RELATIONSHIPS formed unexpectedly between man and beast have inspired some of the most popular works in literature and film.
In Gorillas In The Mist, it was the story of a naturalist and her work with the great apes in Rwanda, while Born Free told the tale of a couple who raised an orphaned lion cub to adulthood in Kenya.
And though the countryside around Newtown is perhaps a shade less romantic than the wilds of Africa, a similar relationship is growing there.
Gareth Morgan, 68, leaves his wife three times a week to spend time with a family of badgers.
The nature enthusiast was out birdwatching when he stumbled upon the badger sett in the Welsh countryside.
And after visiting the highly secretive and often aggressive creatures three times a week over five years, they slowly accepted him as a member of their family.
Mr Morgan said: “At first I watched from a distance and then I got close enough to whisper to them. People ask what I whisper but that’s between me and them.
“It worked. I won their confid- ence and they started literally eating out of the palm of my hand.”
While most men tell their wives they’re just popping down the pub, Mr Morgan’s wife Marion, 65, has got used to him referring to the badgers by saying: “I’m off to see my other family.”
He has watched generations of badgers come and go at the sett near his home, where locals know him as The Badgerman.
He even has names for the tamer badgers, with some of his favourites over the years being Tiny, Seeny, (corr) Spot and Barnaby.
The latter was the most resistant to Mr Morgan’s whisperings to the other badgers. “He would come up and butt me against my leg. He was the leader of the pack and I think he was a bit jealous of me.”
“But badgers are very gentle and shy creatures, they don’t harm anyone or anything.”
The father of four has dressed the badgers’ scratches and wounds with TCP, but said his most moving moment in 30 years of studying badgers was seeing a sow bury one of her young cubs.
“It was a sight I will never forget. The baby badger had broken its leg and managed to get back to the sett,” he said.
“A few days later other members of the badger family began digging a hole a short distance away. Then I watched the mother badger come out of the set with her dead baby in her jaws. She carried it to the hole and then the others covered it with soil.
“The badgers never went near that area again – it was like consecrated ground to them.”
Mr Morgan, a grandfather, recently retired from his job as an education officer, giving him more time to spend with badgers.
Of the badgers, he said: “They have given me so much pleasure and are one of the treasures of the British countryside.
“There are those who would have them culled because of the threat of bovine TB. But there has to be a lot more research done yet and I for one don’t believe badgers are responsible.”
He is secretive about the location of the sett, but has photographed and filmed the badgers over the years.
You can see the results at www.midwalesbadgerman.com
Quick badger facts
Badgers are largely nocturnal, shy animals that live in social or family groups. Occasionally in the early morning or late evening they can be seen around the entrance to their burrows, which are known as setts. A badger’s sett can be huge, with a labyrinth of tunnels created by the excavation of tonnes of earth.
The mammals are omnivorous and will eat a variety of foods, including small animals like rodents, although their main diet consists of earthworms – they can devour up to 200 in one day.
The sense of smell is a badger’s most important sense. When they are foraging for food they constantly sniff the ground ahead of them.
Adults can grow up to 36in long and weigh from 22lb to 27lb. They have long, powerful claws which they use for digging and can be dangerous if threatened. Injured badgers or those which are being handled have been known to bite humans.
Many badger watchers visit in May when cubs emerge after spending the first eight to 10 weeks of their lives underground. But a badger’s sense of smell and hearing is very good and adult badgers would become defensive of their cubs if they feel threatened, so it is best to sit downwind and a safe distance away.