April 13, 2024

Mammals fight for their lives in David Attenborough’s new series

  • By Esme Stallard
  • Climate and science reporter

Image source, BBC/Kensho Goto Studios

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A Siberian flying squirrel is captured using an abandoned bird’s nest to keep warm in winter

Arctic foxes are turning to cannibalism as they struggle to find food in a warmer world.

This is one of the behaviors never before captured in Sir David Attenborough’s latest series – Mammals.

It focuses on how these animals are adapting to a world rapidly changed by the most dominant mammal – us.

We also see otters navigating Singapore’s busy roads and lemurs clinging to trees with toothbrushes in an attempt to cool off in rising temperatures.

‘Mammals’ is a challenging series to watch, but it also showcases the incredible ingenuity of the world’s most successful animals.

In the final episode of the six-part series, Sir David says: “If we make the right decisions, we can safeguard the future not just of our fellow mammals, but of all life on Earth.”

Image source, BBC Studios

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White Sifaka lemurs hug the trunk of a Salvadora tree. The tree sucks cold water from the ground, which makes its bark colder than the surrounding air.

The series comes 20 years after the original Life of Mammals series. During this time, technology has evolved considerably, allowing the BBC Natural History Unit and its partners to capture sequences they never thought possible.

The opening episode of the series was filmed completely in the dark – revealing how an African leopard uses its specially adapted vision to attack sleeping monkeys.

“Thermal cameras are now amazing, the detail you can see. You can see the fur, you can see the whiskers of the animals, so technology has opened up a whole new world for us,” explained Scott Alexander, producer of the series.

To capture some of the sequences, the team went the extra mile. For episode four, ‘Cold’, sleeping pods were specially designed so the film crew could stay on the ice in Svalbard, Norway, for days at a time tracking a polar bear.

As a result, the team managed to capture a polar bear hunting reindeer inland – a behavior they think it developed as melting sea ice made hunting seals more difficult.

Assistant Professor John Whitman of Old Dominion University and chief research scientist at Polar Bears International, who provided advice on the series, said: “It illustrates the flexibility that polar bears attempt to replace lost opportunities to hunt marine prey. and mammals.”

But he added that studies show that this prey is not enough to replace the calories they need. “Therefore, the most important action that can be taken to protect polar bear species [is] action against climate change.”

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For the first time, the Natural History Unit filmed an African leopard hunting in the dark

In the two decades that have passed since the last series, what also draws attention is the scale of human expansion. Since 2000, almost 1.9 million square kilometers of habitat have been lost – around eight times the size of the UK – and one of the biggest causes is food production.

“Today, almost half of the world’s habitable land is being used for agriculture. Across Southeast Asia, vast palm oil plantations are replacing once-pristine forests,” Attenborough warns us in episode two, ‘The New Wild’.

The destruction of forests means there is a decrease in food sources for local wildlife, such as pig-tailed macaques. But despite this, the episode brings us a remarkable story of his survival. A family of monkeys are filmed entering palm oil plantations and capturing the rats that now live here.

“These pig-tailed monkeys were predominantly vegetarian and are becoming carnivorous,” episode producer Lydia Baines told BBC News.

“Animals are having to adapt in real time, essentially it’s evolution in action. Darwin would be absolutely fascinated by this,” she added.

Image source, BBC Studios/Florian Ledoux

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Specialist ‘sleeping pods’ were built for BBC crew to allow them to film with polar bears in Norway 24 hours a day

But not all mammals are so successful. In one episode, we learn that rising temperatures in the Arctic have led to sea freezing at the end of the year, and without sea ice, polar bears and arctic foxes cannot hunt. For one fox, the wait is very long and the crew speculates that he died of starvation – hunger drives the other foxes to feed on him.

In another devastating scene, baby howler monkeys are orphaned when their parents are electrocuted after mistaking electrical wires for tree branches.

In addition to being moving, filming the animals brought scientific advances.

Dr Christine Cooper, senior lecturer in animal physiology at Curtin University, Perth, worked with the BBC Natural History Unit to help track echidnas in episode five. While attaching transmitters to the animals for the series, they were heard making sounds to each other underground – a phenomenon heard only once before and not captured on tape.

The discovery led to a new scientific paper by Dr. Cooper and her team. She says research is vital if we want to protect animal species.

“So if we understand how animals work and how they meet all their needs, we have an idea of ​​how they might respond to a changing world. Then we can also take steps to conserve species,” she explained.

Image source, BBC Studios

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Howler monkeys are at constant risk of electrocution while navigating power lines in Costa Rica

The series returns to some of the mammals filmed in the original series to see how human interventions are helping them survive.

The blue whale was critically endangered until a whaling ban allowed its numbers to recover. ‘Mammals’ explores how they now face a new threat from maritime traffic, but scientists’ work to track them is helping to implement safety measures such as low-speed lanes.

Scott Alexander says this shows how we can work together with mammals to help each other.

“I think for me the message [of the series] If the planet is remarkable, let’s do what we can to protect the planet, live alongside these animals and share this incredible diversity,” he said.

Mammals starts on BBC One at 7pm BST on Sunday.

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