Mammals (2024) s01e01 Episode Script


66 million years ago,
an asteroid was
on a direct collision course
with the Earth.
Its impact was
to dramatically change
the course of life
on our planet
..leading to a mass extinction
that wiped out three-quarters
of all animal life.
Out of the darkness that followed,
emerged a group that went on
to dominate the world.
That group is the mammals.
Highly adaptable
and remarkably widespread,
they are now found
in every ocean
and on every continent,
in the air and underground.
In this series,
we'll reveal the secrets
behind their success
and the challenges
they now face
in a world dominated
by the most successful mammal
of all -
Evening in the forests
of central Africa.
A family of chimpanzees is looking
for somewhere to spend the night.
Like us, they have
excellent daytime vision
..but at night,
they could be caught unawares.
As the light fades,
they climb up into the canopy,
where it's safer.
There, they start to make beds
for themselves.
Here, in the treetops,
the whole family will be able
to sleep soundly
through the darkest hours.
But sleeping at night is
unusual among mammals.
More than two thirds of them
only become active
after the sun has set.
So, while you and I and chimpanzees
are fast asleep
..most mammals the world over
are as active as they will ever be.
It's evening,
and the light is fading.
A female leopard is starting
to think about hunting.
She can see there is plenty
of possible prey.
But, in daylight,
they can see her just as easily
as she can see them.
That, however, is all about
to change
..when her remarkable
night vision will give her
a crucial advantage.
The leopard's eyes have
a reflective structure
behind the retina, called a tapetum,
that amplifies even the tiniest
amount of light.
That now becomes very valuable,
because, tonight,
it is particularly dark.
Impala have learnt to be wary.
With her prey so alert
..she has little chance
of catching one here.
But there are
other opportunities nearby.
20 metres above the forest floor,
a troop of yellow baboons
are settling down for the night.
Even on such a dark night as this
..a leopard can pick out
the most vulnerable.
Baboons have poor night vision.
Their hearing, though, is excellent.
The closer she gets,
the greater the risk of waking them.
The troop is now fully alarmed she becomes bolder.
In all the commotion,
a mother and baby take
a wrong turn
..and now they are trapped
at the end of a branch.
There seems to be no escape.
The thinnest of branches offers
the mother and baby a lifeline.
With the baboons so alarmed,
she will need all her power
and agility now.
The troop scatters again,
and one makes a fatal mistake.
Many nocturnal mammals,
like the leopard,
have extremely sensitive
night vision.
But how do you find your prey
if it is completely out of sight?
The Sahara.
Under a moonlit sky,
it's one of the quietest places
on Earth.
In the cool air of night,
sound travels further
than it does in the heat of the day.
And one mammal uses that
to its advantage.
It's a creature
that's rarely seen
..because it can hear us coming.
A fennec fox.
Its body is scarcely bigger
than that of a guinea pig.
But those ears are huge.
If anyone can hear a pin drop,
a fennec fox can.
And in this vast open space,
it's listening for
the tiny footsteps of its prey.
A gerbil.
But, at the first sign of danger,
gerbils hide underground.
The fox searches dune
..after dune,
listening for the faintest
of audible clues.
Those enormous ears
are so sensitive,
they can even hear the movements
of prey hiding underground.
But then they have to be dug out.
There is no gerbil.
But those ears help pinpoint
all sorts of other smaller creatures
under the sand.
Such as beetles and lizards.
And they don't only help
to find food.
This fox can hear
..a distant call
echoing across the dunes.
It's January.
The beginning
of the breeding season.
But for this pair
..perhaps it's just
a little too early.
To meet the challenges brought
by darkness,
nocturnal mammals
have sharpened their senses
in extraordinary ways.
And that's all been possible
because mammals started
their journeys into night
a very long time ago.
200 million years ago,
the land was dominated by dinosaurs
and other great reptilian hunters,
but they were mostly active
during the warmth of the day.
So the early mammals kept
out of their way
by only emerging to feed at night.
They were very small,
they had hairy coats
which kept them warm
..and they found
their way around by using
one of the most ancient senses
of all.
In fact,
they were probably
very like this little creature,
a tiny Etruscan shrew.
This one is a mother.
And she's taking her young family
for their first night-time walk.
To ensure they don't get lost
in the darkness,
they, literally, keep in touch.
The babies hold on tight
..until they reach
the safety of a new nest.
Touch not only helps them
find their way
..they use it when hunting.
Weighing less than a ping-pong ball,
Etruscan shrews are the world's
smallest terrestrial mammal.
But they're still
formidable predators.
Some of the hairs on the end
of their noses
have become enlarged
into whiskers,
that are especially sensitive
to touch.
Like an extra pair of hands,
they guide them
on a never-ending search for a meal.
To fuel their frenetic lifestyle,
they feed every few hours.
A bush cricket.
It's almost as big as she is
..and well able
to make a quick getaway.
She will need
the lightest of touches
if she's to catch it.
So she switches
to whisker mode.
To prevent it escaping,
she must grab
one of its jumping legs.
She won't get a second chance.
It's a relatively enormous meal.
But she must eat a lot
to feed her ever-growing family
and fuel her fast-paced lifestyle.
So she'll soon be out
hunting again.
Feeling their way by touch
is not the only method
by which mammals deal
with the problems of darkness.
In Argentina, as night falls,
life starts to stir
in an abandoned farm building.
There are all kinds of smells
drifting through the air -
some powerful
..some faint.
And one nocturnal mammal has
an extraordinarily sensitive
way of detecting
even the faintest of them.
An armadillo.
There are 21 species
in the Americas.
This one is the large
After dark,
he heads out
into the surrounding pasture
..guided by a highly sensitive nose.
This male has detected a smell
that he finds especially enticing
..and soon locates the source.
A female in season
..and she's producing
an irresistible perfume.
He's fallen for her.
But she is not so sure about him.
So she takes the lead.
The male has to keep up,
as best he can.
Back in the abandoned building,
the clutter in the rooms makes
things more difficult.
He's lost her
..but her scent is everywhere.
He's not giving up.
Eventually, she leads him
to a quiet corner.
Her choice is made.
Equipped with an array
of sharp super-senses,
nocturnal mammals have
little difficulty
in finding not only food,
but mates.
But some of the most successful
of all
don't only use their own senses
..they also rely on each other.
The Ngorongoro Crater
in northern Tanzania.
One of the greatest
mammal hot spots in the world.
With such an abundance of prey,
the crater attracts
great numbers of predators.
Amongst them, spotted hyenas.
And this female is a member
of one of the most exceptional
and caring families.
She will nurture her cubs
for 18 months.
And she is not a single parent.
Far from it.
She has the support
of a sisterhood.
A clan ruled by females,
60 adults strong.
With so many mouths to feed,
hyenas must hunt almost every night.
As dusk falls, they head out,
splitting up into small groups widen their search for prey.
They are well equipped
to hunt in darkness,
with excellent low-light vision,
a superb sense of smell
and highly acute hearing.
But they aren't the only ones
out hunting.
A pride of lions
has already made a kill.
The hyenas try their luck
at scavenging.
There is no easy meal
to be had here.
But not far away,
they find one
of the most impressive mammals
in the crater.
One with the reputation
of being particularly dangerous.
Cape buffalo.
A single one of them
would be enough food
for the whole hyena clan.
But a full-grown buffalo weighs
three quarters of a tonne
and is very formidable.
The small group of hyenas look
for a weakness
in the buffalo's defence.
It's just too risky.
But when the odds are stacked
against them,
hyenas play their trump card.
They summon reinforcements.
Their calls echo across the crater.
Clan members
up to three miles away
..hear their cry for assistance.
The buffalo is still
standing strong.
More reinforcements are needed.
Now, with the combined strength
of the whole clan
..they have a chance.
But a wounded buffalo is
particularly dangerous.
One stab from those horns
could kill.
They must force the buffalo
off its feet.
There's no escape
from so many hyena.
Their ability to work as a team
makes the spotted hyena
one of Africa's most
successful predators.
But there is one mammal that
has brought working together
to a whole new level.
Nearly a metre beneath the surface
of the Kalahari Desert,
there are tunnels
..where normally, animals live
in permanent darkness.
Only our lights make them visible.
Damaraland mole-rats.
The heart of their colony
is their nesting chamber.
And here,
amongst the mass of bodies,
lies the queen.
She is the only female who breeds.
All the rest,
whether male or female,
are workers.
Their main task is
to dig for food.
But the dry season
brings a challenge.
The soil becomes so hard and dry
that mole-rats are unable
to dig out the tubers
on which they feed.
And their larder is nearly empty.
Digging is now so difficult,
they have to save their energies
until conditions improve.
It's late November.
The rains, at last, have returned.
Each downpour helps to soften
the soil.
And the workers
can start digging again.
Now, using their huge incisors,
they are able to cut through
the rain-soaked soil.
The first tubers they find,
they eat on the spot.
Once they've had their fill,
they carry away the tubers they find
to a chamber
that serves as a larder.
The colony works without pause.
After the rains, they may dig
half a mile of new tunnels,
shifting nearly three tonnes
of soil.
All in order
to restock their larder.
Finally, they have accumulated
enough food
to see them through
the next dry season.
Thanks to their dedicated teams
of workers,
mole-rats have succeeded
in an underground world
in permanent darkness.
But there is one group of mammals,
that has colonised the dark
with such success
that they've spread
to almost every land on Earth
outside the polar regions.
Dusk on the north-west coast
of Trinidad.
Deep inside a sea cave,
a colony of greater bulldog bats
are waking up.
Whether their English name is
a libel or a compliment
is, perhaps, debatable.
Bats are the only mammals
that have true powered flight.
Getting airborne requires
a thorough preflight check.
Their wings are membranes of skin
stretched between
greatly elongated fingers.
Licking helps keep them supple.
These particular bats are
also equipped
with an unusual feature.
Their feet have enormously
elongated hook-like claws.
They're certainly useful
for back scratching.
And ear picking.
But most importantly of all,
they are for hunting.
Inside their cave,
it's pitch-black.
But these bats have a sixth sense
that enables them, in effect,
to see in the dark.
They make a series
of very loud, short calls
..and by listening to the echoes,
are able to create a mental map
of their surroundings.
It's so detailed
that they can navigate
in total darkness.
And bulldog bats use
this talent to catch fish,
which is not easy.
Their calls bounce off
the surface of water
so they can't reveal
anything beneath.
But they can, nonetheless,
give clues.
A bat will scan
the surface of the water
with broad echolocation calls.
When something is detected,
they're able to focus on it.
A fin cutting the surface
is enough to make them
start fishing.
But catching one requires
precision flying.
Using its feet like grappling hooks,
it rakes the surface of the sea.
But this is, literally,
a shot in the dark.
The bat's timing has to be
exactly right
to coincide with the fish
breaking the surface.
Eventually, repetition brings
a reward.
Thanks to this super-sense,
these remarkable bats have become
astonishingly successful fishermen.
Bats were almost certainly flying
in the night skies
when the dinosaurs became extinct.
And now, nearly one quarter
of all mammal species are bats.
And that is not all.
They also form
the most numerous gatherings
made by any mammal.
Austin, in Texas.
Every evening in early August,
crowds gather around
Congress Avenue Bridge
..waiting for one
of the city's great spectacles.
As the sun sets
..the stars appear.
Mexican free-tailed bats.
The gaps on the underside
of the bridge
provide excellent roosts
for the bats.
And now, 1.5 million of them
live there.
These free-tailed bats live
very successfully
right alongside us.
There are now more bats
than people in Austin
..and their numbers
are still increasing.
Mammals have evolved many ways
to deal with the problems
of living in the dark.
But none have done so
more successfully than bats.
In recent years, however,
other mammals have started
to alter their habits
..and are changing
from being active in the day
to coming out at night.
And they're doing so
in order to avoid us.
A coyote.
A species of dog
as wild and untamed
as any wolf or jackal.
And this animal that was once
mostly active in the day
has started to take
the night shift.
Under the cover of darkness,
they're now living
right in the heart
of America's biggest cities.
This is Chicago,
home to over nine million people.
For an animal to be successful here,
it helps to be active
when we are not.
Just as early mammals
became nocturnal
in order to avoid
daytime dinosaurs,
these coyotes are now doing so
in order to avoid us.
And, as a consequence,
they're thriving.
Greater Chicago is now home
to over 4,000 coyotes.
They keep a low profile
where they can.
Though Chicago, like any city,
is full of dangers.
But these clever coyotes are
now streetwise.
Some have even learnt
when it's safe to cross the road.
The reason for these urban journeys?
Chicago's downtown parks.
Little oases of wilderness
that attract a surprising variety
of other wildlife
in considerable numbers.
The coyotes don't live on trash.
They are skilful hunters.
Before dawn arrives
..these wily coyotes retreat
into the shadows.
It's the adaptability
and ingenuity of these mammals,
indeed of all nocturnal mammals,
that has enabled them
to become active
in conditions that we avoid.
They have mastered the dark
and found the richest rewards.
And it should really be no surprise.
After all,
they've been doing just that
for millions of years.
One of the greatest challenges
facing the Dark team
was filming fennec foxes.
They travelled to Tunisia
and into the Sahara.
Helping them was
Italian wildlife photographer
Bruno D'Amicis.
Having worked here before,
he knew just how difficult
this would be.
We don't know much
about fennec foxes.
The studies done
on this species in the wild
can be counted
on one single hand.
You have this animal living
in the largest desert of all,
moving mostly at night,
so, yeah, it is is super challenging,
it is very difficult.
Bechir Belhadj,
a local fennec expert,
was key to helping them track down
the best place to film.
Bruno, Bruno.
Oh, there's the fennec.
Yeah, that's great.
Thank goodness they're here.
Oh, here. You see, you see?
You're looking at fennec scats.
Looks like abeetle casings.
Yeah, many beetle casings.
The signs were encouraging.
But producer Stuart Armstrong knew
that the challenge was
still immense.
Great that we've found
tracks and signs of fennecs
but it's rolling dunes,
you know,
something will disappear
so quickly behind a dune,
and then you add in the challenge
of doing it in the dark.
Early next morning,
Bruno and Stuart got to work
setting up numerous camera traps.
Using super-sensitive
low-light cameras
would give them the best chance.
With new technologies,
we can get a beautiful glimpse
of what goes on at night,
with the moonlight.
So it is super exciting.
And wildlife cameramen
Pete Cayless
and Marco Andreini started
their night shifts.
At least we know
that there are foxes around.
Our wish is to see one, um,
in front of us.
With clear skies and a full moon,
filming conditions are excellent.
But being nocturnal,
extremely shy and living
in such remote locations,
fennec foxes have been filmed
only rarely.
But after only a few nights,
this ghost of the desert
revealed itself.
Oh, wow.
I actually can't believe it.
And when they checked
the camera traps,
the news got even better.
Look at that! No way.
Look at the size of those ears.
Yeah. They're huge. Yeah.
Sweet little thing.
That's so encouraging.
That's super encouraging.
All was going well.
But their good luck soon vanished.
The foxes had disappeared.
Night after night brought
no rewards
for camera operators
or camera traps.
Keep trying,
that's the only thing I can do.
I really hope
they willthey will come.
Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Frustrating to say the least.
The crew eventually discovered
the reason
for the fox's
sudden disappearance.
A few miles away, they found
a recently abandoned camp,
and amongst the litter was
the most shocking find.
We're all a bit stunned.
We discovered
one of the foxes on the floor
and we thought
that was shocking enough,
and then justjust up here a second fox.
It's just heartbreaking.
There'sno end to this horror.
Here, it is illegal
to kill a fennec fox.
But it's difficult to police
such a remote place
and, sadly, they are
still heavily persecuted -
trapped for pets,
but also for food, fur
and, in this case, more shockingly,
it seemed, for fun.
I'm heartbroken,
I'm heartbroken.
Saharan wildlife is some of
the most threatened on Earth,
and only with local champions
can the situation here change.
As a young man,
Bechir used to trap foxes,
but he hunts no more.
He's become an advocate,
helping to spread the message
throughout the local communities
that fennecs need protecting,
and he hopes a film about these
foxes could help with that,
which made him and the crew
even more determined
to not give up.
Bechir knew of another
potential location.
A remote oasis,
and the signs are encouraging
for everyone.
Wow. There are loads of tracks.
There must be more than one animal.
This cannot be one animal.
This is very exciting, isn't it?
New location, a new day, new hope.
But would the tracks and signs
turn into success
for Marco and Pete?
How are you doing?
How was your night?
Ah, it was a long,
long, long, long night.
I must have been crazy
when I chose this hide.
It's too small.
But it worked.
There was one fluffy
..then two fennec foxes there.
To see two foxes,
possibly a courting pair,
brought the team a lot of hope.
These animals are so incredible.
It's like the spirit of this desert.
It was so beautiful.
I'm so happy
In remote corners
and against many odds,
these endearing foxes
still survive.
And, hopefully, the support of
local communities
will help to conserve
not just fennecs
but other threatened wildlife
across the Sahara.
Next time
..mammals continue their journey
into our world
..a world changing faster
than ever before
..and full of new challenges.
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