Europe

This crowded continent hides the most surprising animals in pockets of wilderness.

Published: 22 October 2019
Many parts of this show touch on how people and wildlife interact.
— Giles Badger

Above Gibraltar, Europe’s only primate lives a life of kidnapping and high drama, whilst in the cemeteries of Vienna grave-robbing European hamsters do battle with each other.

Come nightfall, the Italian mountain villages are the hunting grounds for rarely seen wolves, whilst lynx lurk in the forests of Spain.

Deep underground in Slovenia’s caves, baby dragons live for up to a hundred years. Meanwhile, on the surface the continent has been developed beyond recognition.

Stories from filming

Number of days filming: 270

  • Camera operator Tom Crowley tried to get close to pelicans while filming in Romania by wearing a fake swan on his back.
  • Assistant producer Jo Hayley and camera assistant Jack Delf were wearing camouflage onesies in Norway and didn’t realise that they were sitting next to each other because they blended in so well.

1. Brown bear - Finland
2. Muskox - Norway
3. Wolf - Italy
4. Barbary macaque - Gibraltar
5. European hamster - Austria
6. Mayflies - Hungary
7. Great white pelican and cormorant - Romania
8. Olm - Slovenia
9. Iberian lynx - Spain

Facts on species featured

  • An olm can go without a meal for a decade and live for a century
  • Wolves have about 200 million scent cells. Humans have only about five million. A hungry wolf can eat 20 pounds of meat in a single meal, which is akin to a human eating one hundred hamburgers
  • When a European hamster needs to swim it inflates its cheek pouches with air for increased buoyancy
  • Mayflies have been around for some 350 million years. This means that they existed even before the dinosaurs came to existence and they survived the K-T Extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs
  • Iberian lynxes have amazing eyesight and can spot a mouse from a distance of 250 feet

Europe: did you know?

  • Europe is home to an estimated 747 million people
  • Trillions of charged particles react with the Earth’s atmosphere to make the northern lights.
  • Over 12,000 caves have been discovered in Slovenia’s Karst region alone

Tell us about the episode you have produced?

Europe has a wealth of life that most people don't know exists. The aim for this episode was to unveil the wonders of the European continent and highlight how wildlife and people live alongside each other in the 21st century. We start way up in north-eastern Finland where we filmed brown bears and we end the show with the European lynx, which is an animal that was brought by humanity right to the very brink of extinction. As that suggests, many parts of this show touch on how people and wildlife interact, whether that is European hamsters living in the graveyards of Vienna, or Barbary macaques on top of the Gibraltar rock.

We don't shy away from the human world; it's very much a feature throughout the programme. But we also want to show the megafauna that is in Europe, because I think the biggest surprise is to see wolves and bears and large cats and huge muskox fighting. Hopefully we will show that the wildlife in Europe is as marvelous as anywhere else.

What can you tell us about the wolves that are featured?

Through our research we found out that wolves in Italy have been hunting right on the edge of villages. They're using roads to help them catch their prey and when they do catch their prey, the local sheepdogs quite often push them off their prey! In other words the lives of people and wildlife are intrinsically linked.

We began with a photograph of a wolf that had been taken by quite a famous photographer called Bruno D'Amicis. We contacted Bruno and he suggested a possible location and also told us that he thought that it probably happened round about sunset. We sent out a day crew and a night crew, the day crew with very sensitive cameras, the night crew with big long lens thermal cameras that can zoom in right across the valley and punch through darkness, so we were able to film 24/7. Then it was very much a case of suck it and see. We had to learn about this behavior because of course, no one's ever watched wolves in Italy at night before. It's just never been done. Through the days and weeks, we found out that actually, the location we aimed to film in wasn't going to work, and we ended up filming on the edge of a car park, right on the edge of a valley. The wolves seemed remarkably unscared of people: we would watch hunts happen, cars would drive straight past the wolves, the hunt would stop… and then continue again. What we have filmed is amazing and it is, as far as we are aware, a world first.

Do you have any other favourite sequences?

Slovenia has around 12,000 limestone caves in a country a couple of hundred miles across. In some of those caves lives a creature called an olm, which is a blind salamander. It's the most incredible animal: it can live for nearly a century. It can go without food for nearly a decade, and yet it's completely blind and it lives in the underground lakes and rivers beneath the surface of Slovenia. People once thought olms were baby dragons.

To film the olms we flew drones underground in the caves. Not only did that require immense pilot expertise but underground a lot of the location accuracy tools on the drones don’t work. So you are really flying freestyle. And incredibly, there were strong air currents underground too, plus stalactites and stalagmites. All in all it was a very… interesting experience. I won’t reveal how many drones were harmed in the making of this picture, but I can report they all made it home safely in the end.

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