Last night the BBC broadcast the final show in Sir David Attenborough's "Africa" series and what a stunning series it has been.
I've followed the BBC's natural history shows from the earliest black and white series, through colour, widescreen, HD and even 3D and the technological developments have served to bring many hours of incredible images to my television sets, which have also changed over time !
Over the years, mega series like Life On Earth, The Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet have held me fascinated with the world we inhabit and smaller specialised series like Madagascar and now Africa have shown me that I know very little about places I thought I knew a lot about !
I may be biased by having just watched "Africa" on the biggest and best television set I've ever owned, but in my opinion it's the best series of the lot. The footage of the animals, birds and insects has been stunning enough, but the images of the scenery will live with me forever. The sheer size of the continent took my breath away from the first episode and Attenborough's team did a spectacular job in presenting the diversity of this great land to we, the viewers.
From fertile grasslands to barren deserts, towering mountain ranges to flat plains and the savannah to the rainforests, Africa was spread out before us over these 6 shows.
I have to admit at this point that although technically 'created' by me, all these photos come from the BBC footage of "Africa" and so I guess I've been a bit naughty.
Hopefully the BBC won't sue me for copyright infringement !
I went through the 6 shows and edited out stills that I both liked and that summed up everything that I felt was best about the diversity of the continent.
As such, the photos are very small in size (average 50kb each) but as the footage was HD, they stand up quite well to full screen enlargement. Do try it.
As wonderful as the scenery footage was, it was naturally eclipsed by that of the animals. So many scenes were filmed for the first time and I watched with jaw dropping incredulity at sights of births and deaths and fights and frolics.
As with them all, this series took many years and a huge crew to film and I'm glad to say that the time and effort they put in is reflected in the quality of the shows.
But the stars were the animals. They put on quite a show by just being themselves. I watched, fascinated, whilst they searched and often fought to the death for food for survival. I watched, equally fascinated, as they played in family groups, both during the day and at night. I watched, with less fascination, whilst they mated and bizarrely, death sometimes followed this act as well !
It's been very hard to pick out stills from 6 hours of "Africa" footage as every frame was a gem in its own right. Every technique known to modern nature film making was used to bring these animals right into my living room and if the series had been broadcast in 3D, I'd have had to view it from behind my chair as the numerous close ups were VERY close up indeed.
I think the real benefit of long range filming, mostly from helicopters, is that the animals are totally unaware of humans being near them and so go about their daily lives as nature intended, so to speak. Back in the day, I remember most animals would simply stop what they were doing and just peer at the cameras as the crew had to get up close to film them.
Then they'd bolt !! As did the crew sometimes !
Now we can get up close without them knowing and we can see what they get up to, often for the first time. With newly developed HD Starlight cameras, we saw activities at night previously unknown to naturalists. For example we saw rare black rhinos coming together at a water hole simply for a social gathering. Previously it was thought they were solitary creatures and certainly not up for a par-tay by the pool !
To be able to see all this in such clarity from the comfort of my armchair, was a true delight.
Having now watched all 6 hours of the series, I have to say that the footage that will stay with me for the longest time belong to two fighting giraffes, an old bull and a young upstart. Using high speed cameras, we were able to see them fighting almost to the death by using their heads (and those two small horns) as lethal 'weapons', the ultimate winner going for the relatively fragile legs of the vanquished after several hard body blows.
After somehow getting the old bull on the ground, the young upstart went for the 'killer' blow but experience won the day. The old bull cleverly dodged the head swipe and with the upstart open to attack, gave it an uppercut to the soft underbelly which sent the youngster fully to the ground. After a while, so we were told, it managed to get up and stumble away with its tail literally between its legs.
And there was me thinking giraffes were graceful, peaceful creatures. Who'd have known ?!
During this series, it definitely wasn't a case of the usual disclaimer....."no animals were hurt in the making of this film." But at least they were hurt, killed and eaten by each other !! And I had a ringside seat.
But the beauty far outweighed all that and most of the photography was jaw dropping..........
Now remember that all these are low size photos generated by me from the series footage. Hopefully they will encourage anyone who has not seen the series to look for catch up broadcasts or wait for it to be shown in your country. No doubt it'll be out on dvd in the coming months and again, I'd encourage you to buy it and see for yourselves just how stunning it is.
Certainly I could watch it again and again....and have done !
Two stills sum up the whole series for me.
The first is a dung beetle reverse pushing a ball of dung up a desert dune by using its back legs for better grip and pushing power. The downside to using this technique is that the beetle can't see where it's going and so when it does get to the top or edge of a dune, it rolls down the other side. I guess as long as this roll is 'on the way home', then it actually saves a bit of time !
But often a dune slope is so steep that the beetle and ball simply can't make it first time and so it rolls to the bottom and has to start again....and again....and again. This reminded us that in nature, when you never know when or where your next meal is coming from, simply giving up is not an option. I couldn't get a well focused frame as the beetle was constantly on the move but you can still see the effort involved.....and that his back legs are doing the pushing and his head is mostly buried in the sand.
The final still is of the great man himself.....Sir David Attenborough.
After telling us about the risk of extinction for the black rhino due to poaching. he introduced us to a cute baby rhino that was almost tame due to being looked after by conservationists.
Despite being 86 and not as agile as he used to be, Sir David got down to the rhino's level and engaged in a 'conversation' with it by making noises similar to those it was making.
It was a delightful end sequence to the whole series and showed us yet again that Sir David loves all animals and over the course of his 60 years of natural program making, he has lost none of his enthusiasm for his subject and just as importantly, lost none of his ability to let us share that enthusiasm.