Animals at Play | BBC 2

Animals, TV and Book Reviews

If you’re after a new TV show packed with cuteness and inspiring insights in the natural world then you have to watch Animals at Play on BBC 2.

As Gordon Buchanan investigates – your kids may run riot when they play but this actually has a proper reason behind it. All animals spend vast amounts of time and energy at play. You may have thought it was a useless and function-less thing but in actual fact it’s vital to everything that an animal learns.

Why don’t they get bored of playing the same games? The answer to this may lie in research. In humans and animals alike, dopamine and endorphins are the body’s natural reward chemicals. They’re also highly addictive. This drives the animals to play the same games over and over again. This repetition can then help to develop the neural pathways in the brain. This is a process called synaptogenesis.

Being young gives the animal time to make mistakes in the hope that they’ll be pros when they’re older. They’ll master the art of leaping, pouncing and all the things which make them the animal they are right up until those actions are hardwired.

Why and how these animals play can be assessed with the power of research. The world of science defines play with a few simple rules.  It’s got to be something the animal engages in voluntarily and the reward has to be the activity itself. In other words, food can’t be a reward! It also takes place much earlier in an animals life than when they’d usually see a serious version  of that behaviour. Lastly, the animal has to be in safe and relaxed state.

The show visits a huge range of the world’s species, from young gibbons that spend 20% of their time catapulting themselves between trees to cheetahs that play. They also take a look at the Komodo Dragon, where research suggests for the first time that reptiles also play.

So next time you see an animal playing – remember that they’re learning some life skills in front of you! Take Elephants for example, once they’ve mastered how to use their trunk it has an unbelievable level of dexterity. It can even pick individual leaves off tree branches! They’re learning depth perception, how to hunt and how to interact with the world around them. 

See the power of play for yourself on Gordon Buchanan’s new show ‘Animals at Play’ on BBC2. 


Baby Elizabeth at Wingham Wildlife Park is one of the most playful chimps I’ve encountered!

Finding Nemo…


…. or a clownfish! 🙂

These fish, which are also called anemone fish are probably one of the most recognisable of all. Named perhaps after sea anemones which they could share their habitat with, each fish is incredibly similar – they’ve only got super small differences in shape and places they inhabit. Before they take up residence in an area they perform a dance with another fish, gently touching the other fish until they become acclimatized to the nearby fish.

Amazingly, they also have a layer of mucus on their skin to make it immune from the a sea anemone’s sting. Weirdly, all clown fish are born male and have an ability to change sex to become the dominant female. Once they’ve switched, they can’t switch back.

The good news is that this species has quite a lengthy lifespan, living up to 10 years in the wild.


Clownfish (Image: CC0)

Flamingos | Wingham Wildlife Park

Animals, Photography

Flamingos are amazing creatures native to  the Americas. Their name comes from the Portuguese or Spanish – flamengo meaning ‘flame coloured”.  Usually, they’re seen standing on one leg. We don’t really know why this is, but one of the most common theories is it’s to conserve body heat as they spend a lot of their day wading through cold water.

Pictures above were taken at Wingham Wildlife Park on a Nikon D3200