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BBC..Africa. The Sahara where survival trumps the love of dung.

30 Jan

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.

 

 

BBC…Africa. Something very fishy is going on

24 Jan

The cinematography of this week’s episode of Africa was as usual peerless, the stories informative and thought-provoking all in all a masterclass in how to make great and timeless TV.

It reminded us that there is so much we have learnt and seen about nature from the comfort of our living room sofas, but there is still an incredible amount we don’t know.

Like the mysterious journey of giant King Fishes. These enormous fishes which grow to the size of a  man, journey from the oceans around the South African cape and travel deep inland swimming upstream along the fresh water rivers to they reach a point where they stop.

The stop not to feed, not to spawn but seemingly to swim around in a form of synchronised swimming. Why? No one knows.

They are best known as a national symbol of South Africa and we were treated to beautiful shots of  springboks ‘pronking’. This is something springboks are famous for, but why they do it? Again no one knows.  Against a beautiful backdrop of classic music the ‘pronking’ was soothingly balletic.

We also returned to a recurrent theme of the series – the circle of life. A reminder that for all it’s beauty nature is harsh and for some to thrive others must perish.

We saw baby turtles making a dash from where they hatched across beach for the ocean. In scenes that were reminiscent of the Normandy landings in Saving Private Ryan (except it was in the reverse direction), the turtles were subject to aerial bombardment from hawks and other birds who fancied a light snack. There also hazards on the ground as treacherous crabs lurked.

The chances of survival for the hatchlings was something like 1 in 1000, so I was intrigued how the filming was able to pick out one hatchling and follow it from birth as it successfully navigated the hazards of the beach and made it to the safety of the ocean. Was that just luck?

Off the coast of the South Africa cape where the warm waters of the Indian ocean’s Aghulas current meet the cold waters of the Atlantic oceans Benguela current we meet another chapter in the circle of life.  Thousands of sardines are being chased through the Benguela current by a school of dolphins and a nabulus whale. Despite their massed numbers the sardines and nimble and proving difficult to catch. That is until they hit the warmer Aghulas current, suddenly they froze, it is not explained why.

What ever the reason it result  is fatal for the sardines, as an incredible feeding frenzy ensues. Dolphins and the whale swooped from within, birds attack from above, it is a free for all feeding frenzy.

After a somewhat underwhelming episode last week, Africa was back to its best.

 

Springboks ‘pronking’ to Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers

BBC…Africa. The death of a baby Elephant and the reality of Nature

9 Jan

Africa is back this week and we are given a lesson in the realities of nature. We all know nature can be fantastic, magical and present visions and sensations that mankind can only dream of creating, but it can also on the surface appear cruel, very very cruel. In two poignant moments this week we were reminded just how harsh nature can be.

This week we moved northwards leaving behind the Namib and heading into eastern Africa. Here we saw how the fertile ash spewed by the great volcanic craters of the rift valley supported the creation of a vast Savannah teeming with millions of wildebeest, and where there is wildebeest there are lions, and it seems where there are lions there very brave agama lizards.

We watched the tiny but extremely nimble agama lizards brave almost certain death crawling amongst the sleeping lions to get at flies which hovered close by. It was daring but captured quiet brilliantly by the film crew.

Further away in Swamps nestling in the shadows of the Ruwenzori mountains we come across the shoebill and our first poignant moment. The shoebill was a mother to two chicks, one three months older than the other. The elder one was bigger and thriving but food is in short supply. It meant a harsh decision had to be taken and the mother just did that, feeding and providing water to the bigger chick while ignoring the pleading cries of the the smaller one. To aid its own survival we also saw the older shoebill chick pecking away quite viciously at its smaller sibling.

The vast plains of the Amboseli was the scene for the second poignant moment. The rains had not been kind to the Amboseli leaving the land pretty much a dust bowl. The elephant herds were struggling to find food, the adults could just about survive on twigs brushed up from the soil but  for the young calves this would barely sustain them. We saw one calf in particular suffering so badly from the food shortage and left struggling to stand let alone walk miles in search of food. His mother faced a stark choice, stay behind with the calf or keep up with the rest of the herd. She stayed behind as life ebbed out of her calf.

Later on in the program the rains came back and nature sprung back to life as nature flourished so once again did the elephant herds, like the song from the Lion King musical it is the circle of Life.

We also saw a pretty scary three day fight between two bull elephants which after the giraffe fight from last week is becoming a bit of a theme.

Across the Savannah at the massive lakes of caustic soda tainted water we came across one of the great sights of Africa millions of pink flamingos gathered by the lake from the sky it looked remarkably like tourist descended on one the more popular costas in Spain.

All in all another great episode from a great series.

BBC…Africa. The Greatest Giraffe Fight You’d Ever Have Seen…

2 Jan

There is one universal truth that everyone should acknowledge. The day Sir David Attenborough leaves the BBC there will be a huge void in nature and wildlife programming. His smooth slightly melodic voice is so synonymous with high quality wildlife programming, it is almost unthinkable to have one with out him.

Tonight he brought us the first programme in the new series ‘Africa‘ and it was stupendously good. Words can not do it justice. If you missed it hop onto BBC IPlayer and catch up.

The film sequences were sumptuous  Some of the scenes were BAFTA winning.

The fight between the two giraffes for instance, an old male bull and a young upstart. Furious, startling and beautifully filmed it will live in my memory for a long time and I am not sure I will look at giraffes in the same light again.

Then there was the palpable tension as a young leopard stalked a stemboch .  The leopard learning to fend for itself for the first time and the stemboch, twitchy and nervous.  This time around the Leopard’s naivety got the better of him, but it was close

We saw cuddly baby ostriches cutely waddling their way to a watering hole, a watering hole that appeared almost biblical as all of Africa’s wildlife seemed to have descended for a drink at the same time. A multicultural gathering only interrupted by a pride of brawling lions more intent on fighting amongst themselves than anything else.

The programme also reaffirmed as if we needed reminding how cruelly Machiavellian nature can be. We saw a wasp  stranded in the desert looking for any place with moisture to lay her eggs, where better than in the moist body of a living spider. Her evil plans however were thwarted as it turns out this particular spider has super-human (if that’s the right phrase) cartwheeling abilities and was not ready to become a living incubator for anyone as it cartwheeled to safety down the dunes of the mighty Kalahari.

A great programme, but with David Attenborough nothing less is expected.