Wild Russia

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Saturday 13 March, 7.30pm

At the roof of the world and on the edge of civilisation sits the Russian Arctic, known for its extreme temperatures, weather and hostility. A haven for polar bears, as many as 500 pregnant females make their dens on Wrangel and Herald islands. Wrangel Island also attracts the world’s largest population of walruses. One walrus segregated from the herd provides a feast for a few lucky bears. In late August, massive muskoxen bulls gather together to compete for mating dominance. Each bull can weigh 400 kilograms and charge at a speed of 40 kilometres an hour; a head-to-head impact can be heard more than a kilometre away. Meanwhile, the high Arctic’s lemming population has crashed this year, and it is taking a significant toll on other creatures. Arctic foxes struggle to feed their litters while a snowy owl can only watch as her underdeveloped youngster succumbs to malnourishment. In the Russian Arctic, biting cold and howling storms lay down nature’s harsh rules.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Saturday 6 March, 7.30pm

Synonymous with punishing cold, parts of Siberia bake at 40 degrees Celsius. Lurking in the forests of Siberia’s Yakutia region with a face like a kangaroo and vampire’s teeth is the musk deer. But, it’s the other end of this deer that attracts attention – the male’s musk gland produces a scent irresistible to females – and perfume makers. Also found in this region is the Siberian crane; only 3,500 are left in Siberia. As Siberia’s weather warms, one of the world’s hardiest amphibians is released from its winter home. The Siberian salamander has unique blood compounds that enable it to survive in temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius. They can stay frozen solid for years before thawing and reviving as good as new. On Siberia’s southern steppes, the landscape changes dramatically. Wild horses run free and share land with a small group of camels and the strange goitered gazelles. In the Altai Mountains, the planet’s largest sheep – the argali – reign over the peaks while the world’s only freshwater seals call Siberia’s Lake Baikal home.