Mating. Shaba Animals  | Nature – Planet Doc Full Documentaries
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Mating. Shaba Animals | Nature – Planet Doc Full Documentaries

October 19, 2019

In this season, when the climate has changed, and there is food all around, the animals get ready to bring their young into the world. And during the weeks immediately after the first rains, the different species come into mate and breed. Among the Kori bustards, the males mark out their territories and begin a strange courtship ritual which consists of inflating air sacs on their necks while emitting a booming guttural sound. Their swollen necks and the dull sounds are intended to attract the attention of the females, while warning off other males who, as in this case, try to take over a territory which is someone else’s domain. Among the antelopes only the dominant males can mate with the females, and to occupy that position you have to beat the others in face-to-face combats, so hopeful males gather together in groups and permanently practice. These are not real fights. The young Grant’s gazelles are simply testing out their strength and keeping in shape until the time when they believe they are capable of challenging the ruler of a harem. And the process is the same with the impala males. Not far from where the young males are training, a dominant impala stands watch over his group of females; there is a possible challenger nearby, and it is time to make absolutely clear who is the strongest male. Under the watchful eye of the females, the males clash. But the conflict does not have serious consequences. After the initial confrontation, the challenger realises his time has not yet come and, before the combat turns serious, he retires uninjured. Among the oryxes, the groups are mixed and highly structured. The horns and the strength of these antelopes mean that clashes are extremely risky exercises which could cause terrible injuries or even death. But in the groups of oryxes, where there is a clear hierarchy of males and females, the dominant position is decided by ritualised combats in which they test their strength but avoid serious aggression. In the herds, mating is also decided by the hierarchy. Each one knows what it can aspire to, depending on its status within the group, so in the same herd different couples can mate without this creating any conflict among them. For the secretary birds, too, the mating season has arrived. The same couple that was looking for insects shortly after the first rains is now preparing its nest. Though both animals engage in this task, it is essentially the male that collects the branches, while the female arranges them on the flat top of an acacia, creating an enormous circular nest, characteristic of this species. During this time, the secretary birds are attentive and affectionate with their mates, courting them on the ground, in flight and in the nest. And shortly afterwards, in a way ornithologists have still not been able to describe, they mate, then lay no more than three, extremely valuable, eggs. In the same acacia forest in which the secretary birds have built their nest, a family of warthogs grazes on the nutritious green grasses that have grown since the rains. The little warthogs are only a few days old, but already they are expert savannah dwellers. They still lack the experience to be able to find food like their elders, but they have the mobile food store of their mothers and, though she doesn’t want to stop to feed them, the young warthogs are determined to get at the nutritious milk. Their only task during these first weeks will be to exercise in order to acquire the speed and strength which will enable them to flee from hunters. And they dedicate themselves to this in body and soul. Wrestling matches, or football with a pat of elephant dung form part of their training. Anything will do if it serves to make them faster and stronger. Because it will not be long before the savannah puts them to the test. In the shade of an acacia, a cheetah watches over a nearby group of oryxes. The oryxes are too strong for him, but at this time of year are always young calves, just a few days old, and it is one of these that the cheetah has his eye on. The calf appears to be perfectly healthy, and the possibilities of catching it are virtually nil, but the cheetah has been building up tension and decides to launch a desperate attempt. The oryx moves off unhurriedly, confident of its superiority but without exposing its young to unnecessary risks. The cheetah has not even had the chance to test out its prodigious speed. There are many adults in the group and it knows that when it comes to defending its young, an oryx is capable of killing even a lion, so he abandons the attempt, and returns to his slow wanderings in search of more accessible prey. During the short rains, between December and February, there are frequent storms at nightfall. The climate mellows and the heat of the day gives way to fresh, humid air; the temperature the large hunters have been waiting for to go into action. The evenings and nights of Shaba are extraordinarily beautiful. But, ever loyal to its contrasts, they are also the time when death lurks in the dark. Night falls over the Ewaso Ngiro. Along the dark banks, long shadows emerge from the water in search of the warmth of the sand heated up during the daytime hours. The metabolism of the Nile crocodiles depends on their body temperature, and this in turn depends on their surroundings, so at sunset the narrow shores of the Ewaso fill with these dragons. For the lionesses, the night is an advantage. Lions have eyes that can see in the dark. Under cover of the shadows, a mother and her young from the previous year lie in wait for the herbivores, guided by the sounds coming from the thicket. Tonight, they are not in luck. From the forest alongside the river three elephants emerge, and no hunter in Shaba would dare disturb them, so the lionesses lower their guard and rest, waiting for other signs that reveal the presence of possible prey. The rains have done their work. In mid January, Shaba is at its most splendid. There is abundant vegetation, water all around, and the savannah teems with hundreds of animals, taking advantage of the bonanza. The elephants have returned to the region and remain here longer. Different, inter-related matriarchal groups come together by the Ewaso Ngiro to enjoy the end of abstinence. Elephants need between 80 and 160 litres of water a day, and the adult males can drink twice this amount, so they must always have water sources available. The banks of the Ewaso Ngiro, whose waters are now high and stable, every day attract large herds of pachyderms. The adults can drink and bathe, and the young can wallow in the mud, protected by a forest of colossal legs. These clans spend the dry season communicating with each other at great distances but physically separated in order to more efficiently explore and utilise the land devastated by the drought. But now, Shaba is witness to their reunion and can enjoy the spectacle, once frequent in East Africa, of herds of over two hundred individuals. Today the region that comprises the reserves of Shaba, Samburu and Buffalo Springs is home to the largest herds of elephants in East Africa. And again, there is a paradox: this miracle of abundance in the kingdom of drought. The river bank is the meeting place for the majority of the species of Shaba. In the course of the day, many of the animals of the savannah come here to drink. And that is a risky moment, when they inevitably expose themselves to danger. With the heat of the sun, the large Nile crocodiles have returned to the water. On one of the banks, a group of Grevy’s zebras are slaking their thirst, and the appearance of a young colt attracts the great saurians. The crocodiles are silent in the current of the Ewaso, and when they submerge they become invisible. But the zebras are on permanent alert, and the shallowness of the river is a factor in their favour. A surprise attack is the crocodile’s only change of claiming a victim from the land along the Ewaso Ngiro. The baboons, too, who have remained in this region all year, thrive in the shade of the forest along the river banks. The dominant males never lower their guard. The hunters also know that sooner or later their prey will come to drink, and in the strip of forest there are frequent ambushes. The risk is worth it. Few carnivores would dare to challenge a family of baboons, and the candelabra palms that grow along the banks of the Ewaso are now heavy with fruit. So while the large males stand watch, the young climb up into the treetops and throw down the ripe fruit to the rest of the group. Another of the advantages of family life. Among the shadows of this same forest, just a short distance from the baboons, two Kirk’s dik-diks nervously keep watch as they eat. Standing two hands high, and weighing around five kilos, they are the smallest antelopes in Shaba, and even the large baboons could easily kill them, so they nervously graze, never wandering far from the protective undergrowth. The nervousness of the dik-diks is fully justified. Because the forest in which they live is the habitat of the most beautiful and elusive hunter in Shaba. The leopards spend most of the day hiding in the boughs of the acacia, where their mottled skin makes them invisible. But when the sun goes down, when the shadows creep over the savannah, they come down from the branches to begin their hunting rounds. The time of the hunters has arrived. The animals retire to their night-time ride away. Life on the savannah offers no truces. And the night of Shaba fills with living shadows, prowling around in the eternal game of life and death. By the river, beneath the fallen trunk of an acacia, the leopard scans the night in search of prey. Its hearing and sense of smell receive the information of everything alive and moving about under the cover of night. Another leopard emerges from the shadows, and the couple continues its silent round. From the river come messages of potential prey, but the water and the crocodiles place them beyond their reach. Then, the male detects a furtive movement in a tree alongside the Ewaso Ngiro, and the hunt begins. The female waits at a certain distance. Only if the prey is large will she come to the aid of her companion. Silent as a ghost, the leopard approaches the base of the tree in which the prey hides. Its senses are alert, waiting for fresh signs. And then a new sound is heard. The leopard knows there is something alive in the tree, and that there is no escape for it. Beneath the branches runs a river full of dangers and to reach the ground the prey has to reveal itself. It is now just a question of time, and beneath the attentive gaze of his companion, the hunter gets ready to attack. A last movement reveals a monitor lizard, provoking a reaction from the leopard. For the terrified lizard, this will be its last night on earth. Beneath the tree, the female waits, disappointed. The prey is small, and the male will keep it all for himself. In the harsh world of Shaba there is no place for any other attitude but ensuring one’s own survival. And if it had been the female that had caught the monitor lizard, she would not have allowed the male to come near. Having devoured his catch, the males comes down from the tree to join his mate. And again two shadows melt into the night, combining beauty and death beneath the starry sky of Shaba. Shaba is a fascinating land beyond the influence of man; a world in which life is a series of stark contrasts; where hardship gives rise to beauty and survival imposes constant tests. And it is precisely the harshness of its conditions that makes this land a world apart, an exclusive paradise for its survivors. With the return of the dry season, Shaba goes back to the beginning. Little by little drought sets in. And again God and the devil alternate until they become one and the same, with no beginning or end, in the perpetual cycle of life.

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