Planet Earth II – David Attenborough + BBC
Episode 4 : Deserts
This weeks episode was ‘Deserts’. Imagine a world where temperatures rise to 120 degree Fahrenheit, where there’s no escape from sun, wind and dust. A world with almost no food, or water. These are the conditions in one third of the lands of our planet. To live here demands the most extraordinary survival strategies.
Our first port of call is the oldest desert in the world, the Nambib in south-west Africa. It’s been dry for 55 million years, life here for a hunter is as hard as it gets. A pride of Lions are the first animals we meet that endure the deserts scorching temperatures. Though some wildcats are synonymously known for solitary lifestyles, Lions have always tended towards forming large pride’s, when food is scarce, the stakes are higher and teamwork tends to breed a higher success rate. To find enough to eat the pride continually search an area the size of Switzerland.
We witness some intensive beautifully aesthetic bolts of lightening against the night sky.
It does sometimes rain in the desert, our location : The American West, storms can strike with devastating force. After 10 months of drought, millions of tonnes of water are dumped on the land in under an hour. Which creates some interesting sights.
Over millions of years, sand and gravel carried by the rampaging floods have carved channels through the solid rock, the results are quite stunning. These formations look like something an abstract architect major created.
In some places these canyons have widened until the land between them is sculpted into some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet. If anyone has been watching the absolute gem of a series “Westworld” this looks as if its been taken right out of the first episode.
we’re shown some clever plants, the rain may be long gone but there is water here, locked away within the tissues of desert specialists. Cacti hoard water and store it in swollen stems and protecting it with spines.
As always everything in nature has secondary and tertiary unexpected functions. Not many animals can land on the spikes unharmed, a Harris Hawk being one exception.
We meet some adorable little ground squirrels who benefit from the cactus plants providing them cover.
We see that the spines that cover almost every plant in these desert can provide protection and shelter for many animals, so why should these spikes be hung with corpses?
The mysterious killer at work in this desert is a ‘Butcher Bird’, this little songbird uses the spines as a butcher uses his hook; to hold its prey as it dismembers it. Keeping his pray out of reach from the scavengers of the ground, ensures that he can feed his young. An ingenius solution to making the good times last in the desert. An example of a bird clever enough to use a tool, similar to the Otter who uses rocks to smash open clams.
We again witness some of the benefits that accompany the new technological advances with some more of these shots. Some deserts are so baron they appear completely devoid of all vegetation, yet even these landscapes can be transformed in a matter of days. The deserts of Peru are amongst the driest in the world but just add a little water and plants that have laid dormant for months will burst into life.
When a desert suddenly turns green ,even the most seemingly desolate can become a land of opportunity. These deserts in Peru are amongst the driest in the world but just add a little water and plants that have lain dormant for months will burst into life. Planet Earth 2 has certainly not disappointed with all the makings of a superb show, Attenborough’s velveteen voice saturated with nostalgia along with some breathtaking imagery and inspired thoughts on the changing world.
These rock formation i found particularly intriguing, scorched by the sun and scoured by wind-blown sand, desert rock is shaped into strange other worldly landscapes. These rocky deserts may have a beguiling beauty but when they become this baron very little life can endure.
For many animals the only way to survive the most hostile times is to keep moving, eg. Zebras + elephants – as drought intensifies they roam miles and miles hoping to find an oasis, a rare water hole.
All this little ones missing is her pal Mowgli
In the desert, life can continually be on the move, searching for the next source of water. We’re reminded again of the arduous journey that these animals are constantly making in order to survive.
In deserts most water holes are short lived, they appear after rains but then vanish almost as quickly as they appeared. The astounding amount and varieties of animals that visit here would make it appear to be a sanctuary of sorts. This scene was quite reminiscent to me of a moment in The Lion King when animals of all kinds gathered near Pride Rock.
Seeing this variety of animals co-existing for the rare resource of the waterhole was quite intriguing.
There was one mammal i found particularly intriguing and a compelling example of adapt to survive which were the Sandgrouse birds. The chicks hatch over 60 miles from a water hole, the father make the round trip every day.
But how they collect the water for their chicks is incredible. Using specially adapted breast feathers he can soak up water like a sponge. This is another example of how over years genetics will enable animals to adapt and survive the conditions they live in.
The highest temperatures on earth have all been recorded in its deserts. Changes in the climate mean temperatures here are rising more than the global average, and as deserts heat up they are also expanding. Every year a further 50,000 square miles of grass and farmland are turning into baron stretches of dust and rock.
In the heat of the day surface temperatures can reach 160 degrees. Far too hot to handle for most, but not for this ‘Shovel-Snouted Lizard.’ Raising its feet off the ground in turn enables each to briefly cool.
Another option is to find shade, Dune grass; the only vegetation here provides virtually none but just an inch beneath the surface of the sand it is several degrees cooler.
In the deserts, a lot of animals stay hidden all day like the sandsnake above ^ so nighttime releases a new hoard of life that only perk up when the sun is sleeping. Like our first friend, the desert long-eared bat.
We meet an incredible ‘Web-Footed Geckho’ who climbs the Dunes each morning when there’s mist and allows condensation to build up on his body and then licks it off, taking in the water and nourishment. An smart solution to the drought of the desert.
Saving the best till last, The Maqua Chameleons are one of the main predators of the desert, close relatives to the ones we met in Madagascar. Their accuracy making them a formidable opponent.
Our weekly lesson :
“The diversity of life that thrives in a world almost totally devoid of water is truly remarkable. Success in the desert depends on an extraordinary variety of survival strategies that have evolved over millions of years. But our planet is changing, the worlds deserts are growing bigger, hotter and drier and they’re doing so faster than ever before.” How life will cope here in the future remains to be seen. Give evolution enough time and it will adapt, our problem is that we’re changing the environment so rapidly due to our ludicrously large impact on all of its systems that we’re not giving it any time to come up with solutions. We’re edging towards the point of damage control as opposed to regeneration.