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The Insatiable Appetite

   1998    Nature
The next instalment focuses on dietary needs and how different species have evolved beaks to suit their individual requirements. The latter come in a multitude of forms. Blue tits and goldfinches have beaks akin to tweezers, with which to extract seeds, while the hawfinch's razor-like bill can deal with a cherry-stone. However, the crossbill is the only finch that can twist its mandibles in opposite directions. Jays store acorns for winter by burying them in the ground, whereas woodpeckers can keep up to 60,000 of them in one tree trunk. Sap is also desirable, and there are a variety of methods used to obtain it. The hoatzin is the only specialised leaf-eater, and accordingly has a digestive system more akin to that of cattle. Plants recruit birds to aid pollination, and offer nectar as a reward. Hummingbirds eat little else, and the sword-bill's beak is the longest of any bird in relation to its body. Insects are also highly prized, and Galapagos finches are shown to possess some ingenuity as they not only strip bark, but also use 'tools' to reach their prey. Crows are hailed as being among the most intelligent birds, and one is shown using a twig to spear a grub within a fallen log. The robin is an opportunist, and Sir Attenborough observes one seizing morsels as he digs a patch of earth. In South America, a cattle tyrant sits atop an obliging capybara and uses its vantage point to spot passing food that may be dislodged by its grazing partner.
Series: The Life of Birds

The Jungles

   2006    Nature
Jungles cover roughly three per cent of our planet yet contain 50 per cent of the world's species. High-definition cameras enable unprecedented views of animals living on the dark jungle floor. In the Ngogo forest the largest chimpanzee group in the world defends its territory from neighbouring groups. Other jungle specialists include parasitic fungi which infiltrate an insect host, feed on it, and then burst out of its body.
Series: Planet Earth

The Last Lions

   2011    Nature
Fifty years ago there were close to half-a-million lions in Africa. Today there are around 20,000. To make matters worse, lions, unlike elephants, which are far more numerous, have virtually no protection under government mandate or through international accords. This is the jumping-off point for a disturbing, well-researched and beautifully made cri de coeur from husband and wife team Dereck and Beverly Joubert, award-winning filmmakers from Botswana who have been Explorers-in-Residence at National Geographic for more than four years. Pointing to poaching as a primary threat while noting the lion's pride of place on the list for eco-tourists-an industry that brings in 200 billion dollars per year worldwide-the Jouberts build a solid case for both the moral duty we have to protect lions (as well as other threatened "big cats," tigers among them) and the economic sense such protection would make. And when one takes into account the fact that big cats are at the very top of the food chain-and that their elimination would wreak havoc on all species below them, causing a complete ecosystem collapse-the need takes on a supreme urgency.

The Mastery of Flight

   1998    Nature
The second programme deals with the mechanics of flight. Getting into the air is by far the most exhausting of a bird's activities, and Sir Attenborough observes shearwaters in Japan that have taken to climbing trees to give them a good jumping-off point. The albatross is so large that it can only launch itself after a run-up to create a flow of air over its wings. A combination of aerodynamics and upward air currents (or thermals), together with the act of flapping or gliding is what keeps a bird aloft. Landing requires less energy but a greater degree of skill, particularly for a big bird, such as a swan. Weight is kept to a minimum by having a beak made of keratin instead of bone, a light frame, and a coat of feathers, which is maintained fastidiously. The peregrine falcon holds the record for being fastest in the air, diving at speeds of over 300 km/h. Conversely, the barn owl owes its predatory success to flying slowly, while the kestrel spots its quarry by hovering. However, the true specialists in this regard are the hummingbirds, whose wings beat at the rate of 25 times a second. The habits of migratory birds are explored. After stocking up with food during the brief summer of the north, such species will set off on huge journeys southwards. Some, such as snow geese, travel continuously, using both the stars and the sun for navigation. They are contrasted with hawks and vultures, which glide overland on warm air, and therefore have to stop overnight.
Series: The Life of Birds

The Mediterranean Sea

   2009    Nature
The sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea are home to over 700 varieties of fish and almost 10 per cent of the world's marine species. Its coastline is one of the most densely populated in the world and the human pressure on this sea is magnified each summer with the influx of holiday makers. Western civilisation developed around these shores but now human activity is having a profound effect on this endangered sea.
Series: Oceans
Hidden Kingdoms
Hidden Kingdoms

   2014    Nature
Living Universe
Living Universe

   2018    Technology
Generation Iron
Generation Iron

   2017    Culture
Reel Rock
Reel Rock

   2014    Culture
History of the Eagles
History of the Eagles

   2013    History
Black Hole Apocalypse
Black Hole Apocalypse

   2018    Science
Life in the Undergrowth
Life in the Undergrowth

   2005    Nature