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Walking With Beasts BBC Part06 Mammoth Journey

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For the last 50 million years|the world has been getting
slowly colder.
But something else has now helped|tip it over the edge.
A change in the earth's orbit is taking|it further from the sun.
This has brought on an lce Age.
Conditions for all life become|extremely hazardous,
even for the mighty mammoths.
The early autumn snow f all has concealed|a barely frozen pond.
This young female has f allen through|the ice and is trapped.
Such are the bonds between mammoths|that the heard do not leave
their stranded sister.
They stay near by, distressed but|powerless except to comfort her.
Before long, the scavengers|have started to gather.
lt could take days for the female|to die and the heard cannot
afford to wait.
Eventually they are forced|to abandon her.
They must keep moving to escape|the coming lce Age winter.
For the few months of summer there is|little here to suggest that
the world is in the middle of an lce Age
An endless sea of grass and flowers|supports a variety of animals.
But just a few metres down, the ground|is frozen solid all year round.
There is now so much water frozen|at the poles that sea levels
have f allen dramatically.
lf it wasn't an lce Age this grassland|would be the bottom
of the North Sea.
As it is, it's a magnet for millions|of grazing animals during the summer.
The biggest grass-eaters of them|all are the mammoths.
This programme will be following one|particular herd in their annual
struggle against the elements.
Like all mammoth herds, this one is|mostly female since males leave
at adolescence.
There are five adult females|a ten year old male and
smallest of all, a male calf|just six months old.
Born in the spring he has yet to|experience how bad a winter can be.
The eldest member is the matriarch.
She is a veteran of some 40 winters|and it is her experience
that ensures the survival of the herd|when the going gets tough.
Mammoths are just one of many herbivores|to enjoy the summer bounty.
They are all animals, in their own way|built for the cold. The mammoths
and bison have their characteristic|shaggy coats while the Saiga
antelopes have another adaptation.
Broad noses help them warm up the|air before they breathe it.
With so much game it is not surprising|there are also predators.
Human hunt on these plains in summer.
They have not physical adaptation to|cope with the cold but instead
wear animal hides and weave cloth to|protect themselves.
These predators specialise in small prey|and seldom hunt anything as big
and dangerous as the mammoths.
But mammoths are nonetheless very|important to them.
With so little wood on parts of|the plain they collect
the tusks of dead animals to|build huts and even use their
bones for fuel.
These most inventive of creatures are|capable of making the most of
every resource available.
Of all the summer visitors|the most numerous are the flies
which are a constant source of|irritation for the mammoths.
The humans, however|have learnt to do something about them.
They grind up a paste made out of|a mineral called ochre which
helps keep the insects at bay.
Come the autumn, this plain will|become a freezing hell hole
so the mammoths make the most of|the summer while they can.
They eat up to 180 kilograms of grass|a day while the males mate with
as many females as possible.
Early autumn and the big|freeze has begun.
The mammoths are still on|the northern plains.
These creatures evolved from|hairless elephants in Africa
but have become living fortresses|against the cold.
Under their skin they have a|layer of f at 10cms thick
for insulation.
Also they have small ears and|short tails to prevent them
losing too much heat.
On top of all this they have their|characteristic carpet of hair
which has now grown to a metre|in length as their bodies respond
to the drop in temperatures.
As the weeks pass, the true savagery of|the climate begins to bite.
The humans have already left the plains|to seek shelter and
milder weather further south.
Soon the mammoths too will go.
With little grass available and no|protection from a wind chill
that will average minus 50 degrees|centigrade, even they have to
move south.
This lce Age is in f act only one of many
Two and a half million years ago|the earth's climate started on a
roller coaster of warmer|and colder periods.
There have been almost 50 lce Ages|so f ar but this is
the coldest yet.
The matriarch decides it is time to|head off towards the less
exposed valleys of the Alps.
lt is a 400km journey that|they are driven to every year.
For the Megaloceros, autumn is not|a time to travel,
it is a time to rut.
These males are fighting for the harem|of females nearby.
Winner takes all.
Megaloceros are a giant form of deer|and the males sport a most
impressive set of antlers.
Each one is as long as a person.
lt's a wonder they can even hold|their heads up.
Exhausted from fighting,|neither has noticed
they are in a trap.
Humans are predators unlike any before.|They use not strength but strategy,
pushing the Megaloceros into|the trees where their antlers
prevent escape.
Only one of them|has the energy to break out.
The humans will have to take what|they want as quickly as possible
before lce Age scavengers like wolves,|lions and hyenas make this a
dangerous place to be.
Half way through their journey and|the mammoths are progressing well.
But for one member of the herd|it is a constant struggle,
the youngest.
This is his first winter.
Many yearlings never see their second.
They soon catch up with other|migrating animals.
Humans are also heading for the Alps|where the extensive cave networks
make perfect winter retreats.
The matriarch keeps a wary eye on them|and the humans know better
than to get too close.
The days pass and the calf is starting|to get into trouble.
He is having real difficulty keeping up.
His mother stays with him but the herd|cannot wait and the pair are
starting to f all behind.
On this snowscape a lion might seem|out of place but they are common
in Europe at this time and a baby|mammoth in trouble is just
the sort of thing to bring|this cave lion out of its den.
Defended by a full grown adult|the baby is relatively safe.
But the lion continues to stalk|hoping for the mother's guard to slip.
The pair have now completely|lost the herd.
Across the landscape other mammoths|are making the same journey
This is an adult male and|he travels alone.
There are lions in his way|feasting on a straggler,
in this case not a mammoth|calf but a human.
The lions will have to let him pass.
Nothing gets in the way of|a mammoth migrating.
Mammoths are sociable animals and|as the forests around them become
denser so the small herds|start to join up.
Soon hundreds of mammoths are winding|their way through the wintry
lowlands of Europe.
As the mammoths near the Alsace region|the terrain changes dramatically
Flat plains give way to|hills and valleys.
lt is here that lives another species|of human, the Neanderthals.
They are much shorter than|the other humans and,
like other lce Age animals|they have big noses to
warm the air they breathe.
Rather than migrate they stay within|the same valleys all year long,
weathering out the worst of the winter|in shallow caves.
But with this recent lce Age their|numbers have plummeted.
This is now an endangered species.
Another animal that doesn't travel|south in winter is the woolly rhino.
They are very short-sighted and this|huge male has not even noticed the
Neanderthal just 50m away.
For a while, the Neanderthal doesn't|notice the rhino either.
Woolly rhinos are easily startled and|will charge at anything that
surprises them.
Even at this distance he won't see|the Neanderthal but his
sense of smell is better than his sight
The rhino has picked up the scent.
lt is fortunate for the Neanderthal|that his species is stronger and
more heavily built than the other humans.
Thick bones and a barrel chest help him|deal with a very tough lifestyle.
Having travelled almost 400km in two|weeks the herd at last arrives
at the foothills of the Alps.
Here, in the sheltered forests|and valleys, they will
spend their winter.
Here there is protection from the wind|as well as food.
Thanks to their highly dextrous trunks,|these grassland animals can
sustain themselves on trees,|like these spruce,
when their usual food is buried|under thick snow.
A week later and the matriarch hears|a f amiliar call.
The calf and his mother have at last|caught up with the rest of the herd.
Touching each other with their trunks|members of the herd renew their
bonds with the pair. The most hazardous|part of the winter is over and the
calf has survived.
ln an lce Age spring comes late.|lt is May before things have
warmed up enough for the snow to melt|and a carpet of flowers to spring up.
With the increase in temperature|the woolly rhinos have moulted
and are not as woolly as they were.
The mammoths too have already shed|their long, winter coats
to leave a lighter under wool only|a few centimetres long.
The calf has come through the winter|in good health and,
now he has been weaned,|spends more time away from his mother.
He is also no longer the youngest|The herd's latest member arrived
just a few weeks ago.
lt's a little female.
The rhinos, meanwhile, are starting|to get feisty again.
These two males are fighting|for territory.
But these confrontations aren't|always violent.
They scrape their horns on the ground|until one of them backs down
and leaves the area to the victor.
But while winter may be over here|the northern plains are still
defrosting and so the herd will spend|a couple of weeks in the valleys yet.
lt gives the newest arrival a bit more|time to get some strength in her
legs before the journey back north.
There is a downside to all this warmer|weather - insects are becoming
a problem again.
But where there's mud, there's a way.
A good shower of mud can help prevent|the insects biting.
Or maybe mammoths just do this|for the fun of it.
Like autumn in reverse, the great|mammoth caravans form once more
as it's time to head north.
Soon the mountains are behind them|but they are coming into
dangerous territory.
The Neanderthals are waiting.
For them the mammoths coming north is|one of the most important times
of the year.
They are about to risk life|and limb to hunt them.
To take on a mammoth they need|every advantage they can get.
The wait for dusk when the cliff will|become less visible and they can
make effective use of their|secret weapon - fire.
The Neanderthals descend to the bottom|of the cliff to butcher
their kills.
One of the mammoths is still alive.
The Neanderthals are supreme hunters|which is why they have lasted
over 260,000 years.
But they have a weakness -|they do not adapt well to change.
As a result of the harsher climate|and the arrival of other humans,
Neanderthals are f ast disappearing.
ln another 2000 years they'll|be gone altogether.
The herd eventually arrive back|on the northern plains.
Fortunately, both of the youngsters have|survived the journey.
The herd has, nonetheless,|suffered a major loss.
The matriarch is missing.
Killed when the Neanderthals attacked.
lt is now her sister that leads the herd|into the future.
Mammoths will last another 24,000 years.
They are superbly adapted for|this cold world.
But when it gets warm again the grassy|plains they depend upon will disappear.
The humans have a different future|ahead of them.
When change comes, they will be able to|deal with it because
they can adapt and they have the|ability to shape the world around them.
One day they'll look back on all this.
We have since built museums to celebrate|the past and spent decades
studying prehistoric lives.
And if all this has taught us anything|it's this-no species lasts forever.
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