Episode 22 Season 6: April 19 2015  

This week on 5050:

Elephant senses: superior smell 

We are all familiar with the shaggy haired 4 legged members of our police department, usually stationed at the airport, ready to sniff out any contraband passengers are carrying – from a secret supply of biltong, to much more sinister items – it’s not easy to pull the wool over their noses… but what if there was an animal that would put a bloodhound to shame in the smelling department? For a number of years, the scientific community has been investigating the remarkable sense of smell of the elephant. In the wild, these gentle giants are able to detect water from remarkable distances, and they can decode all manner of complicated chemical signals given off by other elephants from miles away! So what does this mean? Should we have elephants standing to attention at international baggage collection? Ethical and sanitation issues aside, the idea is not to develop a loxodonta special military unit, but rather to further our own understanding of how these incredible animals are able to identify, and what’s more remember the faintest whiff of a wide variety of scents – from human to chemical. A team working with a group of elephants that were destined for a culling operation have been working to further test their amazing abilities, exploring new possibilities within the animal kingdom and our own scientific paradigms.

Cycads: prehistoric plants

Luckily for humans as a species, the Mesozoic period is over, and the probability of bumping into a 4 story lizard with impossibly large teeth is relatively low. But that does not mean that there were no survivors of this ancient time. Yes crocodiles, coelacanths and a few other determined creatures survived relatively unchanged, but what about the plants? South Africa is home to a family of plants that were around 280 million years ago – that’s a full 50 million years before the first dinosaur made the waters of ancient puddles ripple under their heavy footprints – Cycads. With the environmental spotlight so focused on the poaching of large mammals such as rhino, elephant and lion, it often happens that the less charismatic species that make up the world’s sensitive biodiversity is left open to attack. These ancient trees, many of which have been standing sentinel on our country side’s hills for over 1000 years, are being pulled out the ground, and illegally traded for huge amounts in the landscaping industry. We accompanied the dedicated team at the Green Scorpion Unit on an illegal bust, complete with all the helicopter chases, high adrenalin arrests, and forensic investigation worthy of a crime series with a catchy theme tune…

Cheetah relocation: a long distance journey for short distance sprinters

There really is no two ways about it. As a species, cheetah are in trouble. They are big enigmatic cats that have to contend with all the pressures of survival in ever diminishing habitats, pressure from hunting, poaching, often with no other choice but to now compete with much larger predators in the few protected areas set aside for them. There are also genetic pressures. The population grew from that shallow gene pool, and as a result, they are very susceptible to genetic disorders and diseases. The team at EWT and SANparks saw an opportunity to move a small group of cheetah in the Mountain Zebra NP to the Selati Game Reserve – over 1000 km away! Not only would this expand the range of cheetah, but would hopefully add to the breeding population in other parts of the country. Bonne and our cameras were there for all 1000 km of the adventure, wanting to know how an operation of such complexity could be pulled off, and of course to capture the moment as these magnificent cats took their first step onto their new home.

Wildlife wonder: Around the water hole

Animals of all shapes and sizes rely on water in some way or another. Some need it to soak their sensitive hides on a daily basis, while others lurk hungrily in the shady tree-line waiting for the inevitable procession of antelope, their bright eyes fixed on dinner. Join us in this week’s instalment of Wildlife Wonders as we discover the importance of water in all natural systems.

Veld Focus:

Surprises lurk around every corner here on Feld Focus tonight, we see a pair of amorous adders, a herd of hilarious elephants, a hungry heron gets more that it bargained for in a meal, and we get a chance to spy on one of South Africa’s most enigmatic animals.

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