Planet Earth II – ‘Mountains’

planetearthiimountainsCONTAINS SPOILERS

The second episode of Planet Earth II was about ‘Mountains’.

In the Arabian peninsula Nubian ibex deliberately choose the steepest cliffs with which to raise their young. As the cliffs are so high and steep it means predators can’t get to them. However, it also means that just to drink they have to climb down a thousand feet to reach the river in the valley. Once they are there, hungry foxes are waiting.

We saw some amazing footage. A fox chases some ibex kids, who go for higher ground where the fox can’t reach, and the ibex kids are clinging on to such tiny rocks by their hooves and on the edge of steep cliffs with a 30 foot drop. You wouldn’t think they’d be able to, but they can! Not only that, but they actually look quite graceful when they are leaping around over rocks. They do slip and stumble at first, but they seem to learn very quickly.

Foxes don’t have much luck in this episode, as the next fox we see is dead. It is a carcass on the Alps and is being scavenged by birds. First it is by crows, but then a majestic golden eagle comes, and, look I’m not going to make a “pecking order” pun, but that’s essentially what happens. The golden eagle is bigger, stronger, much higher status than the crows, so she gets the meal. The crows try to distract her by plucking her feathers, but she sees them off. However, a larger golden eagle arrives, and this time the first golden eagle loses, though not without putting up a fight. As beautiful as the golden eagles look, especially their wings, the fight is pretty vicious.

In the Rockies, bobcats don’t hibernate in winter unlike many animals up there. One we see listens for his prey beneath the snow. He hops on boulders and doesn’t touch the ground so that his prey can’t hear him. He catches a mouse, but it isn’t enough to feed him properly. He makes his way to a volcanic hot spring. There the water doesn’t freeze, so it is one of the few sources of water there that hasn’t turned into ice. It attracts creatures from miles around. The bobcat finds some goldeneye ducks. (With the name Golden Eye Duck I’m sort of imagining some kind of Saturday morning children’s cartoon spoof James
Bond villain based on that!). However, the bobcat isn’t as capable on water as he is on land, and while I’m aware this is personification, his inability to hunt in water causes the goldeneye ducks to quack in unison, and it almost looks like they’re mocking and laughing at him! Anyway, the bobcat decides to go up a tree instead and catches a squirrel.

There is comical footage of grizzly bears stood on two legs scratching themselves on trees, which does look funny to us, not least because with them holding onto the
branches it looks like they are dancing! I wasn’t sure about the comedy music that was added as it felt a bit like something you’d see on a comedy viral internet video clip show rather than a natural history documentary, but having said that, the music added to the sequence and it made me laugh.

We see how astonishing some of the dramatic changes there can be in the mountains. Winter to spring changes in just a few days in some mountain ranges in North America. In
that time it goes from white snow to green trees, streams, flowers, meadows, bees and hummingbirds. But that is nothing compared to Mount Kenya in Africa. There are no seasons there as such. It’s summer every day, and winter every night! Tropical temperatures in the daytime, and at night it’s all icicles. Plants that survive here adapt to this, one example being the groundsel, which closes itself up at night and opens again during the day.

Similar changes in temperature as the day goes on occur in the Andes. Flamingos which live there become trapped in ice during the night and have to wait for the dawn sun to melt it. Rodents called viscacha come out of their shelter at dawn to soak up the sun, which looks quite cute and looks a bit like sunbathing. But by mid-morning it is too hot, and they have to retreat. By noon, it would be hot enough to burn human skin in under 5 minutes!

The star attraction in this episode was the snow leopard. They are rarely seen, and indeed rare in number. In fact, they don’t even encounter each other very often and lead solitary lives. We see a female and her daughter. The mother is in heat, the males can smell the scent for miles, and she makes calls out to them to come and find her. However, despite the desire to mate, this is quite a dangerous situation for the snow leopards. For one thing, males kill cubs which aren’t theirs. For another, snow leopards are hostile to one another generally, even if they both want to mate. With the snow leopards we see, there are two males who arrive interested in mating with the female and it could lead to a deadly fight.
The female rolls over submissively, giving her cub a chance to escape. The larger of the two males succeeds in mating with her, but the female ends up injured due to this. We find out that both the mother and her now adult and independent daughter are alive later, though both living separate lives and unlikely to ever see each other again. This whole thing was compelling, but showed the harsh reality of these animals lives.

‘Mountains’ was an episode which got across the harshness and the beauty of the natural world.

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