Episode 1 Big Cats


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Episode 1

Documentary series uncovering the secret lives of cats. In Ruaha, Tanzania, lions form huge super prides in order to hunt giants.


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Cheetahs are the fastest animals on land.

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Just one of a remarkable family.

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LOW SNARLING

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One family...

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..40 different faces.

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CAT MEWS

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From the fastest...

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..to the strongest...

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..the smallest...

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..to the biggest...

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..these are the cats.

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Africa...

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..home to the king of the beasts.

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Lions may be legendary

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but among cats they're strange.

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That's because they're the only ones to live together,

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the only truly social cat.

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The pride is a family...

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..and an alliance.

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Here in Ruaha, Tanzania, they're famous for forming super prides...

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..huge groups that can tackle the most formidable prey in Africa.

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This buffalo herd is hundreds strong.

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Each weighs more than three lions combined.

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And they fight back.

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Lions suffer more injuries and fatalities from buffalo...

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..than any other adversary.

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This female is nursing three cubs...

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CUBS SNARL AND MEW

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..and also a serious wound inflicted by a buffalo.

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A debilitating injury like this is not just very painful...

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..it's potentially life-threatening for both her and her cubs.

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They are all hungry.

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On her own...

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..this is hopeless.

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But she's not alone.

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She's part of the pride.

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LIONS GRUNT

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No other cat can bring down a giant like this.

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BIRDS CHIRRUP

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And now she will be able to feed her family and allow wounds to heal.

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Living in a pride sets lions apart.

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It's an extraordinary alliance.

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But it's not just about big game hunting.

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This is an extended family

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that supports and protects every mother and their cubs.

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But for all other cats it's a different story.

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Hiding in this Sri Lankan jungle is a cat so rare few have ever seen it.

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Exploring the world beyond his den for the first time

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is a miniature predator.

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The smallest feline in the world...

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He may look like a kitten... CAT MEWS

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..he'd still fit in the palm of your hand...

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..but this little male is very nearly fully grown.

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He'll soon be setting off on a solitary life...

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..fending entirely for himself.

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What he lacks in size

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he makes up for in daring.

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Young cats are born curious.

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It's how they learn about their world...

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..even if it can get them into trouble.

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Straight away he puts his super senses through their paces.

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His eyes are six times more powerful than our own,

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and sensitive to the slightest movement.

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His whiskers, rooted in a bed of nerves,

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detect the faintest touch

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or the gentlest breath of wind.

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His hearing is better than ours, too,

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tuned to sounds that are completely imperceptible to the human ear.

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BIRD CAWS

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And his sense of smell is

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capable of distinguishing between

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a billion different odours.

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This little cat is alert to every change in his surroundings.

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But now it's time to learn which sounds...

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..or sights...

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..signal danger.

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Every step of today's adventure has been stored away in his memory.

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He's building a 3-D map of the jungle in his head...

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..so he can find his way home...

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..in a flash.

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All cats,

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from the smallest

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to the biggest,

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share extraordinary skills and abilities that have allowed them

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to conquer all four corners of the globe.

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Siberian tigers prowl frozen forests.

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They are 200 times bigger than a rusty-spotted cat...

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..but just as elusive.

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In the Pantanal,

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the world's largest wetland,

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jaguars are on the hunt for monsters.

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For their size, they have the strongest bite of any cat...

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..even making short work of huge caiman crocodiles.

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The jungle canopy of South and Central America

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is the realm of the tree-climbing margay.

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They can judge distances perfectly.

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A critical skill if you're to clear a gap of nearly four metres

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with a single leap, high above the forest floor.

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And when it's time to descend,

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their ankles rotate 180 degrees

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so they can walk vertically down.

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Whether it's hunting in the swamps of Asia

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or patrolling the oldest desert in Africa...

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..cats thrive everywhere.

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They've even conquered the highest mountains on Earth...

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..the Himalaya.

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It's a place where food is scarce...

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..so to survive you need a huge territory.

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This vast wilderness of sheer cliffs and bare rock

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is home to the snow leopard...

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..the world's highest and, just maybe, most lonesome cat.

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This ageing male is searching...

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..but not for food.

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He's looking for a mate.

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The task would be nigh impossible

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if it wasn't for a cat's unique ability for long-distance romance.

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His long-lasting and pungent spray carries his dating profile.

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Male, single, would like to meet.

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Both males and females spray...

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..posting their romantic status to any and every one that passes by.

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So he diligently walks these paths every day

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in the hope that a potential mate has passed through.

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At his most eager, he'll scent mark 20 times an hour.

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It may take a week or more to cover his entire territory...

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..but his search must go on, day after day...

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..in spite of the Himalayan weather.

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You never know what might be around the next corner.

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Here he discovers a female has left her mark.

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Rubbing his own scent over hers,

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he declares his interest.

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This male might just have one last chance to mate.

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Could this be it?

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ECHOING CRY

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On the wind, the call of a distant female.

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HE GRUNTS

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Just maybe...this male's search is over.

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For male cats, life is a lonely existence.

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But for female cats,

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it's very different.

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This is Honey...

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..a female African leopard...

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..and a mother.

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A radio collar has given researchers an insight into the life

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of the most elusive of Africa's big cats.

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Leopards thrive in more environments than any other cat.

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But that doesn't mean that life is easy.

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At ten years old, Honey has outlived her brothers and sisters...

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..somehow survived a broken leg

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and now, during the worst drought in decades,

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she's hunting for two.

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For mother cats, childcare is a balancing act between protection

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and provision.

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If they're to hunt successfully,

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a leopard must do so alone...

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..so she's left her young cub behind.

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A tail twitch.

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Honey is onto something.

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The drought has withered all vegetation...

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..so there's little cover.

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She needs to get within 12 feet to stand any chance of success.

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BIRDS CHIRP And anything

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could give the game away.

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BIRD CHIRPS

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Foiled by Africa's most annoying alarm call.

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She might be empty-handed...

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..but it's time to get back to her cub.

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Her calls are unanswered.

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Half of leopard cubs don't survive their first year.

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Their best chance is to stay hidden until they're sure it's safe.

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Honey's young cub already has a leopard's knack for stealth.

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She can already give her mother a surprise.

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For the six last months, she's grown strong on milk.

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But now she's developing a cat's appetite for meat.

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A mother leopard always has a backup plan.

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Honey has stashed a kill safely out of the reach of thieves.

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For her cub, this is an important lesson,

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and the first of many.

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Across the cat family, kittens and cubs have a long infancy.

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It takes time to learn the skills needed to hunt for themselves.

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Often brothers and sisters are on hand for training.

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Play is the key to honing co-ordination...

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..building strength...

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..and agility.

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The bond between them might endure for years,

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probably the closest relationship they'll ever have with another cat.

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But there is one life skill

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which they must master alone...

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..the surprise attack.

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Patagonia - an unforgiving wilderness

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where South America ends

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and the Antarctic begins.

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It's home to a secretive cat

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that can only survive here

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thanks to an eye for opportunity.

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Puma, the most southerly cat.

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PENGUINS CALL

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Once a year these Magallenic penguins come ashore to nest...

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..perhaps a lifeline for a hungry cat.

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PENGUIN SCREECHES

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This may seem ruthless,

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even callous,

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but pumas must take what's here today in case tomorrow it's gone.

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This is what it takes to survive in Patagonia.

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As night falls...

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..more cats arrive.

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It's an extraordinary moment.

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The abundance of prey means territorial boundaries are ignored

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and for now these usually solitary creatures rub shoulders.

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It won't last.

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The nesting season is soon over

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and the penguins return to the sea.

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The cats move on.

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Thanks to their adaptability,

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they are the most widespread mammal in the Americas.

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At the other end of this continent,

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the planet's most northerly cats have chosen a very different path...

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..in a wintry wonderland with a record low of minus 63 Celsius.

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The Yukon is the coldest place in North America.

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This is Bigfoot country.

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The prints belong to a very unusual cat...

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..a Canada lynx...

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..one whose hi-tech accessories are at last

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letting us in on a secret life.

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This is L40...

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..aka Kronk.

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Scientists and shaman agree,

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lynx are the keepers of secrets.

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You could spend years

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looking for a lynx

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and never see more than a footprint.

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And even if you did spot one,

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they would soon give you the slip.

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Until now.

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Kronk's every move is tracked, offering an insight into

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the world's ultimate game of cat and mouse.

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Or, rather, cat and hare.

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Throughout these cold days, a lynx needs to eat often.

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And up here, there's only one thing on the menu...

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..snowshoe hares.

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In fact, a lynx's very survival depends on them.

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Helpfully, there's plenty around.

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These hares breed like, well...

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..rabbits.

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So it's just a matter of spotting one.

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Although Kronk seems to be struggling,

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cats eyes are fine-tuned for detecting movement...

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..so his is a game of patience.

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To survive in these freezing conditions,

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Kronk must catch at least a hare every day...

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..and use as little energy as possible in doing so.

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If he can avoid a chase,

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he will.

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So much about the lives of cats has remained a mystery.

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But now technology offers a window into their secret world.

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Dawn in the Namibian desert.

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This cheetah family is restless.

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Few cats can resist a chase.

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But none give chase quite like a cheetah.

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The latest science has shown cheetahs rarely

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reach their record top speed.

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So if cheetahs don't rely on sheer pace,

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how do they catch their prey?

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It's a question that requires a new perspective.

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This high-speed buggy is mounted

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with a stabilised slow-motion camera...

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..to give us the prey's eye view.

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Their sprinting prowess is unrivalled.

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But this new approach reveals that there's far more to cheetahs

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than just straight-line speed.

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Cheetahs must not only keep up with their target...

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..but react to their every twist and turn.

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Their blunt claws are running spikes that provide traction.

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Even at 50mph,

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the grip allows them to change direction...

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..instantly...

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..and their long tail whips around to keep them upright.

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They can also brake hard.

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Strong bones are shock-absorbers...

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..dissipating forces that could break a human leg.

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Cheetahs are more than just sprinters

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outrunning prey on open plains.

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They're agile and manoeuvrable.

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They're athletes.

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And where that really counts...

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..is here...

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..in woodland.

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This is an obstacle course where the prey's best chance

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is to weave and turn to escape.

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So a cheetah can rarely hit top speed.

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This chase is not a race...

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..it's a dance.

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The prey leads...

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..and the predator must follow.

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Cheetahs are the fastest animals on land...

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..incredible sprinters,

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but so much more.

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The more we learn about cats, the more we realise there's still

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so much more to discover about this remarkable animal family.

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Over two years,

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the Big Cats team mounted filming expeditions across the globe.

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Whoa!

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All cats are elusive and shy creatures...

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..and notoriously hard to film.

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None more so than snow leopards.

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The Big Cats team set out to film a lonely male leopard's

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search for a mate.

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After months of planning,

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director Anna

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and cameraman Hector

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embark on a five-day journey high into the Indian Himalayas...

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..the home of the snow leopard.

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We're on our way up to the mountains,

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it's starting to get a little bit windy and a little bit steep,

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and it's going to get a bit more hairy from here on in.

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In winter, there's only one road in.

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At 4,000 metres they're still climbing.

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This is the bit I've been dreading.

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This is where it gets icy, narrow and quite steep.

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Their final destination is Kibber, one of the highest villages

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in the world, and their base for the next five weeks.

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From now on the crew will be on foot.

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With snow leopard expert Lama-ji and a team of spotters,

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Anna and Hector spend their days scouring the sheer-sided gorges.

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Any sign of any leopards, Lama-ji?

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But there are telltale signs that the cats do pass this way.

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You can see all the markings

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where they've sprayed loads over the years.

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It's a lot darker, isn't it?

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Was this recent or not, this one?

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Cos it looks quite clear.

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Not that recent.

0:51:010:51:02

Probably not that recent.

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I'll go with not that recent.

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There might be a good reason why they're yet to see a leopard.

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The big surprise so far is that it hasn't snowed,

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it's almost a month overdue.

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Snow brings the snow leopards down to lower altitude

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as they follow their prey.

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However, this morning we actually heard some

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calling down in the gorge here.

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It was echoing around, so, obviously, it's hard to know where

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it was from, but we think it was in this area.

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That's a very, very good sign.

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With a cat clearly nearby,

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a flurry of snow is just what the crew need.

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And it arrives right on cue.

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But be careful what you wish for.

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We've been stuck inside for the last two days.

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Just had horrendous wind and snow,

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so we haven't been out to film anything.

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The snow is super thick,

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but that should make it easier to find a leopard.

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As the crew had hoped, the snow has brought

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the prey down the mountain

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and the leopard has followed.

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We've come across these prints,

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they tracked up and over into the next gorge.

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That's really exciting and the first signs of a leopard.

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There may be prints to follow

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but in this landscape the snow leopard has the advantage.

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It could still take days for the crew to track it down.

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It's such hard going at, like, 15,000 feet.

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Obviously, the leopard has just sprinted up here.

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At these high altitudes, the thin air is taking its toll

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on Anna and Hector.

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THEY GASP

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It's steep. We're up high

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and it's a really long way.

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The ghost of the Himalaya is still one step ahead...

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..but finally the crew are closing in.

0:53:100:53:12

We've just had word that a leopard is on its way over, down,

0:53:140:53:18

further down the gorge from where we are now, so it's been quite a trek

0:53:180:53:21

to get here this morning, however, we've just got to go a little bit

0:53:210:53:23

further and, with any luck, the leopard will still be there

0:53:230:53:26

and we can pick it up and, if the weather stays like this,

0:53:260:53:29

it's going to be absolutely beautiful.

0:53:290:53:31

-WHISPERS:

-There's a snow leopard down over the ridge.

0:53:350:53:37

Hector's just gone down with the camera.

0:53:370:53:40

And it's over there somewhere.

0:53:400:53:42

We're going to go down and see if we can see it now.

0:53:420:53:45

It's quite exciting. OK.

0:53:450:53:48

Ready now, OK.

0:53:480:53:49

After weeks of relentless effort, it's all rather overwhelming.

0:53:490:53:55

-WHISPERS:

-You can see?

0:53:550:53:56

-WHISPERS:

-We've got a snow leopard just over there.

0:53:560:53:58

And to actually see one is just...

0:54:020:54:05

It's just, like, the most amazing thing.

0:54:050:54:08

There's a snow leopard just down there.

0:54:140:54:17

I can't stop crying.

0:54:180:54:20

I think all these guys must think I'm completely insane.

0:54:230:54:26

The guys are laughing at us cos we're so amazed.

0:54:260:54:29

Obviously, they see them now and again

0:54:290:54:31

but they're not quite as enthralled as we are, maybe.

0:54:310:54:35

I've just been concentrating on, I don't know,

0:54:390:54:42

getting us all in the right place,

0:54:420:54:45

but I'm just sat watching a snow leopard!

0:54:450:54:49

Over the next few days the crew keep up with the leopard.

0:54:530:54:56

But unfortunately finding a mate doesn't seem to be a priority.

0:55:030:55:08

He's lying on his back with

0:55:080:55:10

a foot pressed up against the wall,

0:55:100:55:12

eyes closed, deep in sleep.

0:55:120:55:14

It's just like cats at home,

0:55:160:55:18

when they're sat by the radiator, all snuggled in.

0:55:180:55:21

Seven hours on and the cat's still sleeping.

0:55:250:55:28

He's turned and stretched a little bit, but that's about it.

0:55:280:55:31

He's sleeping, he's just sleeping all day.

0:55:310:55:34

He likes to sleep, this one.

0:55:370:55:39

Ooh, the cat's moving, cat's moving, cat's moving.

0:55:440:55:48

Having caught up on some sleep,

0:55:480:55:50

it seems like the leopard might be ready for action...

0:55:500:55:52

..at last.

0:55:540:55:56

Finally, Hector starts getting the shots the crew came

0:55:560:55:59

all this way for.

0:55:590:56:01

He's definitely scent marking.

0:56:020:56:04

Cheek rubbing, spraying.

0:56:040:56:06

We've been here all day, the snow's obviously coated everything,

0:56:260:56:30

I'm freezing, but it was worth the wait.

0:56:300:56:32

Absolutely amazing. That was such an incredible thing to see.

0:56:350:56:38

Time to go and get a bit warmer, I think, now.

0:56:400:56:42

Life in the Himalaya is tough for the world's highest cat...

0:56:460:56:49

..but after weeks spent living alongside this lonesome leopard...

0:56:530:56:57

PLAINTIVE CRY

0:56:580:57:01

..the crew left hopeful he might soon find romance.

0:57:010:57:05

Next time -

0:57:110:57:13

the most secretive cats,

0:57:130:57:15

with surprising lives,

0:57:150:57:18

living in the world's most remote

0:57:180:57:21

and unexpected places.

0:57:210:57:23

Discover how cats have conquered the planet.

0:57:250:57:29

In Ruaha, Tanzania, lions form huge super prides in order to hunt giants. Amongst cats lions are unusual, the only one to live in groups. In numbers they find the strength and audacity to hunt the most formidable prey.

In Sri Lanka a tiny rusty-spotted cat explores his forest home - 200 times smaller than a lion, the rusty-spotted is the smallest of all cats, but just as curious.

The Canada lynx lives further north than any cat, relying on snowshoe hares to survive the bitterly cold winters. Until now, lynx were creatures of mystery, but now technology provides an insight into their secret lives.

Predators they may be, but cats are also tender, intelligent and emotional. Honey is an African leopard and a mother. For a decade she's worn a radio collar that has allowed scientists to follow her life's every twist and turn. Now in the worst drought in decades, she's battling to raise a cub.

In the Himalayas, perhaps the world's most lonesome cat is searching for a mat - a male snow leopard, who may just get one chance to mate in his whole life.

Cats are naturally secretive, elusive and cryptic animals. Only now have the latest developments in filming technology, and a surge in cat research, enabled us to bring the cat superstars out of the shadows.