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CBC The Nature of Things (2019.03.10) s58e16 Aging in the Wild

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Meet species that exemplify all the realms of aging: longevity, reproductive health, social status, wisdom, and finally, everything that surrounds the final chapter of life, death. Aging in the Wild takes us from the African savannah to the French Alps — and beyond — guided by passionate researchers who reveal their latest discoveries. This perfect balance of observing wild behaviour and learning about cutting-edge science allows us to consider the elders of the animal kingdom in a whole new light.

The visible signs of old age and fragility, what scientists call senescence, do not always present themselves in the same way. Why? The further we explore this phenomenon, the more we realize its complexity.

Are the keys to healthy aging hiding in the DNA of animals? Perhaps — lifespan is closely linked to the speed of an animal's metabolism.

Our journey is not limited to exploring the lives of the elders; what we see are the processes by which animals reach old age. The life cycle of a bee that only lives thirty days is as important to explore as an elephant that lives 70 years. Aging in the Wild looks at the realities of life in the wild from the animal’s perspective, immersing us in their world.

We explore the physiological secrets linked to life expectancy, longevity, and senescence in various animal species. Can we distinguish between the effects of the environment and the built-in adaptations that contribute to a long life? What are some of the benefits associated with getting older in the natural world?

Reproduction concerns not only the young and restless — Aging in the Wild takes a light-hearted look at the issue of sexuality and camaraderie in older animals. We illustrate the link between the age of an elephant and its reproductive success. What are the reproductive benefits that these animals achieve as they grow older? Through their stories, we learn about the advantages and disadvantages of late-life reproduction.

Observing two massive bull elephants clashing their tusks is to witness a true demonstration of power. For other species, like the European marmot, remaining in power is a matter of collaborating with family and community. Are these animals forced to give up their hard-won social status as they age? Through this lens, we look at the challenges faced by those in power, and what it takes to stay there.

MORE:
Five aging tips from the wild
The world's oldest creatures live in cold, dark places
Meet some of the oldest living organisms on Earth

In many human societies, elders play a vital role in the well-being of communities and are responsible for passing down knowledge and culture. Is it any wonder to find that another one of the oldest mammals on Earth, orcas, have been found to transmit cultural knowledge to the younger generations? Young animals learn by observing their elders — judging when to fight or take flight, deciding how to choose a life partner, and learning where to find food are just some of the skills passed down through generations as elders share their wisdom.

We explore the factors that lead animals to their death: disease, injury, predation, drought, famine, and even breeding. What lessons can we learn from the animal kingdom as we follow individuals along their fascinating life path as they journey to their last breath?