Big Beasts (2023–…): Season 1, Episode 5 - The Hippo - full transcript

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[Tom Hiddleston] Giant animals.

Living legends.

Fantastic creatures.

These are nature's big beasts.

But experience the world
from their perspective,

and you'll see it's not easy being huge.


The larger the animal...

- [growling]
- ...the higher the stakes

and the more epic the adventure.

[animals chattering, growling]

[huffs, grunts]

[Hiddleston] Big and belligerent.

Hippos are the most dangerous mammals
in Africa.

A four-ton bull will do whatever it takes
to defend his territory.


But deep down, beneath the surface...

he reveals a surprisingly sensitive side.

He cares for a pod of 30 females.

They rely on him as their bodyguard
and homemaker.


But their home is about to change.

Soon, this watery wonderland,

Botswana's Okavango Delta,
will turn to dust.

The bull faces a huge challenge
to keep his family afloat.

If you weigh as much as a pickup truck,

this is paradise.

A hippo's happy place,
where he can take the weight off his feet.

He spends 16 hours a day in the water...


...but amazingly, he can't actually swim.

A solid tank of muscle and bone,
he's just too dense.

Instead, he glides on tiptoes.

Almost weightless,
he can travel for miles...

surfacing every few minutes
for an enormous lungful of air.

Cruising at five miles an hour,
he cuts a path through the vegetation...

and compacts sand into deep channels.

Soon, there's a huge network
of hippo highways.

When the Okavango floods,

these channels allow water
to spread far and wide,

transforming 6,000 square miles
of the Kalahari Desert

into the largest inland delta on Earth...

and attracting a huge diversity of life.

Hippos play a massive role
in engineering this vast oasis,

but paradise also requires a gardener...

a six-ton bull elephant,
drawn in by a seasonal bounty.


Water lilies are a rare treat
in the desert,

and he has just the right tool
to make the most of them...

a six-foot-long trunk

with sixty times more muscles
than the entire human body.


With incredible dexterity,
he plucks and rinses...

before devouring the tasty tips.


Lilies only grow for a few weeks,

so he binges up to 600 pounds
of them a day.

His constant gardening helps keep
the hippo channels clear...

and the fresh water flowing,

at least for now.

In a quiet pool...

[insects chittering]

...away from the rest of the pod,

this female hippo is hiding a secret...

her brand-new calf.

Only five days old

and already the size of an armchair,
yet thirty times lighter than Mum.


Time alone is time to bond and to grow.

She'll gain nearly two pounds a day.

Right now,
she's too tiny to touch the bottom...

so her mother keeps her in the shallows
and acts as her life raft.

Only when the calf is big enough will
they seek out the safety of the pod.


Till then, Mum is her only protection.

The lions here show no fear of water.

In fact, an aquatic lifestyle
only makes them stronger.

Wading and swimming builds so much muscle...

[growling, snarling]

...they're considered
to be the largest lions on Earth.

Big cats have big appetites.

And thanks to the flood,
plenty of prey is coming their way.

[grunting, lowing]

Elephants trek thousands
of miles across the Kalahari Desert

to reach the Delta.

The matriarch has made the same journey
for 40 years.

She knows
the good times don't last forever.

Elephants drink huge amounts of water.

The adults need
up to 50 gallons every day...

so they take their fill
while the flood is high.

Deep water also provides sanctuary
for the bull hippo and his pod...

but every day,
he must leave his palatial pool

to satisfy his colossal appetite.

At this time of year,
the land is flushed with fresh growth.

[hippo honking]

But once out of water,
gravity is not his friend,

and his stumpy legs must bear
the full burden.

That wide mouth enables him
to graze the 100 pounds a day he needs

to sustain a body this size.

[hippo huffs]

Even so, munching through an area the size
of seven football fields

means five hours out of water.

Thick hide provides some protection
from the sun...

but when his big body begins overheating,
he must retreat.

Luckily, during the flood,
water is never far away.


And just as well.

The lions are on patrol.

Wary animals know sticking to deeper water
makes hunting more difficult for big cats.


Silent stalking is almost impossible...

[bird chirping]

...and chasing through swamp is hard work.


But the advantage prey animals enjoy
during the flood will soon disappear

as the Delta begins to dry.

[lion growls]

Now her calf is two weeks old,

Mum's eager to return to the safety
of the big bull's pool.

But she'll have to be careful.

Other females
in the pod don't like anyone muscling in.

Her calf is especially at risk.


Baby hippos can be trampled...

sometimes deliberately killed.

Opening her jaws as wide as a hockey goal...


...Mum shows off her ten-inch tusks.

But her display of power...

only provokes.

[grunts, whines]

There's no backing down now.




Size and determination win Mum her place
back in the pool...

and Dad welcomes the new addition
to the pod.

A good start...

but tougher times lie ahead.

Four months after the flood arrived,
it begins to recede.

The tide is slowly turning
in favor of the lions,

but as soon as they made a kill,
the pride males stole it.


And they don't like to share,

even with each other.


Mature males weigh up to 500 pounds,

- have the strength of six men
- [snarling]

and can eat 15% of their body weight
a day.

Until the Delta dries
and hunting gets easier,

food still has to be fought for.

While the lionesses make do with scraps,

only the biggest cats take
the lion's share.

[insects chittering]

Temperatures soar.

Water evaporates.

And animals disperse.

[bulls bellowing]

Dry grass is not enough
to sustain an elephant.


Thankfully, the herd knows a shortcut
to more nutritious food.

Palm nuts grow out of reach
of most animals,

but not these heavyweights.



[monkey shrieks]

[birds squawking]

The commotion attracts other elephants
from miles around.

[birds chirping]


[elephant trumpets]

As they move on, each mighty gardener
leaves its mark on the land once again.

Over time, 300 pounds
of seed-packed poo a day

turns their paths
into avenues of palm trees

and creates an easy-to-follow treasure map
for generations to come.

[elephant trumpets]

Ten months after the flood arrived,

most of the remaining water
is concentrated in hippo pools.

But as the pod's home shrinks,
tempers begin to fray.


A lone male in search
of somewhere to cool off.

But intruders are not welcome,
especially at this time of year.

The big bull is determined
to protect his pod and his pool.

A show of strength could be enough...

but his rival is so desperate,
he has no choice but to go head-to-head.


Monstrous jaws and larger tusks
give Dad the edge.

The nomad will have
to find water elsewhere.

The big bull has defended
his precious pool...


...and secured his family's lifeline
until the flood returns.

The Delta is now so dry,
the elephants must travel miles every day...

following ancestral trails
in search of water.


A vast number of normally solitary males
have congregated at this water hole.

The first to arrive take
the best spots at the bar.

But other big bulls
are always trying to push in.

Six-foot tusks can be a pain...

- [whining]
- the backside.

The bulls are getting frustrated,
each desperate for a drink.


Not a good time
for a herd of thirsty females...

and their exhausted young.

One calf is already on his last legs.


Just a couple of days old,
he was born into famine and thirst.

He needs over 20 pints of milk a day,
but his mother has run dry.

His begging tests the patience
of even the gentlest giants.


None of the females have anything to give.

Eventually, one of them's had enough.

[whining, trumpeting]


The little calf is too weak to go on.



But the matriarch will not give up on him.

She coaxes him back to his feet...

then signals the herd to get moving.

She stays close by the youngster's side
to make sure he's safe,

as they head off
to where she knows there's food.

It's hard to believe
this place was once a wetland.

The hippo pool is now barely enough

to keep them cool
or protect their sensitive skin.

But without any other options,
they're stuck in the mud...

prisoners in what once was paradise,

sentenced to suffer until the next flood.


After three months of drought...

deliverance begins as a trickle.

Water that fell as rain
in the highlands of Angola

has already traveled a thousand miles.

First, it refills the hippo channels...

then spreads across the Delta,

replenishing pools
and refreshing the land.


The young calf gets his first taste
of the flood.

The Okavango Delta is transformed,
a vast oasis in the desert once more.

And the hippos' water world is revived.


Freed from their pools,
they set out to explore...

carving new channels
that will shape the Delta for all.

Dad can breathe easy again.

He's led his family
through the tough times...

and now he's back
in a hippo's happy place.