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Animal Babies: First Year on Earth

BBC2’s Animal Babies: First Year on Earth is a fascinating new three-part wildlife series following the first difficult and dangerous year of six animal infants as they overcome daily threats to survive.

In episode one, we learn how the first three months are critical as our animal babies rapidly get to grips with their new family and the challenges that surround them.

Week old baby Africa elephant, Safina, falls over in the mud in Buffalo Springs National Reserve, Kenya

In Kenya, a new-born elephant learns how to keep up with her fast-moving herd, while in Sri Lanka, one-week-old macaque Jazir quickly learns the ropes of primate society. A  litter of Arctic fox cubs race to become self-sufficient before the cruel winter closes in, while a baby mountain gorilla learns to navigate the heights of an ancient forest. We also follow a baby sea otter as it adapts to live alongside humans and hyena twins as they learn their place in society.

With intimate access and expert scientific knowledge, this series casts a new light on the worlds of animal infants, troops and clans – and how human actions are shaping the challenges they face.

Fela is the only white-furred cub in his litter, and at four – months – old he is growing a long-haired coat to protect him from the brutal winter of the Hornstrandir peninsula in Iceland.

Discover Animals asked Dominic Weston, Series Producer, about filming Animal Babies: First Year on Earth with camera team Sue Gibson, Vianet Djenguet and Colin Stafford-Johnson.

At what stage are we first introduced to each baby animal? 

We were lucky enough to meet the toque macaque within the first few hours of birth, along with the baby elephant who was just hours old when we joined her. However, due to environmental challenges, we had to wait a few months to meet the mountain gorilla baby, and also the arctic foxes, who took a while to emerge from their den.

How close were you able to get to each of the animals?

We worked very closely with world-leading scientists who studied the animals’ families for many years and already had some access. However, the more endangered the animal, the more restrictions we had. Although with the elephants we were able to get within 20 feet, and the Arctic foxes, once familiar with the camera team, came right up to us.

What challenges did you experience while filming?

Over a two year production period we had an 18-month window in which to find and film our baby animals. We had to take into account different habitats in which to follow a family, so bears, for example, would not make a good subject as they are hidden away for so long.

We worked with scientists in the field and trackers and rangers from sun up to get the most from each day. At one point we were hoping to film a cheetah, but unfortunately, there was no birth. However, satellite tracking with Save the Elephants allowed us to find a herd with an elephant that had just given birth, so could join them immediately. We also discovered a pack of hyenas that were experiencing a baby boom, who we also follow in the series.

Without giving too much away, where there any big surprises / stand out moments?

While filming the elephants in Kenya we did have one scary moment when the herd wandered over the border onto land which is not protected and the elephants became at risk from shooting. We actually lost contact with them for three days which was terrifying.

Also, filming the Arctic foxes while they hunted high up on 1000 foot cliffs was particularly perilous!

Of the animals filmed, which were the quickest to develop & fend for themselves?

The Arctic foxes are born into a harsh environment and have to learn very quickly to fend for themselves. Cubs can become independent from as early as five 5 months old, although from a large litter only 50% tend to survive.

On the other hand, the sea otter will have just one pup who will stay with its parent for much longer and may not wean until as late as eighteen months.

What do you hope we will learn from this series?

Animal babies are hugely resilient but the first year is the toughest of their lives. Although there are parallels between us and the wild animals filmed – we are all mammals – there is a sense of wonder at the resilience, persistence of some babies to survive and succeed.

Animal Babies: First Year on Earth will be shown on BBC Two at 9pm on Wednesday 24th July.

Newborn baby Toque macaque, Jazir, clings to his mother just hours after birth in the ancient, abandoned capital of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa

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