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Chris Packham: I'd love to hang out with Charles Darwin

Patrick Evans

BBC TV blog

Tricky, wily animals are the focus of Chris Packham’s new documentary, World’s Sneakiest Animals. And despite the obstacles presented to Chris and the team by unruly weather and sheer logistics, they managed to work with animal behaviour scientists to capture a rogues’ gallery of crafty critters.

With Chris so admired for his own sometimes crafty, always chatty personality, we caught up with him to talk all things animal and animagus (we’ll explain that one shortly!).

What devious animal trick would you most like to steal for yourself?

Oooh steal for myself? I’ll tell you what, I’ll go for being a cuttlefish. Cuttlefish are remarkable things. They can change their colour, they can also change their skin texture and their body shape. Like invisibility cloaks. They really can just merge into the background and their ability to do so is remarkable. They essentially become invisible in that landscape. So that would be brilliant.

I’d love to be invisible and sneak around and learn about what people are up to. The nefarious aspects of being invisible would be fantastic.

Are you more impressed by an animal’s crafty strategies than their physical attributes?

I think the more complex they are, the more entertaining and intriguing it becomes. There’s one story which I’m sure will appeal to many of our viewers. We went to Bali and in a temple complex there, the monkeys will steal objects. Rather than steal food from people, they will steal things which they know are valuable. Sunglasses, mobile phones, handbags.

They will then barter them back for food. They won’t give it back in exchange for the food they get every day - bananas or peanuts. But if you offer them sweets they will. And the sure fire way of getting your phone back is to offer them eggs. They’re packages of protein – something the monkeys don’t often get. Obviously tourists don’t wander around with eggs, so the people who work in the temple have those and they constantly barter with the monkeys.

If you met Charles Darwin – what would you ask him?

What I’d like to know about Charles Darwin is how much he struggled to bring his views to the public. He would have known they were going to create a huge furore. I’d love to have known on the day before Origin of the Species was published, how did Charles feel about the controversy he was about to unleash?

I also would have liked to have met Charles as a younger man. We always think of him as the bearded old guy having been to Galapagos and coming back with this book. Of course, he did that rather late in life but he was a committed naturalist from a very young age. He did all sorts of studies of wildlife around his home. He studied earthworms and orchids. I would have loved to have hung out with him and just seen how his enthusiasm manifested itself. He obviously was a man of intense curiosity and that is the principle ingredient to make a lifelong good naturalist.

I do relate to him. I get up every day and know that if I try, I can go out to the woods outside my house and I can find something new. And if I find something new I can probably come up with a question that I don’t know the answer to. And that’s exciting. It means there’s more to learn and that’s more exciting than anything.

Chris meets the ground squirrels that disguise their scent

If you were a wizard in Harry Potter, what would your animagus form be?*

*Non-Potter readers, this is an animal form wizards can turn into

I’d have to be a flying animal. I‘ve always had dreams of flying. I am drawn to animals that fly. I like the idea of flying and I am always really envious when I see swallows ricocheting down and drinking from a lake surface in summer. And they’ve got this these flashing blue wings. I can’t imagine what must go through their minds. We’re only just beginning to learn how they are able to fly so fast and so quickly and so close to things due to their optical processing abilities.

But take the science out of it and just stick with the romance – I’d be a swallow. I’d happily give everything for 30 seconds as a swallow over a lake in summer. Can you imagine? It would just be awesome to be a swallow flying really fast. That’s what I’d be.

Patrick Evans is an editorial curator for BBC iPlayer.

World's Sneakiest Animals starts on Christmas Day at 6.30pm on BBC Two. Each episode will be available in BBC iPlayer for 30 days after broadcast on TV.

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