The Kalahari in southwest Africa is one of the earth's oldest deserts. The animals that do survive in the Kalahari are smarter animals, not necessarily stronger animals. Food and water is scarce so the competition to own spaces that are even the slightest moist is fierce.
So fierce the opening scene of the series "Africa" contains an "epic battle" between and older male giraffe and a newer, younger one. The male giraffe both want the same thing, food, water, and females. A fight ensues and the older giraffe male eventually falls after a round of head butts from his opponent. The opponent goes in for a final blow, but the older male ducks. The older male giraffe then delivers an upper cut to the younger animal's underbelly. The younger giraffe falls. The older one gets up and goes on his way, although bloody and bruised from the blows.
Cameras then go take a look at the meerkat and its troop. The meerkats are foraging for food and their trusted ally, a drongo bird, tags alongside. The sentry warns meerkats of pending dangers as the group forages for food. The drongo imitates the sentry's alarm and the meerkats scatter. While the meerkats are burrowed and hiding, the drongo swoops in and steals the feast of insects harvested by meerkats. The sentry looks on in disbelief and disappointment.
For the first twenty minutes, "Africa" looks and feels like Disney's "The Lion King". Then cameras visit a young leopard that, like Simba and Nala, has to go out and make its first kill. The leopard, we are told, isn't the fastest or the biggest lion in the jungle. It is, however, the smartest and the stealthiest. "Africa's" theme, thus far, is that the smartest, not the strongest, animals survive in the Kalahari.
The young leopard stalks a steenbock, but a jackal warns the steenbock of danger. The steenbock prances off and the young leopard loses out. Yet, the leopard is caught again strolling through the trees where the steenbock has been killed and nestled pretty high in the tree. It's a very convenient event for the leopard, but the leopard can't get the slaughtered steenbock down.
The host suggests that the leopard's mother probably made that kill and then stuck the animal tightly in a tree to keep moochers, like her son away. It's a teaching moment for the leopard and testing moment for cynical viewers.
There are more battles in the Namib, another stretch of the Kalahari where even the smallest of the animals are fighting for spaces with water sources. The Namib gets its moisture from fog that rises into the desert from the Atlantic Ocean some 100 miles away. In this scene, a spider and a wasp duke it out because the wasp needs a place to lay her eggs. The wasp knows the spider had a comfortable resting place and she knows his home would be ideal to nest.
The spider goes one round with the wasp and then curls up into a ball and tumbles down the golden graham cracker colored sands. The spider tumbles at 44 turns per second and the slow motion and magnified lens makes the event as significant and large as an avalanche.
Camera crews also go underground. The Kalahari's only true water source lies 90 feet below where trees from where giraffes eat have roots. Before that, the cameras take note of a flock of queleas, the most populous species of bird in the world. The Kalahari queleas spend 5 weeks in the desert when the area is most green and in its most vegetative state. They nest in trees, feed and raise chicks in a span of five weeks.
Blind baby queleas are the prey of big, large feeding insects who climb the trees, invade the nests and eat the young, blind, helpless baby quelea birds.
The series continues for six more episodes. Visually, "Africa' is pretty nice. The narration is excellent. There are subtle reminders from the narrators that the events captured on film are rare.
For example, the giraffe fight, the narrator assures us, is a rare event caught on film.
Who knew giraffes were boxers and mixed martial artists?
photo credit: The Discovery Channel