Seven Worlds, One Planet (2019–…): Season 1, Episode 7 - Africa - full transcript

Africa, home to the greatest wildlife gatherings on earth. But even in this land of plenty, wildlife faces huge challenges.


No continent on Earth today has
such spectacular wildlife.

At its heart lies
a vast tropical rainforest.

Over a million square miles
of wilderness,

much of it still unexplored...

...even now.

There are more species of animals
and plants in these jungles

than anywhere else on the continent.

But even in this land of plenty...

...wildlife now faces major challenges.

The forests of the Ivory Coast

contain over 1,500 species of plant,

but some are very difficult to get at...

...even for one of
the most intelligent of animals.


The elders in this group know
where to find the most nutritious food

and how to extract it.

But if they are to survive to adulthood,

the youngsters must learn these skills
from their parents.

This young female is five years old...


...old enough to be given
an important lesson.


And this is her teacher.

Her mother.

The lesson is how to crack a nut.

Using tools like this is so complex

that it has only been mastered by
a handful of chimpanzee communities.

This is a skill that has been practised
by chimps for several thousand years.

Time to try for herself.

She needs to find a better tool.

Small rocks just don't have the clout.

And larger ones are too cumbersome.

Wood is both light and strong...

...but not strong enough.

Back to teacher.

It may take a young chimp
up to a decade to perfect

the skills it needs for nut-cracking.

But she's already mastered one thing.

When her fingers can't reach
the nut inside...

...she strips down a branch to size...

...and makes herself a spoon.

She'll learn to use many tools
in her life...

...and eventually she'll share
this knowledge

with youngsters of her own,

enabling them to harvest the riches
of their rainforest home.

The sheer abundance of life
in the rainforests

is rivalled by that
on the eastern side of the continent.

The Great Rift Valley runs for 4,000 miles
down the length of Africa.

It developed some 30 million years ago,

when a giant plume of molten rock
pushing up from the depths

cracked the Earth's crust apart.

Fresh water began to accumulate
on the floor of this rift...

...and a chain of lakes developed.

These lakes are now
one of the richest freshwater habitats

to be found anywhere.

One single family of fish here -
the cichlids -

has evolved into more
than 1,500 different species.

This might look like paradise,

but competition between
these cichlid species is intense.

This crowded world is a dangerous one.

Baby fish, after all, make a tasty meal.

So, many cichlid mothers have developed
a very effective way

of keeping their offspring safe.

They use their mouths as a mobile nursery.

It's a safe haven where the fry can stay
until danger has passed.

When the coast is clear,
she releases them.

This kind of behaviour starts
when the cichlid female

picks up her newly laid eggs and holds
them in her mouth to keep them safe.

During spawning,
her mate flashes his yellow tail spots

to encourage her to keep laying.

As each batch of eggs emerges,

she scoops them up.

But this couple are being watched... cuckoo catfish.

They work as a gang

and devour as many cichlid eggs
as they can find.

Then, in the middle of all this activity,

one of the catfish also spawns.

The cichlid mother
collects every egg she can see.

Now, by herself, she must wait

while the eggs in her mouth develop.

It will take three weeks.

She doesn't eat
throughout that entire time.

But 18 days later,

something is not right.

The female blows out her young
before they're fully ready to emerge.

And they are followed
by young cuckoo catfish...

...three times the size of her own babies.

She may have as many as six of them
in her mouth.

And now

they begin to eat the cichlid babies.

The female cichlid treats the baby catfish
as if they were hers.

They are truly cuckoos among fish!

The forces that created
the Great Rift Valley

continue to shape Africa's landscape

even today.

At weak spots in the Earth's crust,
molten rock continues to erupt.

There are some 200 volcanoes
on the continent...

...many of them active.

They may bring destruction

but also, eventually, fertility.

This is Ol Doinyo Lengai.

For the past 400,000 years,
ash from this great volcano

has fallen on the surrounding savannas
of the Serengeti

and greatly enriched them.

This is the best grazing on the continent.

On it live the world's largest herds
of migrating animals...

...and they, in turn, support predators.

Here, in Kenya, cheetahs have formed
an unusual alliance.

These swiftest of cats usually hunt
in groups of two or three.

But this team of five
is one of the largest ever recorded.

Two sets of brothers

and a lead male.

They have now lived and hunted together
for almost three years.

By teaming up, they can hold

the best territory in the area.

But, even so, with five mouths to feed,
every hunt is very important.

They haven't eaten for three days.

To make a kill, they must get
within 30 metres of their quarry

without being detected.

Thick cover.

That will help them.

Topi - nearly three times their size...

...and quite strong enough
to fight off a lion,

let alone a single cheetah.

Now out in the open...

...every step the cheetahs take
increases their chance of success.

The herd scatter,
and the team splits up.

But they didn't get close enough.

They switch targets to zebra.

Everyone now knows that they're here.

They must devise a different approach.

All eyes are on the brothers.

Out in the open,
they seem to be no threat.

But the lead male is missing.

The brothers are decoys.

The trap is set.

The other four now join the lead male.

Under the combined weight of five cheetah,

death comes quickly.

Today, Africa's savannas support
larger herds of big game

than anywhere else in the world.

And they, one way or another,

provide food for all kinds
of smaller creatures.

An oxpecker.

A resourceful little bird
with an unusual diet.

Fleas, ticks and even dandruff are food,

as far as they are concerned.

Both parties benefit.

The oxpecker gets a good meal...

...and the host is cleaned in those places
it could never reach for itself.

Each bird, every day,
collects hundreds of ticks

and thousands of insect larvae.

But some oxpeckers
go for rather riskier meals.

Hippopotamus are highly territorial
and very aggressive... oxpeckers tackling them
must always be on their guard.

But there's much to be gained.

Blood is the most nutritious meal of all.

Pecking ensures that cuts remain open
and blood keeps flowing.

And an oxpecker,
once it's found an open wound,

will stay alongside it, no matter
how much that irritates its host.

The reward? An endless supply of food,

whatever the conditions.

Not all of Africa is rich and fertile.

A third of the continent is desert.

This is the Namib in the Southwest.

At its heart, a disused diamond mine

that was abandoned nearly 70 years ago.

But it still has one inhabitant.

A desert specialist...

...and one of Africa's rarest predators.

The brown hyena.

This ghost town is her home.

Its ruins give her valuable protection
from the elements.

She has been here for 15 years.

She's already reared
nine generations of cubs.

These two youngsters have reached
a critical stage in their lives.

They're four months old,
and now they need regular solid food.

But there is nothing edible
in these ruins,

so their mother has to look elsewhere

and may leave them
for several days on end.

Brown hyenas may walk over 20 miles a day
in search of food.

This is some of the most hostile country
on the planet.

Temperatures reach
a blistering 50 degrees Celsius.


Strong winds blow incessantly.

Hyenas from all over the Namib head for
where the sand dunes meet the sea.

Somewhere along

this seemingly barren stretch of sand,

there is food in great quantity.


Cape fur seals.

There are around 10,000 of them here.

Adult seals are large and strong.

But their pups are neither.

The youngsters are closely guarded
by their mothers.

A hyena, however, knows to be patient.

Sooner or later, seal mothers
must return to the ocean to cool off.

A single seal pup could feed a hyena
and her family for days.

But finding food is only half the battle.

It now has to be carried back.

A jackal is here too...

...and it's not alone.

If a hyena loses her kill, she'll have
nothing with which to feed her cubs.

The jackals won't follow her
very far from the coast.

It's too hot for them
in the desert interior.

Only by making these long journeys

can brown hyenas manage to survive
in the middle of the Namib.

But some desert animals
seldom move far.

The Kalahari Desert.

Here, food is more plentiful...

...but it's hidden.

A pangolin.

She can collect food
that others can't reach.

A keen sense of smell
enables her to detect

the presence of ants and termites
in their nests beneath the sand.

Her sticky tongue, some 30cm long,

enables her to collect them
from deep underground.

And she's being carefully watched.

The drier it gets,
the deeper the termites live.

Many are way beyond the reach
of even a pangolin.

But not of an aardvark.

It's the world's largest burrowing animal.

Its sense of smell is extremely acute.


Shovel-like claws and powerful legs
enable it to dig down

to depths of five or six metres.

A full-grown aardvark needs to eat
about 50,000 termites every day.

Termites are highly nutritious
and full of moisture,

and they can be collected here year round.

Aardvark are usually nocturnal.

But the fact that this one
is foraging in daylight

is a sign that food is scarce.

Recent droughts in the Kalahari
have led to low termite numbers

and, as a consequence,
aardvarks here are close to starvation.

Changes in the world's climate
are affecting many of Africa's animals.

It's predicted that in the next century,

Southern Africa will warm twice as much
as the global average.

The future will be bleak for those
that cannot adapt fast enough.

In Zimbabwe,
it hasn't rained in six months.

During a drought, food becomes
harder and harder to find.

Apple-ring acacias produce pods
that are full of protein...

...but mostly on their higher branches.

Six metres up, they're out of reach

even for the continent's largest animals.


This bull elephant needs to eat
about 90kg of vegetation every day.


He's worked out a remarkable way
of surviving

in these lean times.

But it requires great physical strength.

Only a handful of bulls
have mastered the skill.

He weighs over five tonnes.

This is a truly monumental effort.

Those around him benefit too.

Elephants have used their great
intelligence to help them survive

Africa's driest times for millennia.

But today,
they face an even greater threat.

It's thought that as many as 20 million
elephants once roamed the continent,

but many have been killed
for their tusks...

...their ivory used for entirely
ornamental purposes.

Now just 350,000 elephants remain.

These stockpiles of confiscated tusks

represent half of the elephants killed
on the continent

in just one year.

But of all of Africa's remaining wildlife,

it is the rhinoceros that has been
most affected by poaching.

In the Far East, its horn is used
as traditional medicine.

ALI of Africa's rhinos
are now under threat...

...but for one subspecies,
it's likely to be already too late.

The northern white rhinoceros
is facing extinction.

Scientists are working on a solution,

but no male now survives,
so natural breeding is impossible.

These two females
are the last of their kind.

When they die,

an entire subspecies that inhabited
the Earth for millions of years

will have disappeared for ever.

Right across Africa,

human beings are having
a devastating impact on all wildlife.

Cheetah numbers are decreasing

year on year.

Today, there are fewer than 8,000
left on the continent.

The global demand for pangolin scales
for use in traditional medicine

has now made them
the most trafficked animal on the planet.

And western chimpanzees are so threatened
by the loss of their habitat

that they are now critically endangered.

In this female's lifetime,

three-quarters of the forest
in the Ivory Coast

has been felled for plantations.

Deforestation -
and not only in Africa -

continues on an enormous scale.

64 million acres of forest
are destroyed every year

to make way for agriculture
and industry.

An area of forest
the size of a football field

is disappearing every second.

Climate change is affecting
global weather patterns.

Rainfall is increasingly unpredictable.

Average temperatures
are soaring all over the globe.

Extreme weather
is now affecting wildlife

on all seven of the planet's continents.

Today, scientists tell us that
we are at the start of a mass extinction,

and one that is being caused
by human activity.

Over a million species
could be wiped out,

many within the next few decades.

But with help, even the most vulnerable
wildlife populations can still recover.

In Africa's Virunga National Park,

an intensive conservation programme
for the mountain gorilla

has raised their numbers above 1,000
for the first time since records began.

And in Antarctica,

the international ban on whaling
has meant that the great whales

have returned to the Southern Ocean
in numbers not seen for a century.

So we can improve things...

...if we determine to do so.

This is a crucial moment in time.

The decisions we take now

will influence the future of animals,

and indeed all life on Earth.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: For the Africa team,
each shoot presented its own challenge...

...but one tested them
in ways they never imagined.

The team journeyed for six days
to the heart of the Congo rainforest.

Their aim - to film the intimate lives
of lowland gorillas.

They worked with local expert trackers,

who can pick up the trail
of evidence left by the gorillas.

From the plant, they can tell
which way the group has gone.

As they close in, the team wear masks
to stop the spread of disease.

Finally, a silverback and his family
in the trees.

(WHISPERS) Look at that big boy.

(WHISPERS) He's huge!

You don't want to look him in the eye
because that...


The trackers have known this male
for 20 years

and use clicking noises to reassure him.


It was a completely amazing experience.

Just came closer and closer and closer,

and my eyes got wider and wider and wider.

Yeah, it was incredible.
I'm just sort of smiling.

It's kind of hard to process. (LAUGHS)

But soon, the gorillas head
into the thickest jungle...

(WHISPERS) Heavy, heavy.


...which means that keeping up
ls difficult.

(WHISPERS) There are a group of gorillas
somewhere in this mass of vegetation

but it takes us about ten minutes
just to cut a few-metres path through it.

Filming them is virtually impossible.

(WHISPERS) Oh, there's always
a piece of vegetation in the way.

Oh, God, 1 can barely see anything.


As the days pass,
the jungle begins to take its toll.

Oh, God, this is awful.

Your ears, your nose, my eyes...
They're flying everywhere.

And with little filmed, the reality
of the situation is sinking in.

It's going to be a real challenge for me
to get a sequence here,

and it's a long way to come
to get nothing.

Yeah, I'd say I'm feeling
the pressure at the moment.


Half the shoot is now over,

so the crew decide
to move to a more open area.

Their destination -

a clearing known as a ball.

So, our luxurious home for the next
ten days or so is the top of this mirador.

It's a little cramped,
but from this platform

they hope to spot the gorillas
emerging from the forest.

On their first morning,
the crew awaken to a visitor.

It's our first elephant on this trip.

There's a big bull
in the middle of the bai.

And finally,

the risk of moving pays off.

(WHISPERS) It's been
a really, really quiet morning,

but a big group of gorillas,
about 15,

has suddenly appeared really, really close
to us and, apparently,

this very rarely happens. Maybe about
once a month they'll come this close.

Over the next week,
the gorillas continue to visit the ba.

Until one afternoon...




On the platform,
the team are vulnerable.

There's been poachers
probably within eyeshot of us.

They know we're here.
We can't see them.

And two big gunshots.

They decide to evacuate.

But there's also a risk of walking
through the jungle at night.

The one rule of the forest is not to walk
in the forest when it gets dark,

so we're going as fast as we can.

Elephants are in the area,
so this is extremely dangerous.


An hour later,
the team reach a camp.

Oh, God.


That is not an experience
I'd want to repeat again.

We had to choose between the risk

of getting charged
by an elephant in the dark

or getting shot by poachers.


So, yeah, it's...pretty stressful.

(EXHALES) I'm going to have a sit-down.

If they're ivory poachers,
this is quite serious,

and they've got nothing to lose,

and the gunshot was aimed in our
direction, that's where the sound was.

It's a pretty scary situation to be in.

Overnight, an armed anti-poaching unit
ls called in to scout the area.

Because of the remoteness
of this park,

there's been no poaching
recorded in the last 20 years,

so this is a really significant moment
and it's a really sad moment,

because it means that,
as roads are being built here,

it's becoming less and less remote, the
animals here are in more and more danger.

Within a few hours,
the anti-poaching unit return

with a stash of tusks
and news of a slaughtered elephant.

It's about as tragic as it gets, really,
and we heard the two shots go off,

so we were there when it happened
and the elephant went down.

With the armed poachers still on the run,

the team decide to abandon the shoot.

It's really tough
leaving on such a sad note.

We've been watching these elephants
in the bai for the last week,

and knowing that one of them
was killed yesterday is, um,

is horrible and, yeah,
it's sad to be leaving like this.

The poachers were caught,
but this incident

is a reminder of how vulnerable
wildlife has become on the continent.

Even animals
in the remotest parts of Africa,

and indeed all our seven worlds,

are now at risk.