Ultimate Swarms • 2013

Category: Nature
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Zoologist and explorer George McGavin goes in search of some of the world's most impressive swarms. By getting right to the heart of these natural spectacles, he finds out why swarms are the ultimate solution to surviving against all odds and discovers how unlocking the secrets to how animals swarm could be crucial to understanding our own increasingly crowded lives.

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More than a billion people around the world commute into cities each day, and they are not alone. The world's wildlife is commuting too. A steady flow of animals journey in and out of cities to find food and shelter or to start a family. Leaving the wilderness they must overcome the unique challenges that the urban world throws at them to benefit from the opportunities on offer. This episode explores whether the secret to an animal's success in this fast-changing world is to keep one foot in the wild and one in the city, becoming a wild commuter. It seems that all over the world animals are finding that the city can offer opportunities that are harder to come by in the natural world. Some, like African penguins, whose population has plummeted by 80 per cent in the last 50 years, find shelter in the city. By nesting in Cape Town they are safer from predators, and with relatively easy access to their fishing grounds they have the best of both worlds. Many other animals commute into cities because they are filled with food. In St Lucia, South Africa, that includes hippos. Able to eat up to fifty kilograms of grass in a single sitting, they have developed a taste for the short, manicured lawns and come to town every night to dine out. St Lucia's human residents have learnt to give the hippos the space they need during their night-time raids. Black bears need to eat more than 20,000 calories a day to survive their six-month hibernation through winter, and using their acute sense of smell they can easily track down leftovers. In North America they come into towns and cities in search of food. Many animals displaced from their natural habitat are now using their wild skill set in the city to help fulfill their needs. Could this be the beginning of a new and very modern migration?

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Zambezi

Africa's wildest river is home to the most spectacular wildlife. Hippos fight for territory while herds of elephant, water buffalo and zebra depend on it for life. In the wet season the rains burst the riverbanks and everyone, including people, must move whilst fish swim through the villages. In the dry season the creatures fight over the few pools of water while predators prowl. At its heart it plunges over Victoria Falls and into wild ravines before draining into the Indian Ocean, where storm clouds cycle the water back into the heart of Africa.

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A bold experiment to bring fierce African wild dogs back to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique reveals how predators—and the fear they trigger—play a surprising and crucial role in keeping wild ecosystems healthy. Until recently, the impact of predators on ecosystems was thought to be simple: predators eat prey, keeping their populations in check. But more and more, ecologists are realizing that it’s not all about consumption. In fact, just the presence of predators can cause significant changes in behavior. Scientists call this the “Landscape of Fear,” and in Gorongosa, they are hoping to harness its effects to help bring an ecosystem back from the brink.

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The documentary series gives a bird's-eye view of South America, as condors soar along the Andes, scarlet macaws explore the heart of the Amazon and hummingbirds and vultures see the continent's greatest sights. It is a journey that includes Machu Picchu, the Nasca Lines and the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Santiago. In Patagonia, giant petrels shadow killer whales as they hunt seals by stranding their huge bodies on the beach. At Iguassu Falls, dusky swifts dive through the cascades to huddle in communal roosts while hummingbirds bathe below. In a secret Andean location, condors soar in flocks over 40-strong and scavenge on casualties from herds of fighting guanacos. Elsewhere, a mother condor gently pushes her youngster to the edge of a 200-metre cliff, as flight school begins. Deep in the Amazon, macaws seek medicinal clay. They are joined by a host of secretive jungle animals, including spider monkeys and tapirs, all after the same remedy. In Peru, condors soar over fighting sealions waiting for casualities and on a mass exodus north, birds converge on the Panama Canal. In Costa Rica, black vultures descend on turtles as they lay their eggs in the sand and pick off the eggs that ping-pong through the air.

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