Nature documentary. The cameras follow the moving story of one lion family's struggle to survive until the return of the great migration of wildebeest and zebra.
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The power of the sun drives the seasons, transforming our planet.
Vast movements of ocean and air currents bring dramatic change
throughout the year.
And in a few special places, these seasonal changes
create some of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth.
One of the most awe-inspiring events takes place in the vast open plains
of East Africa.
Once a year, three million animals
gather in a small corner of the Serengeti.
This is the greatest concentration of grazing animals on the planet.
But the herds only stay for a few months
before continuing on their epic journey.
And when the great migration moves on, the predators they leave behind
become suddenly vulnerable.
How can they survive until the Great Migration returns?
The eastern edge of the Serengeti is dominated by a volcano,
known to the Maasai people as Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Mountain of God.
It's one of the many volcanoes that have shaped the landscape
here for millions of years that lie along Africa's Great Rift.
To the west lie the grasslands of the Serengeti
and a particularly fertile area known as the short grass plains.
For a few months each year, hundreds of thousands of grazers
cram into this corner of the Serengeti.
And, of course, wherever you find grazers, you find predators.
More meat-eaters hunt and scavenge
on the short grass plains than anywhere else in Africa.
For lions in particular, this is, for the moment, a savannah paradise.
With so much food on offer, it's a good time to raise young cubs.
But lions are territorial.
Each pride only controls a small area of grassland.
They can only hunt the animals that come into their territory.
So, to give these cubs a good start,
they'll have to make the most of this bonanza while it's here.
When the great herds move on, the lions can't go with them,
and prides like this one face a stern test.
What happens next is a side of lion life that is rarely seen.
It's May. The rains that watered the short grass plains have moved north,
and the vast herds follow, seeking out fresh green pastures.
Wildebeest are so in tune with the seasons that they can hear
thunderstorms 30 miles away, and they home in
on the scent of wet soil that carries the promise of fresh grass.
Unlike lions, wildebeest are free to travel
wherever the quest for food leads them.
This young calf is at the start of an incredible seven-month journey.
Without rain, the grasslands behind them wither and die.
Within weeks, the short grass plains start to turn brown.
Within a few months, they're unrecognisable.
90% of grazing animals have moved on.
Not a single wildebeest remains.
It's now August.
With so few animals here, the short grass plains
are no longer a great place to be a lion.
For the lion pride living at the southern edge of these plains,
in a place known as Ndutu, the test now is to survive
until the herds return again.
The Ndutu pride has four lionesses and seven cubs
and already they're struggling to find enough food and water.
The youngest are weak and underweight.
Surrounded by other lion prides with their own territories,
the Ndutu pride must make the most of what they can find here.
But there isn't enough food for them all.
This male cub is not only hungry, he's sick.
On this morning, the pride is heading for a woodland
where there is more cover and more animals to hunt.
It's a long journey for the exhausted cubs.
For the weakest male, it's a real struggle to keep up.
but slowly he gets left behind.
This is a brutal world.
The lionesses simply cannot wait.
If they don't keep hunting and eat soon,
they too will become weak, and then there'll be no hope for any of them.
Warthogs are a valuable catch at this time of year.
The lives of the cubs depend on a successful outcome.
While one lioness slowly creeps forward...
..another approaches from cover.
It's been a while since their last kill,
and all the hungry pride pile in.
All, that is, except one.
A mile away, a young life is fading away.
HE MEWS WEAKLY
The kill has come too late for him.
At less than a year old,
these cubs are still totally dependent on the lionesses.
To survive, they must keep up.
Only three months into the dry season,
the Ndutu pride is down to six cubs.
Sadly, this young male will not survive.
It's late August, and the rains are still moving north, taking the grass
and the wildebeest even further away from the Ndutu lions.
With no territory to enclose them,
the wildebeest can travel wherever they like.
But a calf, just like a lion cub, still has to stick close to Mum.
The biggest danger is getting lost in the vastness of the herd,
as it treks up to 30 miles a day.
Back at Ndutu, the dry season is biting harder.
There's little grass here, but that's not a problem for some.
Giraffe find most of the nutrients and moisture
they need in acacia leaves.
And, like impala, they can cope well in the dry season.
Serengeti mice positively thrive in the drier months,
thanks to the abundance of seeds.
So some of the smaller predators, like wild-cats,
still find plenty of food.
This kitten is unlikely to go hungry.
Perhaps surprisingly, it's the creature often called
the king of the beasts that is suffering the most.
It's early September,
and on this afternoon, there are only two male cubs
with the Ndutu lionesses.
And they're little more than skin and bone.
What's happened to the rest?
Sadly, it seems, others have been left behind.
One young female cub is just two miles away.
She's limping and the black patches on her face
reveal that she's losing her fur.
But she hasn't given up. She calls for her pride.
She's hears a faint call and hurries towards it.
And is reunited with one of her brothers.
Nearby, there is prey.
But these cubs are unable to hunt.
They are still too young.
If they're going to survive, they must rejoin the pride.
While she still has strength, she continues to try and make contact.
SHE CALLS FAINTLY
Far away, the lionesses also call constantly
and listen for their lost youngsters.
Even a sick cub joins in the search for his sisters and brothers.
But there are no replies.
After an hour of calling, the lionesses can wait no longer.
They must move on.
The pride will have to move to another part of their territory
if they are to find food.
None of them have eaten for days, and now the chances of being
reunited with the lost cubs seems remote indeed.
It's September, one of the driest months in Ndutu.
The wildebeest herds are over 100 miles away,
having followed new pastures to the northern edge of the Serengeti.
But they have a huge challenge of their own to face -
they must cross the Mara River.
Over several days, the herds crowd together at the water's edge.
The adults seem to sense a hidden danger...
THEY SNORT AND GROAN
..but the numbers keep piling up
on the river's edge, and ultimately they face the danger together.
The crocodiles are spoilt for choice.
But they can only take one victim at a time.
There is safety in numbers here, and most of the wildebeest make it
across to the grasslands beyond.
Back in the south, the Ndutu plains are tinder dry.
Seed and insect-eaters can scratch a living and the smaller cats
like serval that hunt them can still find plenty to eat.
And a cheetah mother is managing to keep her cubs fit and healthy
on the small antelope that remain.
It's now October, the peak of the dry season,
and the Ndutu pride are resting in the heat of the day.
In a bizarre twist of fate, one of the two male cubs has died,
but amazingly, the lost female with the black face patches
has found her way back.
She's still weak, and clearly hasn't eaten for days.
Meanwhile, it's getting hotter.
Just when it seems life couldn't get any worse, it does.
Flames race across the Ndutu pride territory,
burning the last of the grass and any remaining bush cover.
At first glance, there's little left here.
Yet animals like impala quickly return to investigate.
The impala's world has changed beyond recognition.
There's nowhere left to hide.
The Ndutu pride has also lost the cover they use for hunting.
The young female may have survived her first fire,
but her chances of a meal have fallen even lower.
For the cheetah family, the fire is not such bad news...
..as their prey can actually become easier to find.
The steenbok relies on blending into its surroundings
and sitting still to avoid being spotted.
But in this emptiness, its camouflage is useless.
It's a sitting target...
..and apparently unaware of the approaching danger.
Larger prey, like Grant's gazelle, are constantly on the lookout
for danger, and easily see the Ndutu pride in the distance.
The task for the hunters now seems virtually impossible.
But they do have one advantage.
There are four lionesses, and they've been hunting together for years.
It'll be hard to get close to the warthogs.
But if they can split up and attack on two sides,
they may stand a chance.
This is how a young lioness learns.
As ever, teamwork is critical.
In a well-practiced routine,
a lioness moves round to block the warthogs' escape.
As one is flushed into the open,
the flanking lioness rushes in for the kill.
Warthogs are a favourite food. It's a welcome feast enjoyed by all.
At the toughest of times,
the lionesses have provided for the cubs.
But it's an unpredictable year, in more ways than one.
For the first time in 40 years, the sleeping Mountain of God,
Ol Doinyo Lengai, awakens.
Vast clouds of volcanic ash drift towards the short grass plains,
and the home of the Ndutu pride lions.
Ravaged by fire, scorched by the sun, the plains now become shrouded
in a layer of ash.
It's November, and the rains that would bring the return
of the grass and the herds are now overdue.
The Ndutu lionesses rest
in the intense heat and the cubs' batteries are now running very low.
But the winds are changing - a sign that the season is turning.
The wildebeest seem to know what's about to happen.
They begin heading south.
One and a half million wildebeest
start their journey back to the short grass plains.
The Great Migration of the wildebeest is
one of the longest treks of any land animal on our planet.
As they follow the rains around the Serengeti,
many will travel over 1,000 miles.
But there's no guarantee that these wildebeest will return
to the territory of the Ndutu pride.
They will feed only where the best grasses grow.
All that's needed now is rain.
For the Ndutu pride, rain brings hope,
but how long will it take for the grass to grow
and the herds to return?
Within a matter of days, fresh grass transforms the arid plains
into the lush pastures that will lure the herds to return.
It's December, and the migrating herds
start to arrive at the northern boundary
of the short grass plains, just 30 miles from the Ndutu lions.
After seven months away, the herd is returning.
Stretching back some 25 miles,
it will take weeks for all the wildebeest to arrive.
And nothing will stop them now.
The Mountain of God chooses this moment to throw up a column of ash
15,000 metres into the air.
But the link between this ash and these herds
is more than a mere coincidence.
For this ash is rich in minerals, and over several million years,
as volcanoes in the Great Rift have erupted,
layer upon layer of ash
has fertilised the ground, creating this uniquely fertile grassland.
It's this that draws animals from all over the Serengeti.
The ash also discourages the growth of trees.
So, on these plains that might otherwise be covered in woodland,
little grows except grass.
It's possibly the best grazing land in all of Africa.
And probably the only place where
one and a half million wildebeest could feed together.
In the northern half, the short grass plains
have once again become a savannah paradise.
The conditions are so good that the wildebeest also use these plains
for another important purpose.
The females are carrying the next generation,
and they've come here to calve.
It only takes seconds.
Some calves are on their feet in just two minutes.
Others take a little longer.
Then they're good to go.
Phosphorus and calcium in the volcanic ash pass through the grass
into the mother's milk and into the growing calves.
Nowhere else on their epic journey
could young wildebeest get such a good start in life.
In just two to three weeks,
over half a million wildebeest calves are born here.
And of course, this provides an irresistible opportunity
for all of Africa's top predators.
This is boom time for meat-eaters.
The Ndutu lions to the south have yet to enjoy this feast,
but this cheetah family now has an endless supply of fresh meat.
There is certainly enough to feed the six cubs.
She'll make a kill every day to keep her cubs properly fed.
And it's not just wildebeest the predators have come to eat.
Many of Africa's antelope are here too.
Eland, Africa's largest.
And they're joined by more than half a million
Thomson and Grant's gazelles.
And 200,000 zebra.
Just north of the Ndutu lion territory,
these lions are now lucky enough to enjoy a time of plenty.
A favourite lion ploy is to wait by waterholes,
knowing that the herd will ultimately have to drink.
As the herds move further south,
they at last enter the homeland of the Ndutu pride.
The question is,
have the weak cubs managed to survive to witness the great return?
The Ndutu pride is still together.
They are healthy and strong.
Somehow they have managed to make it through the long dry season
and the endless wait for the returning herds.
The young male now has the beginnings of a mane.
And though still limping, the female has grown new fur
over her black patches.
Now, at last, with endless food around them,
the lion cubs have the time and the energy to play.
And they can relax in a way that only lions know how.
By March, the great event on the Ndutu plains is in full swing,
and where there are kills, there are scavengers.
Vultures fly in from all over the Serengeti.
On her own, a mother cheetah has little chance
of keeping this mob off her kill.
She may be agile, but she lacks the necessary brute force.
Even now, it's not easy raising cheetah cubs.
Over half her kills will be stolen by thieves.
Spotted hyenas are notorious scavengers, and they arrive in force.
Hyenas now become the most numerous carnivores on the Ndutu plains.
They'll even take on a lion pride.
As the Ndutu lions finish off a wildebeest,
the hyena clans gather around, trying to intimidate them.
The young male cub faces up to them.
He's finally coming of age.
He's learning how to protect a pride.
HYENAS CACKLE, CUB GROWLS
But this time, with their bellies full,
the pride decide the bones aren't worth the hassle.
Well-fed at last,
the two young cubs are beginning to look more like adults.
But it will be another six months before they can hunt on their own.
It's April, and there's a flurry of excitement as the wildebeest
turn their attention to courting.
Or at least, the males do.
The young bulls limber up for the rut, when they will have to fight
for the right to mate with a female.
High spirits are infectious.
In three months, the young calves become boisterous,
and bounce with good health.
These plains have been a nursery.
But change is in the air.
The season is turning again.
The arrival of seed-eating quelea is
a sign that the grass on the Ndutu plains is changing.
Once the grass flowers and sets seed,
it loses the succulent green leaves that the wildebeest prefer.
Time for them to move on again,
to follow the distant storms that are now rumbling to the north.
Despite the arduous journey that lies ahead,
a wildebeest calf in the Serengeti still has a better chance
of surviving its first year than a lion cub.
The Great Migration is leaving Ndutu,
and once again the pride will have to face life without the herds.
A brother and sister have survived an eventful year
that has brought sickness and drought,
fires and volcanic eruptions.
Theirs is just one of countless stories that unfold every year
on the short grass plains -
the grasslands at the centre of this great event.
All in the shadow of the Mountain of God.
To film intimate animal stories in the vast Serengeti
was the toughest challenge faced by the Great Migration team.
Especially when a major part of the mission was to follow the fortunes
of a single Serengeti lion pride.
For filmmaker Owen Newman to tell the full story of a pride,
he had to follow them before and during
the annual wildebeest migration.
The filming would take seven months - a rather long time
to be stuck in a rather small car.
There's just one tiny space in here
where I can move, and it's the bit for
using these pedals, for steering with
and for being able to turn round like that and operate the camera.
That's the only moving space I have in here, so, I mean...
Every day for 14 hours, that's it.
But out of here is this phenomenal view on the world
and all the animals that are out there.
I wouldn't swap it for anything.
If Owen was to stand any chance of keeping up with his lion pride,
he would have to cover thousands of miles alone in his cramped car.
Owen has filmed many lion stories, but not even he could have known
how dramatic and harrowing the story
of the pride's youngest lioness would become.
The drama started in the dry season,
when Owen first found the lions known as the Ndutu pride.
The cubs were already suffering, and even with 20 years' experience
of filming big cats, for Owen these scenes were hard to witness.
I was so appalled with the condition that the cubs were in.
They were all around a year old and I'd never, ever
seen lions so thin as they were.
It was absolutely shocking.
As the litter of seven cubs dwindled to only four,
the drama continued to unfold.
Just as the dry season dragged on,
they got mange, the skin was falling apart.
The little female in particular looked as though she had no chance.
One awful day, Owen found that more cubs
had been left behind by the pride.
The little female and a brother.
Hungry and alone, their death seemed inevitable.
Quite late in the afternoon,
but earlier than I would have done ordinarily,
I left cos it was actually getting to me so much -
I couldn't stand being there.
It was really so sad.
I went back the next day and there was no sign of either
of the cubs and I just assumed that probably they'd died.
Amazingly, in a dramatic twist, the little lioness did survive
and rejoin her family.
But when the rains came, the whole pride disappeared.
As filming resumed at the start of the wet season,
all eyes were on the lookout for the Ndutu lions.
Although the plains were now teeming with animals,
what Owen really wanted was to find his lion cubs.
All he could do was to sit, watch and wait.
This is what happens for hours on end - nothing.
With spotters continuing the search for the Ndutu pride,
Owen got on with filming the Great Migration of the wildebeest
and its newest recruits.
What's really nice about the calves being born
is that for about eight months, while they've been developing,
they've been carried around by the mums across the plains.
They've been stampeded by hyenas and lions.
They've criss-crossed crocodile-infested rivers,
and here they are, being born to join in.
It never fails to be a really wonderful thing to see.
The calf's born and the mother gets up and starts licking it.
And the little thing tries to stand up on incredibly wobbly legs,
and within two minutes,
it's walking away with its mum.
Look, it's nearly found the udder.
With shots of wildebeest calving in the can,
Owen could get on with his search for the lion cubs.
The lions' story was still hanging in the balance.
All Owen could do was persevere with his daily filming routine.
Do you think it's breakfast time?
That is a good cup of tea.
Another month had passed, and even with Owen's years of experience,
the fate of the Ndutu pride lions was still a mystery to him.
To recognise them,
Owen had photographs of their whisker patterns.
They're as unique as a fingerprint.
If only he could find them.
There's no peace!
I am stalked!
OK, well, it's a low moment, I have to admit.
Time seems to be dragging.
We need to be doing something.
We can't just be sitting here admiring every small bird
that hops by!
Then, one morning, a report came in from a spotter who had
found a group of lions matching the Ndutu pride's description.
-They're over there.
-You think they're there?
What a place to be!
-And there were two cubs?
-Yeah. And the male...
There is not much mane.
-On the cub?
-Yeah, he's just got a little line.
-A little line. That's them.
Finally, after months of worry and total dedication,
Owen would discover the fate of his thin female cub,
the one with the black face patches.
Had she managed to survive?
The news was good.
Yeah, she's my favourite.
Cos by all rights...
..I think she should be dead, from what I saw in the dry season.
But here she is, still alive.
Wow. She's still got a tiny limp on her front right foot,
but otherwise is in really good shape.
They're so friendly.
Ah, it's such a fantastic day.
And they're all playing together as well and reacting,
which they never did in the dry season.
It's absolutely wonderful.
They've turned into proper lions.
You can spend a long time in the Serengeti
and they're all fantastic days,
but suddenly you get a day like this which is...absolutely fantastic.
For the healthy cubs,
it was just another day in the short grass plains.
For Owen, a wonderful moment within
the most harrowing lion story he had ever filmed.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Each year more than one million wildebeest and zebra invade the Serengeti grasslands, making it a paradise for the predators that live there. But what happens when the herds move off again? This programme follows the moving story of one lion family's struggle to survive until the return of the great migration.
Nature's Great Events tells the story of the epic trek of herds that follow the rains to fresh pastures, and the tale of the predators they leave behind.
The crew captures the desperate plight of a single pride of lions, revealing a different side to the Serengeti. Rather than being a predators' paradise, it is a land in constant change, with wildebeest following the rains and leaving the lions to tough it out.
The Ntudu pride has seven cubs, and is already suffering as the wildebeest leave to find fresh pastures. The four pride females struggle to find enough food for their hungry offspring.
As weeks turn to months, the pride members become more emaciated and frailer, and the number of cubs dwindles to just two.
As the herds begin to return, the plains reveal one final secret. For the first time since 1967, the Serengeti's only active volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai, begins to billow ash and smoke. Filmed from the air, the team captures the exciting action. Fertilised by the volcanic ash over millions of years, these short grass plains are among the most productive grasslands in the world.
After months of hardship, the pride's tragic story, through sickness, drought and fire, is over as the herds return, providing plentiful food.
The final ten-minute diary, Pride and Peril, tells the harrowing story captured by film-maker Owen Newman of the Ndutu pride which he followed for more than a year.