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Arts & Culture

INSIDE NATURE'S GIANTS: Camel

Veterinary scientist Mark Evans and comparative anatomist Joy Reidenberg brave the baking desert of the Australian Outback to dissect a camel.
Courtesy of Windfall Films
Veterinary scientist Mark Evans and comparative anatomist Joy Reidenberg brave the baking desert of the Australian Outback to dissect a camel.

Airs Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

They’re back! The intrepid scientific team from INSIDE NATURE’S GIANTS returns with two new episodes exploring the evolutionary secrets and anatomical mysteries of two of nature’s strangest animals — the giant squid (June 20th at 10 p.m.) and the camel (June 27th at 10 p.m.).

Shot on location in Australia and New Zealand, INSIDE NATURE’S GIANTS brings together these skilled specialists — comparative anatomist Dr. Joy Reidenberg, veterinary scientist Mark Evans, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and biologist Simon Watt — for more wildlife adventures. (NOTE: The animals dissected in INSIDE NATURE’S GIANTS died naturally in the wild or in zoos, or were from officially sanctioned culls.)

Highlights include a man vs. camel skill challenge from Simon Watts, Dr. Joy Reidenberg’s face-to-face meet up with a giant Pacific octopus, and a visit to a champion camel-jockey and trainer. Richard Dawkins provides context on how these alien beasts have developed environmental adaptations to enable them to survive and, in the camel’s case, thrive in the harsh desert landscape. The series also reveals amazing facts about the bizarre sex lives of the camel and the giant squid, both of which would rank high on the list of nature’s weirdest mating rituals.

"Camel" - In this episode, Mark Evans and Dr. Joy Reidenberg brave the Australian Outback to dissect a camel, the ultimate desert survivor. We don’t think of Australia as the home of camels, yet in the middle of this vast continent there are over a million feral dromedaries roaming around. European settlers introduced them over a century ago to help build Australia’s railways and explore the outback.

But with the advent of roads, cars and trucks, camels were no longer needed, so their owners released them into the desert. Instead of dying off, camels had a population explosion, increasing their numbers until they now play havoc with the environment and destroy native species. In an attempt to cut back the destruction, the Australian government has introduced a culling program.

Braving soaring heat and scorching sun, the dissection team uncovers the secret of the camel’s hump and investigates how its elastic legs, stretchy lips and pedestal (a strange bump on its chest) are among the many surprising adaptations that enable these animals to thrive in such a dry and hostile environment.

Other strange adaptations include an extension of its soft palate that can be inflated out of its mouth like a big red balloon. To female camels this is irresistible — particularly when the male covers his mouth with wads of white saliva. (The camel, if fully hydrated, will produce 80 liters of saliva per day.)

Richard Dawkins explores the history of the camel and other “invasive species” in Australia, and reveals its surprising origins in North America. And Simon Watt learns how to break in and ride a wild camel from champion camel-jockey Glenda Sutton. He discovers that although this animal does spit and kick – there’s much more to marvel at than its cantankerous reputation.

Past episodes include "Sperm Whale," "Giant Python," "Great White Shark," "Big Cats" and "Giant Squid."

INSIDE NATURE’S GIANTS is produced by Windfall Films in association with Channel 4. Additional funding from National Geographic Channels and Wellcome Trust.

Dr. Joy Reidenberg is on Facebook. Mark Evans is on Facebook, and you can follow @MarkEvansTV on Twitter.