Review: BioSoc Presents Dr. George McGavin

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Last month BioSoc was lucky enough to be given a talk by Dr. George McGavin. The talk ranged from George’s early life to his work on the ‘Lost Lands’ series on the BBC.

The talk began with George mentioning his education from life at primary school where his teacher had told him that if he stopped rustling in his bag and asking irrelevant question he would do better; to which George remarked ‘If only she could see me now’. He later attended Edinburgh University where he studied Zoology and from there moved on to work towards his doctorate at the British Museum of Natural History and Imperial College, London. After finishing his doctorate he was offered an opportunity at Oxford University Museum of Natural History where he stayed for 25 years before he decided that he wanted to do something different with his life.

The next topic to be focused on during the hour talk was on his work on the ‘Lost Lands’ series which were aired from 2007-2010. The first topic mentioned was the filming equipment needed to be taken on each expedition. Everyone was shocked to learn that around 3.5 tonnes of equipment was needed as a result of equipment breaking down whilst out on expedition due to humidity and heat experienced by the equipment whilst in the rainforest.

The first of these was ‘Expedition Borneo’ in 2007 where they were working towards providing enough evidence to ensure that the area of jungle that they were investigating was preserved. After their filming in Borneo the area of jungle they had filmed in was upgraded from a partially protected region of rainforest to a Class I protected region, which would ensure that the jungle would be completely protected from deforestation.

In 2008 saw the airing of Project Guyana which was aired under the name of ‘Lost Land of the Jaguar’. George mentioned how they had managed to eventually, after hours of filming, get a clip of a jaguar striding through the forest on a night vision camera. The main aim of all their expeditions were to carry out biological assessment and to report back to representatives in the countries of their expeditions in the hope that these assessments would help to preserve biodiversity by protecting these areas from human disturbance e.g. deforestation.

2009 saw the team move to New Guinea for ‘Lost Land of the Volcano’ where they were exploring the area in and surrounding Mount Bosavi. During their expedition they discovered two new species of mammal including the Cuscus a tree-climbing marsupial, a large Giant Rat as well as many new insects.

The final of the four part series was ‘Lost Land of the Tiger’ which was filmed in Bhutan in the Himalayas and aired in 2010. The importance of their expedition to Bhutan is seen in a clip of Gordon Buchanan watching footage from camera traps and catching a glimpse of a Bengal Tiger, where Gordon is ecstatic with the presence of tigers in the region of Bhutan as this region of jungle is vital for connecting populations of tigers to each other to prevent the complete extinction of tigers from the Himalayas.

Throughout all of their expeditions George’s main interest has always been the insects of the regions. Insects make up a large contribution to the biodiversity of many of the vulnerable rainforest regions and the discovery of new species of insect along with new species of frogs and birds can help to provide sufficient evidence to governments to help preserve regions of vulnerable rainforest and the many species that inhabit them.

After George had finished he asked for questions and the first question to be asked was how you went about classifying new species. Apparently for every 1 hour of expedition you could spend up to 100 times longer to classify the new species correctly. With each new species needing a dead specimen so that in future other individuals could be compared back to this original specimen. This piece of information lead to mixed opinions amongst those present with some asking whether killing an animal to take as a specimen could have a negative affect but George replied that it was necessary to ensure that there was evidence of the existence of new species. Other questions involved how to get into a career in broadcasting and presenting.

The talk certainly opened our eyes to the world of television and how often life can take you in an unexpected direction and how important filmed expedition can be in preserving much of our planet’s vulnerable rainforest.

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