Join The Butterfly Count

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Sir David Attenborough launching the Big Butterfly Count in July 2017. Photograph: Butterfly Conservation/PA

Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this to our attention:

Sir David Attenborough urges British public to join butterfly count

Veteran broadcaster encourages people to take part in Big Butterfly Count and highlights mental health benefits of wildlife

Watching nature provides “precious breathing space” from the stress of modern life, Sir David Attenborough has said, as he urges people to take part in the world’s biggest butterfly count.

While the UK’s butterflies are basking in the best summer conditions in more than a decade, if the hot weather becomes a drought it could be catastrophic for the insects as plants wither and caterpillars starve.

The public are being encouraged to take part in the Big Butterfly Count over the next three weeks to help experts see how butterflies are faring and to enjoy the mental health benefits of watching wildlife. Continue reading

Rewilding Croatia’s Velebit Mountains

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Davor Krmpotić
Team leader of Velebit Mountains

VelebitMap.jpgCroatia, playing in its first World Cup final today, makes this rewilding story from the Velebit Mountains, and interview with its team leader, timely:

This dramatic mountain chain, right on the Adriatic coast in Croatia, is one of the wildest areas of the whole Mediterranean. A region where wild nature is really coming back.

Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans and situated on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. It hosts two national parks, a biosphere reserve and several wonderful old-growth forests, deep canyons, ancient open lands and exciting wildlife like Balkan chamois, red deer, brown bear, wolf and lynx…

Velebit hosts a diversity of habitats

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Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans. The area hosts an extraordinary diversity of different habitats, from barren Mediterranean landscapes at sea level, via vast beech forest of central European type, to almost boreal systems and alpine grasslands at higher altitudes. Outside protected areas in the south and east there are several other very interesting areas also with great rewilding potential, mainly consisting of abandoned farm and grazing lands. Apart from its fantastic wildlife, Velebit is also a climber’s paradise, home to spectacular caves and breathtaking sceneries. Continue reading

Rewild The Uplands?

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Int2.jpgIntelligence Squared has an app that allows you to listen to their debates and lectures at your own convenience, on your phone or wherever, whenever you choose. If, like us, you have found the rewilding debate interesting, this is one you will want to listen to:

THE BATTLE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE: BRITAIN SHOULD REWILD ITS UPLANDS

Imagine if swathes of the British countryside were allowed to be wild once again, if trees and rare plants could flourish and beavers, boars and white-tailed eagles could retake their place in the ecosystem. That’s the goal of the growing numbers of nature-lovers who support the idea of rewilding Britain’s uplands. We tend to think of these uplands as ‘wild’ and ‘natural’. But in fact, as the rewilders point out, they are entirely man-made, the result of clearances by man to make way for millions of sheep whose grazing over the last 200 years has rendered the land bare. Continue reading

Fishing Brinksmanship

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Using purse seine nets to fish for bluefin tuna, Turkey. Two-thirds of species are overexploited in the Mediterranean. Photograph: Gavin Newman/Alamy

Thanks to Damian Carrington, Environment editor at the Guardian, for bringing this to our attention:

One in three fish caught never makes it to the plate – UN report

Global fish production is at record levels thanks to fish farming, says the UN FAO, but much is wasted and many species are worryingly overfished

One in three fish caught around the world never makes it to the plate, either being thrown back overboard or rotting before it can be eaten, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Continue reading

A Mom’s Pride & Joy, Heirloom Berries

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Heirloom berries growing outside the White home. Credit John Taggart for The New York Times

Pondering the future of a heritage dairy in Costa Rica is our 2018 summer pastime. The future of a heritage berry is a welcome distraction. With more moms like Jeanne Lindsay and more sons like Richard Stevens Jr. we can trust that the uniquely North American flavor produced on this farm is in good hands. Thanks to Rachel Wharton:

Agroecology, A Guiding Principle For Food Entrepreneurship

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times

Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:

Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally. Continue reading

Tasmanian Tiger Tale

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Like the dodo and the great auk, the Tasmanian tiger is more renowned for the tragedy of its death than for its life, about which little is known. Enthusiasts hope it will be a Lazarus species—an animal considered lost but then found. Illustration by Bene Rohlmann

We thank Brooke Jarvis for her reporting on this compelling tale:

The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger

Could a global icon of extinction still be alive?

Andrew Orchard lives near the northeastern coast of Tasmania, in the same ramshackle farmhouse that his great-grandparents, the first generation of his English family to be born on the Australian island, built in 1906. When I visited Orchard there, in March, he led me past stacks of cardboard boxes filled with bones, skulls, and scat, and then rooted around for a photo album, the kind you’d expect to hold family snapshots. Instead, it contained pictures of the bloody carcasses of Tasmania’s native animals: a wombat with its intestines pulled out, a kangaroo missing its face. “A tiger will always eat the jowls and eyes,” Orchard explained. “All the good organs.” The photos were part of Orchard’s arsenal of evidence against a skeptical world—proof of his fervent belief, shared with many in Tasmania, that the island’s apex predator, an animal most famous for being extinct, is still alive. Continue reading

Insects, Underappreciated Often-Charismatic Fauna

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This article by Robin McKie, Observer science editor, will have you thinking differently about what are often called the pests of summer:

Where have all our insects gone?

There is a crisis in the countryside – and a massive decline in insect numbers could have significant consequences for the environment

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A great yellow bumblebee. Its numbers have declined steeply in recent years. Photograph: Alamy

When Simon Leather was a student in the 1970s, he took a summer job as a postman and delivered mail to the villages of Kirk Hammerton and Green Hammerton in North Yorkshire. He recalls his early morning walks through its lanes, past the porches of houses on his round. At virtually every home, he saw the same picture: windows plastered with tiger moths that had been attracted by lights the previous night and were still clinging to the glass. “It was quite a sight,” says Leather, who is now a professor of entomology at Harper Adams University in Shropshire. Continue reading

Rewilding The Farm, An English Experiment In Entrepreneurial Conservation

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Starting in May, Amie and I have been living on a dairy farm in the mountains on the northern side of Costa Rica’s Central Valley. We will be here until at least the end of July, brainstorming about the dairy’s future. There is already much to say about that, but we will share that soon enough. For today, just a shout out to fellow brainstormers across the Atlantic. When we first learned of Paul Lister’s initiative, it sounded like a far-fetched experiment. Now we see another experiment further south on the same island:

The magical wilderness farm: raising cows among the weeds at Knepp

You can’t make money from letting cows run wild, right? When Patrick Barkham got access to the sums at a pioneering Sussex farm, he was in for a surprise.

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Wild ponies at dusk. Photograph: Anthony Cullen for the Guardian

Orange tip butterflies jink over grassland and a buzzard mews high on a thermal. Blackthorns burst with bridal white blossom and sallow leaves of peppermint green unfurl. The exhilaration in this corner of West Sussex is not, however, simply the thrilling explosion of spring. The land is bursting with an unusual abundance of life; rampant weeds and wild flowers, insects, birdsong, ancient trees and enormous hedgerows, billowing into fields of hawthorn. And some of the conventional words from three millennia of farming – ‘hedgerow’, ‘field’ and ‘weed’ – no longer seem to apply in a landscape which is utterly alien to anyone raised in an intensively farmed environment. Continue reading

Elephants Can Smell

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Elephants have a keen nose. They have more smell receptors than any mammal – including dogs – and can sniff out food that is several miles away. A new study tests their ability to distinguish between similar smelling plants. Image by akrp, via Getty Images

It is true that elephants can smell. As in, be smelly. But they can also smell well, better than I knew. Yesterday’s elephant mention was the first in a long time, reminding us how frequently we posted about them from India. When we were in the land of elephants, and other charismatic megafauna, we ran stories frequently about their mega-wondrousness. Now, a welcome reminder about how amazing these big creatures are in smaller ways too. Click above to go to the video accompanying this story below by James Gorman:

The Elephant’s Superb Nose

In the world of noses, the elephant’s trunk clearly stands out for its size, flexibility, strength and slightly creepy gripping ability.

Go ahead, try to pluck a leaf with your nostrils and see how you fare. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the elephant’s sense of smell is also outstanding. Continue reading

A Familiar Pleasure That May Save Species

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Fish tanks in the basement of a home in Erie, Colorado containing dozens of threatened species, including some that are extinct in the wild. COURTESY OF GREG SAGE

Thanks to Adan Welz and colleagues at Yale e360:

Basement Preservationists: Can Hobbyists Save Rare Fish from Extinction?

Freshwater fish are the most endangered group of vertebrates on earth. Now, networks of home-based aquarists are trying to save some of the most threatened species, keeping them alive in basement aquariums in the hope they might someday be reintroduced into the wild.

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Michael Koeck [center left] gives a tour of the 90 tanks he manages in the basement of the Haus des Meeres aquarium in Vienna. CREDIT: JUTTA KIRCHNER

In August 1940, just after the first-ever British bombing raid on Berlin in World War II, Hitler decided to construct colossal Flakturme — fortified anti-aircraft towers, supporting gun batteries and radar dishes — in important cities of the Reich. Their walls were up to 3.5 meters thick, which is why Flakturm V-L in Vienna proved impossible to demolish after the war, and why we now know that the basement of a Nazi blockhouse is the perfect place to keep 90 glass tanks full of obscure Mexican fish. Continue reading

Ornithology, Methods & Mystery

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Ping Zhu

Some contributors to our pages here would likely have much more clear views on this story than I do. I am certain that I favor scientific method, and this scientist followed protocol. And yet, the fallout from his scientific methods was intense. And it was not as simple as trolls gonna troll. I understand the fallout but instead of outrage I am full of questions about this story about The Ornithologist the Internet Called a Murderer by Kirk Wallace Johnson:

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The mustached kingfisher. Robert Moyle

For some time, I’d been searching for Christopher Filardi, a biologist with decades of field experience in the Solomon Islands. I wanted to interview him for a book I was writing, but the email system at the American Museum of Natural History, which once listed him as the director of Pacific programs at its Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, bounced back my message.

The auto-reply said that he’d moved to another organization, Conservation International. When I wrote him there, another auto-reply informed me that he had moved on. I couldn’t find him on Facebook or Twitter. The man seemed to have vanished.

When I finally found a working number for him, he was reluctant to talk. Three years ago, his life was overturned by an online mob that accused him of murder. The fact that the mob’s outrage was driven by ignorance didn’t make it any less frightening. Continue reading

Extreme Measures, No Good Outcomes

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A Mapuche gathering in Ercilla, Chile. The Mapuche are protesting the presence of agricultural firms on their land. Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

During the two years I worked in southern Chile, 2008-2010, I had the opportunity to listen to the concerns of members of the Mapuche community, and heard a deep frustration bordering on despair. Their forests were being extracted, wholesale and rapaciously and there was little to nothing they could do about it. The news here, even with the exposure I had to the situation, still shocks me. It is not good news:

‘We burned the forest’: the indigenous Chileans fighting loggers with arson

Chile’s Mapuche people are resorting to increasingly radical tactics to reclaim their ancestral land from exploitive industries

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 6.00.13 PM.jpgIt is late autumn in southern Chile, and in the region of Araucanía, the leaves have turned copper and gold. But on the road to the mist-shrouded town of Lumaco, the hills are covered with rows of charred pines.

“We burned these forests as an act of legitimate resistance against the extractive industries that have oppressed the Mapuche people,” says Hector Llaitul. “If we make their business unprofitable they move on, allowing us to recover our devastated lands and rebuild our world.” Continue reading

Audubon’s Reasonable Request

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Northern Harrier. Photo: Diana Whiting/Audubon Photography Awards

A message from friends:

NEW YORK — “Audubon is committed to protecting birds and the places they need — and the greatest threat to birds and people is climate change,” said David Yarnold (@david_yarnold), president and CEO of National Audubon Society.

“While some may be holding out for a perfect solution to climate change, we know that it will take an array of approaches to reduce planet-warming pollution.

“The Carbon Capture Coalition is pursuing many avenues—including a market-driven approach that has deep bipartisan support. Audubon is excited to be at the table with a range of voices exploring policy options that accelerate a reduction in carbon pollution,” Yarnold added.

The Carbon Capture Coalition is led by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the Great Plains Institute. With over 50 members ranging from the energy industry, agriculture, labor unions and conservation leaders, the coalition is non-partisan and solutions-oriented. Recently, the coalition successfully advocated for improving and extending the carbon capture tax credit, known as the 45Q tax credit, led by Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Barrasso (R-WY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). Continue reading

Food Items Not On Our Radar Until Now

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The razorbill Wellington at Koks, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Faroe Islands. Chefs wrap the seabird in a pancake and serve it with a sauce made from beet, elderberry, and rose hip.
Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The dish above is not one we would likely think to offer in our hospitality operations, which may explain why we have not (yet) developed any entrepreneurial conservation initiatives in the Faroe Islands. Nonetheless, this is the type of reading that makes a Monday morning full of thoughts of where to travel next:

Koks, the World’s Most Remote Foodie Destination

People are flocking to a Nordic archipelago to sample cuisine—like fermented lamb tallow—that challenges even the most adventurous palate.

By 

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The Faroe Islands, a mountainous archipelago two hundred miles north of Scotland, has a landmass of only five hundred and forty square miles, and is sparsely populated with fifty thousand people and seventy thousand sheep.Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The Faroe Islands, an austere, mountainous archipelago marooned in the North Atlantic two hundred miles north of Scotland, has a landmass of only five hundred and forty square miles, and is sparsely populated with fifty thousand people and seventy thousand sheep. But, looked at another way, the country, an autonomous outpost of the Kingdom of Denmark, is much larger: its territorial waters extend for more than a hundred thousand square miles around nearly seven hundred miles of coastline. Only one village, Vatnsoyrar, isn’t on the coast, and wherever you are on any of the Faroes’ eighteen islands you’re never more than three miles from the crashing, frigid ocean. Like the human body, the Faroes are mostly water.

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Fermented lamb, a Faroese specialty. “Fermented food is maybe the most important cultural heritage we’ve got,” Johannes Jensen, the entrepreneur behind Koks, said. Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The inhabitants of the islands, which were settled by Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries, have always depended on sustenance from the ocean. But the local diet is surprisingly selective. The waters of the Faroes teem with edible creatures that the Faroese do not eat. They don’t gorge on the mahogany clams, buried in underwater sand, that can live for centuries. They ignore the abundant mussels that cling to coastal rocks, and consider langoustines and sea urchins to be revolting. It’s a favorite game among Faroese children to pick up sea urchins and hurl them at one another, because they make a satisfying splat on impact.

The Faroese do eat cod and haddock—masses of it, typically prepared in one of two ways. When eaten fresh, the fish is subjected to prolonged boiling (or “killed twice,” as some locals put it). Continue reading

Technology To Battle High Seas Ecological Crimes

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China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea account for well over two-thirds of high seas fishing. Photograph: Laura Lezza/Getty Images

If you are trying to watch what you eat for sustainability and impact, Justin McCurry, in Tokyo writing for the Guardian, has this story to keep in mind:

The ‘dark fleet’: Global Fishing Watch shines a light on illegal catches

Low light imaging data being used to expose unregulated and unreported fishing on the high seas

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These vessels (indicated with blue boat icons) in the Natuna Sea off Indonesia were detected by VIIRS, and are suspected to not be using VMS. The red lines indicate VMS tracks from the same day.

New data is being used to expose fleets of previously unmonitored fishing vessels on the high seas, in what campaigners hope will lead to the eradication of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

Global Fishing Watch (GFW) has turned low light imaging data collected by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) into the first publicly available real-time map showing the location and identity of thousands of vessels operating at night in waters that lie beyond national jurisdiction. Continue reading

Bess, Honey & Nothing

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Not only can a honey bee count, it understands the concept of zero, according to researchers. CreditFrank Bienewald/LightRocket, via Getty Images

Thanks as always to James Gorman, one of the best illuminators of any variety of natural mysteries who we never tire of citing in these pages. He tells funny stories sometimes, about beautiful as well as awesome phenomena that we want to know. And he knows how to tell it:

Do Bees Know Nothing?

Researchers say bees understand the concept of nothing, or zero. But do we understand what that means?

What would it mean if bees could understand the concept of nothing?

That would be really something.

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Bees were rewarded when they landed on cards with more shapes.CreditScarlett R. Howard et al.

Yet that is what scientists reported Thursday in the journal Science. Bees had already demonstrated they could count. Now, the researchers wrote, bees have shown that they understand the absence of things — shapes on a display in this experiment — as a numerical quantity: none or zero.

This is a big leap. Some past civilizations had trouble with the idea of zero. And the only nonhuman animals so far to pass the kind of test bees did are primates and one bird. Not one species, one bird, the famed African gray parrot, Alex, who knew not only words, but numbers. Continue reading

Compassion, Conservation & Charisma

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ILLUSTRATION BY LUISA RIVERA/YALE E360

Charismatic megafauna are impossible to resist caring about. Charismatic microfauna, or flora, less so. Yet more than two decades of experience in Costa Rica have taught us to appreciate the latter more than we did before. That is a function of science leading the way in conservation efforts in this small country, followed by a new form of tourism that we have been working in since the mid-1990s. That new form leveraged the skills of biologists as guides who provide interpretive experiences in the rainforest and other ecosystems, making a walk in the woods that much more interesting. So this story below catches my attention. It focuses on another small pioneering country that I have long studied from afar, admired, but not yet visited. Thanks to Brandon Keim and his colleagues at Yale Environment 360, for this story that motivates me to make that visit:

Do Conservation Strategies Need to Be More Compassionate?

Some scientists and ethicists are criticizing traditional conservation strategies, which they say focus on saving valued species while discounting the lives of less charismatic animals. Will these advocates of “compassionate conservation” point the way to new approaches, or are they simply being naïve?

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Volunteers for New Zealand’s Predator Free by 2050 campaign in front of predator traps, which are available for the public to borrow. NEW ZEALAND DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION

At a moment of best-selling animal intelligence books and headlines about songbird language and grieving elephants, it’s easy to forget that nonhuman minds were until recently considered — by most serious-minded scientists, anyway — to be quite simple.

Well into this millennium, animal consciousness was regularly dismissed as either nonexistent or profoundly dissimilar to our own. Animals were considered “conscious in the sense of being under stimulus control,” as the famed psychologist B.F. Skinner opined so neatly in 1974, expressing a conventional wisdom that dated to the zoological musings of Aristotle. The notion of animals as thinking, feeling beings was relegated to the edges of serious discourse.

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Signs opposing New Zealand’s use of landscape-scale poisoning campaigns to eradicate non-native predators, such as rats and weasels. ELI DUKE/FLICKR

Those days are past, buried by an avalanche of scientific findings and history-of-science critiques. More people than ever worry about the welfare of farmed animals; pets are practically citizens; and wild animals too are increasingly regarded as beings with whom people share fundamental aspects of inner life. Yet in some places, that mind-denying legacy survives — including, say a small but vocal number of scientists, ethicists, and animal welfare activists, in conservation. In their eyes, the discipline devoted to protecting Earth’s life has a certain blind spot to the animals themselves. Continue reading

Not Pretty, But Pretty Amazing

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A surprising reproductive strategy could help to explain how stick insects—which are eaten by birds and don’t lay a lot of eggs—have managed to persist from generation to generation. Photograph by Education Images / UIG via Getty

Another day, another short-form wonder, thanks to Alan Burdick. His pieces are short, but to the point on topics we care about on this platform:

Why Stick Insects Might Be Into Birds Eating Their Kids

Stick insects make a certain amount of sense, evolutionarily speaking. They look like sticks, or twigs, or leaves; thus camouflaged, they presumably have a better chance of avoiding predators, reproducing, and passing on their stick-resemblance genes to their offspring. Except that birds still eat them, a lot. Stick insects don’t run fast, most don’t fly, and the females typically don’t lay eggs in large numbers. So there’s a mystery: How do they manage to persist from generation to generation? Why, having managed to exist, do they continue to do so? Continue reading

David Attenborough Memoir Has A Captive Audience Here

9781473665958There is a reason why David Attenborough is the name that appears most frequently in these pages over the last seven years. So how did I miss this publication date nine months ago? Now there are several reviews and I am just late to the table. Nevermind that. Just read some of what Frans de Waal, the most recent reviewer, has to say:

The soothing, authoritative voice of David Attenborough has become such a widely recognized feature of nature documentaries that there are now all sorts of spinoffs. Funny animations show gorillas munching on leaves while gossiping about their encounter with the pith-helmeted explorer. Spoof documentaries of our species’ mating rituals show young men drinking beer in a Canadian bar while Attenborough’s voice-over notes that “the air is heavy with the scent of females.” In my classes at Emory University, I show so many snippets of BBC documentaries that I need to warn students that not all of our knowledge about animal behavior comes from this omnipresent talking gentleman. He is just the narrator.

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David Attenborough searching for armadillos. Photograph from David Attenborough

But “just” doesn’t do justice to his role, because Attenborough co-wrote the programs and the insertion of his persona into almost every scene is deliberate. It is the key to the success of “Life on Earth,” “The Blue Planet,” “Planet Earth” and all those other BBC nature series we love. It all started with a 1950s television program featuring animals from the London Zoo. The animals were brought into a studio, where the famous biologist Julian Huxley handled them while explaining their anatomy, habits and special skills. The occasional escapes and other mishaps on this live program greatly contributed to its entertainment value. Continue reading