Wild Events

Friday 9 February: 19.30–20.00

Continuing the fascinating wildlife series, Jake Willers ventures into the Amazon rainforest to chart the feeding habits of macaws – and play his part in preserving their environment.

The small village of Pucani, nestled deep in the Amazon jungle, is home to the Asha Ninca and Nyena people, who share the lush land with some very colourful neighbours. The macaw, the largest member of the parrot family, is among the most beautiful birds in the world. They are shy creatures, but here in the Amazon they come out of their forest hideaway to feed from the clay licks – exposed riverbanks – that surround the region’s rivers. The birds use the rich source of minerals found in these licks to neutralise the toxins in their diet.

Many of the area’s clay licks are established tourist sites, attracting birdwatchers who come to admire the colourful spectacle. However, Jake has decided to avoid these and head deep into the Peruvian jungle to establish a whole new clay lick. “Success here would not only allow me to bring you a first view of this brilliant event; it would also allow the site to be opened up to tourists wanting to experience this moment for themselves,” he explains. “It is these tourist dollars that will help protect the people, the area and the birds for future generations.”

Although Jake has already found a suitable site for the lick, it will take careful planning to bring the project to completion. “The trouble is, these macaws aren’t used to people,” he explains. Having anticipated this challenge, he sent his clothes out ahead of him, hoping that if local guide Oscar visits the clay lick daily while wearing Jake’s clothes, the birds will become accustomed to seeing him and will not be scared by the time Jake himself arrives. Will this ‘fake Jake’ trickery pay off?

Jake admits it won’t be easy to win over the timid macaws. “They don’t just come down and land on the clay to start feeding,” explains Jake. “They congregate in the surrounding trees and watch until they’re happy that there are no predators around, before one or maybe two will venture onto the clay and start feeding. This gives confidence to the rest in the trees.”

The local guides, who have built a special ‘hide’ from which to observe their subjects, place a red rag on the side of the clay lick in the hope of tricking the macaws into thinking that one of their number is already feeding there. “If we’re lucky, they’ll see this, come down and we’ll be in with some luck.” But next morning, when Jake and the team return to the lick, there are no macaws to be found. And to make matters worse, the heavens open, despite the fact that it’s supposedly the dry season. “The macaws don’t like this weather at all,” says a disappointed Jake. “They’ll go and hide themselves up in their nests; they won’t use the clay licks when it’s raining.” Luckily, it’s not long before the weather clears up and the team can get to work on creating a new hide. Will their determination pay off?

Friday 2 February: 19.30–20.00

Continuing the fascinating wildlife series, Jake Willers ventures into the Amazon rainforest to witness one of the animal world’s most intriguing spectacles – the hunting method of the army ant.

With its abundance of lush foliage, tropical fruits and insect life, the Amazon is home to more species of animal than any other place on earth, and army ants exploit this environment to the full. It doesn’t take long for Jake to find a few of the ants, but can he track them back to one of their temporary nests – known as bivouacs – to find out more about how they operate? “Army ants have well-planned routes so following these ‘antways’ should take me to the core of their operations,” he explains.

Army ants are nomadic, moving around constantly as they run out of food, and capturing their prey by organising huge raiding formations each comprising up to 750,000 ants. These swarms fan out, attacking anything that gets in their way, regardless of its size or place in the jungle food chain. If a predator like a lizard or an anteater comes along, the army ants simply latch on and sting profusely with the sting on their abdomen. “This one’s just stung me and it hurts, so imagine 20 or 30 of them jumping on top of a lizard and stinging,” marvels Jake after a close encounter with the creatures.

As an unfortunate cricket crosses the ants’ path, Jake notes their well-practised technique. “They hold it down by the wings and the legs, spreading it out so it can’t struggle free. Then they’ll start stinging its soft tissues, like the abdomen at the back here,” he explains. “It will take a little while to subdue the prey, but once they have, they’ll start using their mandibles, biting away at where the appendages join the body.” Once their work is done they will start carrying the pieces of the dead cricket back to the bivouac. Jake hopes to follow them there to find the mastermind behind the ant operations – the queen. “The sheer undertaking as they clear the forest of its inhabitants is overwhelming,” he says, awestruck by their trails of carnage. “This has to be one of the most terrifying wild spectacles on earth.”

Friday 26 January: 19.30–20.00
Continuing the fascinating wildlife series, Jake Willers heads to Kenya in the hope of witnessing one of the animal world’s most colourful spectacles – a vast sea of brilliant pink flamingos.

More than 1,000 bird species can be found in Kenya and Jake travels 160km north of Nairobi to one of the jewels in this ornithological crown, Lake Nakuru National Park. When conditions are right, up to 1.5 million flamingos feed around the shores of the park’s shallow lake, forming a dazzling fringe of pink. The flamingos are attracted to Nakuru because it is a soda lake, which means it is rich in dissolved sodium salts. Although flamingos are born with grey or white plumage, the feathers of an adult can be anything from light pink to bright red due to the bright carotenoids contained in the algae and other food they consume.

Jake’s quest to find the flamingos also brings him into contact with an array of other wildlife. Although relatively small, the park is home to more than 50 species of mammal. It was one of Africa’s first rhino sanctuaries, and Jake spots an enormous white rhino grazing. Also well known are the park’s strange-looking woodlands, including the largest euphorbia forest in east Africa. “There is something really eerie about it,” says Jake. “It’s as if some prehistoric creature is about to come running out.”

In fact it is the likes of Rothschild’s giraffes and Burchell’s zebras that Jake and the crew come across – as well as a herd of buffalo. These are one of the most numerous of Africa’s large herbivores. “They have a terrible reputation as an unprovoked killer but if left alone they are quite placid and peaceful animals,” says Jake. Nevertheless he decides not to hang around too long.

Jake is hoping that his route around the reserve is bringing him closer to the flamingos he has come all this way to see, but he is aware that there is no guarantee of a sighting. For one thing, Lake Nakuru is less wildlife-friendly than it once was. The park itself is safeguarded from development but nearby areas are not, and the felling of local forests has caused soil to wash into the lake. Will this hamper Jake’s chances of witnessing his latest wild event?

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1