Nature documentary series narrated by Sir David Attenborough. A look at predator and prey strategies in the open arenas of desert and grassland.
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Nearly half of the world's land surface
is covered by desert or grassland.
These are the most exposed habitats on our planet.
Nowhere else is the tension between predators and prey more obvious.
Out here, the element of surprise scarcely exists.
A cheetah, superbly adapted to hunt in the open.
Only from the air can you truly appreciate
its incredible agility and speed.
But even for the fastest animal on land, speed is not enough.
To be successful out here requires more than physical ability.
It requires strategy.
A cheetah's takeoff point is critical.
Her top speed can only be maintained for just a few seconds.
To be successful, she must get within just 30 metres of her prey...
Picking the right target is vital.
Something small enough to handle.
The final stalk begins.
The mothers block her path.
But in a flat-out chase, nothing can outrun a cheetah.
Too lightweight to jump on top, she must trip her prey.
But having timed her run to perfection,
she still has energy to try again.
This cheetah hunt may have been successful,
but nearly 60% of hunts end in failure.
Few can hunt by stealth on the open plains.
But where the grass grows a little longer, there is opportunity.
One specialist predator is able to use every centimetre of cover
to get close to its prey.
Always on edge.
Hunting by stealth in open grassland is a challenge.
But if anything can do it, a caracal can.
She is the finest bird hunter on the plains.
Her outsized hind legs can launch her three metres into the air,
and her magnificent ears can detect the slightest rustle of prey.
Even in the longest grass, there is no hiding from a caracal.
A solitary bird should be easier to creep up on.
A caracal's hit rate is just one in ten.
But the day is not over yet.
If only she could fly.
Not all predators of the plains must rely on not being seen.
There is no hiding a honey badger.
Hunting in the open, in broad daylight,
she's anything but subtle.
She doesn't need to be.
Most of her prey live out of sight, underground.
With long claws and powerful front legs, she is a digging machine.
She can dig 50 holes in a single day.
It's worth it, to get to highly nutritious rodents.
Following her nose, she can sniff out almost anything.
Even the most well-armed prey are not safe from a honey badger.
She's immune to the scorpion's stings,
but it's not a very enjoyable experience.
IT SCREECHES IN PAIN
And all for quite a small reward.
With an incredibly high metabolism,
the honey badger needs constant refuelling.
An ostrich egg would be a rich reward,
but they're the strongest eggs on the plains,
and very hard to break into.
This will require all her ingenuity.
Finally, she's cracked it.
Honey badgers have over 50 known prey.
Their success depends on their willingness to take on anything.
It's not just predators that have strategies
to cope with life in the open.
Their prey have also risen to the challenge.
On plains across the world, there is one kind of soft-bodied prey
that has a dramatic solution for living in the open.
They build themselves fortresses.
Termites, hard at work.
It can take five years
and several generations for a mound to grow to its full size.
It's a triumph of collective engineering.
Safe within their castles of clay,
they're protected from nature's extremes.
Wildfires can reach temperatures of 800 centigrade.
But on Brazil's vast Cerrado grasslands,
the mounds provide such good protection that here,
termites are the most abundant form of animal life.
Within the thick walls of their fortress,
they live a complex social life.
At the centre is the queen.
Over the course of her life, she will produce several million eggs.
Deep inside, the members of the community are safe and undisturbed.
But once a year, some are compelled to leave.
The rainy season triggers a spectacular event.
A new generation of winged termites - alates - emerge in their millions.
Their mission - to start a new colony.
But so much abundance doesn't go unnoticed.
Predators lurk in the fabric of the mound's outer walls.
Headlight beetle larvae.
They've been waiting all year for this moment.
As night falls, they make their way to the surface of the mound.
There are hundreds of them.
Their lights are lethally attractive.
Like moths to a flame,
the termites cannot resist their bioluminescent glow.
For just two weeks each year,
the Cerrado is alight with glowing mounds.
The beetle larvae must stock their larders for the leaner months ahead.
With food in such infrequent supply,
it will take two years for each larva to grow into an adult beetle.
The synchronised emergence of a million alates
makes these casualties insignificant.
Only a single pair are needed to start a new colony.
There is safety in numbers.
Flocking is a key defence strategy for birds that live in the open.
Few sights illustrate this better than America's snow geese
on their annual migration.
One and a half million birds,
stopping to refuel in Squaw Creek, Missouri.
Bald eagles have been gathering, waiting for this opportunity.
It might look like a lot of food,
but these are a winter prey of last resort.
Almost as big as an eagle, a goose is a large and difficult prey.
And the flock takes on a life of its own.
An impenetrable wall of beating wings.
In the visual confusion, picking a single target is almost impossible.
The eagles must wait for conditions to change.
At this time of year, the lake can freeze overnight.
This is what the eagles have been waiting for.
As the open water shrinks,
the geese are forced closer and closer together.
The eagles send the flock into the air.
Diving to the bottom causes panic.
Now being in the flock is a liability.
In the crammed chaos, geese collide.
Some are injured.
Separated from the safety of the flock,
they're far more easy to catch.
Despite the vast numbers, the eagles have only managed a few kills.
For the geese, travelling in a flock has paid off,
and the vast majority continue their migration.
Even the toughest rely on the safety that comes from numbers.
Herding is an important defence for animals that graze in the open.
Weighing up to 800 kilos,
massive cape buffalo form super-herds, over 1,000 strong.
An impenetrable mass of muscle and horn.
Only Africa's largest predator can tackle buffalo.
And even they know better than to attempt a herd.
Highly aggressive, even unprovoked,
buffalo will trample lions, given the chance.
Usually, the relationship is one of mutual respect.
At the end of Zambia's dry season, grasslands can turn to dust.
For the buffalo, it's an endless search for new pasture.
With the temperature rising to over 50 degrees centigrade,
an adult bull risks leaving the safety of the herd
to find fresh grazing alone.
Lions will normally avoid hunting in such heat.
But they're also opportunists.
The lions will need to bring him down quickly, before they overheat.
Even away from the herd, a bull is a formidable opponent.
It could gore and kill a lion.
Close to overheating,
they finally succeed in bringing him to the ground.
But the massive bull is not giving up.
Against the odds, and the full weight of the lions,
he regains his feet.
And it is now that the tables turn.
The lions are exhausted.
After a 20-minute struggle,
only the bull has the energy to finish the fight.
In such exposed and extreme conditions,
the challenge for predators and their prey is at its most intense.
On the roof of Africa, one predator has adapted
its entire hunting strategy to suit its unusual home, and prey.
A wolf that looks like a fox.
The Ethiopian wolf lives an isolated life,
cut off in a bleak world, 3,000 metres above sea level.
As with other wolves, the whole pack must work together
if young are to be reared successfully.
The alpha female must stay and nurse the pups.
But every morning, the rest of the pack set out together.
Jointly, they patrol the perimeter of their highland territory.
But unlike other wolves, they split up when it comes to hunting.
These wolves face their prey alone.
A giant mole rat.
It might look like strange prey for a wolf,
but it's the best food to be had on these high plains.
Better than the smaller grass rats.
There are rodents everywhere, but hunting here is no picnic.
There's no hiding an orange-coloured wolf in this open landscape.
And the grass rats are hyper-vigilant.
The mole rats are careful to never fully leave their burrows.
Every wolf has its own unique strategy to catch these rodents.
This one plays a waiting game.
IT BARKS EXCITEDLY
This one tackles the challenge head-on.
But they're no honey badgers when it comes to digging.
This wolf doesn't care if the prey go underground.
He has a different technique for grass rats.
He huffs, and puffs.
Blowing down the holes like this,
he hopes to flush his prey to the surface.
But it's only a meagre grass rat.
Catching the larger mole rat requires a bit more craftiness.
Their eyesight is poor,
but the wolf still needs to tread carefully.
Mole rats are acutely sensitive to vibrations in the ground.
Grandmother's footsteps seems to be working.
Outwitted by a mole rat.
Luckily for the wolf,
there's always one that's tempted to go a bit too far.
The more extreme the habitat, the more extreme the challenge.
The Namib Desert - one of the most exposed places on Earth.
As the sun climbs high, everybody takes cover from the extreme heat.
Everybody except the hotrod ant.
As others take refuge, their day is just beginning.
Cleaning out the nest.
The sand can reach a scorching 70 centigrade.
The ants' long legs raise their bodies above the surface,
where it's ten degrees cooler.
But if they stand still, they will fry.
They must keep moving or risk the same fate as their quarry -
the creatures that have collapsed from heat stroke.
Too deeply buried, but a good place to cool off.
Foraging decisions must be fast.
Back to the nest before they also die.
But they've strayed into a minefield.
Each of these strange, cone-shaped pits is a deathtrap...
..with a brutal predator at its centre.
Here lie antlion larvae -
tiny ambush predators with venom-filled pincers.
Some ants manage to escape, but the antlion has other tricks.
Flinging sand into the air, it creates an avalanche.
In this cone of death,
the walls are so angled that the sand slips beneath the ant's feet.
As boulders rain from the sky, escape seems almost impossible.
Some have been lost, but the hotrods are still going.
At last, a decent prize.
But carrying it off is another matter.
The race is on to dismember the prey
without getting heatstroke themselves.
A silken snare.
A spoor spider has spun a sticky cloak of sand,
and hides in the cool beneath.
Vibrations bring it to the surface.
Reeled in, escape is impossible.
Bound into the sandy web, the ant is cooked in the heat of the sun.
Unable to move, death comes fast.
By late afternoon, the troops face one last problem.
It's now so hot
that convection winds have sprung up across the dunes.
Finally, home, and with enough food for the whole colony.
They have endured the midday sun and reaped the reward.
One habitat is even more exposed than the Namib.
2,000 square miles - the vast salt pan of Etosha
in southern Africa. The most extreme open arena.
It's hard to imagine anywhere with less cover.
Nonetheless, there are animals here.
A meagre waterhole brings everyone close together.
Lions can survive alone,
but in Etosha's dry season, cooperation is vital.
Living here requires teamwork.
This extreme landscape has forced them to up their game.
For now, hunting is impossible.
Eyes are everywhere.
There is absolutely nowhere for these ambush predators to hide.
The prey know they are safe.
Lions are not good sprinters.
The herds stay easily out of range.
But change is in the air.
This is the lions' time.
A vast storm gathers, blowing dust into the air.
Unease spreads amongst the herds.
Their senses muffled, they're suddenly vulnerable,
unable to hear or smell their predator.
Each lioness takes her place, undetected.
With nowhere to hide,
this pride has learnt to exploit the fleeting cover nature provides.
All will share the meal.
Only by working together can they provide for the next generation
and survive in the most exposed habitat on the planet.
The Hunt team wanted to film the plain's two fastest predators
in a totally fresh and immersive way.
Kenya's Masai Mara is the hunting ground of the cheetah.
Zambia's Liuwa Plain is home to packs of hunting dogs.
Each animal presented the team with a unique and different challenge.
Here she comes.
Cheetah are the fastest predators on land,
and being in the right place at the right time
to catch their explosive burst of speed is not easy.
No, can't get round. Guy was out of space.
I don't know what I got. In and out.
Wild dogs rely on extraordinary stamina,
and keeping up with their marathon hunts is nearly impossible.
But in Zambia, the wild dog team have a revolutionary solution
to keep up with a pack running at over 40mph.
On this shoot, we've got a Cineflex, which lets you get stable shots
while flying around in a helicopter.
And we've attached it to a stabilising arm
and a few other clever bits of kit.
Basically, we've got the camera at dog height.
We're with the dogs as they're hunting and they're running.
And we should be able to show a hunt as you've never seen it before.
This new rig would also be vital in Kenya.
It's allowed Jamie to track with the cheetah
as she stalks at the start of a hunt.
But that is only half the story.
There's a critical five to ten-second moment during a hunt
where she, the cheetah, is at absolute top speed.
And this camera slows everything down 20, 40 times.
And it'll hopefully just reveal...
It's almost a hidden world for the viewer.
Another factor crucial to the success of this shoot
was choosing the right cheetah to work with.
I've worked with many cheetahs before, but Malika is fantastic.
She's a good hunter, good mother, who always keeps her cubs happy.
Sammy and his team of spotters had to put both cameras
in the best positions to catch all the action.
Filming cheetah, you don't follow the hunter -
you have to second-guess which prey they'll target.
So we've got a group of wildebeest coming up the hill.
There's two small calves in the group.
We're in the right place.
Sophie was in front of the herd, locked onto the wildebeest calves.
And Jamie was off to the side, ready to film the stalk.
Yeah, she's about to go. She's going, she's going.
We got some really nice shots
of the mayhem of her trying to pick a target.
She couldn't lock onto a single calf,
and they all made it up the hill.
While the team had made a promising start,
Malika was yet to hunt successfully.
In Zambia, the wild dog team was focusing on a 13-strong pack.
Even though a female was fitted with a radio collar,
the team kept losing the dogs.
They could have been anywhere within their home range,
which is the size of Cornwall.
It's been about eight hours since we've seen them last,
and this is the point we last had them.
So now we have to find them again.
Negative, we are not with the dogs.
When nothing seems to be going right,
there's always an old favourite to lift the spirits.
We can't find the dogs, so we're going to have a cup of tea
and have a look for them again in a minute.
With a helicopter arriving in the next few days to capture
the dogs hunting from the air, they had to find the dogs, and fast.
It's not meant to rain in February.
It's meant to be sunny.
Maybe it'll clear and she'll hunt straight after. That'd be great.
That's what's going to happen. I know it.
I'm going to wait.
When the rains finally passed,
Sophie was again positioned in a perfect spot.
There is a couple of calves in the wildebeest herd
coming just behind us.
She's really, really far away, but I think if she sees them,
there's a good chance she's going to come straight at us,
which is the shot we want, it's the impactful shot.
-Unfortunately, as I look through my viewfinder,
I see she's walking in the opposite direction.
You can only do what you can do, hey.
Come on, cheetah.
Oh, I suspect she's going to lie down. Yep.
Ach, great. Brilliant.
When Malika did decide to hunt, she did it when it was too dark to film.
We've been here for three weeks, and just for the last couple of days,
she's been hunting before the lights come up.
And we've only got a limited amount of time left to try
and really get this, do it justice.
So it's a little bit frustrating.
With the pack still missing,
the wild dog team chartered a spotter plane.
And before long, they relocated the pack.
Just in time for the aerial filming.
'OK, we've got the dogs.
'OK, they're on the left-hand side of the vehicle.'
'Oh, got it, yeah.'
'That's good. That's a great shot.'
This aerial perspective beautifully revealed
how the wild dogs work together as pack.
And although the critical ground shots were still to be filmed,
this was cause for celebration.
The cheetah didn't hunt this morning before dawn,
which is always a good thing.
I always feel a little bit insignificant next to Jamie.
As the day heated up,
migrating wildebeest moved into Malika's territory.
And the team took up their positions.
OK, she's moving, she's up.
Just let us know, just shout "run". That's it.
Come on, girl.
'She's going, she's going, she's going, she's going, she going...'
'She's on the move.'
Oh, God, that's nice.
I'm on her.
I have to say, I love this job.
Your adrenaline is just like... You have to keep it,
you have to rein it in when everything is happening.
But when the moment's passed, especially with this camera,
cos it's a one-take wonder, you're just like...bfff!
The wild dog team
had been keeping pace with the pack for over two weeks...
..waiting to capture a hunt from the ground.
And when it happened, they were ready.
To be with the dogs from the moment they start stalking,
right through to the full-on chase...it's just amazing.
Just to be alongside them
as they're trying to work out which animal they're going to go for,
they were swapping places, different animals taking the lead in the hunt.
It's an amazing thing to see.
Yeah, just chuffed to bits.
Next time, the hunt is on at the coast,
where predators must go to extraordinary lengths to catch prey.
Opportunities never last long here,
so coastal hunters are always in a race against time.
The open arenas of grassland and desert make up half of all land on our planet. In these exposed habitats, predators like cheetahs, bald eagles and lions can usually see their prey. But it works both ways: their prey can see them too. With nothing but open vistas, the element of surprise is hard-won, and predators must make their own opportunities.