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The world's greatest wilderness.
The only place on Earth to see the full majesty of nature.
There's so much more here than we ever imagined.
I'm standing where the equator
cuts right across the middle of the continent.
To the north of me, there's an immense desert
the size of the United States of America.
To the west, a vast rainforest the size of India.
And behind me, for thousands of miles,
the most fertile savannahs in the world.
From the roof of Africa...
..to the deepest jungle.
Rarely seen places, and untold stories.
There's nowhere in the world where wildlife puts on a greater show.
This is the last place on Earth
where you can come eye to eye
with the greatest animals that walk our planet.
This is Africa.
Our journey starts in the far south west,
in the oldest and strangest corner of the continent.
Here, the thirsty land is covered
with thousands upon thousands of circles.
We still don't know their origins.
Poisonous plants, foraging insects
and even magnetism have all been suggested, but each ruled out.
The circles don't move, and their shape never varies.
They're unchanging, much like this part of Africa itself.
Ancient and arid, it almost never rains on this land,
yet there is water here, hidden away.
To survive here, life must use every trick in the book.
Winter. Dawn temperatures can fall well below freezing.
And that's a problem for this drongo.
It's too cold for his normal prey, flying insects.
But he has a plan. The drongo is the Kalahari's greatest trickster.
And these are his victims.
A family of meerkats, desert specialists.
After warming up in the morning sun,
the meerkats begin their search for breakfast.
The drongo can now begin his tricks.
But he must first win the confidence of his victims.
He spots an eagle on the hunt, and sounds a warning.
One that sends the meerkats gratefully scurrying to safety.
And now, he has their trust.
He sounds another warning.
But this time, it's a false alarm.
Thank you very much!
The meerkats fell for it.
This all seems too easy. He tries the same trick again.
But the meerkats aren't stupid - they'll only fall for it once.
The juicy scorpion won't be for him.
Then, suddenly, the sound of a sentry's warning.
No meerkat can ignore that. Sentries never lie.
But the sentry sees no danger.
Of course, it's the drongo.
He's learnt to mimic the meerkats' own warning call.
And now, he can enjoy his prize.
A gang of meerkats, outsmarted by a bird.
The drongo is only deceitful in the hardest winter months.
For the rest of the year, he provides honest protection.
So, in the long run, the meerkat family profit as well as the drongo.
It's a much harder life,
if you haven't yet learned the tricks of your trade.
This young leopard is just a year old,
and at a critical point in his life.
His mother has battled to raise her two cubs,
but finding enough food for them is now beyond her.
From today, he'll have to fend for himself.
Kalahari means "land of great thirst".
Prey is scarce. Of all the leopards in Africa,
these have to be the most resourceful.
A big warthog.
but armed and dangerous.
His mother tried to tackle one, but it nearly killed her.
He spots something more promising.
A steenbok, that's more like it.
He won't strike unless he can get to within just four metres,
and without making the slightest sound.
A jackal barks an alarm.
But the steenbok still has no idea it's being stalked.
The nearer he gets, the quieter he must be.
He's blown it.
A good opportunity like that won't come around very often.
Hungry and thirsty, he heads back home,
and spots a kill stashed in a tree, almost certainly by his own mother.
And, like any teenager, he thinks nothing of raiding her larder.
It's not really his day, is it?
Some young leopards grow up to be brilliant opportunists.
But even they find life hard here in the Kalahari.
These bizarre little birds are baby ostriches.
They're just a few days old.
In time, they'll become superb desert survivors.
But in the Kalahari, these early days are perilous.
Like leopards and meerkats, adult ostriches can extract
all the moisture they require from their food.
The chicks, however,
won't survive much more than another day without water.
But there's none in sight.
How can their parents conjure up water out here?
The youngsters follow their parents,
as they head out onto a featureless wasteland.
It seems like a suicidal journey.
The Etosha salt pan.
Here, water is more often a mirage than reality.
It's now well over 40 degrees centigrade.
Their father shades his chicks from the midday sun.
No. The ostrich family is not alone out here.
Surrounded by miles of sun-baked mud,
sweet, fresh water wells up from deep below ground...
like a miracle.
Although the ostrich parents have guided their chicks to water,
there's still a problem - traffic.
These tiny, fragile birds could easily be trampled under foot.
The water is tantalisingly close.
Where prey gathers, predators are never far behind.
The brawling lions have unwittingly done the young ostriches a favour.
The water hole is now clear.
Sometimes, you need a bit of luck in life.
Their first-ever drink...
and just in time.
Their father's done his job.
A black rhinoceros, the Kalahari's most cantankerous resident.
They don't like company,
and they certainly don't like sharing a water hole with lions.
Fortunately - for everyone else, that is -
they only visit twice a week.
The Kalahari is the black rhino's last stronghold.
And here, under the cover of darkness,
at one secret and very special water hole,
rhino abandon their normally solitary life,
and come from miles around to meet under the stars.
Using the latest starlight camera,
we can reveal for the first time the rhino's true character.
This young female seems nervous.
She senses other rhinos close by.
A mother appears from the shadows with her calf.
Tentatively, they greet one another.
They may be ill-tempered by day,
but now they become gentle and affectionate.
More and more arrive.
We had no idea that rhinos met to socialise
and build friendships like this.
The young female has an admirer.
But she doesn't seem keen on him.
She's excited about something.
Here comes a really big male.
This time, she's much more welcoming.
Who would have thought that rhino could be so flirtatious?
The first male tries to come between them.
Somehow or other, he's got a pair of antelope horns stuck on his nose.
It looks as if she's been won over by his eccentric style.
He leads her off, away from the party.
He may have style -
but he's turning out to be something of a disappointment.
A girl can only put up with so much.
The only way she can get rid of him is to pretend she's asleep.
To see so many rhino in one place is a revelation.
And that's the power water has here - the power to bring together
the greatest gathering of rhinos anywhere on Earth.
An ancient volcano, that towers above a plateau
that is two billion years old.
This land has remained unchanged
for longer than any other part of Africa.
Animals here have had a long time to find inventive solutions
to the challenge of finding water.
Out on the open plains, life must await the chance arrival of rain.
When it does fall, it has an extraordinary effect.
Each sporadic downpour may only last minutes,
but it can bring life, and in spectacular numbers.
They're the most numerous bird in the world.
In all, more than a billion live here in the Kalahari.
No-one knows quite how,
but they seem to have an extraordinary ability to locate
the fall of rain, and then instantly exploit the bonanza that follows.
These nomads now have just five weeks to find food,
build a nest and raise a brood.
But they're not alone.
The rains have also created a plague.
These are armoured ground crickets.
Giant insects, with voracious appetites...for meat.
With the quelea parents away feeding,
their chicks are defenceless.
The adults return.
But the cricket fights back.
Squirting its own foul-tasting blood into their eyes.
The cricket is still alive,
but the stench of its blood attracts the attention of others.
Now, IT is the target.
These crickets become cannibals.
All too soon, the bonanza brought by the rain is over,
and the quelea head off in search of the next rare downpour.
The Kalahari is scarred by rivers that have long since run dry,
the water claimed by the thirsty land.
But it's not gone far.
Deep below lies a secret,
one that was discovered only 25 years ago.
Humid air rushing to the surface gives this place its name,
Dragon's Breath Cave.
The shaft descends for 60 metres, until it meets...
Here, there is a massive chamber,
big enough to swallow three jumbo jets, nose to tail,
filled with cool, fresh water.
The world's largest underground lake.
This is fossil water.
It's been trapped here, undisturbed, for thousands,
if not millions, of years.
We have no idea how deep the lake is.
Divers have been down to 100 metres,
and still there's no sign of the bottom.
Remarkably, Dragon's Breath is part of a vast cave system
that extends beneath the Kalahari for thousands of miles.
Even here, in this lonely cave, there is life.
Golden catfish, only found in this one cave.
They're the rarest and most isolated fish in the world.
Life down here is as challenging as it is in the desert above.
There's no food,
except the debris that occasionally falls onto the surface.
And these catfish are totally blind.
The only world they know is the one they sense through touch.
A blind fish living in perpetual darkness,
deep beneath one of the most arid regions of Africa.
Such cruel irony. So much water hidden away out of reach.
Along the western edge of the Kalahari, the land becomes so dry,
it seems impossible that any life could survive here.
A million square miles of sand exquisitely sculpted by the wind.
This is the oldest desert in the world.
Respite comes from fog rolling in from the Atlantic ocean.
It condenses into a few precious drops.
Just enough to sustain life.
A pompilid wasp is searching the dunes.
She's not looking for a drink, but for somewhere moist to lay her egg.
How will she pull off a trick like that?
The entrance to a burrow. That's worth investigating.
She may be tiny, but once she decides to dig,
she can shift extraordinary quantities of sand.
She's unearthed this spider for a grisly purpose.
It's so dry, the only place with enough moisture for her egg
is within the body of another living thing.
First, she must paralyse her victim.
But then, the spider plays its trump card.
The aptly-named golden wheel spider can cartwheel fast enough
to escape its gruesome fate.
For the wasp, her near impossible search goes on.
If it's hard enough for a tiny wasp to survive here in the Namib,
how is it possible for a giant?
A desert giraffe.
It's difficult to imagine how such a huge animal
can live in a place with so little water.
This old male is at the very limit of his endurance.
The land may be bone dry,
but there are signs that water once flowed here.
The Hoanib, one of Namibia's rivers.
A river of sand.
The trees that line these sand rivers send roots down
over 30 metres to tap water that lies deep beneath the river bed.
These trees are the giraffe's salvation,
even if he has to stretch to his very tallest to get a mouthful.
Even on tiptoe, he still needs a half-metre-long tongue
to reach the leaves he so badly needs.
He's ruled this stretch of the Hoanib for over a decade,
and this prime territory is attracting females.
He waits confidently for her.
But they've got company.
A young male.
The old bull won't tolerate a rival.
Pushing and shoving, they size each other up.
The young rival seems to think he has a chance and attacks.
The first few blows usually settle things in such battles,
but here, the stakes are high.
To lose means exile in the desert.
Neither will back down.
As the fight intensifies, they change tactics.
The young male aims for the rump.
The old bull targets his rival's legs.
The old bull is down.
Is this the end of his reign?
He knows a knockout blow is coming.
But the old bull ducks...
..and strikes a blow to his rival's underbelly.
Out for the count.
The old bull is victorious.
But only just.
The sand river remains his to rule.
It's a river that is about to be transformed.
Under clear blue skies, water floods down the Hoanib.
The welcome consequence of rain that fell hundreds of miles away.
The water may only flow for a matter of hours.
But this miraculous flood is enough to provide
a lifeline for the trees and the giraffes of the Hoanib River.
It's what makes this place worth fighting for.
Here, fossil lakes, secret water holes, desert fog
and ephemeral rivers like this provide just enough water
for life to get by, no matter how tough it gets.
It's hard to find more inventive solutions to staying alive
than in this, the most ancient corner of Africa.
For four years, the Africa team searched the continent
for new and surprising stories.
Not only of strange and unfamiliar creatures,
but also of some we think we know.
Veteran wildlife cameraman Martyn Colbeck took on the challenge
of shedding new light on the life of Namibia's desert giraffe.
I jumped at the opportunity of working with an animal that
I hadn't really spent much time with.
Straightaway, they proved to be quite an eye-opener.
They're very bizarre looking animals.
We just kept looking at them from different angles
and they looked even weirder.
The combination of the sort of weird close ups, the beautiful
landscape that they're in.
I got really attached to them, actually.
Overlying all this, we were always waiting for a fight.
But to see a full-blooded fight is very rare.
So, the only way that we were going to see it
is if we stuck at it, day after day, every day for 30 days.
We were lucky enough that we found a male guarding a female.
And out of nowhere, this male came round the corner.
And almost immediately faced up to our male.
Absolutely no warning that this was going to happen,
so it was complete pandemonium in the car.
But luckily I got the camera up and running in time to actually
capture this fight, and it all came down to one minute in real time.
When I filmed it, you don't see it in slow motion.
And you just have to go with the flow.
You're not experiencing the fight,
you're just basically framing it and capturing it.
So it was only afterwards, when we looked at it in slow motion,
that you could really understand how ferocious it was.
You can see the impact on the skin.
You can see the ripples going through the flesh.
But it was the final blows that delivered the real surprise.
It was like one of those chimneys falling down.
At the last moment, the head just went clunk!
And we thought it was dead.
We thought this thing was dead.
And it lay there for, it must have been three minutes.
Eventually, this thing suddenly got up, the one that was
lying down, and the two of them were then standing, and then the one that
had been knocked over completely then just said, "I've had enough.
"OK, OK, you won and I'm off".
I, I think it's very unlikely I'm going to see
anything like that again.
I think that's a once-in-a-life-timer. I really do.
It won't be easy to look at giraffes in the same way again.
On the other side of the desert,
another of Africa's great animal icons
was attracting the attention of the team
as they staked out a secret water hole.
They hoped to reveal a very different side
to the personality of the black rhinoceros.
The team have heard that at night rhinos behave a little strangely.
A specially-built starlight camera would allow the team
to pierce the darkness.
It's amazing. That's filming something we can't even see.
Yeah, and if you look out there now...
Yeah, it's just black, isn't it?
But through this, it looks as sharp as day.
Rhinos are notoriously antisocial,
yet here they come to revel in each other's company.
This is amazing.
This is such intimate behaviour,
which you can only see filming them at night like this.
But it wasn't just cameras that would show a new side to rhinos.
By concealing tiny radio microphones around the water hole,
the crew hoped to eavesdrop on the night's activity.
And what they heard was astonishing.
They're really talkative.
They really are having a good chat.
These guys are far more communicative than elephants, even.
They're just going on and on, chatting away.
SQUEALS AND GRUNTS
It's a beautiful, crystal clear night,
so we've got beautiful starry shots.
Loads of amazing noise. Puffing and huffing.
So it's about two in the morning.
There's only one rhino left up there.
The rest of the them have gone to bed,
but he's decided to lie down right on top of the radio mic.
RHINO GRUNTS AND SNORTS
The crew prepared for one more night
at the water hole under the full moon.
It seems that they're not really here for the water,
but more to socialise.
A bit like going out for the evening.
He's got some kudu horns on his face, draped over his nose!
Is it all on camera, too?
These images have a particular poignancy in a world where
rhino horn is worth more than its weight in gold.
Poaching is going through a really bad time right now
in Southern Africa.
If you averaged it out,
a rhino has been killed every day for the last year.
That's really serious poaching.
It's a huge concern that what we saw and filmed just won't happen again.
It's only now that technology has revealed a new side
to the rhino's personality.
The black rhinoceros is a symbol of the African bush.
But it seems that this creature has been long misunderstood.
For the Africa team, revealing giraffes
and rhinos in this new light was just the beginning.
Africa may be a continent we think we know,
but it's still full of surprises.
In Africa's south west corner, two extraordinary deserts sit side by side. In the Kalahari scrublands, meerkats are outsmarted by a wily bird, solitary and belligerent black rhinos get together to party, and giant insects stalk huge flocks of birds.
Rain almost never falls in the Namib - instead it must make do with vaporous, vanishing fog. The creatures here have gone to the extremes, as spiders wheel to escape and a desert giraffe fights to defend his scant resources.