Big Cats (2018) s01e02 Episode Script

Episode 2

High in the tree tops of Central America.
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a margay rules the forest.
Just one of a remarkable family .
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that has conquered the world.
One family .
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40 different faces.
They thrive in every landscape .
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from the frozen north .
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to the driest deserts.
From the most remote, barely explored places .
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to the heart of our modern world.
These are the cats.
The monsoon wetlands of South Asia .
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home to an extraordinary cat .
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one whose entire life revolves around water.
This is a fishing cat.
Their unique ability to catch slippery fish in these weed-filled ponds has allowed them to colonise these vast wetlands.
Beneath their long outer coat, they have a shorter layer of insulating fur that acts like a wet suit and they have partially webbed feet.
They're well adapted to a life aquatic .
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but, even so, every fishing cat still has to learn how to fish.
This female has two kittens just a couple of months old.
[KITTEN MEOWS] Up to now, they've been kept safely away from the water's edge, but that's all about to change.
This is the first time they've seen water.
[KITTEN PURRS] It's natural to be nervous .
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but these water babies take to it like a cat to water.
It's time to show them the real reason they've been brought here.
Long whiskers detect vibrations from fish moving in the shallows .
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helping to gauge the exact striking distance.
Now it's the kittens' turn.
For now, it's only water plants that need to be afraid.
This could take some time.
They'll be back tomorrow for another lesson.
All over the globe, cats of all shapes and sizes have adapted to the challenges of the planet's most extreme environments.
This is the Namib, Southern Africa, the oldest desert on Earth.
Here, there's no surface water for hundreds of miles.
Despite this, these desert lions thrive amongst the dunes.
They live in small, isolated prides, relying on shared knowledge and experience to find food in this hostile landscape.
Amongst the dunes, three sisters, barely a year old.
They are alone, recently orphaned.
The youngest, most inexperienced pride in Africa.
This is the hardest time of the year for the animals of the Namib.
The desert is at its hottest .
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and driest.
Yet it's this hostility that offers the cubs a chance to survive.
It will mean searching day in, day out.
They walk twice as far as lions living on the savannas of East Africa.
This is the lifeline they were looking for, a victim of the extreme heat, a dead oryx.
These cubs don't have the skills or strength to hunt yet.
But like all desert lions, when times demand it, they will scavenge .
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even on rotting meat.
With luck, this strategy of scavenging victims of the harsh desert will keep the cubs from starvation.
A kudu, a huge antelope, and one rarely seen in the desert.
But this is no victim of the heat.
This is a lion kill.
A lioness that's not going to share.
A close call and a vital lesson for the sisters.
In the desert, the biggest danger facing young lions comes from adult lions.
The desert has provided just enough for them to survive.
Very soon they will be old enough and strong enough to hunt for themselves.
Cats have evolved to survive in almost every environment on Earth.
The thick fur and large padded feet of Canada lynx enable them to thrive in the deep snow of the frozen north.
In the forests of India, wonderfully agile clouded leopards are at home amongst tangled branches.
Large claws provide grip and a long tail gives them balance.
On the African plains, caracal spring almost effortlessly over the tall savanna grass .
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using their long, powerful legs.
Whilst some cats are finely tuned to live in just one environment, some have a different strategy.
They will go wherever new opportunities appear.
The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.
Here, there's a cat that can swap life in the jungle to go hunting on a tropical beach.
Thermal-imaging cameras reveal the nightlife on this Pacific shore, and it's busy.
A jaguar, the biggest and most powerful cat in the Americas.
They're built to take on the biggest, most dangerous prey in the jungle .
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but this female is pregnant.
Right now, she needs to eat as much as possible to provide nourishment for her developing cub.
Tonight, this beach may provide a very welcome addition to her diet.
A jaguar's eyes are six times more sensitive to light than our own, so, even in the dark, anything that moves catches her attention.
Around the time of the full moon, turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.
An olive ridley turtle has one-inch thick armour for protection .
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but, for its size, a jaguar has the strongest jaws of any cat .
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a bite powerful enough to crack open this rich source of food.
She is not the only one that benefits - other animals clean up the scraps.
Her visit to the beach couldn't have been timed any better.
It's the beginning of a seasonal gathering of turtles, known locally as the arribada, the arrival.
Over the next few nights, 30,000 turtles will come to this beach to nest.
In fact, she won't eat many.
But for this expectant mother, the meat from a few turtles will make all the difference.
Soon this opportunity will be over and she will return to hunting in the forest .
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leaving the beach to the thousands of hatchlings that emerge and return safely to sea.
2,500 miles north .
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the cool and stormy shores of California.
A very different coastline, where a very different cat has found her own way to make her living.
At home in her den close to the beach .
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a bobcat.
Bobcats usually hunt rabbits and small mammals, but this female has set her sights rather higher.
Here, where a freshwater stream meets the sea .
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gulls flock to drink and wash salt from their feathers.
It's what she's counting on.
But it's not going to be easy.
She'll just have to wait for the gulls to come back.
To hunt like this takes determination.
Most end in failure .
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but she returns, day after day.
With every attempt, she refines her technique.
At last .
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but one gull won't keep her fed for long.
Fortunately, this beach is never short of chances to hunt.
There's no doubting her persistence and skill .
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even if the occasional gull does slip her grip.
And, remarkably, she's doing all this whilst she's blind in one eye.
The Sundarbans of India and Bangladesh is the world's largest mangrove swamp.
Unexplored, muddy islands surrounded by the sea .
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where a legendary big cat rules.
[BIG CAT MAKES BELLOWING GROWLS] Perhaps the most elusive and least understood.
The swamp tiger.
Only at low tide is it possible catch a glimpse of what lies within these mysterious mangroves.
This is when the animals come down to the shore to feed .
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both hunted and hunter.
Low tide also offers a brief chance for this male to patrol the shoreline of his island.
Scent marking is a warning to other tigers to keep off.
This is a place where a cat must live his entire life in tune with the tide.
With the rising water, life retreats back to the depths of the mangroves .
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and he must follow .
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disappearing again into these strange swamplands.
We know almost nothing about these tigers, but researchers now believe that as many as 100 of them make these remote islands their home.
The world's most celebrated big cats continue to surprise us, but the most surprising cats of all .
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are the little cats.
[FUNKY MUSIC PLAYS] Out of the 40 known cat species, 33 are what scientists call the small cats.
They are the most secretive and least studied of all the cats.
In the mountains of Chile, a guigna, the smallest cat in all the Americas, hunts moths amongst the undergrowth.
Ocelots are the most common cat in the Costa Rican jungle, yet they are rarely seen.
Their perfectly camouflaged coats help them to disappear in an instant.
African wild cats live scattered all across Africa, from Morocco to South Africa, one of the most widespread of all cats, yet they too are hardly ever seen.
But now specialist camera technology is giving us a new insight into the mysterious lives of these small cats in some of the most remote places on Earth.
The Karoo desert, South Africa.
A vast landscape dominated by low desert scrub.
It provides the perfect cover for Africa's smallest cat.
[CAT WAILS] She waits for the cool of night before heading out to hunt.
A black-footed cat.
This little female is known to researchers as Gyra.
She's tiny, weighing not much more than a kilo, 200 times lighter than a lion.
She'd be almost impossible to find, but she's being tracked with a radio collar.
And using surveillance cameras that rival a cat's night vision, we can at last reveal her nocturnal pursuits.
She can walk 20 miles a night in search of food, the furthest recorded for any small cat.
Guided by superb night vision, and responding to the tiniest sounds .
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anything that moves is a potential meal.
She'll even eat locusts .
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but she prefers gerbils.
Or, if that doesn't work, birds.
With a wiggle to tuck her legs in, she gets as low to the ground as possible.
Primed like a spring, she can deliver maximum power .
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to jump.
She hits her target 60% of the time.
It's what makes black-footed cats the most lethal hunters in the entire cat family.
And the reason for Gyra's huge appetite is that she's raising her own little hunter.
Even the deadliest cat in Africa can have a softer side.
Perhaps the most bizarre small cat of all lives here .
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in the heart of Mongolia .
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one of the most remote and least populated places on Earth.
After decades of research, we are now able to reveal an insight into their hidden lives.
This is Pallas's cat.
She's cautious and she has good reason.
Kittens.
Four of them.
Two months old and just out of the den.
They're already becoming a bit of a handful.
They live in a world of windswept grassland, an area three times bigger than the UK, but this outcrop of rocks is a safe place to hide the family.
It's morning and the kittens are hungry, but a mother can't hunt with four excitable youngsters tagging along.
Today, she will have to leave her kittens home alone.
Out here, in the open, there's nowhere to hide.
The only thing she can do is to try and blend in.
A Pallas's cat's ears are positioned unusually low on the side of their head and that helps them to keep a low profile.
What's more, these cats can flatten their body to look .
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like a rock.
She'll need to hunt all day to provide enough for her growing kittens, who, meanwhile, are getting up to all sorts of mischief.
Play will help them to hone their own hunting skills.
A silver vole finds itself the centre of the kittens' attention.
The key is a silent, patient approach.
Alas, on these rocks, a vole has the upper hand.
Fortunately, the kittens can rely on their mother to provide.
Pallas's cats actually do very well here and there could be as many as 10,000 living in these grasslands .
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not that it makes them any easier to see.
In some places, small cats are living secret lives right under our noses.
East of Johannesburg, Africa's biggest industrial complex.
The size of a town.
Behind the barbed wire, surveillance cameras detect intruders every night.
A cat has taken over.
The tierboskat, also known as a serval.
This restricted area is now the home of around 100 of these small spotted cats .
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the densest population anywhere in Africa.
This secure wasteland is teeming with life.
It's a place where people rarely venture .
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and the fences keep out larger predators that might be a threat to the servals.
What's more, the water used to cool the heavy industry has helped create lush meadows around these pools and that, in turn, has led to an explosion of rats and mice.
All a serval can eat.
They're not only attracted by the food, but by the one thing that all cats need, their own space .
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where they can be left undisturbed.
This is a small cat paradise.
Cats have conquered almost every corner of the planet.
But now, even in the most remote places, they are feeling the impact from our way of life .
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as we encroach more and more into their world.
Around the planet, their numbers are decreasing.
If cats are to survive in our changing world, we just need to leave them some space.
For the Big Cats team, it was filming small cats that posed the greatest challenge .
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none more so than Pallas's cat in the remote grasslands of Mongolia.
Producer Paul Williams and camerawoman Sue Gibson are hoping to be the first team to film this elusive cat and they're hoping to find a family with kittens.
They're joining Gaana and his research team, who have been studying the cats here for over a decade.
As luck would have it, the researchers have already seen kittens on their camera traps.
We've got kittens and a mother, which is really exciting cos that was only a few days ago that they were caught on the camera trap.
They stake out the location, hoping that the family is still around.
- Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! - Do you see? Yeah, yeah, yeah! Oh, wow! Wow, wow, wow! They're one of the cats we've really been desperate to film and to see one for the first time is absolutely incredible.
That's really special to see.
I can't believe how lucky we've been.
While the cats are asleep in their den, the team gather rocks to build a hide.
We're going to leave all the kit here and then back off.
There might be something new in the environment but at least there won't be anyone here.
Hoping that the behaviour of the cats won't change and they will be fine with it.
The next day, when the mother leaves to go hunting, Sue and Paul sneak into position while the rest of the team keep a lookout from the hills.
All they can do now is wait and watch.
It's not long before the mother returns.
Sue, can you copy me? Yeah? Mother is coming on your right to den.
OK, copy that.
I'll go silent now, thanks.
I've just filmed my first Pallas's cat.
They were quite far away, but it's only the first day.
I wasn't expecting to film anything yet, actually.
Filming doesn't often start this well and, sure enough, their luck doesn't last long.
This big storm suddenly appeared on the horizon and already the wind's really picking up.
It could be pretty severe and I don't want to stick around here very long.
Exposed on the Mongolian Steppe, the winds quickly reach speeds of 50mph.
The storm is coming up, so we need to tighten up.
Absolutely insane.
Phwoar, it is blowing like crazy out there! The freak storm has left a trail of destruction.
Our dining tent is gone completely.
It blew our toilet tent to the other side of the mountain.
I'm glad I wasn't sat on it when that happened! While the rest of the team clean up the debris, Sue and Gaana head back to the hide.
It's not looking good.
I'm wondering whether the storm has moved them on because I haven't seen Mum or kittens.
After 12 hours, there's still been no sign of the cats.
So we're going to have to get together and have a chat, and think about what to do.
The cats could have gone anywhere and in any direction.
With no time to put out more camera traps, the team have to search the old-fashioned way.
It's so difficult finding that little cat in this big landscape.
Days of searching .
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turn into weeks.
No cats again.
The Pallas's cat is probably one of the most difficult cats to find, which is why it's never been filmed before.
This landscape is vast, these cats are incredibly well camouflaged and are very, very good at hiding.
Finally, Gaana has some good news.
- You found a den? - Yeah.
- Ah, fantastic! - SUE: - Hi, Paul, do you copy? Over.
I've just heard from Gaana that he has found a den.
Nice one! Great news, great news! Sue now has a second chance.
The new den is high on a hill, sheltered amongst rocks.
It's the same family and, even better, the kittens are now much more active.
[SUE LAUGHS] It's exactly what the team were hoping to film - kittens at play.
They are the cutest kittens I've ever seen and I've filmed quite a few on this series.
To be that close to little wild bundles of fluff, that was amazing.
It's a remarkable insight into the life of a remarkable cat.
Next time, the frontiers of discovery - Just in front of us.
- Ah, that's really special! - Holy mackerel! - .
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getting closer than ever before There you go! .
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to the secret lives of cats.
There.