Last night I watched the latest episode in the BBC’s second series of Planet Earth (aptly named Planet Earth II). Coming ten years after the first series, it uses the latest technologies to capture breath-taking, never before seen footage in ultra-high definition (4K UHD). The animals featured in it appear so real you could almost reach out and touch them. The programme is set to awe and inspire you more than ever, as it did me.
You would think that it would be difficult to top the racer snake vs. marine iguana stand-off and komodo dragon wars in the first episode. But the second episode, while maybe not so dramatic, was just as stunning. Showcasing life in the planet’s mountains, I actually held my breath for several moments during scenes featuring the snow leopard, Panthera uncia. As the programme’s narrator, Sir David Attenborough, points out, these animals are extremely rare. In their lonely habitats of the vast mountain peaks of the Himalayas in Central and Southern Asia, there are estimated to be only about 2,500 individuals reproducing in the wild.
So it was with extreme awe that I was able to watch these rare leopards on my television last night. Not only had the programme captured these magnificent big cats on camera – using the latest remote-sensing video cameras – but they had filmed it close-up performing several behaviours that we have never been able to see before.
Like other leopard species, these cats rarely come into contact with one another, instead living a lonely life padding around their large territories communicating remotely with various rituals. For the first time, we were able to witness these communication rituals: a female leopard wiping her cheek pads and spraying urine on particular rocks to mark her presence, and roaring on a snowy peak, the grating calls echoing eerily among those vast lonely mountains.
Given the rarity of these beautiful creatures and their lonesome habits, it is amazing that we were able to see not just one leopard, but four, at one time. The scenes that followed were more exhilarating than you could imagine. My heart was in my mouth. The female leopard, with her almost-grown cub in tow, was in heat. Her scent and roars had attracted two huge males that threatened to kill her cub. She mated with both of them after some ferocious fights. The cub managed to get away and, despite an injury to the mother, they were both seen again a month later. The cub had finally been weaned and was making her own plea for survival among those harsh snowy peaks.
You might think that that this would be the one stand-out highlight of the episode, but still, the wild golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) fighting over the carcass of a fox was another remarkable feature (it also reminded me of one of my previous posts).
Accompanying footage of a ‘bird’s eye view’ of a golden eagle in flight – actually the footage from a tandem-paragliding cameraman – may have caused some controversy, but in my opinion, it only added to the drama and was testament to the extraordinary efforts of the show’s producers to entertain and delight us.