Steve Backshall and the team brave the intense heat of the Arizona desert. Featuring the hunting skill of the Harris hawk, some deadly rattlesnakes and an elusive cougar.
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My name is Steve Backshall.
People call me Steve.
I'm on a mission to find the Deadly 60.
'That's 60 deadly creatures from around the world.
'And you're coming with me every step of the way.'
'Time to hit the trail and see what animals are worthy of making it
'onto my Deadly 60.'
We're here, in Arizona's Sonoran Desert.
'This is the hottest area of the USA,
'with temperatures getting to over 50 degrees.
'But deadly environments go hand in hand with deadly animals.
'We're in the right place.'
It may get ridiculously hot here,
but it's not as bleak or unforgiving as many deserts in the world,
and there's loads of wildlife here.
In amongst these plants are plenty of ground squirrels, rats, rabbits,
all sorts of potential prey for predators.
But they're very fast and very elusive.
That's not a problem, though, for the birds of prey,
masters of the sky here by day - and by night.
'And I'll need a bird of the night
'to call in my next deadly contender.'
This impossibly beautiful creature
is one of the fiercest predators found around here.
It's a Great Horned Owl.
And though she might just look very pretty,
if you're a small mammal running through these bushes,
this would be your living nightmare.
Those horns which give it its name aren't actually ears at all.
Those are just tufts of feathers.
The ears are actually located...
I'm a bit nervous about showing you this cos I might lose a finger,
but just round to the side of the eyes,
those dark shapes actually mark the ears.
One is slightly higher than the other on each side of the head.
So when you see an owl doing this -
that very distinctive movement -
it's figuring out what's happening around it
by the sounds that are coming in and their relationship to the ears.
'I'm hoping that this bird will act as a sort of a lure.'
There's another bird which flies mostly during the daytime
and is the sworn enemy of the Great Horned Owl,
and it's this bird I want to put on the Deadly 60.
Just from this owl calling,
one of them has come and landed over there.
And there's actually another one coming in to join it now.
It's a Harris Hawk.
They're one of the most common birds of prey here
and the absolute sworn enemy of the Great Horned Owl.
Look at this!
Look at our lady here. She's absolutely fixed on them.
This is one of the most profound hatreds you'll find
in the whole of the Sonoran Desert.
At night-time, the Great Horned Owl will take on, catch and kill a Harris Hawk.
But in the day, Harris Hawks have something remarkable on their side.
-They work together as a team.
And there's two of them sat in the trees right behind me
watching this little lady.
They're probably thinking about ganging up on her.
'Harris Hawks may have the standard issue for birds of prey -
'they've got lethal talons, razor-sharp beaks
'and a fast, powerful strike.
'But weapons aren't everything.
'These guys have another trick up their sleeves
'which truly warrants them a place on my Deadly 60.
'Time to take a closer look at this incredible bird.'
Look at that!
Isn't that magnificent?
Obviously this isn't a wild Harris Hawk.
You'd never get one of those to fly onto your fist like this.
This is a falconry bird,
and this is the absolute classic hawk shape.
In fact, as she came in to land on my fist, what you'd have seen
is pretty much exactly the last thing a small mammal would see
before meeting its end.
The way she stopped, throwing her wings back, spreading her tail,
stopped her almost instantly from flight at probably 30, maybe 40mph.
But the most remarkable thing about this bird of prey
is that, while most birds of prey tend to be solitary,
Harris Hawks are very social animals.
In fact, they hunt with their friends.
'Like all good teams, each player has got a job to do.
'We've got a little experiment to show this deadly squad in action.'
So, we have...
one, two, three Harris Hawks, all primed and ready.
Now let's see if we can show you them hunting.
I've got this leather lure, which they're trained to chase,
and I'm gonna hide it in here.
They'll still see it. They have, after all, got "eyes like a hawk".
We'll see what happens.
I'm gonna get as far away as humanly possible.
There you go.
Agh! They're all going for me!
'Bird one is the frontrunner,
'flushing the prey from cover,
'setting up the kill for the next two.'
And bam! In they go together.
All three birds hit that lure within a couple of seconds.
Imagine if you were a rabbit being hit by not just one bird of death, but three!
You wouldn't stand a chance.
Now they should,
if things go to plan,
share the food a bit.
Come on, guys! Leave some for your friends.
Scientists believe that when Harris Hawks work together as a group,
they're more than twice as effective at catching prey
than on their own.
For that reason alone, the Harris Hawk makes it onto the Deadly 60.
'Speed, agility and lethal talons
'are always on hand with birds of prey.
'But it's their precision teamwork
'that gets the Harris Hawk onto the Deadly 60.'
'It's close to midday and temperatures are soaring,
'but we're on the road again
'on the search for our next deadly animal.'
This is the extreme south of the Sonoran Desert.
If I kept going in that direction for 10-15 miles, I'd be in Mexico.
It's a real, full-on, rocky wilderness.
Perfect habitat for the magnificent big cat we're hoping to find.
It's found throughout North and South America
and goes by many different names:
the puma, the cougar,
and here, the mountain lion.
'Mountain lions are such secretive creatures
'that to see one hunting is almost unheard of.
'Just catching a glimpse of one during the day is a privilege.
'So how do we know they're deadly?
'Well, firstly, by looking at their closest cousins.
'And secondly, by the evidence they leave from their deadly deeds,
'taking livestock, deer,
'even attacking the odd person.
'Their secretive ways certainly won't make them any easier to find.
'We're heading deep into one of the many canyons found here.
'My guide is Emil, who's an expert at tracking the mountain lion.'
These tight canyon walls really help focus the cat's movements
into a narrow and predictable spot.
And that's the kind of place we're looking for to set a trail camera,
where everything moving through this canyon has to pass.
This just could not be more classic mountain lion territory.
Just imagine seeing a cat wander out over those rocks.
'Emil works on a project that records and studies the lions in this area.
'And they do this using some very clever camera technology.
'Cameras are hidden and take a picture of anything that moves in front of it.
'The question is: Has it captured an image of a mountain lion?'
Let's see what we got.
This is an infrared flash,
and it's actually taking a video clip
immediately after the photograph is taken.
-What is that?
-It's not a razorback, is it?
-It's a black bear.
-A nice, big, beautiful black bear.
What a great shot!
Oh, there's the Coues deer, the white-tailed deer.
-There he is.
Fantastic! Look at that!
Look at that beautiful cat.
Oh, that is absolutely wonderful!
This animal ran through
-right where I'm sitting now.
-Exactly where we're sitting, yeah.
-Do you know what that is?
It looks like... I'm not gonna say. It looks like a cat
-just coming right down towards the front of the lens.
Unfortunately the face is just out of the frame.
-But it'll be on the video.
-We'll have a video of this one.
Oh! Look at that!
And she was here at 3:20 in the afternoon.
-It's quarter to three right now.
Well, if we sit here long enough, you never know.
If we sit here long enough, one will walk by.
-Well, we saw a couple of lions.
That's absolutely fantastic!
Can you believe they were walking here in the middle of the day?
Yeah, now that I'd like to see.
Our mission to find a mountain lion has taken a really exciting twist.
Local biologists have tracked one particular mountain lion
that's been ranging through hundreds of miles of mountains.
But today they've got to try and capture it.
This could be our perfect opportunity to get right up close to a mountain lion.
'The scientists want to catch the lion to remove a tracking collar
'holding information about its movements for the last six months.'
All this modern technology, and our best chance of finding a lion
is old-fashioned tracking.
These dogs have been trained to pick up the scent of a mountain lion.
They're wearing GPS collars so we know exactly where they go.
With a bit of luck, they'll lead us straight to the lion.
They're looking very excited.
Good luck, guys!
'These sniffer dogs will follow the scent of the lion,
'and, like a domestic cat avoiding a dog,
'the lion will climb a tree when they get close.
'The dogs will then wait at the base of the tree
'until the scientists arrive to capture the animal.
'Without the dogs, the lion would just keep running
'and the team wouldn't stand a chance of getting near it.
'A mountain lion could cover a huge area in search of food -
'up to 100 square miles.
'And in this kind of habitat,
'that's a whole lot of holes to hide in.'
VOICES OVER RADIO
Just had the most amazing call on the radio.
The guys with the hounds have located the lion.
They think it's coming down the dry river bed we're on now, right towards us.
VOICES OVER RADIO
It's all going off on the rocks ahead of us.
-The dogs are going mad.
It looks like the lion's gone into a hole somewhere in these rocks.
VOICES OVER RADIO
Where do we think the lion is?
-This hole right here.
-We can't get up.
We're trying to get up in there and look in.
'There's only one thing to do:
'in order to see if there's a lion up there,
'I'll have to climb up very carefully
'and have a closer look.'
-Can you see the end of it?
There definitely has been a cat in here very recently.
Steve, does that thing go on back up in there or not?
No. Doesn't seem to.
It stops here.
All of a sudden, with everything going crazy
and us being certain that we had our mountain lion,
The trail's gone cold.
It seems like the cat's managed to get out of the canyon and head off into the distance,
so our chances of finding it now are slim to none.
But we came this close.
Anyway, despite the fact that we didn't quite make it,
there has to be no doubt that a cat this beautiful that manages to range throughout the Americas
so strong, so powerful,
it's got to be on the Deadly 60.
'Whether we've seen one in the flesh or not,
'this awesome predator,
'capable of avoiding dogs, horses, trackers, and this camera crew,
'has certainly got to go on the Deadly 60.'
Despite what many people think about deserts being alive with snakes,
they can be quite shy of people and often very hard to find.
Luckily, though, we've got some Deadly 60 technology on our side.
Matt, talk us through how this works.
This antenna's directional,
so it'll tell you the strongest signals where the snake is.
-So if you listen, you can...
-It's a little louder that way.
-It does seem stronger in that direction.
Perfect. I'm following you.
I should point out that this isn't just a magic snake-finding device.
All the animals we'll be looking for have been caught
and implanted with a radio transmitter
about the size of my little finger.
That's the signal we're trying to pick up now.
'So this is what we're looking for.
'Rattlesnakes are the classic desert predator,
'arguably the most sophisticated snake on the planet,
'with hinged fangs, a superfast strike
'and an amazing sense of smell.
'This is the animal most people try and avoid.
'Even with this technology, it won't be easy finding a rattler,
'and with the temperature soaring to over 35 degrees,
'the crew are really having to work hard.
'Matt's picked up a signal,
'but it isn't coming from a rattlesnake.'
-Sounds pretty strong.
-Yeah. Here and a bit further.
It sounds like it's right under my feet in some way.
Yeah, we're very close.
'It's a Gila monster, an animal I've never seen up close before.
'If we can catch it, it'll be a real bonus
'and a true contender for a place on the Deadly 60.
'Now I've got to be extra careful here
'as one bite could put me in hospital.'
Oh, yeah, here it is, right here.
-Got it, got it, got it.
-She's right there, right?
This is gonna be awkward.
-I might go up there.
She will try to get away real quick if you're not careful.
Just don't get your hands anywhere near that mouth.
Got her by the tail.
-Bring her out gently.
Now if you can get behind the neck.
-There you go.
Well, this wasn't what we came out here looking for,
but this is a creature which is definitely worthy of the Deadly 60.
Matt, this is the first Gila monster I've ever seen!
-Great job! Absolutely wonderful!
-Incredible, aren't they?
That is an absolutely beautiful creature.
'Unlike rattlesnakes, Gila monster venom attacks the nervous system
'and stops their prey breathing.
'Luckily, it isn't usually fatal to humans, but it's famously painful.
'Gila monsters eat small birds, mammals and lizards.
'But their favourite food are bird and reptile eggs.
'Its fantastic sense of smell helps it locate its prey.
'It's said that a Gila can follow the trail of an egg
'rolled along the ground.'
They're almost preposterous-looking creatures.
The head looks like a dinosaur.
This thick tail is full of fat.
These are sort of storage of energy
which they can use, I guess, when hibernating in winter.
Look at these claws, almost like a bird of prey's talons,
perfect for digging and scrabbling around in the dirt.
But the head really is the business part of the Gila monster.
You can see it's fat and blocky, really sturdy,
got really positive muscles for driving heavy jaws.
And it's set up a bit like a pit bull terrier.
When they get ahold of you, they don't let go.
What they're actually doing with that bite
is allowing saliva to drip down onto their teeth
and actually get chewed into the wound,
and that venom is pretty potent.
It would certainly give me a nasty shock.
They're one of the only venomous lizards in the world.
That alone should give the Gila monster a place on the Deadly 60.
'Squat, slow and... well, a bit strange,
'it's not a typical Deadly 60 candidate.
'But being one of the only lizards in the world with a venomous bite
'gets the Gila monster on the Deadly 60.
'While we sweat it out on the search,
'take a look at the demo me and the crew did
'to show you how the rattlesnake is such an effective killer.
'But to do this, we need to turn the lights out.'
This is a thermal imaging camera.
It actually picks up the heat generated by objects around you.
So things like...
this cactus here.
Obviously cactus have an awful lot of water in them,
and all that water is still quite warm,
so the cactus stands out beautifully
against the black of the sky.
And if I turn this onto the camera crew...
And Johnny, the cameraman,
the camera's dark,
and his head is almost white.
So, got a foxy bit of kit. Let's go see what we can find.
'This detection of heat is exactly how a rattlesnake
'is able to see its prey in the dark.
'It has supersensitive heat sensors
'on its face that pick up the heat given off from its prey's body,
'allowing the snake to catch its supper
'in the pitch black of night.'
A good-sized rat is eyeing me up from the rocks in front of me.
You can see the warmth generated by his body heat.
His eyes, particularly, seem to be very hot.
I'm being watched very intently
from no more than about ten feet away,
by a very bright pair of yellow eyes.
This is an Elf Owl.
no more than about that high, I'm guessing.
He is beautiful.
'This is exactly what a rattlesnake would see
'if it was looking at this owl.
'Now let's turn the lights back on and see if we can find one.'
Some of these cactus could be well over 100 years old.
Even older than Nick, our sound man.
There's a lot of reasons why reptiles do so well in dry desert environments like this.
Firstly, being so-called cold-blooded,
they get their energy from the sun, and there's plenty of that here.
Also, they have remarkable watertight skin,
so they don't sweat or use any water from the outside environment.
They have the ability, in times when there's not much food around,
to just lie around and do nothing,
and, in extreme cases, even hibernate.
Oh! Look what you just stepped over.
-Oh, my goodness.
-Johnny, look at this.
Well! We're out looking for reptiles...
but this one wasn't on our minds.
It's a deadly tortoise.
-Matt, what species is this?
-That'd be the Desert Tortoise.
-I guess it's called that because it lives in the desert.
-Those things do a good impression of a rock.
-They certainly do.
The Desert Tortoise has a way of dealing with heat and predators.
It doesn't need to hide in the rocks.
It takes its own home and protection along with it.
That one is a snake.
'Matt's locked on to a signal from a rattlesnake.
'We're getting close and we need to be really careful where we tread.'
-You see him?
OK, he's right there? Good.
If you can get him on the first shot, that's good.
One fell swoop.
Come around the other side now.
Listen to that!
That is THE sound of the Sonoran Desert.
Let's get him out in the open where we can look at him.
Listen to that rattle!
That wonderful sound is really the signature sound of the desert.
You hear it in all the Western movies.
Interlocking segments of keratin,
the same substance that's in our fingernails,
rattle together and create that incredible buzzing sound.
'Matt's marked the wild snakes he's studying with some paint
so he can identify them.'
This is a tiger rattlesnake.
The dark and light bands running across the body
are for camouflage and are what give it its name.
These tongs look like they're squashing the snake, but it's a resilient creature.
They're not doing it any harm at all.
It's not a particularly big snake, but it does have very potent venom.
Certainly enough to mean I have to be very wary of it.
What a beauty!
Actually, what this is is an incredible predator.
The reason for that is a supersense.
Looking at the front of the head,
the snake almost appears to have two sets of nostrils.
The lower ones are what's called a loreal pit,
which picks up the warmth generated by the moving muscles of its prey.
It can literally see animals moving in the dark.
'Exactly as we saw earlier with our thermal camera.'
So all it has to do is to sit and wait
for a small mouse or other warm-blooded mammal to walk too close by,
and then it'll strike with its potent venom.
First of all, it instantly starts to slow the prey down.
But the prey also starts to bleed internally
and to urinate as it runs away,
leaving a scent trail which the rattlesnake can follow.
'So, dangerous to us they may be,
'but the rattlesnake is going on the Deadly 60
'because of its ability to track, ambush and immobilise its prey.
'Venom, speed, supersenses, camouflage,
'and... did I mention venom?
'Well, there you go. The rattlesnake.
'Coming up next time on the Deadly 60:
Look at that!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Steve Backshall and the team brave the intense heat of the Arizona desert as they go in search of more incredible animals for the Deadly 60 list.
In order to demonstrate the awesome hunting skills of the Harris hawk, Steve becomes their prey for the day. Some state-of-the-art technology helps Steve track down deadly rattlesnakes and a real monster. It is then off to the mountains in search of a very elusive cat, the cougar. After seeing pictures captured by remote cameras, the team know the cats are there, but can they find them?