Kalahari Africa


Kalahari

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Africa.

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The world's greatest wilderness.

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The only place on Earth to see the full majesty of nature.

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There's so much more here than we ever imagined.

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I'm standing where the equator

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cuts right across the middle of the continent.

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To the north of me, there's an immense desert

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the size of the United States of America.

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To the west, a vast rainforest the size of India.

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And behind me, for thousands of miles,

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the most fertile savannahs in the world.

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From the roof of Africa...

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..to the deepest jungle.

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Rarely seen places, and untold stories.

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There's nowhere in the world where wildlife puts on a greater show.

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This is the last place on Earth

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where you can come eye to eye

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with the greatest animals that walk our planet.

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This is Africa.

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Our journey starts in the far south west,

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in the oldest and strangest corner of the continent.

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Here, the thirsty land is covered

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with thousands upon thousands of circles.

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We still don't know their origins.

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Poisonous plants, foraging insects

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and even magnetism have all been suggested, but each ruled out.

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The circles don't move, and their shape never varies.

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They're unchanging, much like this part of Africa itself.

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Ancient and arid, it almost never rains on this land,

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yet there is water here, hidden away.

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To survive here, life must use every trick in the book.

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Winter. Dawn temperatures can fall well below freezing.

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And that's a problem for this drongo.

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It's too cold for his normal prey, flying insects.

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But he has a plan. The drongo is the Kalahari's greatest trickster.

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And these are his victims.

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A family of meerkats, desert specialists.

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After warming up in the morning sun,

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the meerkats begin their search for breakfast.

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The drongo can now begin his tricks.

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But he must first win the confidence of his victims.

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He spots an eagle on the hunt, and sounds a warning.

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CHIRRUPING

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One that sends the meerkats gratefully scurrying to safety.

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Danger over.

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And now, he has their trust.

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He sounds another warning.

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CHIRRUPING

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But this time, it's a false alarm.

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Thank you very much!

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The meerkats fell for it.

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This all seems too easy. He tries the same trick again.

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CHIRRUPING

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BARKING

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But the meerkats aren't stupid - they'll only fall for it once.

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The juicy scorpion won't be for him.

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Then, suddenly, the sound of a sentry's warning.

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No meerkat can ignore that. Sentries never lie.

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But the sentry sees no danger.

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Guess who?

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Of course, it's the drongo.

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He's learnt to mimic the meerkats' own warning call.

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And now, he can enjoy his prize.

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A gang of meerkats, outsmarted by a bird.

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The drongo is only deceitful in the hardest winter months.

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For the rest of the year, he provides honest protection.

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So, in the long run, the meerkat family profit as well as the drongo.

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CHIRRUPING

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It's a much harder life,

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if you haven't yet learned the tricks of your trade.

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This young leopard is just a year old,

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and at a critical point in his life.

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His mother has battled to raise her two cubs,

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but finding enough food for them is now beyond her.

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From today, he'll have to fend for himself.

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Kalahari means "land of great thirst".

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Prey is scarce. Of all the leopards in Africa,

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these have to be the most resourceful.

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A big warthog.

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Potential prey,

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but armed and dangerous.

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His mother tried to tackle one, but it nearly killed her.

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He spots something more promising.

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A steenbok, that's more like it.

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He won't strike unless he can get to within just four metres,

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and without making the slightest sound.

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ANXIOUS YAPPING

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A jackal barks an alarm.

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But the steenbok still has no idea it's being stalked.

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The nearer he gets, the quieter he must be.

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He's blown it.

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A good opportunity like that won't come around very often.

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Hungry and thirsty, he heads back home,

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and spots a kill stashed in a tree, almost certainly by his own mother.

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And, like any teenager, he thinks nothing of raiding her larder.

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Booby trapped.

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It's not really his day, is it?

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Some young leopards grow up to be brilliant opportunists.

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But even they find life hard here in the Kalahari.

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These bizarre little birds are baby ostriches.

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They're just a few days old.

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In time, they'll become superb desert survivors.

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But in the Kalahari, these early days are perilous.

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Like leopards and meerkats, adult ostriches can extract

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all the moisture they require from their food.

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The chicks, however,

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won't survive much more than another day without water.

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But there's none in sight.

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How can their parents conjure up water out here?

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The youngsters follow their parents,

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as they head out onto a featureless wasteland.

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It seems like a suicidal journey.

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The Etosha salt pan.

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Here, water is more often a mirage than reality.

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It's now well over 40 degrees centigrade.

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Their father shades his chicks from the midday sun.

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Another mirage?

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No. The ostrich family is not alone out here.

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Surrounded by miles of sun-baked mud,

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sweet, fresh water wells up from deep below ground...

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like a miracle.

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Although the ostrich parents have guided their chicks to water,

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there's still a problem - traffic.

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Heavy traffic.

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These tiny, fragile birds could easily be trampled under foot.

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The water is tantalisingly close.

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Where prey gathers, predators are never far behind.

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The brawling lions have unwittingly done the young ostriches a favour.

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The water hole is now clear.

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Sometimes, you need a bit of luck in life.

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Their first-ever drink...

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and just in time.

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Their father's done his job.

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A black rhinoceros, the Kalahari's most cantankerous resident.

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They don't like company,

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and they certainly don't like sharing a water hole with lions.

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Fortunately - for everyone else, that is -

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they only visit twice a week.

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The Kalahari is the black rhino's last stronghold.

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And here, under the cover of darkness,

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at one secret and very special water hole,

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rhino abandon their normally solitary life,

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and come from miles around to meet under the stars.

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Using the latest starlight camera,

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we can reveal for the first time the rhino's true character.

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This young female seems nervous.

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She senses other rhinos close by.

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A mother appears from the shadows with her calf.

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Tentatively, they greet one another.

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They may be ill-tempered by day,

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but now they become gentle and affectionate.

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More and more arrive.

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We had no idea that rhinos met to socialise

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and build friendships like this.

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The young female has an admirer.

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But she doesn't seem keen on him.

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She's excited about something.

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Or someone.

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Here comes a really big male.

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This time, she's much more welcoming.

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Who would have thought that rhino could be so flirtatious?

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The first male tries to come between them.

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Somehow or other, he's got a pair of antelope horns stuck on his nose.

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It looks as if she's been won over by his eccentric style.

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He leads her off, away from the party.

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He may have style -

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but he's turning out to be something of a disappointment.

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GRUNTING

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A girl can only put up with so much.

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The only way she can get rid of him is to pretend she's asleep.

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To see so many rhino in one place is a revelation.

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And that's the power water has here - the power to bring together

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the greatest gathering of rhinos anywhere on Earth.

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Spitzkoppe.

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An ancient volcano, that towers above a plateau

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that is two billion years old.

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This land has remained unchanged

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for longer than any other part of Africa.

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Animals here have had a long time to find inventive solutions

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to the challenge of finding water.

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Out on the open plains, life must await the chance arrival of rain.

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THUNDER RUMBLES

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When it does fall, it has an extraordinary effect.

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Each sporadic downpour may only last minutes,

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but it can bring life, and in spectacular numbers.

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Red-billed quelea.

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SHRILL CHORUS

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They're the most numerous bird in the world.

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In all, more than a billion live here in the Kalahari.

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No-one knows quite how,

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but they seem to have an extraordinary ability to locate

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the fall of rain, and then instantly exploit the bonanza that follows.

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These nomads now have just five weeks to find food,

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build a nest and raise a brood.

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But they're not alone.

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The rains have also created a plague.

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These are armoured ground crickets.

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Giant insects, with voracious appetites...for meat.

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With the quelea parents away feeding,

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their chicks are defenceless.

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The adults return.

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But the cricket fights back.

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Squirting its own foul-tasting blood into their eyes.

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The cricket is still alive,

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but the stench of its blood attracts the attention of others.

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Now, IT is the target.

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These crickets become cannibals.

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All too soon, the bonanza brought by the rain is over,

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and the quelea head off in search of the next rare downpour.

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The Kalahari is scarred by rivers that have long since run dry,

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the water claimed by the thirsty land.

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But it's not gone far.

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Deep below lies a secret,

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one that was discovered only 25 years ago.

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Humid air rushing to the surface gives this place its name,

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Dragon's Breath Cave.

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The shaft descends for 60 metres, until it meets...

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..water.

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Here, there is a massive chamber,

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big enough to swallow three jumbo jets, nose to tail,

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filled with cool, fresh water.

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The world's largest underground lake.

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This is fossil water.

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It's been trapped here, undisturbed, for thousands,

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if not millions, of years.

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We have no idea how deep the lake is.

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Divers have been down to 100 metres,

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and still there's no sign of the bottom.

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Remarkably, Dragon's Breath is part of a vast cave system

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that extends beneath the Kalahari for thousands of miles.

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Even here, in this lonely cave, there is life.

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Golden catfish, only found in this one cave.

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They're the rarest and most isolated fish in the world.

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Life down here is as challenging as it is in the desert above.

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There's no food,

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except the debris that occasionally falls onto the surface.

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And these catfish are totally blind.

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The only world they know is the one they sense through touch.

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A blind fish living in perpetual darkness,

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deep beneath one of the most arid regions of Africa.

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Such cruel irony. So much water hidden away out of reach.

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Along the western edge of the Kalahari, the land becomes so dry,

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it seems impossible that any life could survive here.

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The Namib.

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A million square miles of sand exquisitely sculpted by the wind.

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This is the oldest desert in the world.

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Respite comes from fog rolling in from the Atlantic ocean.

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It condenses into a few precious drops.

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Just enough to sustain life.

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A pompilid wasp is searching the dunes.

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She's not looking for a drink, but for somewhere moist to lay her egg.

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How will she pull off a trick like that?

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The entrance to a burrow. That's worth investigating.

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She may be tiny, but once she decides to dig,

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she can shift extraordinary quantities of sand.

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She's unearthed this spider for a grisly purpose.

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It's so dry, the only place with enough moisture for her egg

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is within the body of another living thing.

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First, she must paralyse her victim.

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But then, the spider plays its trump card.

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The aptly-named golden wheel spider can cartwheel fast enough

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to escape its gruesome fate.

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For the wasp, her near impossible search goes on.

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If it's hard enough for a tiny wasp to survive here in the Namib,

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how is it possible for a giant?

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A desert giraffe.

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It's difficult to imagine how such a huge animal

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can live in a place with so little water.

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This old male is at the very limit of his endurance.

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The land may be bone dry,

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but there are signs that water once flowed here.

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The Hoanib, one of Namibia's rivers.

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A river of sand.

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The trees that line these sand rivers send roots down

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over 30 metres to tap water that lies deep beneath the river bed.

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These trees are the giraffe's salvation,

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even if he has to stretch to his very tallest to get a mouthful.

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Even on tiptoe, he still needs a half-metre-long tongue

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to reach the leaves he so badly needs.

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He's ruled this stretch of the Hoanib for over a decade,

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and this prime territory is attracting females.

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He waits confidently for her.

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But they've got company.

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A young male.

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The old bull won't tolerate a rival.

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Pushing and shoving, they size each other up.

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The young rival seems to think he has a chance and attacks.

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The first few blows usually settle things in such battles,

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but here, the stakes are high.

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To lose means exile in the desert.

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Neither will back down.

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As the fight intensifies, they change tactics.

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The young male aims for the rump.

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The old bull targets his rival's legs.

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The old bull is down.

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Is this the end of his reign?

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He knows a knockout blow is coming.

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But the old bull ducks...

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..and strikes a blow to his rival's underbelly.

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Out for the count.

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The old bull is victorious.

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But only just.

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The sand river remains his to rule.

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It's a river that is about to be transformed.

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Under clear blue skies, water floods down the Hoanib.

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The welcome consequence of rain that fell hundreds of miles away.

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The water may only flow for a matter of hours.

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But this miraculous flood is enough to provide

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a lifeline for the trees and the giraffes of the Hoanib River.

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It's what makes this place worth fighting for.

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Here, fossil lakes, secret water holes, desert fog

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and ephemeral rivers like this provide just enough water

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for life to get by, no matter how tough it gets.

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It's hard to find more inventive solutions to staying alive

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than in this, the most ancient corner of Africa.

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For four years, the Africa team searched the continent

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for new and surprising stories.

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Not only of strange and unfamiliar creatures,

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but also of some we think we know.

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Veteran wildlife cameraman Martyn Colbeck took on the challenge

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of shedding new light on the life of Namibia's desert giraffe.

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I jumped at the opportunity of working with an animal that

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I hadn't really spent much time with.

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Straightaway, they proved to be quite an eye-opener.

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They're very bizarre looking animals.

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We just kept looking at them from different angles

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and they looked even weirder.

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The combination of the sort of weird close ups, the beautiful

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landscape that they're in.

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They're amusing...

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I got really attached to them, actually.

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Overlying all this, we were always waiting for a fight.

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But to see a full-blooded fight is very rare.

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So, the only way that we were going to see it

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is if we stuck at it, day after day, every day for 30 days.

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We were lucky enough that we found a male guarding a female.

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And out of nowhere, this male came round the corner.

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And almost immediately faced up to our male.

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Absolutely no warning that this was going to happen,

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so it was complete pandemonium in the car.

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But luckily I got the camera up and running in time to actually

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capture this fight, and it all came down to one minute in real time.

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When I filmed it, you don't see it in slow motion.

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And you just have to go with the flow.

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You're not experiencing the fight,

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you're just basically framing it and capturing it.

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So it was only afterwards, when we looked at it in slow motion,

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that you could really understand how ferocious it was.

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You can see the impact on the skin.

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You can see the ripples going through the flesh.

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But it was the final blows that delivered the real surprise.

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It was like one of those chimneys falling down.

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At the last moment, the head just went clunk!

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And we thought it was dead.

0:51:300:51:31

We thought this thing was dead.

0:51:340:51:36

And it lay there for, it must have been three minutes.

0:51:380:51:41

Eventually, this thing suddenly got up, the one that was

0:51:420:51:46

lying down, and the two of them were then standing, and then the one that

0:51:460:51:50

had been knocked over completely then just said, "I've had enough.

0:51:500:51:54

"OK, OK, you won and I'm off".

0:51:540:51:57

I, I think it's very unlikely I'm going to see

0:52:030:52:05

anything like that again.

0:52:050:52:06

I think that's a once-in-a-life-timer. I really do.

0:52:060:52:10

It won't be easy to look at giraffes in the same way again.

0:52:120:52:16

On the other side of the desert,

0:52:210:52:23

another of Africa's great animal icons

0:52:230:52:26

was attracting the attention of the team

0:52:260:52:29

as they staked out a secret water hole.

0:52:290:52:31

They hoped to reveal a very different side

0:52:360:52:39

to the personality of the black rhinoceros.

0:52:390:52:42

The team have heard that at night rhinos behave a little strangely.

0:52:450:52:50

A specially-built starlight camera would allow the team

0:53:040:53:07

to pierce the darkness.

0:53:070:53:09

It's amazing. That's filming something we can't even see.

0:53:140:53:18

Yeah, and if you look out there now...

0:53:180:53:20

Yeah, it's just black, isn't it?

0:53:200:53:21

But through this, it looks as sharp as day.

0:53:210:53:25

Rhinos are notoriously antisocial,

0:53:250:53:27

yet here they come to revel in each other's company.

0:53:280:53:34

This is amazing.

0:53:340:53:35

This is such intimate behaviour,

0:53:370:53:40

which you can only see filming them at night like this.

0:53:400:53:45

It's incredible.

0:53:450:53:46

But it wasn't just cameras that would show a new side to rhinos.

0:53:530:53:58

By concealing tiny radio microphones around the water hole,

0:54:000:54:03

the crew hoped to eavesdrop on the night's activity.

0:54:040:54:07

RHINOS GRUNT

0:54:100:54:12

And what they heard was astonishing.

0:54:220:54:25

RHINO GRUMBLES

0:54:260:54:28

They're really talkative.

0:54:290:54:31

They really are having a good chat.

0:54:330:54:35

These guys are far more communicative than elephants, even.

0:54:380:54:42

They're just going on and on, chatting away.

0:54:440:54:48

SQUEALS AND GRUNTS

0:54:480:54:50

It's a beautiful, crystal clear night,

0:54:520:54:54

so we've got beautiful starry shots.

0:54:540:54:56

Loads of amazing noise. Puffing and huffing.

0:54:560:55:01

So it's about two in the morning.

0:55:060:55:08

There's only one rhino left up there.

0:55:080:55:10

The rest of the them have gone to bed,

0:55:100:55:12

but he's decided to lie down right on top of the radio mic.

0:55:120:55:15

RHINO GRUNTS AND SNORTS

0:55:170:55:19

The crew prepared for one more night

0:55:280:55:31

at the water hole under the full moon.

0:55:310:55:33

It seems that they're not really here for the water,

0:55:410:55:44

but more to socialise.

0:55:440:55:46

A bit like going out for the evening.

0:55:460:55:48

He's got some kudu horns on his face, draped over his nose!

0:55:530:55:58

LAUGHTER

0:55:580:56:00

Is it all on camera, too?

0:56:000:56:02

These images have a particular poignancy in a world where

0:56:050:56:09

rhino horn is worth more than its weight in gold.

0:56:090:56:14

Poaching is going through a really bad time right now

0:56:140:56:17

in Southern Africa.

0:56:170:56:18

If you averaged it out,

0:56:180:56:20

a rhino has been killed every day for the last year.

0:56:200:56:24

That's really serious poaching.

0:56:260:56:29

It's a huge concern that what we saw and filmed just won't happen again.

0:56:290:56:35

Ever!

0:56:350:56:37

It's only now that technology has revealed a new side

0:56:390:56:43

to the rhino's personality.

0:56:430:56:45

The black rhinoceros is a symbol of the African bush.

0:56:520:56:56

But it seems that this creature has been long misunderstood.

0:56:560:57:00

For the Africa team, revealing giraffes

0:57:050:57:08

and rhinos in this new light was just the beginning.

0:57:080:57:11

Africa may be a continent we think we know,

0:57:130:57:16

but it's still full of surprises.

0:57:160:57:19

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.


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