wanted to make “for 40 years”. David’s passion for this extraordinary group of birds was ignited at the age of 10, when he read Alfred Russel Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago. Though Wallace may have been the first European to witness the courtship display, Attenborough was the first to film it, during a Zoo Quest expedition in 1957. Delving into the BBC archives and art collections, this is a fascinating blend of nature, history and history


of art. Attenborough reveals how the birds’ dazzling plumes quickly became prized by collectors and sought by royalty (hence their often grand common names); examines the early attempts to illustrate the creatures with only flat, dry, legless skins for reference (limbs were removed for preservation, the traders claiming that the birds were godly creatures that sipped dew from the clouds); and looks at the successes of film-makers over the years, from his own early efforts to the US team who have just managed to capture all 39 species on film. “He goes back to the very start of our knowledge and understanding of these birds,” says producer Miles Barton, “and shows how far we’ve come in the few hundred years since.” SM BBC Wildlife


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Scotland’s Highlands and island wildlife 11–18 July 2015

Join other BBC Wildlife readers and local experts to discover Scotland’s rich and diverse wildlife on this seven-day trip.

Don’t miss your chance to see a golden eagle in the Highlands.

Photos by Neil McIntyre


here is no better way to see the stunning diversity of Scotland’s wild places than in the hands of an experienced guide. Book yourself on this exclusive reader trip from our chosen operator Heatherlea and our experts will help you discover a host of wildlife as you travel on a grand tour of the Highlands, from Aviemore to the islands of Skye, Eigg, Muck and Mull. Starting in the Cairngorms National Park, you’ll boost your bird list as we look for capercaillie, red grouse, Slavonian grebe, redand black-throated diver, osprey, crested tit and Scottish crossbill. Then on the route to Skye we’ll be keeping an eye out for ptarmigan. Once on the island you’ll be looking for white-tailed and golden eagle, hen harrier, short-eared owl and otters. Then you’ll grab a ferry to the islands

of Eigg and Muck, and later you’ll visit a private site for viewing pine martens, an exclusive offering for BBC Wildlife Magazine readers. Crossing over to the beautiful island of Mull, you can keep your eyes peeled for otters and both species of eagle, while enjoying one of the most beautiful landscapes in Scotland. As we journey eastwards, watch out for such species as black guillemot, eider, common seal and hooded crow. Numbers are limited to just seven people per guide – the small group guarantees you personal attention from our experienced experts. So you can be confident of coming away with some amazing encounters and a deeper understanding of the wildlife of Scotland.

Full details: www.discoverwildlife.com


The Cairngorms offers truly jawdropping scenery.

102 BBC Wildlife

Capercaillie Red grouse O Slavonian grebe O Red-throated diver O Black-throated diver O Osprey O Red squirrel O Crested tit (right) O Scottish crossbill O Ptarmigan O White-tailed eagle O Golden eagle O Hen harrier

Short-eared owl Otter O Grey seal O Common seal O Pine marten O Black guillemot O Hooded crow





Ptarmigan is just one of the species you could encounter.

READER HOLIDAY TO SCOTLAND 11�18 JULY 2015 Price £1,495pp (single supplement £160, deposit £100) Price includes private hotel rooms, all your travel, meals and expert guides

TO BOOK 01479 821248 info@heatherlea.co.uk www.heatherlea.co.uk/birdwatchingholidays-bbc-wildlife-highlands-andislands-in-summer.asp

December 2014

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WILDLIFE MOMENTS Either for yourself or as a gift this Christmas, we have some excellent ideas to help capture the wildlife moments that you simply wouldn’t catch with your conventional cameras. NATURE CAMERAS

BIRDBOXVIEW Go wild! Watch birds nesting live on your TV or computer with your own wireless ‘Nature Cam’. Complete systems – handcrafted cedar bird boxes with high resolution 420TVL or 700TVL Sony Eiffo CCD colour cameras with infrared and audio. Wireless system from £139 or wired system £109 including delivery.


Tel: 01484 720 220


Birdboxview webcamera nestbox allows you to watch and record wild birds nesting in your own garden on laptop or PC, making a unique and educational Christmas present and spring birdwatching project. Prices cut until January 2015! The automatic LEDs give great colour images. Choice of two lovely nestboxes, comes with one year warranty, full instructions included. www.birdboxview.com

WILDLIFE & COUNTRYSIDE SERVICES Go to the RSPB shop for everything you need for watching, feeding and giving wildlife a home in your garden. Great gifts where all the profit we make goes to looking after nature. R405129 RSPB Hedgehog home £44.99. Visit www.rspbshop.co.uk or call 0845 1 200 501* to place an order or find your nearest store.

100% Satisfaction Guarantee, FREE batteries, FREE 4GB SDHC card, FREE delivery, plus our great prices mean that, whichever of our Trail Cameras you choose, you can’t buy better anywhere else. Call Martin for friendly advice to help you decide which camera is right for you, and join the many people who are filming our wonderful wildlife with these fantastic cameras.

*Calls may be recorded for training purposes.


Tel: 08451 200 501




BBC Wildlife

Tel: 08452 300 927


There’s a world of wildlife in your garden, waiting to be discovered… 50 different bird species visit UK gardens – Capture the magic with a nestbox camera – view eggs and chicks live. Don’t miss a thing with a motion-activated Bushnell trail camera. Great for gifts, education, research for beginners and professionals.


Email: rachel@birdboxview.com

Tel: 08450 170 760

Join the thousands who watch and enjoy the secret world of wildlife. Choose from a wide range of nest box and wildlife cameras. Easy to use, educational and great value for money. The perfect gift for all ages. Contact us today.


Tel: 01736 756 277

December 2014




SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH BBC natural-history presenter

PROF CHRIS BAINES Conservationist and gardener

DR JON BRIDLE Biologist, University of Bristol

JOHN A BURTON CEO, World Land Trust

WORTH £300

MARK CARWARDINE Zoologist, writer and photographer

DR PETER EVANS Scientific director, Sea Watch Foundation

Tell us which animal each eye belongs to and you could win a Páramo Analogy Pájaro jacket!

DR PHIL GATES Botanist, University of Durham

DR JANE GOODALL Primatologist

STEVE GREENWOOD Series producer, BBC Natural History Unit

MIKE GUNTON Producer, BBC Natural History Unit

MARTIN HARPER Director of conservation, RSPB

PROF STEPHEN HARRIS Zoologist, University of Bristol

DR PETER HAYWARD Honorary research fellow, University of Swansea

TREVOR JAMES Chairman, British Naturalists’ Association

RICHARD A JONES Entomologist




TONY JUNIPER Environmental campaigner

SIMON KING Wildlife presenter and film-maker

DR ANDREW KITCHENER Principal curator of vertebrates, National Museums Scotland

TOM LANGTON Herpetologist

RICHARD MABEY Naturalist and author

PROF DAVID MACDONALD Director, Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford


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Chair in natural environment, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter

STEPHEN MILLS Naturalist and conservationist

DR PAT MORRIS Mammalogist

DOUGLAS PALMER Palaeontologist and science writer

VASSILI PAPASTAVROU Whale biologist, International Fund for Animal Welfare

BRUCE PEARSON Wildlife artist


IAN REDMOND Chief consultant, UNEP/UNESCO Great Apes Survival Project

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TIM SCOONES Executive producer, Springwatch, BBC Natural History Unit

SOPHIE STAFFORD Editorial consultant


KEEP WARM AND DRY Páramo’s Pájaro jacket uses unique Nikwax Analogy fabric, which keeps out the very worst weather and removes perspiration more effectively to keep you warmer and drier. It’s also rustle-free to get you closer to nature. The generous pockets and hood create an unrivalled wildlife-watching garment available for men and women.

December 2014

Name Address

Postcode *Email Home tel Mobile tel Post your entry to: BBC Wildlife Christmas Quiz 2014, PO Box 501, Leicester LE94 0AA by 31 December 2014. *Your personal information will be used as set out in our privacy policy at www.immediate.co.uk/privacy-policy. Branded BBC titles are licensed from or published jointly with BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC). Please tick here 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: www.bbcworldwide.com/privacy.aspx. Please tick here if you are happy to receive marketing communications from Páramo and Nikwax by email and text, including details of Páramo and Nikwax offers and promotions Please tick here if you’d prefer not to receive marketing communications from Páramo and Nikwax by post and telephone, including details of Páramo and Nikwax offers and promotions

Conservationist General competition terms and conditions 1. The BBC Code of Conduct for competitions can be found at www.bbc. co.uk/competitioncode 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. immediate.co.uk/privacy-policy. 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, 9th 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



TERMS AND CONDITIONS 1 To enter, fill in your answers and the coupon (a photocopy is acceptable) and post to us by 31 December 2014. 2 Alternatively, visit www.discoverwildlife.com to enter online. Entries must be received by 11.59pm on 31 December 2014. 3 The first entry with the correct answers drawn at random after the closing date will win the prize. Also see ‘General competition terms and conditions’ on the right.


YOUR PHOTOS www.discoverwildlife.com is the place to see and share wildlife photos.






I took this image of a humpback whale and her calf in August at the island group of Vava‘u, Tonga. Diving is a passion of mine because it allows me to get close to amazing marine life. I got this shot while out on a boat for 10 days and was humbled when this incredible mammal made eye contact with me. Tet Lara, Manila, the Philippines

My friend and I visit Bushy Park, London, every autumn to see and take pictures of the red deer rut. On this particular visit I was busy photographing the stags when I noticed that a jackdaw was picking insects off the head and neck of a hind. It was the first time I had seen this behaviour, so I took the opportunity to capture it on camera. Michael Connor, Wirral, UK


3 BRIGHT BLUES I am studying primate behaviour at Columbia University in New York. During a field trip to Kakamega Forest, Kenya, I saw blue monkeys using their fur to collect water to drink while trying to access a water source that was too narrow for their heads to fit into. The photo shows an adult female called Didge. Allison Roth, Ohio, USA



This photo was taken near Rivne, Ukraine, while I was walking with my family in a wheat field on a summer’s eve. The poppy has symbolic significance in Ukraine and the flower was dotted around the field, which gave me inspiration for a photo. I got down low to take this picture with the last rays of the setting sun behind my special subject. Taras Lesiv, Biliv, Ukraine

PINE MARTEN by Maurice Flynn

FLY AGARIC by Matt Lodge

EASTERN CHIPMUNK by AnG Enter our monthly online photographic contest at www.discoverwildlife.com/ your-photos/photo-contest

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BBC Wildlife

December 2014




In August I was on a cruise along the east coast of Baffin Island, Canada. Among the wide range of incredible wildlife that I was fortunate enough to spot were about 25 polar bears. We saw them on land and ice, and in the water. I took this picture of a large male as he snoozed peacefully on an ice floe. Kevin Tappenden, York, North Yorkshire

This long-length, twolayer Gore-Tex trail jacket for men, worth ÂŁ240, has a mesh and taffeta lining, two front pockets and an adjustable hood. The Sprayway Outward I.A. waterproof is available in three colours and has been designed to keep you dry while you explore the great outdoors. www.sprayway.com SUBMIT YOUR PHOTOS O For a chance to see your image in an issue of BBC Wildlife, please enter our Your Photos competition at www.discoverwildlife.com/ submit-your-photos


I chose to photograph a garden snail because they move a lot slower than the birds in flight that I usually focus on. There were plenty of snails in my dad’s garden in September. The mollusc is on moss growing on the lip of a bucket full of rainwater. David Porter, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Notts

December 2014

BBC Wildlife


Tales from the

bush A WILD WORLD OF RIPPING YARNS WHO? JAMES HANLON is an ecologist, author, writer and photographer from Cambridgeshire who loves birding (http://james hanlonbirder.blogspot.co.uk).


WHERE? SHIANT ISLES, SCOTLAND While the brown rat Rattus norvegicus is common in the UK, the pictured black rat Rattus rattus is under threat.


James Hanlon


t was raining puffins. They filled the air like a swarm of irate bees, buzzing about the 100m basalt cliffs of Garbh Eilean and peppering the sea surface, as well they might. The Shiant Isles, just off the Isle of Harris, are one of their main British colonies, with perhaps 10 per cent of our breeding population. The birds may have been an impressive welcoming committee, but they weren’t what we’d come for. We wanted to see black rats, the notorious distributors of the bubonic plague. The species has colonised much of the world by stowing away on ships, and the Shiants are no different – except that this population is the last substantive colony in the British Isles. In the summer months the rats prey on the eggs and chicks of nesting seabirds, which is likely to be their downfall. Following a successful eradication programme on Lundy, RSPB Scotland is embarking on a similar one here using poisoned bait at a cost of £900,000. But the move is controversial. The birds are doing extremely

well, and the rats have shown no sign of spreading. Arguments about whether they are non-native or assimilated persist, but the fact is that they’ve been at large in Britain for more than 1,000 years. They are bound up in our cultural heritage for good or ill, and my friends and I wanted to see them before they are gone forever. We were not travelling light. Besides our usual arsenal of optical and photographic equipment, we had camping gear, portable lamps, night scopes, more than 50 live traps and plenty of bait. As we unloaded onto the small beach, we must have resembled a film crew from the BBC’s Natural History Unit. There’s only one building on the Shiants, a tiny cottage on the other island of Eilean an Taighe. We laid traps around the cottage, set up bait stations at one end of the stony beach connecting the two islands and waited.

We wondered how long it might take (we had enough food to last several days), but within an hour a trapdoor snapped shut, and we rushed over to see what we’d caught. The trap held a fine black rat, and that was only the beginning. Several rats of varying shades of charcoal emerged from the shadows and raided our bait, reflective eyes blazing in our torch beams as we watched in awe. More entered the live traps overnight, too. It was smiles all round the following morning as we collected up our gear beneath the watchful gaze of a visiting white-tailed eagle above. To us the rats were much more than pests. As we left the islands the same seabird spectacle that had welcomed us the previous day bade us farewell. Despite the proliferation of rodents we’d witnessed during the night, it was clearly business as usual at the seabird colony. It was still raining puffins – the perfect end to our oncein-a-lifetime encounter.



BBC Wildlife

O Do you have a tale that you would like to share? If so, please email a synopsis of your idea to james.fair@immediate.co.uk

December 2014