Over the last few weeks I have probably used all the superlatives at my disposal in describing just how good BBC’s Africa documentary is. Well this week I had to dig into my superlative reserve, because it tonight’s episode was positively biblical.
The opening scenes with massive sandstorms rolling across the Sahara were like some biblical plague come to life, I almost expected Charlton Heston to step up in his robe and staff crying out to “let my people go”.
This week we moved away from the large herds and prides of eastern and southern Africa to a more delicate and precarious battle between life and the environment, but no less intriguing.
The lonely Grevy Zebra roaming the fringes of the Sahara living a lonely existence for months at a time, and then literally out of the blue along come a herd of female Zebras and an opportunity for our lonely lad to end his dry spell so to speak. It turns out there are were another bunch of male Zebras in the vicinity with similar ideas.
Cue a bit of handbags between the male Zebras which saw our lonely lad come up tops giving him just enough time for a quick bit of ‘how’s your father’ with a lady Zebra before once more returning to his solitary existence.
There were the two million Barn Swallows of southern Nigeria who undertake an epic journey from the wet grasslands across the vast Sahara to Europe an epic journey that given the biblical theme can best be described as an exodus.
Like any decent exodus they need to refuel on their journey and the Sahara offers some surprising options, like the ‘oasis’ in the Ubari Sand Sea – Umm El Mar.
On the surface it looks like a miraculous refuge for any weary thirsty traveller the cool waters shimmer in the sunshine. This is however deceptive, a cruel trick player by nature. Years of evaporation have left the water so concentrated with salt that it would drinking from it would be fatal.
Swarms of desert flies also inhabit the lake but here nature plays another card, the flies are able to drink the water and filter out the salt, so they are effectively plump little sachets of water just the refreshment the swallows need.
Sometime though the ferocity of the Sahara makes survival trickier. The Dung Beetle survives on collecting camel dung and in one trip can collect enough to last a life time. The problem though is getting it to storage, in their trademark approach the dung beetle use their hind legs to roll it along. The problem with this approach is you can’t see where you are going, and can end up down side of a sand dune.
Try as you may rolling up a ball of dung up a sand hill is a Sisyphean task and in temperatures of 50C, the love of dung wanes quickly.
Probably better suited for the searing temperatures of the Sahara are the amazing silver ants whose reflective body coating allows them to endure the hottest temperatures of the desert for brief burst of time. We see an amazing segment where the ants go a “mission impossible” to hunt a stricken fly and get it back to the den. Amazing footage.