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Animals Are Beautiful People

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The oldest and driest desert in the world.
Fifty thousand square miles of eternally shifting sand.
You'd think nobody could make a living here.
And yet, when the wind dies down and the dust settles...
...you see a tiny track, and many more.
No matter how harsh and inhospitable a place is...
...there's always someone who's willing to live there.
A whole community of little creatures have had millions of years...
...to adapt to the impossible conditions in this desert.
This one must have had three legs.
This one only one.
The beetles who live here have an air-cooled cooling system...
...like a Volkswagen, so they have to run like crazy to keep their cool.
Even courting has to be done on the run.
A quick kiss at full gallop, and the romance is over.
When you can't run any longer...
...you have to dig like mad to get out of the heat.
He goes in upside down.
He doesn't dig, he just walks right in.
And this one pulls the blanket over his head.
And the gecko dives in as if the sand is water.
This beautiful person has a different cooling system, more like a limousine.
She doesn't have to dash around like those Volkswagen types.
She can take life more slowly. She even has a windshield wiper.
She cleans her eyes with her tongue.
And digging is done at leisure.
First the right hand, then the right foot at half speed.
Then the left hand, left foot...
...right hand, right foot.
The sidewinder's favorite meal is the diving gecko.
But geckos play hard-to-get.
So the sidewinder resorts to a very sneaky trick to catch his prey.
First, he buries himself in the sand until he is quite invisible.
Then his tail comes up and pretends to be a blade of grass.
Now, geckos don't eat grass, but ants do.
And geckos eat ants.
At this point, things happen rather quickly.
Ant goes for tail, gecko goes for ant...
End of gecko.
So some die and some live in the heart of the unearthly Red Namib Desert...
...in southwest Africa on the tropic of Capricorn.
And on the fringes of the Red Namib...
...lives the real miracle of the desert, the oryx.
The most beautiful of all antelope.
These amazing animals always manage to look sleek and well-fed...
...in this arid region where there seems to be no food and no water.
The austere beauty of the Namib remains undisturbed...
...because man finds the region so intimidating, he hardly ever intrudes.
But to the oryx and the little creatures of the Namib...
...this waterless, hostile desert is paradise.
Where the red desert ends, there's a vast white desert...
...where it's so quiet, you can hear the silence.
The White Namib, a region of rugged moonscapes and endless vistas.
Here the eye can feast on breathtaking beauty...
...but for the mouth, there seems to be nothing.
Still, oryx roam its boundless plains...
...and on the barren slopes of a desert mountain...
...you'll find a whole tribe of baboons...
...who are quite content to live in these grim surroundings.
Of course, those rocks do get rather hard after a while.
Home comforts are few, but they don't seem to mind...
...the lack of modern conveniences.
Their social system works very much like human society.
At the very top, there's the big chief whose word is law.
And at the very bottom, there's the little guy...
...who likes to mind his own business.
Now you know who's important around here.
Actually, they're a happy gang.
And when it cools down towards evening, they get playful.
And then the acrobatic types start showing off.
Some don't do it very well, but they're willing to work at it.
Trees are very scarce in the White Namib...
...so the little weaverbirds have learned to share and cooperate.
They build large condominiums where dozens of families can live...
...each in its own apartment.
And they go in for quite a variety of architectural styles:
Squat ranch type, complex...
...modern, artistic...
...high-rise, and even symbolic.
Some nests are more than 100 years old, and the little tenants...
...are continually building on, remodeling and repairing.
A cozy little community where you can raise a contented family.
But sometimes tragedy strikes.
Once in a long while, a dewdrop will hang in just the right spot...
...at the right time, to focus the sun's rays on the dry, combustible thatch.
In a few minutes, the flames destroy a hundred years' work...
...and bring grief to many families.
The vast White Namib is only a narrow band...
...on the map of the immense African continent...
...but it's gradually encroaching deeper and deeper inland...
...creating a region of scrubby growth and very little grass:
The Pre-Namib, where the dainty springbok roam.
This used to be lush grassland, but for the past 10,000 years...
...the Pre-Namib has been slowly drying out, and the animals and plants that live here...
...have to adapt to a climate where the rainfall...
...gets less and less as the years pass.
Some plants have adapted magnificently to the challenge of the changing climate.
Stapelia flowers, for instance...
...had to evolve a way of getting pollinated...
...in a region where there are no bees.
So instead of emitting a pretty smell to entice bees...
...they put out a powerful stench like a rotting carcass...
...and this attracts the blue fly, who likes smelly meat.
As he scurries about looking for that lovely, stinking food he can smell...
...he does a good job of pollinating the flower.
When he finally realizes he's been tricked, he flies off in disgust.
But he has done something useful for once.
In a few short weeks after the rain...
...this plant grows quickly to maturity, bears seeds, and dies.
But even after death, it protects its seeds...
...in those strange-looking pods for a year or more...
...until the rain comes again.
Then the moisture causes those dead parts...
...to move like bizarre living creatures, and they open up.
And then the moisture triggers little springs inside the pods.
The seeds are shot out in a hurry...
...to germinate and grow while the soil is still wet...
...so they can bear more seeds to start the next generation.
An incredible variety of animals...
...have accepted the challenge of living in the Pre-Namib...
...where you are never sure whether it'll rain this year or next year.
The scaly anteater, who looks like a tired medieval knight in armor.
The wart hog, who's so ugly, he's beautiful...
...and who always goes into his home tail-first.
Porcupines, who should know better than anyone...
...not to go through the same door at the same time.
The scorpion, who carries her babies on her back.
The chameleon, whose eyes move independently...
...so he can see where he's going and where he's been.
He must be the only creature in the world...
...whose left eye doesn't know what his right eye is doing.
The dikkop, who spends 95%% of his life looking like a stuffed bird...
...because he stands so very still and never blinks.
When he does move, it's only for a split second...
...and then he freezes again.
And then there are wildebeests...
...and ostrich and starlings...
...and zebra and giraffe.
There's a whole treasure house of animal life...
...in the wide and thirsty Pre-Namib.
It's also lion country, and at the water holes...
...the animals are nervous and skittish.
Even the appearance of a cub causes sudden panic.
Which, of course, makes Junior feel mighty superior.
Some days, the animals will drink quite calmly...
...in the presence of a whole pride.
They seem to sense that the lions have eaten well...
...and will not be hunting today.
In fact, the king's belly is so full, it gets up long after he does.
So who's afraid of a slob like that?
But if one of the younger generation gets cheeky...
...that slob suddenly walks like a king again.
His Majesty knows how to cope with the generation gap...
...and he will make an example of the young upstart...
...who has dared to challenge the establishment.
A long, long stare until the young one is thoroughly cowed.
And now the young rebel has to lie down again...
...so that the king can come walking past once more.
And this time he knows he'll be shown the respect due to him.
He's not even a very imposing specimen, as lions go...
...but he does remember that he's descended from a long line of kings.
The hyena could have been king of the desert.
His jaws are stronger than those of a lion, and he has those powerful forequarters...
...but nature saw fit to give him a weak and wobbly rear end...
...and a slow, ungainly gait.
So instead of being king of the desert, he's a lowly trash collector...
...who lives off the leftovers of the lion and other hunters.
It's just as well he's not the king, because he's a real stinker.
He's a coward. He's sneaky.
He often slobbers and drools.
He loves to roll in the rotting remains...
...of some dead animal to mask his own smell.
He has a silly giggle.
And, worst of all, he's not content to live on garbage alone...
...so he'll eat the babies of other animals when he can get to them.
The faster ones get away because he's too lazy to exert himself...
...but the smaller and slower ones are in constant danger.
Yellow-billed ducklings are fortunate...
...because their mother is a very clever actress.
She also has great courage.
When she sees a hyena prowling about, she tells the kids to be quiet...
...and walks towards the hyena...
...while they start sneaking away towards the water.
Now she gives a quack to get the hyena's attention...
...and goes into her wounded-bird act. She really hams it up...
...because she's got to keep him from spotting the chicks.
So she flounders about pitifully to convince him he can catch her easily.
But when he gets too close, she recovers miraculously...
...and streaks for the water.
For a moment, he begins to doubt the sincerity of her performance...
...but she quickly goes into her next act, the pathetic drowning duck...
...with all the cries for help and all the "glub-glubs" the scene calls for.
So he believes her again and follows her at his leisure...
...because he's sure she's easy meat.
And behind his back, the chicks slip quietly into the water.
This is a crucial moment, because they have to swim across open water...
...to get to a safe hiding place...
...so she dare not let his attention wander away from her.
And she has to let him come dangerously close...
...to keep him convinced he can catch her.
When at last the chicks reach the hiding place...
...she can consider her own safety and make another miraculous recovery.
And he begins to wonder whether he's been taken for a sucker.
Somehow the scavengers and the carrion-eaters...
...are the unbeautiful people of the desert...
...not only in looks, but also in character.
The stuffy-looking marabous...
...are members of the elegant and aristocratic stork family...
...but thousands of years ago, they started making their living by disposing...
...of the remains of dead animals...
...and they began to look more and more like unsuccessful undertakers.
Nowadays, the marabou wears a threadbare black coat...
...and a holier-than-thou expression on his unlovely face.
They seem to look down their noses at everyone else...
...and always seem to be discussing...
...the follies and the sinfulness of the other animals.
The female ostrich is a dull gray, but the male is a handsome devil.
At mating time, the handsome boys flash their plumage to impress the girls.
And the less good-looking ones have to fight for their lady loves.
Finally, a loving couple will find a secluded spot...
...to do their beautiful mating dance.
Pretty soon, they start a family.
Actually, he's a better parent than she is.
And on a hot afternoon, she will join the rest of the gang at the water hole...
...leaving him to keep an eye on the nest.
This is a full-time job, because each egg is a whole meal...
...and there are many freeloaders in the Namib.
Meanwhile, back at the nest...
...young Oscar chooses this moment to get born.
There's no one to welcome him because Mother is out swimming...
...and Father is out fighting Hottentots.
Oscar feels very lonely, so he wobbles off to find company.
He is now only two minutes old, but already he knows about camouflage.
On the morning of his wedding day...
...the wart hog goes down to the water hole for a bath...
...because he wants to look nice for his bride-to-be.
That's enough.
Meanwhile, the young lady of his choice moves into his bachelor apartment...
...and immediately starts changing things.
He does a thorough job of grooming himself today...
...and she wants her future home to be just right.
And when he comes home, he begins to realize...
...that you have to make some adjustments to your lifestyle when you get married.
And there you have as handsome a couple of young newlyweds as you can hope to find.
The friendliest and the most affectionate little creatures...
...in the desert are the meerkats.
Sorry, fella.
They're also most inquisitive, and when a stranger intrudes...
...he's received with courtesy and friendly curiosity.
Even a poisonous cobra is inspected and invited to be friendly.
An egg is pure frustration.
He knows there's something good in there, but how do you get to it?
The mongoose looks like the meerkat, but he's from a different family.
When he finds an egg, he hikes it to the nearest rock...
...juggles it into position, takes a quick sighting, and shoots.
But the meerkat doesn't have the know-how.
He always digs for his food...
...so instinctively, he tries to solve this problem by digging.
But it doesn't work.
Maybe he can learn by watching the mongoose.
All right, he'll try that.
That guy makes it look so easy.
But the egg-eater snake...
...can swallow an egg 10 times as big as his head...
...without breaking it or his head.
He unhooks his lower jaw from the rest of his face...
...so he can open his mouth wide enough.
At first, the egg keeps slipping away, and he goes around in circles.
But he has a good reason for that.
Eventually, he has the egg surrounded so it can't slip away anymore.
And now he can do his trick.
Once the egg is safely inside him, he crushes it...
...and squeezes out all the good stuff without spilling a drop.
And a few minutes later, he ejects the shell in a neat, disposable package.
But if you want to swallow eggs whole, there's no room for teeth in your mouth.
That makes him the most defenseless snake in the world...
...so apparently, Mother Nature has played a nasty trick on him.
But to make up for it, she painted phony teeth on his lips...
...and she taught him to put up such an act of ferocity...
...that he can even intimidate an elephant.
That intricate winding movement makes him look twice his size...
...and lets his scales make an angry rasping sound as they rub together.
He pretends to strike viciously, but he has to make sure he misses...
...otherwise his enemy will find out that he has no teeth.
But his act is so good that no one ever calls his bluff...
...and everyone believes he's very dangerous.
A baboon will eat every creepy-crawly thing he can find under rocks...
...but if he should come across an egg-eater snake...
...he'll fall down in a dead faint.
And would you believe it, he looks under the same rock and faints again.
Sometimes he's sorry he got married, because she's always cleaning house.
He wants a girlfriend, and that's his way of advertising.
He knows if there's a lady tapping beetle within half a mile...
...she'll hear him and answer back.
So all day and all night, he taps and listens, taps and listens...
...because tapping beetles are scarce here...
...and he has a long and lonely quest ahead of him.
The backfiring beetle doesn't use his rear end for tapping. He uses it to defend himself.
His ammunition is a stinging acid, and he always hits his enemy right in the eye.
These are some of the animals who are at home in the Pre-Namib.
They've accepted the hardships of the changing planet and seem to enjoy...
...living in this arid land where the rain sometimes stays away for years.
In the southern part of the Pre-Namib, billions of seeds...
...lie waiting for years in the dust of the desert floor.
When the rain comes at last, a miraculous transformation happens.
The desert covers itself in a wall-to-wall carpet, and an incredible variety...
...of flowers celebrate the coming of the life-giving moisture.
For a few weeks, the Pre-Namib tries to recapture the glories of the past...
...when this was a paradise.
But the glory is short-lived.
The sun dehydrates the earth again, and the flowers return to dust.
But they leave billions of seeds in the desert soil...
...because the rain may come again, and they'll have another festival.
For now, the desert reverts to bleakness...
...and those few weeks of color seem as if they never happened.
There is one spot in the Pre-Namib that is a year-round paradise...
...because the Cubango River streams out of the Tropics.
Unlike other rivers, it never reaches the sea.
It blunders into the vastness of the desert and is swallowed.
But before those millions of gallons of water disappear under the sand...
...they create a luxuriant subtropical jungle in the middle of the desert.
A year-round Garden of Eden, complete with serpent and other predators.
The kingfisher pinpoints his target precisely...
...and gets into the exact position by moving this way and that.
Then he strikes.
Like a fighter pilot, he dives with the sun behind him so his prey can't see him coming.
At high noon, he goes straight down.
And later, when the sun is lower, he comes in at an angle.
Far below the lily pads, there's another paradise where life is mostly placid...
...with some hectic moments.
The bream has as many as a thousand babies at one time...
...and she has a very cute trick to protect them from predators.
Father keeps a lookout so he can warn Mother when danger comes.
Old snaggletooth comes prowling out of his lair, and Father nearly throws a fit.
He gives the alarm, so the kids beeline for Mother, who promptly swallows them...
...the whole thousand.
Whoops, little Wilbur is late. Snaggletooth attacks once more.
"Hey, Mom, let me in, let me in!"
"Shucks!"
The villain gives up and leaves, so Dad gives the all clear, and Mother spits them out.
Most of the kids are happy to be free...
...but there are always some insecure sissies who want to go back inside where it's safe...
...and she cannot get rid of them.
"Go and play outside."
In the jungles and on the flood plains...
...on the banks of the Cubango...
...nobody needs to work, because there's plenty of water and food for everybody.
There's no day-to-day struggle for existence, and the animals enjoy a life...
...of peace and plenty.
One may wonder why animals in the surrounding desert don't flock...
...to share in this life of luxury.
Here, the trees and plants bear fruits and seeds and berries to suit every taste.
The seeds of the tambuti tree jump and cavort...
...because inside each one there's a little worm with the hiccups.
In paradise, even the worms are cute.
And in every tree, there's a whole parade of characters from every walk of life.
A lady with her hair in curlers.
A cross between a zebra and a vacuum cleaner.
A little dachshund, complete with waggly tail.
A dizzy blond with a painted face.
And other beautiful people.
A portly old gentleman in conservative gray.
The hobo.
The poor guy on skid row.
Longhaired hippie.
And the real far-out weirdo who does his own wild thing.
And, of course, the bloated, overfed, overdressed slob.
He illustrates what's wrong with living in paradise...
...because many members of this society have become blasť and bored with life.
Things are just too easy in the Cubango Basin.
They no longer have a zest for living like their cousins out in the inhospitable desert.
Here, life offers no challenge, and many of them have become slobs and easy riders.
The only excitement in their lives comes in high summer...
...when the marula trees are in full fruit.
At first, the marulas are very tasty and hard to get at.
You have to be either agile or strong to get your share.
After a few weeks, the marulas get overripe, and they start dropping from the trees.
Then all the animals wade in and gorge themselves on the rotting fruit.
It starts fermenting in their tummies and turns into a very potent brew.
On the way home, things start happening to them.
When night falls, there's peace again.
A very blissful peace.
Not everybody in the Cubango leads a wasteful life.
Some members of this too-prosperous society are still sober, hardworking folk.
The weavers here don't build condos like those in the White Namib.
Each one builds his own free-swinging nest.
To do that, he has to perform a small miracle.
He has no hands, only his little beak to make all those intricate knots.
So a newlywed is nervous when he builds his first nest under the watch of his bride.
When the job is done, he hops onto a twig and timidly invites his wife to inspect it.
She flits across and takes a long, hard look at her future home.
It doesn't look very neat, and she doesn't even like the neighborhood.
She's got to raise her kids in this? "You like it, huh? You like it? Huh?"
She makes a closer inspection and subjects the house to testing...
...to see whether it conforms to her specifications, and he's in quite a flutter.
She's not satisfied and vents her fury on his substandard workmanship.
"You didn't like it, huh?" "You bet your life I didn't like it."
He will try again, and this time he chooses the neighborhood carefully.
He's all of a twitter because she's watching.
First he has to tie two twigs together, but it's not easy. Those twigs are springy.
Oh, boy, it's not easy.
But if all those others can do it, he can too.
One day, he'll build a house he can be proud of...
...although he'll still get nervous when his wife comes to approve it.
The hornbill installs his wife inside a tree trunk and seals her up for three months.
But first he cleans out her cell to make sure she'll be comfortable in there.
Then he flies off to get some clay to wall her in, and she starts undressing.
She plucks out her coarser feathers so she can be soft for the chicks when they hatch.
Without those feathers, she can't fly, but she won't be using her wings for a while.
He comes back with a beakful of clay and blocks the entrance...
...so she and her chicks will be safe.
He leaves only a slit, the size and shape for a hornbill's bill...
...so he can bring her food and water while she lays and hatches her eggs.
And then there are suddenly five mouths to feed, and Father has to provide for them all.
Throughout the summer, he's the hardest-working member...
...of the opulent Cubango community.
When the chicks grow bigger he has to provide a balanced diet.
One day, green stuff with lots of vitamins. The next day, proteins.
One lucky day, a swarm of proteins comes buzzing around the nest...
...saving Dad a lot of labor.
He's quite sorry when they leave.
Oh, well, back to the grind.
The chicks have been taught not to pollute their own nest, and their aim is remarkable.
As they grow, it gets crowded in the nursery.
So one fine day, Mother breaks open the roof, and out they come.
Father feels happy and proud to see his children at last...
...but perhaps he also feels sad and discarded.
Now they don't need him anymore.
Although wart hogs get as smashed...
...as everybody else during the marula binge...
...they lead exemplary lives for the rest of the year.
Family ties are strong, and the little ones are attached to their mother.
Of course, in every family there is always one unlucky one.
If there are any knocks coming, he gets them.
The cheetah is the fastest runner in the world...
...and if Mrs. Wart Hog is not alert, she can lose some of her family.
But she's quick to sense danger, and hogs are pretty fast on their feet too.
Each one finds a hole and pops in tail-first.
The unlucky one chooses a hole that's too small, and now he can get neither in nor out.
Luckless is trapped very far from home.
They say hogs can't count, but Mother knows that one of her children is missing.
At last, the frustrated cheetah goes away.
Mother searches every hole and behind every bush for her child.
She cannot rest before she finds him.
Luckless guesses it's safe to come out...
...and it dawns on him that he doesn't know the way home.
All night long, Mother keeps a vigil for her little lost one.
He's never slept alone, and in the middle of the night...
...some big animals come sniffing around.
He tries to lie very still and pretend he's only a stone...
...but he's very frightened.
When a baby wart hog gets separated from its mother, it'll try to find a substitute.
It's not easy to get yourself adopted...
...when you have a face that only your mother can love.
The only one who will adopt him is an old rotting log.
He's a very sad little boy.
When a honey badger is young, his parents abandon him...
...and he has to find his own food.
He's not an expert hunter yet.
He'll have to live on worms and grubs in this land of milk and honey...
...unless some fairy godmother comes to his aid.
Incredibly, nature provides just such a godmother in the shape of a little bird.
For a while, she looks on as he scratches and digs...
...for the few scraps of food he can find.
When the time is ripe, she introduces herself.
At first, he resents this noisy, fluttering nuisance, but eventually...
...some deep instinct makes him realize dimly that he has to follow her.
So she finally leads him to the objective: A big, fat beehive.
All his instincts come to the surface.
He knows his favorite food is in there, and nothing will stop him.
His hide is impervious to bee stings. The only vulnerable spot is the tip of his nose.
At last, the payoff.
This amazing partnership of the honey guide bird and the badger...
...is an intriguing example of teamwork between different species.
He doesn't eat all the loot, because she's entitled to her share.
The inhabitants of the Cubango Basin...
...don't realize how lucky they are to be living in luxury.
To them, this land of plenty is the whole universe.
They're unaware that their bounteous habitat...
...is a small green world floating...
...in the vast emptiness of the Pre-Namib.
The Pre-Namib, again, is dwarfed by its neighbor on Capricorn, the Kalahari.
This is the most treacherous desert of all, because after the short rainy season...
...it looks like an immense paradise that can rival the opulence of the Cubango.
The grass is as high as an elephant's eye, and while the surface water lasts...
...everybody prospers.
At the water holes, there is so much traffic that all the grass is worn away.
Zebra in their thousands.
Graceful kudu, the males with beautiful horns...
...the females with beautiful ears.
Oryx, who, unlike their cousins in the Namib, revel in the abundant water.
Ostrich.
The fussy-looking secretary bird, who's very good at short takeoffs...
...but needs a heck of a long runway for landing.
The towering giraffe, who makes the zebra look like toys.
Some years there's even a vast shallow lake for a short while after the rain...
...where water birds converge in great numbers.
The lake covers 8000 square miles, but it's only a few inches to a few feet in depth.
And most years, a great flock of pelicans establish...
...their breeding colony in the middle of the lake.
They look stodgy and comical on the ground and pompous in the air.
But on water, they have style and elegance.
They gather in flotillas to herd fish into the shallows...
...where they dip in a graceful ballet to collect food for their chicks.
But the lake and the many water holes are impermanent.
Soon the water will sink away into the Kalahari sand...
...and there'll be a long, grim wait of nine months or more...
...before the rain comes again.
The only human beings...
...in the deep Kalahari are a few Bushmen.
They don't live in tribes, but roam about in small family groups.
The region is so vast that one family hardly ever meets another.
They must be the most carefree and contented people in the world...
...because they own nothing.
In the desert, there's nothing you can own, but everything you need.
They're also the most gentle people, possibly because they've never seen...
...anything as hard as a rock or a stone in their lives.
Where they live, there's only sand and trees and grass and animals.
So their tools are made of leather or bone or wood.
They never experience anything harder than wood.
When they find food, they eat it all at one sitting...
...so they have very expandable stomachs.
When they sleep, their heads never touch the ground...
...because there are crawly things in the sand that can get into their ears.
They dig their elbows into the soft sand and use their shoulders as pillows.
The children have to have an intimate understanding of the animals around them.
So the elders teach them, in stereophonic sound yet.
But somehow the children manage to listen to two teachers at once.
They are superb mimics, and they feel a close affinity...
...with the animals who are their neighbors and also their food.
The Bushman is a very small man, and his weapons are puny.
He has to sneak up very close to his food...
...because his arrow can only kill at 30 paces.
The biggest nuisance in his life is the go-away bird...
...who seems to take pleasure in sabotaging him.
It'll watch him stalking painstakingly up to his quarry...
...and then tell it to go away.
Such beautiful targets.
When the water holes begin to grow smaller, the animals get restless.
Soon they'll have to move away, leaving all that beautiful grass uneaten.
They're loath to leave this bountiful food supply...
...and they'll hang on until the last of the water disappears.
Fights break out easily, and when two oryx bulls lose their tempers...
...the outcome can be fatal, so the leader of the herd will try to make peace.
Those horns are like rapiers, and the oryx use them like expert swordsmen.
The peacemaker's efforts are not very successful.
He only succeeds in goading them further.
With a sudden jab, one gets his horn into position for the fatal thrust.
If he can drive that horn in a few more inches, he'll go right to the heart.
When things get too hot, the loser breaks and runs.
He'll live to fight another day.
The smaller water holes dry up first...
...but sometimes there's plenty of water below the sand.
You just have to know where to dig.
But elephants are finicky, and this water stinks.
The royal family has its own water supply, and when it runs low...
...a young female always gets the job of keeping all the other animals away.
She has to work out there on the hot plain while the rest of the family...
...take it easy in the shade.
She grew fat and lazy during the affluent season...
...and finds it a very tedious assignment.
One pesky impala in particular makes her life a misery.
The strange thing is that the impala doesn't really need the water.
He can get enough moisture by licking the dew off the grass...
...in the early morning.
Maybe he gets up too late, or maybe he just likes to pester her for the hell of it.
Of course, lion is king only until elephants make the scene...
...even if they're only youngsters.
The Bushman is not dependent on water holes.
His forebears have had thousands of years to adapt to the Kalahari...
...so he needs very little liquid, and he knows where to find it.
An insignificant-looking dry twig tells him where to dig.
Anyone else would die of thirst in a few days...
...in this treacherous desert that doesn't look like a desert...
...but he can survive for months on end.
He unearths a bulbous root...
...which is really just a solid lump of wood with hard fibers that are merely damp.
Civilized man would need some pretty complicated technology...
...and machinery to get water out of it, but he uses the very simplest of tools.
His scraper is a stick that has been split to give it a sharp edge...
...and he produces some dry-looking shavings.
But you take a handful, point your thumb at your mouth...
...squeeze very hard and wait for it.
The baboons always have a secret supply of water...
...and they're not going to tell anybody where it is.
And when a Machalahari ventures into the deep Kalahari...
...on a hunting trip, he has to find water...
...because, unlike the Bushman, he doesn't know how to make liquid from a root.
But he has his own way of finding out where the water is.
First, he drills a hole in a giant ant heap when he's sure a baboon is watching him...
...because he knows baboons are incurably inquisitive.
Next, he puts some wild melon seeds into the hole...
...and works them in so that they drop into a hollow.
Then he saunters off, knowing the baboon is burning with curiosity.
The baboon doesn't trust that human being at all, so he plays it cool.
But he's dying to know what gives in that confounded hole.
Finally, Mr. Inquisitive can't take it any longer.
He's got to know what's in there.
He reaches in, grabs a fistful, and now his hand's too big to come out.
If he had the sense to drop the seeds, he could free his hand.
Now he lets go when it's too late.
So that was a smart enough way to catch a baboon...
...but he still has to make him talk.
Now, he knows that salt is very scarce in this particular area...
...and that baboon is going to eat those lumps like candy.
In fact, he has such a ball eating salt that he completely forgets he's under arrest...
...and that in a little while he's going to be a mighty thirsty baboon.
Next morning, the Machalahari goes to have a closer look...
...to see whether his prisoner is ready to talk.
He decides the brainwashing has worked, so he sets him free...
...knowing that in his condition he won't care who follows him...
...to the secret reservoir.
The Machalahari has no eyes for the beauty of the setting.
To him, water is beautiful.
Now the water holes have dried up to only a trickle...
...and soon that will be hard-baked soil.
In a few short weeks, paradise turns into purgatory.
The merciless sun scorches down, and dust devils dance...
...across the parching earth.
Most of the animals migrate to other regions...
...but some hardy and some foolhardy ones remain.
And the vultures know that their prosperous time is approaching.
By this time, the great lake has dried up completely...
...into a boundless, white expanse.
Mummified fish lie scattered on the dry, cracked surface.
Animals migrating across the lake from the Kalahari...
...plod through cruel mirages of water that doesn't splash under their feet...
...and they pass phantom trees that offer no shade.
After days of plodding, some begin to panic...
...when there seems to be no end to the vastness.
Some just give up and stop walking.
Some years, the drought comes too soon for the pelicans...
...who nested in the center of the lake.
The parents stand around helplessly as their little black chicks...
...suffer agonies of hunger and thirst and heat.
They're almost fully grown, but are still too young to fly...
...so they're trapped in this boundless desolation.
One little one begins to walk blindly away into the searing heat...
...and his parents can only look on in despair.
In the first weeks of his life, this was a bountiful lake.
He cannot understand how his beautiful world could change into this pitiless void.
So he walks and walks, hoping in despair to find his beautiful world again...
...somewhere in this vast emptiness.
In the evening, cool, moist air...
...comes drifting into the desert, bringing a promise of life-giving rain.
In the morning, the clouds are still streaming into the desert sky...
...but the sun burns mercilessly, and one by one...
...they shrivel in the searing heat.
A few stragglers survive, but as they penetrate deeper into the desert...
...they, too, dwindle and fade.
In the end, the parents have to abandon their chicks...
...and fly away to the sea.
And the chicks begin to walk.
They are very weak now, and the dried-out lake is endless.
It is a death march that leaves a trail of little bodies...
...for mile upon mile on the vastness...
...until only a pitiful few are left alive.
Far away from the desert, the clouds build up into towering masses...
...as they prepare to invade the stronghold of the sun once more.
Like a liberating army, wave after wave of cumulus...
...surges across the African plains.
Even before they reach the desert, the sun begins to pound down on the upper layers...
...and it tears great gaps in the ranks of the invaders.
But when the advance guard reaches the desert, it is still a formidable force.
It penetrates several miles into the desert...
...and some clouds even discharge their load of rain.
But the rain never reaches the ground because the relentless sun evaporates...
...the water before it can fall on the thirsting earth.
The invasion loses impetus under the fury of the sun...
...and the clouds are vanquished.
And the surviving chicks wait in vain for relief from their anguish.
By nightfall, only a few scattered remnants drift around aimlessly.
During the night, the clouds regroup their forces.
Great masses move around in the darkness like vast engines of war...
...as they maneuver into position for another invasion.
At dawn, they launch another massive attack.
Again, wave after wave sweeps towards the desert.
And in the turmoil of a titanic battle of the elements, the sun is finally obliterated.
Then there is a great hush.
Strangely, when deliverance comes at last, the animals show no signs of rejoicing.
They merely wait impassively for the rain to pass.
And after a few minutes, it stops.
Abruptly and suddenly.
The thirsty earth soaks up the long-awaited moisture.
But in the rocky parts, the water runs off and brings new perils.
The flash floods drain off as suddenly as they started.
And now the desert can settle down to enjoy the return of prosperity.
But still the animals show no sign of rejoicing.
It takes several days before it dawns on them that...
...paradise has returned to the desert.
Then their joy of living comes bursting out.
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