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Great Wildlife moments 2

that takes us from the skies above to the wide, open spaces below This is the frontier between life in the ocean and a desert of ice where almost no animals dare go. But one creature has to cross it: the emperor penguin. In May, when the freezing waters and cold temperatures force other animals to retreat to warmer conditions in the north, emperor penguins head south. They make their way to a number of traditional nesting sites. In this wildlife, there may be 25,000 birds. Emperors are unique. They are the only birds to lay their eggs directly on ice. Just hours after the female has produced her single egg, the male takes it over. The transfer has to be quick if the egg is not to freeze. Blood vessels that keep the egg 80 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. Under a flap of skin, it's sealed away for the winter. When the egg is inside the male's pouch, the females are free to go. They start the long trek back across the sea ice to the open ocean, Ieaving their partners to face the coldest conditions on earth. With temperatures of 70 below, and in terrible storms, the penguins huddle tightly together for warmth. No other adult penguins are so tolerant of one another, but for emperors this is the key to survival. These trumpeting calls carry for several miles and are often the prelude to a spectacular courtship dance. Dancing is contagious. Soon the whole flock is in motion.





 
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The Ainu celebrate this special event with their own dance. It's a way of fending off evil spirits. They haven't spent any time checking out escape routes. So when a real threat turns up, a goshawk, the dash for cover is going to be in uncharted territory. It was Arnie who was first into the hole, and he stumbled into real trouble in the darkness. A small scratch on his left shoulder suggests a snake bite. He struggles to keep up with the family, but there really is nothing that can be done, other than stay nearby and watch over him. He eventually manages to make it back to the burrow alone, and only just in time. He falls unconscious. By the time the rest of the family returns in the evening, he's barely breathing. He holds on to wildlife through the night and the whole of the next day. Then, on the third morning after the bite, there is a miraculous change. Somehow he's pulled through. In half of all hunts, lions cooperate using techniques learnt as cubs. They vary their strategy according to the prey they seek. One lioness waits. Others fan out in a flanking maneuver. Their strategy has the herd surrounded. The zebra's kick saves its life, but other lions lie in ambush. A neck bite finally subdues her prey. Back at the African waterhole, after four long days, the giant python has selected its prey. Now it changes position in the water, going into the reeds close to the bank. Its heat-sensitive pits tell it the exact range and direction of a springbok. The snake's long curved teeth anchor into the springbok's flesh and hold fast. The springbok is pulled down by the python's weight. There's just time for the python to throw a single coil over its prey. One coil becomes two coils and the constriction begins. The python goes for the torso, wrapping its coils around the ribcage that contains the lungs. It waits for the animal to breathe out and then tightens its grip a little. Here, inside the very coils of the python, the animal discovers that every time it breathes out, the snake simply tightens its grip again. Eventually, the springbok can't expand its lungs at all and it asphyxiates. Sensors on the python's underside can detect the heartbeat of its victim, and it may continue constricting so long as it feels that heartbeat. Once its prey is dead, or just unconscious, the python releases its grip, and, using the grain of the animal's fur to guide it, moves round to the head of the springbok to start eating. Everybody knows that the snake can somehow unhinge its lower jaw, but that's only a part of the solution to eating an animal three times the width of your head, with horns on top. The head of the snake is divided into four main sections: the two halves of the lower jaw and the two halves of the upper jaw. All four sections are connected by elastic ligaments that allow each to move independently of the others. The python's brain is sealed in a little solid compartment on top of the skull behind the eyes, so as the head splits into four, the brain case rides over the top. In effect, the snake moves over the top of the prey and the jaws just expand around it. But the prey is not necessarily dead. Horror of horrors, it might still be alive, albeit unconscious. If you were swallowed by a giant snake, this is what it might be like. The snake's peristaltic muscles, used for swallowing, push you deeper and deeper into its throat. Your head is inside, but the rest of your body is still outside the snake. The outside world disappears as the peristalsis relentlessly pushes you deeper and deeper. Is it possible the victim might recover consciousness during this swallowing process? Who can tell? Eventually, the powerful acids in the python's digestive juices do their job. They dissolve flesh and bone and convert the victim into nutrition. This python will not need to feed again this year. When sifakas are on the move, their agility and precision in the trees can clearly be seen, particularly in slow motion. Sifakas are vertical leapers, relying on powerful rear legs to push off with, and large feet to clamp onto the branches. Front limbs are used for steadying and balance. When a gap between trees is too wide to cross in mid-air, sifakas often climb down and continue along the ground in a way which presents one of the most extraordinary sights of the Madagascan forest. Disproportionately long legs, evolved from movement in the trees, makes running on all fours impossible. For sifakas, bouncing sideways seems the only alternative. But, for a youngster, the method has first to be learnt and then perfected. An adult's movement is like a gymnastic ballet. While the youngster looks more like a child in a sack race. All living creatures on the earth and all material objects on it are subject to the pull of one great force: the force of gravity. Were that to be suspended, even for a moment, the most extraordinary things would happen. I, for example, would suddenly float into the air, because I at the moment... am flying in an aircraft on a very special course which in effect cancels out the effect of gravity. So I float easily through the air. Our plane is climbing and diving as though it were on a giant roller coaster, and as it goes over the crest of its climb, it really lifts you out of your seat and keeps you there. If there were no gravity on earth, seas would rise from their beds, just as this water lifts out of its cup and disintegrates into droplets. Nothing would remain where it was placed. There would be no up and no down. There would no longer be the sense of earthly order that we take so much for granted. Some creatures have overcome the force of gravity sufficiently to enable them to fly, but the only ones that match this total freedom in the air that I have now are those so small that they are, in effect, weightless. This is the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas. In the heart of town, it may not seem a likely home for wildlife. But look again. Expansion cracks in the concrete are stuffed with bodies. Mexican free-tailed bats. We are creatures of the light. In the centre of town, it's shop till you drop. But underneath the arches, the night shift is taking it easy. The bats are biding their time. As sunset approaches, the bats fly out to look for food, all one and half million of them. In the summer, the shady bridge provides a cool place to hang out until it's time for their autumn migration. In a few weeks, they'll head south across the Rio Grande to spend the winter in Mexico. In the Dadia Mountains in Greece, golden eagles hunt over open forest, but their long wings create problems when chasing their prey among the trees. They have found an unlikely alternative prey. Soaring, as a search technique, is equally effective for finding tortoises. The armored shell presents an intriguing challenge. It simply doesn't have the right tools for the job. Its solution is ingenious. It flies to a favored site, where a rocky outcrop acts like a natural anvil. It then gains height. It then safely parachutes into the clearing. The impact separates the tortoise shell into two halves, like loosening a lid. Eagles here feed almost exclusively on tortoises, and they've all learned the same trick. In forests, tree nests are common, but too many trees and the eagles can't hunt, even for tortoises. Down goes the counterweight. And now I'm leaving that dark world of the forest floor, and really entering a completely new one. Now I'm getting up into the canopy, into the world of the birds of paradise. And here's the top. The birds are in another emergent tree just like this one, and I've got an absolutely clear view of them. It's not likely that they're going to take fright at my sudden appearance because they've been using that tree for generation after generation, and it will take a lot more than just me to put them off it. This, at last, is Wallace's picture come to life. He was the first European to glimpse this spectacle, and he knew well, in general terms, what was happening. This is a female. She's come to pick a mate from among the gorgeous males who are displaying. A young male. He's dancing even though he hasn't yet got his plumes. They don't develop until he's six or seven years old. There are several young males here putting in a little dancing practice. This, however, is almost certainly a female, because the males are starting the second stage of their performance: the bow, head down. The female has hopped onto the perch of the male of her choice. That's a straight invitation to mate. Act three: the approach, head up. Act four: the first physical contact. It looks rough, but presumably she likes this sort of treatment. She could easily move away if she didn't. And that's it. And now there's another to be attended to. There's a queue on this particular perch. This is all he does as a father. Now she'll fly away and raise her young unaided.

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The males on the other perches, in spite of all their efforts, have no success at all. He's at it again. But his partner is not reacting properly. She's facing away from him. He's got it wrong. This is a young male. You don't normally think of them as hunters, more as gentle vegetarians munching fruit and picking leaves. But if you follow them for any length of time in their true home, these forests in West Africa, you discover that they are hunters. What's more, they hunt in teams and have a more complex strategy than any other hunting animal except...except, of course, man. And one of the hunters, the experienced male, is sitting right there. This is the time they hunt, the wet season. Their regular preys are monkeys, but they're very selective. A Diana monkey, a big species, and one they seldom tackle. A spot-nosed monkey. Red colobus. Better jumpers than chimps and half their weight, they can go on thinner branches, so in theory a chimp can't catch them. But they can do so by working as a team, and there are half a dozen experienced males in this group of about 60 who regularly do so. This is one of them. From the purposeful way he's walking, it's clear the search for prey has started. The other members of the team are not far away. They've been steadily following the monkeys for about 20 minutes, looking for an opportunity. The technique they'll almost certainly use is that one of them will be driving the colobus ahead of him. Others go up on either side, blockers, who won't make any attempt to catch the monkeys.

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There are chasers who grab at the monkey if they can. Finally, there's one male who will go up ahead and ambush it, so bringing the whole trap closed. The monkeys are now getting alarmed. A driver's going up to drive them towards an area where they're more easily trapped. That's one of the blockers that have now quietly come ahead of the colobus. It's halfway up the tree now. He's deliberately making himself conspicuous. They're all in position. The drivers and blockers have gone up, and the one who's gonna make the ambush and close the ring, he's gone up too. The colobus will be very lucky if they escape now. They've got one! The hunters are tearing it apart. The hunters in the trees and the spectators on the ground are screaming with excitement. After three months buried in their eggs, baby green iguanas burst out ready to go. We know from fossils that some baby dinosaurs hatched from communal nests, but what happened next? First, iguana babies dig their way up to the surface. Instantly alert, they emerge into a dangerous world. Hundreds break out from different clutches over several days. Instead of striking out alone, the babies form peer groups, unexpected behavior for primitive reptiles. They taste each other, forging social bonds that may help them survive a risky start. One iguana takes the lead. The others follow. They need to get to cover urgently. Here, their green color is no camouflage.
 
Japanese cranes can live for more than 50 years and usually pair for life
Japanese cranes can live for more than 50 years and usually pair for life
  Eagles here feed almost exclusively on tortoises, and they've all learned the same trick
Eagles here feed almost exclusively on tortoises, and they've all learned the same trick
  A basilisk lizard, a flesh-eater like prehistoric T-rex, here to intercept the passing herd
A basilisk lizard, a flesh-eater like prehistoric T-rex, here to intercept the passing herd

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A basilisk lizard, a flesh-eater like prehistoric T-rex, here to intercept the passing herd. Dramas like this, between reptile predator and prey, have been played out for millions of years. Like T-rex, the basilisk runs down his quarry on strongly-muscled back legs. Instinctively, the babies head for water. Their scaly feet trap air bubbles that act like stepping stones, so they can literally walk on water. This is just the first of many dangers that threaten the babies. The next is starvation. One of the most extraordinary of these insect enticers lives here in the tropical rainforest of Sumatra. It only flowers once in 1,000 days, and when the flower develops, it only lasts for three days, so very few people have seen it, but here it is. Technically, it's a whole group of flowers clustered around this, but you could be justified for regarding it as one flower. And if you do that, this is the biggest flower in the world. It's related to the dead horse arum, but its nine feet tall and three feet across.

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It's Amorphophallus titanium, the titan arum. The function of this great spike in the middle is to produce a smell... and if you smell it, it smells very strongly of bad fish. This apparently attracts insects which come along here and go down into this great funnel to the small flowers that grow at the base. Until this film was taken, no one was sure what insect pollinated the titan arum. As we watched, we saw that, without doubt, the job was done by tiny sweat bees. Like other arums, the male flowers form a band at the top. Below them, the female flowers, with long, yellow-tipped stigmas. The bees found some reward on the stigmas, for they crawled over them, distributing the pollen they'd brought with them. But why does the titan arum produce the biggest bloom in the world to attract such tiny pollinators? To be effective, these bees must bring pollen from another bloom, but since the plant is rare and only flowers once in three years, the nearest may be miles away. It's not easy to spread perfume over such distances in the air of the rainforest. Perhaps the best way to do so is to disperse it from a spire, like smoke from a factory chimney. There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know. We're so similar. Their sight, their hearing, their sense of smell, they're so similar to ours that we see the world in the same way as they do.

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They live in the same sort of social groups, have permanent family relationships. They walk around on the ground as we do, though they're immensely more powerful than we are. And so if ever there was a possibility of escaping the human condition and living imaginatively in another creature's world, it must be with the gorilla. And yet, as I sit here surrounded by this trusting gorilla family. They're gentle, placid creatures. The boss of the group is that silverback male. The rest are adult females with their young sons and daughters, and this is how they spend most of their time, Iounging on the ground, grooming one another. The male is an enormously powerful creature, but he only uses his strength when he is actually protecting his own family from a marauding male from another group. And it's very, very rare that there is any violence within the group. So it seems really very unfair that man should have chosen the gorilla to symbolize all that is aggressive and violent, when that's the one thing that the gorilla is not and that we are. That grasping, manipulative hand has now become something more: an instrument with which to explore and investigate. The fingers can revolve a small object and investigate it from every angle. They feel not only its shape but its texture, for the fingers, no longer required to be put flat on the ground, have sensitive pads at the end, and covered with tiny ridges of skin to enhance the sense of touch. Every gorilla, in fact, has its own unique fingerprints, just as we have. The gorilla family spends its day gently grazing, and there's plenty of time for play. Half-grown blackback males regularly have wrestling matches. Sometimes they even allow others to join in. Though they may play games, you don't forget that these are the rulers of the forest, and the great silverback is king of the whole group.

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