Animal (2021) s01e01 Episode Script

Big Cats

1 [purring.]
[soft growling.]
[Rashida Jones.]
Nothing captures our imagination like a big cat.
Magnificent, powerful, deadly.
But as we get closer to these elusive animals, we're discovering another side to their lives.
One more caring, collaborative [roaring.]
and resilient than we ever imagined.
There is far more to big cats than meets the eye.
[birds chirping.]
[evocative music playing.]
Three months ago, this lioness left her pride to give birth on her own.
Young cubs are vulnerable, especially to other lions.
But now that they're a little bigger, she's ready to return.
Providing for a growing family isn't easy as a single mom.
She's having to hunt more often, and that means leaving her cubs and heading out alone.
On the open savanna, prey is easy to spot.
But so is she.
[suspenseful music plays.]
She must be patient.
Big cats are more deadly after dark.
With incredible night vision, six times better than our own lions have an advantage over their prey.
Operating alone, she must get as close as possible before she strikes.
[dramatic music building.]
[intense, percussive music playing.]
[lion growls.]
Hunting at night, a single lioness has almost as much success as a pride.
The problem is holding on to her kill.
[hyenas hooting.]
[lion growls.]
Lions are the biggest predators on these plains.
She can handle one or two hyenas.
[hyenas shrieking.]
But a whole clan? Now that's a different story.
[lion growls.]
It's not just her kill at risk.
It's her life.
[hyenas shriek.]
[lion growls.]
But this lioness is not alone.
Her family has found her.
With them by her side, she's invincible.
[thrilling music playing.]
[hyenas shriek.]
Fierce competition on the savanna has forced lions to do something extraordinary.
They're the only big cats that live in prides.
Females do most of the hunting.
The male's main role is defending the family.
As long as they stay strong, the cubs should be safe.
But peace never lasts long in the world of big cats.
Since the dawn of their evolution, killing has been a way of life.
Over ten million years ago, deep in the forests of Asia, a new breed of predator began to emerge.
[birds squawking.]
[ominous music playing.]
[suspenseful music plays.]
Today, the clouded leopard provides a glimpse into how these early felines may have lived.
It's the smallest of the big cats but the most agile.
Short, muscular legs, super sharp claws rotating ankle joints and a counterbalancing tail make them such good climbers.
Even monkeys aren't safe.
Relative to size, a clouded leopard also has the longest canine teeth of any cat.
A modern-day sabertooth.
Over time, big cats came down from the trees grew larger and even more powerful.
As they evolved and conquered new worlds, each cat adopted a camouflage to give it an edge.
[suspenseful music plays.]
Even the largest can blend into the background.
Tiger stripes turn into tangled vegetation.
A plain coat helps a stalking puma disappear, even when there's nowhere to hide.
The spots of a leopard mimic the dappled shadows of open woodland so it can set an ambush at close range.
But camouflage doesn't only help on the attack.
It also helps in defense.
A cheetah mom, hiding away with her tiny cubs.
Just ten days old, this is when big cats are most vulnerable.
Eyes barely opened, totally reliant on Mom.
Most big cats grow slowly, developing at a similar rate.
It'll be about nine weeks before they move on to meat.
Six months before they're fully weaned.
And by around two years old, they will finally be ready to go it alone.
It's a long and dangerous journey, from helpless cub to deadly hunter.
Especially for the biggest cat of them all.
This five-month-old tiger cub is far from fully grown.
But she's already figuring out how to hunt in her forest home.
She must learn to select a target plan her approach and execute her final attack.
This time, her victim is just her brother.
Stalking, pouncing, and fighting each other is a safe way to sharpen skills.
Besides, taking out your brothers is just plain fun.
[upbeat music plays.]
Play is a fundamental part of development in all big cats.
But some lessons have to be learned the hard way.
This six-month-old leopard cub spends most of his time hanging out.
With Mom.
Though when she heads out hunting he is safest staying put.
But where's the fun in that? It's time for a little adventure.
[jaunty music plays.]
Not the most confident descent.
Better nail the dismount.
[rustling leaves.]
A maturing cat needs to push his boundaries, but he mustn't aim too high.
Cape buffalo.
[suspenseful music plays.]
One of Africa's most dangerous animals, with a reputation for killing cubs.
A rookie mistake.
[buffalo grunting.]
This is no time for honing hunting skills.
It's time to learn how to hide.
[ominous music playing.]
And when to run for your life.
[buffalo grunting.]
One of nine lives gone and still a lot to learn.
And when Mom returns, it's time for one of the toughest tutorials of all.
A warthog, still alive.
A grisly prospect, but a chance to practice the throat clamp, the big cats' killer bite.
[somber music playing.]
When the cub struggles, the pro steps in.
Big cats learn by copying Mom.
When he strikes out alone, this young leopard needs all the skills and experience he can get.
This is why cubs need so much time under Mom's watch.
In the Okavango, the lioness is settling back in with her pride.
With rival lions all around, her cubs are safest under Dad's protection.
Until now, they've only eaten with Mom.
Today, the cubs are dining with the king.
He's much bigger up close.
Males take their fill before they let the females feed.
They're more tolerant of cubs.
Up to a point.
The lionesses do most of the parenting.
And with Dad taking the lion's share, they need to head out hunting again.
Prides can be over 40 strong.
So maintaining relationships isn't easy.
[dramatic music plays.]
Complicated social lives have led lions to be the cleverest of all big cats.
[growls softly.]
And that extra brainpower also makes for one killer team.
[dramatic music plays.]
During the hunt, each lioness knows her role.
The heaviest find a place to wait.
Lighter, faster wingers encircle the herd.
The trap is set.
The wingers charge in at 30 miles an hour, driving prey towards the ambush.
If one misses there's someone else waiting.
[suspenseful music rising.]
During the day, when the pride hunts as a team, they double their chances of success.
Everyone gets a share.
This is a sisterhood of equals.
And though tempers fray [growling.]
they're usually kept in check.
The pride is stronger together.
But once again, Dad muscles in.
It seems unfair, but it's critical for the pride males to stay fighting fit.
The threat of invasion is coming closer.
[distant roars.]
Roaming males, looking to take over the pride.
And kill the cubs.
[sinister music plays.]
To protect his family, Dad needs all the strength he can get.
Defending territory is vital to a big cat's success.
The world's largest wetland may not seem ideal cat country.
But it's home to the world's greatest concentration of jaguars.
Stout and muscular, the pit bulls of the big cat world.
Pound for pound, they have the most powerful jaws of all.
This is his turf.
Male jaguars regularly scent-mark their territory.
And they patrol on land and in water.
Unlike most cats, jaguars are strong swimmers.
[dramatic music plays.]
Males don't just guard a territory for themselves.
Several females have space within it.
This one is in season, and she's picked up his scent.
They'll mate repeatedly in the coming days [growling.]
making it likely he'll father her cubs.
He needs to be sure, because rivals are always looking for a chance to sneak in.
[suspenseful music plays.]
A neighbor has crossed the threshold.
Jaguars try to avoid fights.
The risk of injury is too great.
But when mating rights are at stake, they're left with little choice.
[intense music playing.]
The intruder is seen off.
For now.
The quest for territory has forced big cats into extremes.
Amur tigers prowl the frozen forests of Siberia.
Long, dense fur protects them from the freezing temperatures.
Indian leopards slink through the backstreets of Mumbai hunting stray dogs and other domestic animals under cover of night.
And one big cat even scales the highest mountains in the world.
Four thousand meters up.
It's cold.
The air is thin.
The terrain is treacherous.
But somehow, this female snow leopard finds a way.
Short forelimbs, extended hind limbs, and an exceptionally long tail give balance and agility on rugged terrain.
She can jump ten meters in a single bound.
Broad, thickly-furred feet work like snowshoes, preventing her from sinking in deep drifts.
There's so little to eat, she must range over an area of 300 square miles.
Snow leopards cover such vast distances, they rarely meet.
Instead, they communicate through scent.
Despite the extreme challenges of survival, this remarkable female has managed to raise three cubs.
For nearly two years, they've depended on Mom.
Now it's time they start hunting for themselves.
That's not easy here.
But this young ibex could offer one of the cubs a chance.
[suspenseful music plays.]
Hunting at these altitudes is high risk.
[rocks clattering.]
And the ibex just raised the stakes.
Mom watches on.
He needs to do this on his own.
[suspenseful music plays.]
[snow leopard growls.]
So close yet so far.
It might look like a failure, but even a top predator needs to know his limits.
Up here, it could save his life.
[wind rushing.]
Soon, these three cubs will be on their own, relying on the skills that they've learned.
But one challenge they face is beyond their control.
The warming climate is forcing these cold-adapted animals further up into the mountains.
The higher they go, the less space there is.
As wilderness disappears, it brings big cats into conflict with humans.
Seen as a threat to both livestock and ourselves hunted for trophies and body parts [noble music playing.]
big cats are persecuted throughout the world and being driven towards extinction.
But there is hope.
When we allow these majestic animals a little space in our world, the results can be amazing.
Fifty years ago, in these valleys, humans had wiped out much of the wildlife.
But since hunting and farming were banned here, guanaco numbers have steadily recovered.
And when prey returns [tense music playing.]
predators follow.
Pumas, also known as mountain lions.
They used to be so thin on the ground, they were assumed to be solitary.
But now, there are more pumas here than anywhere else in the Americas.
And they're beginning to behave in ways never seen before.
Pumas are coming together, tolerating each other.
Even those outside the family.
And more surprisingly, they're sharing their food.
As this region becomes more wild, perhaps pumas are reverting to their natural ways.
The image of big cats as lone assassins is being challenged.
It turns out they're better team players than we ever imagined.
The cheetah is the fastest of all big cats.
Built for speed rather than power, it's also the most fragile.
But by ganging up they become a formidable force.
A band of brothers.
They don't coordinate their hunts like lions.
They play a numbers game.
Each picks a target.
Then moves in.
The chase is on.
[hooves clattering.]
[dramatic music plays.]
If one fails, the rest are on to other opportunities.
[dramatic music continues.]
Sooner or later, an attack will land.
And where a single cheetah struggles to kill a wildebeest [dramatic music continues.]
combined power is enough to bring it down.
[somber music plays.]
Joining forces helps big cats become more successful hunters.
But for lions, strength in numbers is even more important in defense.
The Okavango cubs are carefree, unaware their lives are about to change.
[distant growling.]
The sound that strikes fear into every lion family.
[distant growling continues.]
The roaming males are getting close, intent on taking over the pride.
If they succeed, the intruders will kill the cubs to bring the females back into season.
The pride males try to intimidate.
But the intruders are not backing down.
[distant roaring.]
A fight is inevitable.
The lionesses need to get their cubs away from danger.
But their route to safety is blocked.
[sudden music sting.]
These cats usually avoid water.
With good reason.
But there's no choice.
No turning back now.
[soft growling.]
[soft growling.]
[suspenseful music plays.]
The youngest struggle to keep up.
Just a little further.
Finally, with Mom leading the way, they make it to safety.
[tranquil music plays.]
But not all have been so lucky.
[somber music plays.]
One of the pride males.
Protecting the cubs has cost him his life.
Now, only their father survives.
[emotional music playing.]
How long he can maintain his rule remains to be seen.
For now, at least, the cubs are safe growing strong with the love and protection of the pride and a father who'll defend them with his life.
[emotional music rising.]
All big cats are born into a life full of danger and drama.
But as long as we give them the freedom they need these magnificent animals will live on.
[soaring dramatic music plays.]
[closing theme music playing.]

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