We meet Connor Burgin a PhD student working on mammalian systematics at the University of New Mexico. As a young boy Connor was fascinated by Wikipedia’s list of dinosaurs. His fascination shifted to lists of present day fauna and at the age of twelve he began to create and update his own list of the world’s mammals which quickly became the state of art. His childhood project turned into the American Society of Mammalogists’ Mammal Diversity Database, which is now widely regarded as the most uptodate and authoratative list of the world’s 6500 living mammal species. Connor’s taxonomy was also used by Lynx Nature Book in their seminal Illustrated Checklist of the World’s Mammals (2020) and All the Mammals of the World (2023).
Taxonomy is as much art as science: if you laid all the world’s taxonomists end to end you still wouldn’t reach a conclusion. So Connor explains the challenges of decision-making when it comes to some of the most controversial issues to hit the mammalwatching world: when to split and lump a species and how to treat domestic animals? Plus Jon is serioulsy impressed with Connor’s choice of the mammal species he mosts wants to see!
We talk to the legendary John Newby about his 50 years in Chad and Niger working to save some of the rarest antelopes in the world. This is a fascinating story, which begins in the 1970s when John recalls seeing vast herds of Oryx, Addax and Dama Gazelle in the Sahara. Yet 15 years later these species had reached the edge of extinction. A warning on how quickly things can change. But this is also a story of hope and of nature’s resilience when it is is given a chance: thanks to the work of John and his colleagues at Sahara Conservation these iconic antelope – the “children of Chad” – are living wild there once again.
Charles and Jon talk to Professor Joel Berger from his home in Colorado. Joel has spent a lifetime studying ‘extreme species in extreme places’ as a senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and at Colorado State University and the University of Montana. He has worked on many mammals including Huemul in Chile, Musk Ox in Russia and Pronghorn in the USA. And he has focussed his work on some of the larger and unsung species that live in the world’s deserts (of all types).
In an entertaining chat, Professor Berger talks about some of the many highlights in a distinguished career that has seen him a three time finalist for the Indianapolis Prize, receive a lifetime achievement recognition from the prestigious Aldo Leopold Conservation Award and be featured in the Archie comic! Some of his adventures over the years include being mistaken for a CIA agent – and put on trial – in the Russian arctic, being charged by multiple Moose, and dressing up as a Polar Bear to try to frighten Musk Oxen.
We are reunited with Carlos Bocos who inspired, designed and guided their hugely successful trip to West Papua in June 2023. From Long-beaked Echidnas to Long-fingered Trioks, we talk about the incredible mammalwatching on New Guinea, the extraordinary local communities who helped us along the way, and a death-defying BASE jumping Ground Cuscus.
Charles and Jon talk to Luke Hunter, the director of the Big Cat Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society and one of the world’s leading experts on wild carnivore conservation. Luke discusses his work to protect Lions in west and central Africa, the reintroduction of Cheetahs in India, and a tragic story of Cheetah conservation in Iran. We also talk about the growing potential of wild cat eco-tourism around the world and how giving a child a set of toy zoo animals can spark a lifetime of mammal research (or mammalwatching in Jon’s case).
We chat with Harriet Kemigisha – founder of Harrier Tours – from her home in western Uganda.
Harriet talks about a life that has taken her from a young village girl exploring the forest with her grandfather on hunting trips, to the founder of a successful wildlife tour company. She recounts her rediscovery of the Green-breasted Pitta in Kibale National Park when she was a ranger in 2005. And she describes how she figured out a strategy to see an African Golden Cat, one of Africa’s most secretive and sought-after animals, with the help of her grandfather’s friend Kaheru, a man she once arrested.
We talk with Brendan and Dan Nugent – Australian mammalwatching newcomers – about their recent expedition to Chad with Jon. They talk about the other-worldly scenery of the Ended Massif; the Dama Gazelles of Ouadi-Rimé – “the most beautiful things they have ever never heard of”; and a safari on steroids in Zakouma National Park, including being in the middle of tens of millions of Red-billed Quelea (yes, birds!). Plus Brendan explains how ear plugs can help you survive the horrors of a pit toilet.
Charles and Jon talk to Whitley Award-winning conservationist Arnaud Desbiez, from his home in the Brazilian Pantanal. Since 2010, Arnaud and his team have been studying one of the planet’s most iconic and secretive animals: the Giant Armadillo. Very little was known about this magnificent mammal before their work began and the more the project uncovers the more we understand just how important a role this species plays in the ecosystems it inhabits. Arnaud talks about the challenges both Giant Armadillos – and Giant Armadillo researchers – face. We learn about Giant Armadillos dedication as parents, their longevity and why their burrows have earned the nickname “Hotel Armadillo”.
Charles and Jon talk to distinguished mammalogist Dr Roland Kays, head of the Biodiversity lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a Professor at North Carolina State University. Roland has published on sloth sleepand incognito O linguitos and written a North American mammal field guide – also an app – that many of you will have. Roland talks about his work describing the Olinguito, one of the most significant new mammal discoveries of the 21st Century (it was the first new carnivore for the Western Hemisphere in 35 years). He explains his love of both Fishers and Porcupines and the quest to capture footage of the former hunting the latter. And he explains, with great clarity, the secret recipe to Canis soupus!
Charles and Jon talk to legendary mammalogists and conservationists John and Terese Hart about 50 years’ of work in the Congo rainforest. John and Terese have made an enormous contribution to studying and protecting African biodiversity and have had way more than their fair share of adventures en route. From discovering new monkey species to studying Okapis, they share spellbinding stories that are guaranteed to make mammalwatchers weak at the knees.