The Natural World: Radio Gibbon

BBC 2 - 9PM

“He’s the coolest naturalist on the planet!” The Times

In deepest Borneo a remarkable young Frenchman called Chanee is combining his passion for gibbons and his love of music. These magical singing apes of the rainforest are in danger of extinction and to help save them Chanee has set up a rescue centre, and become the world expert at matchmaking gibbons - only when a pair has successfully bonded can they be released back into the wild. To increase awareness of the gibbons' plight Chanee has created his own radio station, Radio Kalaweit, named after the local word for gibbon. Its cool music and cool message has now made it the most successful radio station in Borneo.
Series Editor TIM MARTIN


'Life: Extraordinary Animals, Extreme Behaviour' - Plants

Plants' solutions to life's challenges are as ingenious and manipulative as any animal's. Innovative time-lapse photography opens up a parallel world where plants act like fly-paper, or spring-loaded traps, to catch insects. Vines develop suckers and claws to haul themselves into the rainforest canopy. Every peculiar shape proves to have a clever purpose. The dragon's blood tree is like an upturned umbrella to capture mist and shade its roots. The seed of a Bornean tree has wings so aerodynamic they inspired the design of early gliders. The barrel-shaped desert rose is full of water. The heliconia plant even enslaves a humming bird and turns it into an addict for its nectar.

Visit the Life website


Hot Planet

Wednesday, 22:45 on BBC One (except Northern Ireland)

Professors Iain Stewart and Professor Kathy Sykes take a timely look at global warming ahead of the Copenhagen summit, exploring the world's leading climate scientists' vision of the planet's future.

Scientists predict that if global temperatures continue to rise at their current rate, Earth will be one degree warmer within 10 years, two degrees warmer within the next 40 years and three degrees or more warmer before the end of the century. If the Earth's temperature increases to three degrees warmer than the average pre-industrial temperature, the impact on the planet will be catastrophic. Across the Earth, ways of life could be lost forever as climate change accelerates out of control. This isn't inevitable, however: climate change is not yet irreversible.

Ingenious technology and science is currently being devised, advanced and tested around the world which could offer solutions for a sustainable future. The question that remains is, can the world embrace and implement them on a large enough scale within an effective timeline? If widespread damage to human societies and ecosystems is to be prevented, global temperature rise must be slowed and eventually reversed.

Hot Planet offers an accurate visual prediction of the planet's future, based on the findings of over 4,000 climate scientists.


Horizon: How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?

9th December 2009: BBC2 9pm

In a Horizon special, naturalist and BBC broadcaster, Sir David Attenborough investigates whether the world is heading into a population crisis.
In his lengthy career, Sir David has watched the human population more than double from 2.5 billion in 1950 to nearly 7 billion today. He reflects on the profound impacts of this rapid growth, both on humans and the environment.
Yet, whilst much of the projected growth in human population is likely to come from the developing world it is the lifestyle enjoyed by many in the west that have most impact on the planet. Some experts claim that in the UK we use as much as 2.5 times our fair share of the Earth's resources. So finally, Sir David examines whether it’s the duty of each one of us to commit not only to smaller families, but change the way we live for the sake of all humanity and planet earth.

Director – Helen Shariatmadari
Executive Producer – Andrew Cohen
For further details, please visit the programme link below:


Hope in a Changing Climate

A film by John Liu. Theatrical screening at COP15 - the UN Copenhagen Climate Change Summit - "..the most important meeting in human history.." http://www.350.org/

Airing globally on BBC World November 27, 2009.
Directed by Jeremy Bristow, Produced by Louise Heren, Music composed by Al Lethbridge.

Please take a look at www.hopeinachangingclimate.org on Monday 30th Nov, where the film of the same name will begin screening, or if you get BBC World or will be attending Copenhagen in early December, then see below.

"Hope in a Changing Climate" will be aired globally by BBC World on November 27, 2009, and screened at the COP 15 climate change summit in Copenhagen from December 7 - 18.
This documentary demonstrates that it is possible to rehabilitate large-scale damaged ecosystems, to restore ecosystem functions in areas where they have been lost, to fundamentally improve the lives of people who have been trapped in poverty for generations, and to sequester carbon naturally. This approach has been dramatically proven on the Loess Plateau in China, the highland area spanning some 640,000 square km in north central China. It is the birthplace of the Han Chinese, headwaters of The Yellow River and home to a new environmental and economic paradigm; a degraded ecosystem of more than 35,000 square km of land now teems with life and supports the sustainable economic, social, and agricultural activities of its people.

"Hope in a Changing Climate" is the latest documentary produced by the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP), an organization dedicated to placing ecosystem restoration at the center of the global discussions on climate change, poverty, and sustainable agriculture. Shot in stunning HD on location in China, Ethiopia and Rwanda, the film features a diverse collection of interviews, from world leaders such as president of Rwanda HE Paul Kagame, to local people telling their own stories. "Hope in a Changing Climate" is directed by Jeremy Bristow, producer of the award-winning BBC documentaries featuring Sir David Attenborough, "Are We Changing Planet Earth?" and "Can We Save Planet Earth?"

The film is presented by John D. Liu, an environmental filmmaker and ecological field researcher who has produced and directed documentaries for CBS, National Geographic and the BBC. Financial support for the film is provided by International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)-The Netherlands, Open University, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, and The World Bank.


The Natural World: Black Mamba, White Witch

Tonight - BBC 2, 9pm.
In the small African kingdom of Swaziland, the Black Mamba is a snake both feared and revered. During summer, these elegant yet lethal snakes turn up everywhere - in homes, schools and cars - and people are bitten every week. In a country with very limited health care and no anti-venom, it is becoming a crisis.  Enter Thea Litschka-Koen, a mum and hotel manager who has become known affectionately as the white witch. She and her husband are on call twenty four hours a day to rescue and release Black Mambas when they get too close for comfort. But what everyone wants to know is - "will they come back again?" We follow Thea and her team as they set up a pioneering new scientific project: to track the Black Mambas they release back into the wild, and find out just how these deadly snakes spend their lives.

Produced and directed by Jo Scofield
Series Editor Tim Martin


'Life: Extraordinary Animals, Extreme Behaviour' - Insects

There are 200 million insects for each of us. They are the most successful animal group ever. Their key is an armoured covering that takes on almost any shape.Darwin's stag beetle fights in the tree tops with huge curved jaws. The camera flies with millions of monarch butterflies which migrate 2000 miles, navigating by the sun. Super-slow motion shows a bombardier beetle firing boiling liquid at enemies through a rotating nozzle. A honey bee army stings a raiding bear into submission. Grass cutter ants march like a Roman army, harvesting grass they cannot actually eat. They cultivate a fungus that breaks the grass down for them. Their giant colony is the closest thing in nature to the complexity of a human city.


VIDEO: Weird Indian Bird - What is a Frogmouth?

From www.ironammonite.com

A frogmouth is a tropical nocturnal bird related to the nightjar. They're active at night, when they hunt insects using their large gaping mouths to scoop them up. It was during the night that we ventured into the Thattekad forest to try and find one of the smallest and most elusive of the frogmouths - the edemic Sri Lanka Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger). The only way to find one is to follow their distinctive calls - a loud descending cackly and frog-like series of 'Klock-klock-klock-klock-klock' calls (often described as sounding like rattling pebbles) the females call in response with a low long shrill 'Krrshhhh'.

The next day, with the help of local expert Eldos (who is a legend when it comes to finding birds), we found a roosting pair. They were barely visible amongst the leaves and even though we spotted them, filmed them and photographed them, they seemed pretty confident in their ability to hide and just gave us the occasional perplexed look. I was even able to interview Eldos, while we were in the company of these roosting frogmouths, they remained nonchalant about the situation!



The Natural World: Andrea, Queen of the Mantas

Tonight BBC 2, 8PM & BBC HD,10PM

Manta rays are one of the most intelligent creatures in the ocean and, at up to seven metres long, one of the largest. Yet, despite their size and curious nature, almost nothing is known about their lives. Young marine biologist, Andrea Marshall, has given up everything for a life in Mozambique, diving amongst these beautiful animals. Superb underwater photography reveals new manta ray behaviour including breathtaking footage of their ritual courtship dances. The film follows Andrea as she studies these endangered animals up close. With the discovery of a giant new species and remarkable insights into mantas' secretive lives, Andrea's findings are already rocking the world of marine biology.

“These huge, strangely beautiful, highly intelligent and fascinating fish certainly make for soothing viewing.” Daily Mail

Produced and directed by MARK WOODWARD
Series Editor TIM MARTIN


'Life: Extraordinary Animals, Extreme Behaviour' - Birds

Birds owe their global success to feathers - something no other animal has. They allow birds to do extraordinary things. For the first time, a slow-motion camera captures the unique flight of the Marvellous Spatuletail Hummingbird as he flashes long, iridescent tail feathers in the gloomy undergrowth. Aerial photography takes us into the sky with an Ethiopian Lammergeier dropping bones to smash them into edible-sized bits. Thousands of pink flamingoes promenade in one of nature's greatest spectacles. The Sage Grouse rubs his feathers against his chest in a comic display to make popping noises that attract females. The Vogelkop Bowerbird makes up for his dull colour by building an intricate structure and decorating it with colourful beetles and snails.


The Natural World: Victoria Falls, The Smoke That Thunders

BBC 2 - 8pm
This is a beautiful, intimate tale of life on the Zambezi River, set against the epic backdrop of Victoria Falls. The story is told from the point of view of a local fisherman, Mr White, who has fished these waters for 69 years, and whose riverside companions are elephants, baboons, hippos and kingfishers. We follow the fortunes of these animals through his eyes, learning how their lives are ruled by the moods of the river and the rains.

“The second in the new season is downright spectacular… This stunning film … at least gives you some idea of what everyday life is like on what Mr White calls “the edge of the world”. The Times

Producer Jamie McPherson


'Life: Extraordinary Animals, Extreme Behaviour' - Fish

Tonight, 21:00 on BBC One
Fish dominate the planet's waters through their astonishing variety of shape and behaviour.

The beautiful weedy sea dragon looks like a creature from a fairytale, and the male protects their eggs by carrying them on his tail for months. The sarcastic fringehead, meanwhile, appears to turn its head inside out when it fights.

Slow-motion cameras show the flying fish gliding through the air like a flock of birds and capture the world's fastest swimmer, the sailfish, plucking sardines from a shoal at 70 mph. And the tiny Hawaiian goby undertakes one of nature's most daunting journeys, climbing a massive waterfall to find safe pools for breeding.

For your free Open University Tree of Life poster call 0845 300 88 54 or visit www.bbc.co.uk/Life.

Weedy Sea Dragon
If you never thought Dragons could be weedy then Watch 'Life' tonight. Things are going to get fishy...


The tiny fins of a sea dragon beat frantically to prevent the current sweeping it away. At the beginning of spring, sea dragons begin their courtship, dancing in pairs in the evening light. In a graceful duet, each partner mirrors the actions of the other and this continues well into the dark night. Two months later, the result of their courtship is revealed. The male now carries rows and rows of eggs embedded on his tail. The female passed them over to him on the night of the dance. By carrying them with him he keeps them safe from predators until they are ready to hatch. In the calm of a summer morning, with its yolk sack still attached, a baby sea dragon is born. In the weed bed are older youngsters, already able to feed themselves. After being well looked after by their father, the new babies must now make their own way in the world.


Watch 30+ UK TV Channels LIVE


Watch 30+ UK TV Channels LIVE
In addition to BBC iPlayer it's all you could ever need.

TVCatchup is a free online service for viewing certain digital terrestrial channels live without the use of a television receiver. The service is currently under beta and is only legally available to users in the United Kingdomdue to licensing restrictions that limit the showing of streams to those users who can already legally view the same content on their television receiver. You are legally required to hold a UK TV license if you use TVCatchup.

Natural World: Bearwalker of the Northwoods

BBC Two, 8pm Wednesday 28th October

"It’s a total joy to have Natural World back on our screens, and you couldn’t ask for a stronger start to the new series than this. Dr Lynn Rogers, a softly spoken biologist, is the Burl Ives of the bear world. He loves bears with a quiet passion, and has spent a lifetime in the woods of North Minnesota building up trust with these fabulous creatures. Unlike Timothy Treadwell, he doesn’t sentimentalise bears or claim a spiritual affinity with them. But he does believe they are grossly misunderstood and that people often have a knee-jerk fear of creatures that are highly intelligent and surprisingly timid. This film is a labour of love in every possible sense – beautifully produced, filled with stunning footage in an achingly beautiful part of the world and presented by a man of the utmost decency. What more could anyone ask for?" David Chater, The Times


'Life: Extraordinary Animals, Extreme Behaviour' - Mammals

Mammals dominate the planet. They do it through having warm blood and by the care they lavish on their young. Weeks of filming in the bitter Antarctic winter reveal how a mother Weddell seal wears her teeth down keeping open a hole in the ice so she can catch fish for her pup. A powered hot air balloon produces stunning images of millions of migrating bats as they converge on fruiting trees in Zambia. Slow-motion cameras reveal how a mother rufous sengi exhausts a chasing lizard. A gyroscopically stabilised camera moves alongside migrating caribou, and a diving team swim among the planet's biggest fight as male humpback whales battle for a female.

The Elephant Shrew

Once known as the elephant shrew, the rufous sengi is permanently hungry and must hunt and feed industriously and efficiently in order to fuel its frenzied lifestyle. For maximum efficiency, the sengi creates an intricate netweork of pathways through the undergrowth that enable it to reach prey more easily. The sengi carries a mental map of these pathways, and should trouble appear, its speed and intimate knowledge of escape routes help it win the day. As an enemy, such as a lizard, appears, the sengi leaps into action and shoots off down the trails at high speed. Like most mammals - and unlike reptiles - the sengi's legs are directly underneath the body which makes for greater speed and agility. This female not only outruns the reptile, but outwits him and it's just as well, as she has a youngster to care for.


Photography: Bonnet Macaques

Bonnet Macaques & Langurs, South India.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

Photography: Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary

From www.ironammonite.com

Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary (Kannada: ರಂಗನತಿಟ್ಟು ಪಕ್ಷಿಧಾಮ) is a Bird Sanctuary on the banks of the Kaveri River, Karnataka, India.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

Photography: The hungry Panther chameleon

From www.ironammonite.com

Lying 250 miles of the coast of Africa is the tropical island paradise of Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot which is home to half of the world's 150 or so species of chameleons. I've been a fan of one species in particular since I filmed them for 'Life in Cold Blood' back in 2007, you may also have seen them demonstrate their unique feeding technique during the recent amphibians and reptiles episode of 'Life' on BBC One. The species is Furcifer pardalis, the Panther Chameleon - perhaps the most beautiful of all chameleons. It's also one of the largest in the world, with males growing up to 20 inches (50 cm) long (more than twice the size of their female counterparts).

The males are not only larger but are much more extravagantly coloured than the females and can be found as one of a myriad of different colour-morphs - each betraying their geographical origin. The subjects of my photographs are found in the Antsiranana and Sambava areas where they are a blend of red, green or orange. If you were to encounter a male lurking in the lush vegetation of Nosy Be or Ambanjathe you might think it a completely different species for these individuals are vibrantly blue. There are many other colour types and patterns found across the island making Panther-spotting a real treat. The Females however remain a much less exciting tan and brown colour - and so along with their diminutive size are much trickier to spot.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

Here's the clip from 'Life in Cold Blood'.


Life: Reptiles & Amphibians

Reptiles and amphibians look like hang-overs from the past. But they overcome their shortcomings through amazing innovation.

The pebble toad turns into a rubber ball to roll and bounce from its enemies. Extreme slow-motion shows how a Jesus Christ lizard runs on water, and how a chameleon fires an extendible tongue at its prey with unfailing accuracy. The camera dives with a Niuean sea snake, which must breed on land but avoids predators by swimming to an air bubble at the end of an underwater tunnel. In a TV first, Komodo dragons hunt a huge water-buffalo, biting it to inject venom, then waiting for weeks until it dies. Ten dragons strip the carcass to the bone in four hours.

The Venezuelan Pebble Toad
Venezuela pebble toads have a very unusual defence mechanism, shared with only a few close relatives. They roll themselves up into a ball and bounce down the hill, away from danger. These tiny amphibians weigh so little that if they hold their muscles rigid, the bouncing doesn't damage them at all. Pebble toads also breed communally, so a single nest can contain over 100 toads. One nest found had 103 toads and 321 eggs in it.


Life: Extraordinary Animals, Extreme Behaviour

If you don't own a TV then get one for this (and make sure that it's HD). 'Life' is a jaw-dropping, pant-wettingly exciting visual feast that will keep you hooked till Christmas. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough this 10 part series will breathe Life back into the aching void that was left when the end credits of 'Planet Earth' rolled back in 2006. And if you thought that was mind-blowing then this is sure to blow your socks off. Quite simply 'Life' will never be the same again...

Read on for a glimpse of some of the treats coming to your screens.

Our planet may be home to more than 30 million different animals and plants. And every single one is locked in its own life-long fight for survival. Life uncovers some extraordinary strategies they've developed to stay alive and to breed.

Using state-of-the-art filming techniques, this 10-part BBC One series, narrated by David Attenborough, is about extreme behaviour. It's survival of the fittest in their battle against daily life or death challenges. Mind-blowing behaviour captured for TV for the first time includes cheetahs working together to bring down prey twice their size; the courtship battle, known as the heat run, of the humpback whale; a huge number of enormous Humboldt squid joining forces for night-time hunting; and the legendary, fearsome Komodo dragons bringing down their buffalo prey.

Four years in the making, Life is full of surprises, drama and spectacle. It's nature but not as you know it. There are strange creatures such as the star-nosed mole, the stalk-eyed fly and the weedy sea dragon. There are epic spectacles including millions of fruit bats darkening the Zambian sky, dozens of polar bears feasting on a whale, and a billion butterflies cloaking a forest in Mexico.

To find out more visit www.bbc.co.uk/life


BBC announces production of Nature's Miracle Babies

Artificially inseminating giant pandas and administering fertility treatment to an 80-year-old turtle are just two of the challenges that will be captured on film following the announcement of a Natural History Unit commission for BBC One.

Nature's Miracle Babies will investigate the ground-breaking science, dedication and perseverance of some inspirational individuals as they endeavour to make a difference to the survival of some of the world’s most threatened species.

Presenter Martin Hughes-Games, of Autumnwatch, said the programme would be ‘a highly charged personal journey for me’. ‘Many of the animals are just a hair’s breadth from extinction and sometimes the hopes of an entire species is concentrated in a few tiny, vulnerable babies,’ he added.

Commissioning editor for science and natural history Kim Shillinglaw, who will oversee the series, said: ‘This series promises to be a fascinating look at the struggle to save some of the world’s most vulnerable creatures, and demonstrates our commitment to the Natural History Unit and its ability to make distinctive and original programmes. ‘Stable investment through the licence fee gives us the ability to take risks, innovate and take years if needed to deliver programmes viewers will love and remember.'
From a BBC Press release.

VIDEO: Why did the Chameleon cross the road?

From www.ironammonite.com

To get to the forest on the other side ofcourse...

As we drove through BR Hills Nature Reserve we noticed this beautiful chameleon crossing the road. Usually elusive it stood out against the road surface. Chamaeleo zeylanicus is South India's only Chameleon and it was a real privilege to get up close and personal to help it across the road.


Launch of The BBC Wildlife Finder

You may recall that the BBC launched Earth News and Earth Explorers in the Spring and animal pages in July. Since then they have been adding more content, more animals and more magic. Now its time for the launch of the much anticipated BBC Wildlife Finder, which promises to take 'Wildlife on the web' to a whole new level. What more could you expect from the worlds top Natural History producers?

50 years ago Sir David Attenborough led us into the era of wildlife Television and now aged 83 he, and the brilliant team in BBC Multiplatform, lead the way into Wildlife online. The highlight of the Wildlife Finder is David Attenborough’s Favourite Moments, two and a half hours of the most spectacular wildlife footage of the last few decades, all selected and introduced by the man himself.

If that's not enough, the site boasts an additional 550 clips from across 30 TV series and covering a whopping 370 animals - an Ark of awe-inspiring entertainment that will keep you captivated for hours. Prepare for a jaw-dropping adventure...



Life: Coming Soon to BBC One

The greatest wildlife stories ever told. Witness the breath-taking ingenuity of life on Earth as its animals adapt their behaviours to overcome the challenges of both their environment and adversaries.

Starring a cast of charismatic characters, filmed on every continent and in every habitat across the world, each episode is entirely dedicated to one of the planet’s ten most important wildlife groups. Mike Gunton executive producer of 'Life' explains the premise of this series and why it will really shine when it's broadcast on BBC One in October (2009).

'The definitive guide to Life on Earth'.


VIDEO: Encounter with a Huge Croc - The Water Monster

From www.ironammonite.com

My encounter with a Mugger Crocodile during our 'Chasing the Monsoon' expedition in South India. Our field guide took us a little closer than we had expected!

Directed by Kalyan Varma, Filmed by David Heath, Production Manager: Mandana Dilan.


VIDEO: The Vine Snake: Agumbe, India

From www.ironammonite.com

We discovered this juvenile vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta) dangling from a branch whilst tracking King Cobras in Agumbe, India. As you can see they are incredibly well camouflaged and move much like a vine blowing on the wind. They use this incredible camouflage to hide and hunt, swaying back and forth, moving closer and closer to an unsuspecting frog or lizard.  They are mildly venomous, and I can understand why a lot of the locals fear them, but there's nothing to worry about from this little chap. Its fangs would barely penetrate my skin, and although their venom is potent enough to knock out a few frogs it wouldn't have much effect on me. When they do attack they often have to chew a bit just to get the venom in! I've seen many pictures of these snakes, often with the limp body of a giant lizard dangling from their mouths, and so I was pretty excited to finally see one in person.

Although relatively harmless it's still a good idea to handle them gently and carefully - like you would any animal. The key is to just let them slide through your hands as if on a branch, and never 'grasp'.  I've read that when stressed vine snakes will inflate their bodies, making themselves look larger and more aggressive, and revealing black and white markings which look like a chequers board. The most shocking part of their threat display however, is that they gasp and open their incredibly pink mouths. I'm pleased to say that I didn't see any of this - my experience passed with a mutual understanding of curiosity!

If you're unsure about a snake then the best thing to do is keep your distance and let them get on with doing their snakey things.


Giant Crystal Cave

13th August, 9pm. National Geographic Channel UK

Deep below Mexico lies a mysterious cave packed with extraordinary giant crystals. Among the largest crystals ever found, they have been formed by on of the deadliest environments on the planet.
Combining extreme heat with unbearable humidity, without the use of specialised suits and equipment the conditions in the cavern would kill a man within minutes. Yet, despite the danger, scientists are trying to work out exactly how the glittering structures were created. Journey underground with the experts as they embark on a daring mission to try and unlock the secrets of the crystal cave.
Naica Mine

Pandemic: A Horizon Guide

BBC 4, Sunday 9th August, 22:00
In the wake of the swine flu outbreak virologist Dr Mike Leahy traces over 50 years of BBC archive to explore the history of pandemics - infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Inspired by the Horizon back catalogue, he tells the extraordinary story of smallpox - one of the most violent killers in history, the success of mass vaccination and the global politics of Malaria. Through the lens of television the programme charts our scientific progress from the early steps in understanding AIDS to the code cracking of SARS and deadly predictions of bird flu.

Each pandemic episode tells us something about the world - and our place within it. In his journey through the ages Dr Mike Leahy charts science's on-going battle with nature and questions which one is winning.
Producer/Director – Louise Bourner
Executive Producer – Andrew Cohen


Walk On The Wild Side: Comedy meets Wildlife

Coming this Autumn:
BBC One invites its audience to take a Walk On The Wild Side with a brand new comedy series that seeks to provide a long overdue forum for the views and opinions of the animal kingdom. It's a world of hip hop-loving badgers, dieting pandas and a marmot called Alan. They and a whole bunch of other characters come together in this new show, which combines comedy with jaw-dropping natural history footage.

Caroline Wright, Executive Producer, BBC Entertainment said: "Walk On The Wild Side is a potent mix of amazing wildlife photography, a fantastically talented group of comedy writers and performers and an amazing furry cast. Who could ask for more?"

The series features the vocal talents of some of Britain's most promising new comedians, including Jason Manford (Live At The Apollo, 8 Out Of 10 Cats), Isy Suttie (Peep Show), Steve Edge (Phoenix Nights, Star Stories) and Jon Richardson, combined with remarkable footage from the BBC's Natural History Unit.

Special guests will include family favourites Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, Barbara Windsor, Stephen Fry, Richard E Grant, Rolf Harris and Sir Tom Jones. The regular cast comprises Pal Aron, Rhod Gilbert, Sarah Millican, Harriet Carmichael and Harry Peacock.

Walk On The Wild Side was commissioned by Jay Hunt, Controller BBC One, and Mark Linsey, Controller Entertainment Commissioning.

David Attenborough: Bristol and Wildlife TV - more than an accident of History.

From: Made in the UK online essays at the BBC
(Image from Aerial online)

THE NATURAL history unit in Bristol is a rare constant in an evolving broadcast world. Whereas other specialist centres of excellence have come and gone, the NHU has always been there, or so it seems. What happy combination of circumstances and talents made Bristol the ideal habitat for the unit, enabling it to grow into the most enduringly successful out-of- London production department in the history of the BBC?
You might argue that there has always been a strong interest in natural history in the West Country, and a long tradition there of self-educated, amateur naturalists. But the truth is that the NHU would not exist in Bristol, had it not been for the enthusiasm and passion of one man, and his belief in the public service ideals of the BBC. Desmond Hawkins was not himself a trained naturalist, nor a West Countryman. He moved as a radio producer to the BBC in Bristol after WW2 and started natural history production in Bristol with radio programmes such as The Naturalist and Birds In Britain, long before the arrival of television in the area. As a boy, I listened to those programmes, and I dare say my own passion was stoked by them.
Desmond Hawkins interviewing Sir Peter Scott
(Image from WildFilmHistory)
Global reputation In 1952 I began my career with the BBC in London, at the tv talks department in Alexandra Palace. I worked on anything from political broadcasts to archaeological quizzes. But before long I launched Zoo Quest, a series which took me all over the world and helped to determine the future course of my life. Meanwhile, in Bristol, Desmond Hawkins had decided that as soon as it was physically possible to make television programmes in the West Country, his team of natural history specialists would show these upstarts in London how it was really done. Hardly was Zoo Quest on the air in 1954 than Desmond had decided to launch his own series Look, with Peter Scott, whose bird sanctuary at Slimbridge was only 20 miles away. The fact that there was still no actual tv studio in the city, or for that matter any transmitter or tv sets in the region, did not deter him. He brought in an outside broadcast unit, ran cables and cameras into the large radio studio and piped the programme by landline up to London. So natural history tv programmes were being made in Bristol even before anyone in the region could watch them. Enthusiasm is infectious, and Desmond gathered about him a core of people whose passion for natural history equalled his own, so that by 1957 it was officially recognised as a production specialism in Bristol, and he set up the NHU proper there.
When I became controller of BBC Two in 1965, I naturally wanted to indulge my own passion for natural history. When BBC launched colour tv in Britain, I could think of no subject better suited to showing off the new technology. I commissioned from the NHU The World About Us, initially a series of 26x50 minute programmes that turned into a long-running strand, and helped to establish a global reputation for the unit. Bristol also produced Life, a magazine programme that covered natural history news stories. Productions like these, building on the foundation of its existing BBC One output, secured the future of the unit and bound natural history production ever more closely with its Bristol roots.
David Attenborough outside a cave entrance during filming of Life on Earth
(Image from WildFilmHistory)

At BBC Two, I also launched a style of documentary which would now be described as the ‘landmark’ series, taking a big subject and devoting 13 onehour programmes to it. The first of these was Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, followed by Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man. An obvious contender for the same treatment had to be the history of all life on earth, but that was a subject I hankered after tackling myself. As soon as I resigned from my management job, I suggested the idea to one of the most experienced producers at the NHU, Chris Parsons, who would later himself head the unit. This was without doubt at the time the most ambitious series to be produced in Bristol. We started work on it in the mid-1970s, and the ground-breaking Life on Earth was transmitted in 1979 to huge audiences, selling around the globe so that eventually it was estimated that 500m people watched it. There is a great deal of trial and error in producing natural history programmes, and the people who make them have built up extraordinary levels of knowledge and expertise. Waiting patiently week after week in freezing temperatures for a snow leopard to creep across a mountainside, or understanding precisely when and how to film the annual hatch of turtles on a starlit beach, requires special skills. So too does the post- production of natural history series, and once a commissioning momentum was established, over the years the NHU in Bristol attracted many satellite businesses and freelancers. The city has accumulated a unique set of trades and talents.
Cultural identity At the same time the cultural life of Bristol has benefited from the existence of the NHU. The world’s first wildlife film festival, Wildscreen, was held in the city, attracting visitors from all over the world. The University of Bristol would probably tell you that its zoology department gains greatly from the fact that the best natural history television unit in the world is within walking distance, and a close and symbiotic relationship has sprung up between the two. Producers and academics drink in the same pubs and exchange ideas, and many a promising young graduate has found employment at BBC Bristol. It may have been historical accident that the NHU was founded in Bristol, rather than London, but instinct tells me that when Desmond Hawkins produced the first natural history radio programmes there in 1946, he already saw far further than the wildlife that was on his West Country doorstep. Natural history programme making has become as much a part of Bristol’s cultural identity as seafaring or the wine trade. The skills it takes to make such programmes are now woven into the fabric of the city, and long may it remain so.
Read David Attenborough’s full article and the other Made in the UK online essays at the BBC


Inside Nature's Giants

Inside Nature's Giants dissects the largest animals on the planet to uncover their evolutionary secrets. Most wildlife documentaries tell you how an animal behaves, but by dissecting the animal and studying its anatomy we can we can see how an animal works.

Experts in comparative anatomy, evolution and behaviour put some of the most popular and enigmatic large animals under the knife. Veterinary scientist, Mark Evans, will interpret their findings, biologist Simon Watts tests the animals' physiology in the field and Richard Dawkins traces back the animals' place on the tree of life.

Visit the website to find out more and watch online on 4OD


Wildest Dreams - A moan by 'Jon on TV'

We thought this review was so amusing that we had to re-post: Dream on. Or something witty like that. Posted on July 27th, 2009 by Jon on TV - a moaning blogger.

“Wildlife film-making is one of the most difficult jobs on earth. Thousands want to do it, but few get the chance. For the first time, the BBC has chosen nine people with ordinary jobs to see if one of them has what it takes to become a wildlife film-maker.”

This is of course the BBC’s newest Apprentice-spinoff style heap of garbage, Wildest Dreams; a show which takes 9 wannabe wildlife filmmakers and promises one of them ‘the ultimate job’ at the BBC’s Natural History Unit. And it’s a fantastic idea – give ordinary people the chance at becoming wildlife film-makers, a career which they could never hope to secured on their own. Only slight problem there is that ordinary people tend to be, by definition, ‘ordinary’.

These aren’t people with photographic backgrounds. They haven’t come fresh from degrees in photography, film production or even media studies – they’re just plain ‘ordinary folk’ who are optimistic delusional enough to think they’ve got the skills required to follow David Attenborough around.

‘Oh, but they’ll learn’ I hear you cry. No they won’t. I learned what a single overhead camshaft was the other day, it still doesn’t mean I’m capable of redesigning an engine. These are people that I wouldn’t trust with my Sony Handycam, but who still expect that in 2 weeks they’ll be the next… famous wildlife film maker person. (I couldn’t think of any)

Anyway, the first ‘task’ of the episode was to go out into the wilderness and film an African Elephant; something which I would have thought was fairly easy to achieve considering they were actually in Africa. So, off they go in their little canoes to try and find the not-so-illusive creatures in the Ocavango Delta; an area which we’re told is the size of Northern Ireland.

So, 2 hours in, have team 1 (lead by single mum Sadia) spotted any elephants? No. But, as the narrator says, ‘it’s a hard first challenge’. No it’s not! Finding an African elephant in a Belfast branch of Staples – that’s a challenge…

But perhaps team 2 have had more luck. …no, they hadn’t. “The whole nature of wildlife is that it’s very wild”, ex-public schoolboy James helpfully explains. Clearly that expensive education wasn’t in vain.

Surprisingly enough the 3rd team hadn’t found any either. But not to worry, they’ve got the right man for the job of elephant spotting – “Factory worker Alan has a keen eye for detail – he works nights checking customer details in a Rotherham clothing factory”. I could so easily make a joke about elephants and the dress sizes of people from Rotherham here…
Back to camp they all go, ready to be judged by the zoologist equivalents of Nick, Margaret and Sir Alan – or in this case wildlife film maker James Honeyborne, some woman who seems to know a lot about Elephants, and Nick Knowles from DIY SOS. Obviously.
It turns out only one team managed to get some elephant footage, and it was rubbish. So after a patronising little speech from Honeyborne…they were sent out again to find some meerkats. So after 10 minutes of watching them search, did they find any?

If you haven’t worked it out yet, this is on the whole a very uneventful programme. But it’s ok, apparently, because ‘that’s the nature of wildlife film making’. It might well be, but it doesn’t mean I want to watch 60 minutes of people not managing to film things....

Read the rest of this review at Jon on TV


BBC Natural History Archive launched

Following the recent launches of Earth News and Out of the Wild the BBC Natural History Unit have just launch the archive clip section of 'Earth'. This provides unprecedented access to the BBC's natural history assets combines with 3rd party data, to create media-rich pages about species, behaviour and habitat and forms the foundation of the new Nature offering on bbc.co.uk.

There aren't yet any 'homepages' to aid navigation, but if you fancy a browse here are some entry level pages to showcase the different areas of interest:

Still to come on the archive section are radio programmes, plants, season, timelapse and other special capture pages and lots more behaviour..


Daroji - Kingdom of the Sloth Bear

From www.ironammonite.com

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

I visited the Daroji Sloth Bear sanctuary in central south India. This 5000 hectre reserve has the highest density of wild sloth bears anywhere on the planet and so you'd think that I'd have a good chance of seeing one.

Arriving in Daroji My mind is immediately transported to the American  wild west - it could be the Majave desert of California. Big sky and big landscapes, strewn with huge wind sculptured sandstone blocks. If Star Trek had been produced in India then this would have been the setting for many of Kirks memorable encounters. It was to be the setting of one of mine. Dry desert was certainly a relief from our travels in the monsoon drenched mountains - I was grateful for a bit of rainshadow relief - The mountains themselves blocking the rains from reaching this far east. As we surveyed the vista at the heart of the sanctuary six giant sandstone tors betrayed the location of the sloth bear dens and right in the midst of them was a monolithic sandstone platform - an arena of sorts where the park wardens liberally scatter honey. This attracts bears to the exposed outcrop and in doing so it attracts keen bear watchers to a viewing tower a mile away. It may sound like a controversial thing to do for otherwise 'wild' bears but as the park warden, Mr Ravindranath told me 'This is all for conservation and preservation of the sanctuary and the bears'. The public pay to protect the bears habitat and the bears don't really complain about having honey on tap. Mr Ravindranath wears his military looking uniform with pride and basks in the glory of being a one man operation caretaking this highly regarded reserve. He has local people working for him but with fewer officials he has escaped much of the beurocracy that often clogs projects of such magnitude. As such he seems relaxed and in high spirits talking about his three successful years as boss. 'We have over a 120 bears here' he proudly boasts 'many of which have been rescued from other areas and introduced to the sanctuary'. 'it's a safe haven working closely with the local people to ensure it's

 On the orange sandstone the dark sticky patches of honey glint in the sunshine, a treasure which beckons hungry Sloth Bears to stumble out of the wilderness every afternoon for their Public appearance. We found a convenient bush a few metres from the platform, and parked our jeep behind it. Over the course of a few hours we saw mongoose come and go, peacock and painted spur fowl all eager for their share  of the honey. Five-lined squirrels somersaulted between boulders - almost defying gravity in their 'matrix' style moves to get to the goods before anyone else.

Ruddy Mongoose grabbing a lick of honey

Then in the distance we saw a tuft of black hair appear from behind a boulder. The fidgeting squirrels and mongooses paused, looked up and then dissapeared. Bobbing up and down the dark tuft came closer and closer until it waddled into view. Our first sloth bear, a young male and looking hungry for honey. His long soft snout was hard and crinkled to the ground and I could immediately see the resemblance to a pig snorting in a trough. He was completely engrossed in his mission for food. Upon reaching a nice patch of honey you could almost see the satisfaction as he adjusted his posture, sitting almost cross-  legged and bent over, to be as intimate as possible with the object of his desire. Now and then he would stand up and mosey across to a new patch of honey. Swaying as he went like a big furry John Wayne - a  site befitting of this wild west backdrop. Not a care in the world the bear was completely oblivious to our presence.

Sloth Bears have really poor eye sight and can barely see further than10 metres so as long as we remained still and silent we would be able to observe the bears in all their slobbering glory. We did hide our chocolate however as a quick whiff of that might have caused a stampede. Occassionally our young male surfaced for a breather, raising his nose and opening his mouth like a panting dog. He was tasting the air and I wondered if he could detect the strangers in his midst. If he could then he must have decided that he had more important matters to attend to and chowed back down. While he took a sniff directly in my direction I caught a superb view of his strange dentures. Other than threatening looking canines he has less teeth than a pensioner - missing his upper incisors completely. An adaptation for getting closer to food, especially for getting access to their favourite delicacy - termites. This is also where his vicious looking four-inch claws come to play. Upon discovering a termite mound those claws are the ideal tools for tearing it open. Then all he has to do is shove in his muzzle and suck like a Hoover. The sounds can be heard from hundreds of metres away. He was entertaining us with a range of sounds that I've only ever heard before in a gents loo - and like a gents loo a few more individuals eventually appeared and joined in the chorus.
 Sloth Bear tasting the air

Now there were four bears greedily feeding just a few metres away from us. Their individual characters were coming to the fore. One particularly large male seemed to really enjoy scratching and rolling on the floor - every now and then he would clumsily back up to a boulder and comically rub his backside on it - reminding me of Balloo in the Jungle book. The smallest of the four bears just wanted to play - probably a bit high on all the sugar. He lumbered over to another feeding bear and unexpectadly pounced on him, bearing his teeth - it could easily be mistaken for aggression but I could see my younger self and my brother in this interaction, and how we used to fight just for the fun of it. When he had finished teasing one bear he quickly switched to another, and it continued for the best part of an hour, by which time the sugar rush had probably worn off and he tuckered down once more.

Sloth bear rubbing his backside against a boulder

They really do lull you into a false sense of security - Sloth Bears look so harmless, their expressions so goofy, and yet they are considered more dangerous than Tigers and Elephants. 'When they are cornered they strike back in self defense - using their claws and teeth as weapons' said Sammad of the Sloth Bear rescue centre. 'Most dangerous encounters happen when you suddenly run into one and surprise it - because their eyesight is so poor they don't realise until you're right up close.' Sammad has rescued more than seventy bears in the past ten years. Often he gets a call from a panicked villager who has found a bear rummaging through his house, or has become trapped in barbed wire. On one occassion a confused bear who had found himself in the centre of a village chased a woman into a school - the fast action of one man got the children out and trapped the bear inside where it went bonkers. 'the only imjury on that occasion was a gouge to the mans face. It could have been more serious' he admits 'It was a huge difficult operation to safely rescue him - he's now doing well having been moved to Daroji'. 'This sort of thing was happening more and more' Sammad told me reflecting on 10 years of change 'as farmers encroached onto the bears natural territorytheirs would be problems'. This is why the sanctuary was setup - simpy to give bears somewhere to live in peace.

Most of the sloth bears Sammad has rescued have been from the brutal art of bear dancing - a traditional livelihood which has been practiced in rural india for centuries but which has been illegal since the wildlife protection act of 1972. Yet until very recently during the breeding season bear poachers would wait outside a den for the mother to leave in search of food for her young. They would swoop in, grab and bag the young cubs and sell them for less than 30,000 rupees (about 350 pounds) to Kollanders, the traditional bear dancing community. 'Here they begin a life of pain and discomfort.' Sammad told me, 'After a few months their canines are ripped out, their claws are clipped, males are castrated and a red hot iron is used to pierce their sensitive nuzzle through which a coarse rope is threaded.' it is the pain of pulling on this rope that makes them dance as they are dragged from village to village and made to perform, standing on their hind legs and used as puppets on a string. All the while enduring severe pain and punishment. 'they are severly malnurished and are only given the very poorest food to survive on' says Sammad with a tear in his eye 'when we rescue them they are in really bad shape'.An awareness of the plight of the dancing bears amongst rural people has really helped Sammads mission. 'People might fear the bears but they also value them - they play a part in Hindu mythology and are considered sacred.'  According to local lore this is their empire and it is where the king of the Sloth Bears married the daughter of one of the gods.

It's easy to victimise the Kollanders but we should remember that they have been dancing sloth bears for generations - a profession which is passed from father to son. It's a difficult chain to break but rather  than criminalise individuals the government now offer them a package of aid to help change to a more respectable livelihood. Thanks to this united effort Sammad is pleased to tell me that 'soon the dancing bear profession will be over for good'.

The rescued bears can never be released into the wild, instead they live out their days in peace at one of the four sloth bear rescue centres. My next visit would be to one of these centres based just outside of Bangalore.

Sent from my iPhone

Naming the Sloth Bear

From www.ironammonite.com

A battered wooden crate arrived in London for Mr Shaw, it was marked 'Urgent Attention'. Shaw, a gentleman naturalist, excitedly opened the crate and pulled out a thick black shaggy fur - it was slightly damp and smelling of mould. Spreading it on a large oak table in the centre of his crowded study, he ran his hands through the knotted reflecting on it's similarity to the overgrown coat of a dog. Next he came across the animals long soft tubular snout, immediately seeing the resemblance to another peculiar creature from South America which has recently been named as the anteater. But this animal was much larger and it's skin and dentition much different. Like the anteater however Its eyes were tiny and recessed suggesting an animal with poor vision. Shaw already had his suspicions on where to place this creature in the animal classification system but what convinced him so completely were the huge 4inch curved claws protruding from each of it's short limbs. Sloths were already known from South America and this was obviously some sort of giant form - like other sloths it used these inward pointing claws to hang from trees. The year was 1790 and Shaw proudly announced this new species naming it Bradypus pentadactylus - the 5 fingered sloth.

It later transpired that the crate Shaw had recieved originated in India and not South America at all. A mix up which created the curious beginning of the scientific identification of the Indian Honey Bear - The Sloth Bear.


Wildest Dreams

7.30pm, 22nd July, BBC 1
What do you get when you cross BBC Natural History with the reality TV show the apprentice? The answer: Wildest Dreams
Wildlife film-making is one of the most difficult jobs on earth. Thousands want to do it, but few get the chance. For the first time, the BBC has chosen nine people with ordinary jobs to see if one of them has what it takes to become a wildlife film-maker. Presented by Nick Knowles, Wildest Dreams puts them through their paces in one of the natural world's greatest arenas - Africa - with the ultimate prize for just one of them: a job at the BBC's prestigious Natural History Unit. Each week the wildlife enthusiasts are given a different task, judged by wildlife film-maker, James Honeyborne. For one individual their dream is shattered when they are sent home.

See a preview on YouTube

Executive Producers: Fiona Pitcher & Martyn Smith
Series Producer: Spencer Kelly
Series Wildlife Expert: James Honeyborne


Tiger Tracking with Mandanna Dilan

From www.ironammonite.com

15th July 2009
Mandanna climbed out of the jeep sniffed the air along the side of the road, stopped and looked down. To me he had ceased his investigation above what could have been a tyre mark on the verge. To Mandanna however, one of South Indias top Tiger trackers, this was a sure sign that Panthera tigris had passed this way. With a record of over 50 sightings in the past two years I wasn't going to question anything.

He picked a clump of grass and offered it to me for a whiff. 'Tiger pee' he said in his softly Spoken English. I couldn't smell anything but Mandy, as his friends call him, assured me that this was it. 'it must be about a week old' 'if it was fresh you could smell it from here' he said standing back several yards. The 'tyre' prints were, as Mandy explained, a sign of Tiger prowess - 'this was probably a male and this, it's paw mark'. I could now make out the deep sweeping motion of a disturbingly large paw and several gauges where it's claws had sliced through the surface. The Tiger wasn't trying to be descrete or cover up his doings, he was unceremoniously flinging it as far as possible. He was marking his territory. We walked several metres down the track and there was another one, we walked a little further still and Mandy pointed out several deep pug marks leading down the side of the verge.

Then we stumbled upon a pile of scat, tiger faeces,'several weeks old - probably a Samba deer' he said. The Samba had been reduced to a fading clump of gray hair and the scat was a mere shadow of it's former hot and steamy self. I don't think I've ever found cat poo so interesting - certainly not interesting enough to photograph it from every possible angle. This was Tiger country and things were hotting up. This track was obviously a regular latrine, a tiger toilet. I looked out into the dense forest and wondered if some large cat was sitting looking back dying for the loo and wondering what on earth we found so fascinating.

Later that day we returned with our camera traps. Anything warm blooded passing by would be caught in the action, snapped for prosperity. Mandy has camera trapped hundreds of rare mammals. Helping scientists to estimate populations of some of the more elusive forest dwellers. Civets, the shy mouse deer, the tiny slender loris, the small clawed otter, the leopard cat, and the brown mongoose amongst others. He has snapped poachers sneaking through the forests and has helped local officials to identify the culprits. But it's the Tiger that excites him the most. The stripes on a Tiger are like a fingerprint, each unique to the individual. By photographing them Mandy has been able to estimate a population of more than 40 individuals in the BR Hills Reserve and with 50 sighting it's likely that he's seen most of them personally. His eyes light up when he tells me how opening a camera trap in the morning is like tearing open a present on Christmas day. 'I always hope for a Tiger inside but anything is a treat'.

I hope Santa visits in the night.

16th July 2009
Excitedly we hurried to the camera trap. I really expected my luck to be in. Afterall here I was with one of the top tiger trackers but as we flicked through the images it was false call after false call.

Something had triggered the camera alright - maybe something moving too fast to actually be photographed. Whatever it was we had a dozen or so photographs of the other side of the path. And then, finally something... Pale with dark marks. It was a Civet, a real nocturnal dweller and a real privelidge to see. But not a tiger! And as we flicked forward the only other thing we had captured was a mouse. Sadly my dreams of seeing a tiger were over for now. Mandanna showed me the magnificent images he had captured at other times on that same track. Beautiful as they were it just didn't seem to excite me in the same way. At least I can go home happy that I smelt the pee of a Wild Tiger.

Images: Camera trap images of Civet Cat and Tiger by Mandanna Dilan.

Watch 'Tiger tracking - Poo, Pee & Pugmarks!'  posted March 2009


Tasting Kopi Luwak

From www.ironammonite.com

The only man in India to produce Kopi Luwak coffee is a lean, cheerie gentleman named Ganesh. I paid a visit to his 22 acre organic coffee estate, situated just outside BR Hills wildlife reserve.

Ganesh is sitting comfortably on the porch of his large airy house, staring out at a lush and well manicured garden, when I arrive. He seems very pleased to see me and invites me to join him. After a while exchanging pleasantries about my visit to India, and his trip to the UK several years ago, he turns to me, peering over the rim of his tinted glasses. 'you know I've photographed about 30 species of birds from here' he says with a passion that only avid twitchers seem to posses 'I've looked them all up on Wikipedia'. 'I've seen leopards, had a troop of elephants barge across the lawn and I've even heard Tigers growl somewhere off in the distance'. This is a man in touch with wildlife and one with a sense of humour - I immediately warm to him. He laughs as he goes on to tell me how the Elephants don't bother him anymore 'I've dug a trench all the way around - 40 feet by 40 feet'.

He waves over to his coffee plants in the distance, as neatly arranged as his garden and spreading as far as I could see. 'it's an average size estate' he says 'but I'm no connessiur' 'I do have a fondness for a very special cup though'. He's referring to Kopi Luwak, more commonly known as 'Civet Cat Coffee' - the most expensive coffee in the world. He pours the steamy black liquid into a delicate bone china cup and offers it to me.

Every December his estate is visited by a hoard of tiny palm civets. Small nocturnal mammals which look like a cross between a weasel and a small cat. They've come for the succulent red coffee fruits, selectively picking the ripest and sweetest, wolfing them down during the night. While the damage is minimal many crop producers might go to the extreme to protect their livelihood from such an invasion, yet for Ganesh, a keen Wildlife watcher, it's actually a treat. Since reading an article in National Geographic about the production of Kopi Luwak in Korea he has simply just let the Civets get on with their nocturnal gorging. On occassion he even catches them in the act and just keeps his distance observing them as they stand on their hind legs to reach the best fruit. 'It's only the fruity outer layer that their interested in' He goes on to tell me how the two coffee beans at the core of each fruit are concentrated, cleaned and processed as they pass through the civets digestive tract, eventually being dumped - usually under a coffee plant for Ganesh to find in the morning. 'All I have to do is go around popping the poop into a basket for roasting later.' he says with a grin.

It's not as disgusting as it might sound. The faeces of the Palm Civet actually resembles a healthy snack bar - packed with grain and little else - solid and compact. 'very little mess' he assures me 'although my sister won't touch it with a barge pole' he says with a laugh. What usually takes Ganesh five days of processing is achieved in one night by the Civet. No wonder he likes it. He usually collects about 5 kgs in a season, enough for about 200 cups. This is a considerable amount when you consider that only 450 kgs ever reach the world market per year, almost all from the far east. It's rareity not only brings in a high market rate - £50 a cup in Selfridges, London - but it also brings a torrent of visitors to Ganeshs door. Every one keen to give it a try. He doesn't sell it but he does enjoy the reaction.

Now it's my chance to try this much prized delicacy. Ganesh has noticed that I've been suspiciously swilling the cup in my hands for a while now. 'Go ahead it's the best cup of coffee you'll ever have' he says confidently. 'is it safe' I reply with a nervous smile looking down into the deep dark swirling liquid, he assures me that he's fighting fit after drinking hundreds of cups. I raise the cup to my nose and take a deep whiff. The aroma is sweet, rich, smooth, the usual biterness of coffee has been replaced with a subtle hint of chocolate. It's nothing spectacular but it is pleasant. As he gestures for me to continue I nervously purse me lips over the edge of the bone china and gulp...

After a moment allowing my taste buds to recoil from the expected onslaught I find them being seduced by the flavour. It is, as it smelt - rich and smooth. To me it tastes a bit nutty. As it swirls around my mouth it enchants my palette. I'm being carried away by the flavour. But then it dawns on me...

I realise that the situation has probably heightened my senses to the subtleties of coffee - the fresh air and warm company. It's not necessarily the coffee itself. Much in the way a wine tasting workshop would focus my taste on the fruitiness of various wines, my palette is momentarily fine tuned to Kopi Luwak - no wonder it tastes so good.

It's tempting to try and hype Kopi Luwak, to describe it as a life changing experience. I now realise that if I didn't know of it's peculiar processing, and if I wasn't concentrating and willing it to provide the ultimate taste sensation, Kopi Luwak probably wouldn't even raise an eyebrow. Nether-the-less Ganesh pours me another cup which I gratefully accept.

If anything Civet Cat Coffee has made me aware of a great crime. That of thoughtless chugging. Coffee is a silent friend always by my side but taken for granted. I thank Ganesh for helping to refuel an appreciation for my caffienated sidekick and as I depart his company I make a silent pledge to try and pay attention to my next cup of smooth roast.

Photographs: Civet Scat by Kalyan Varma
Asian Palm Civet: Wikipedia creative commons