Life: Hunters And Hunted - Episode Seven Synopsis

The ability to learn from past experiences and so develop novel solutions to problems has allowed mammals to flourish in the harshest environments. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the life and death struggles between the hunters and hunted.

In northern Kenya three cheetah brothers live together, working as a coalition to hold onto their territory. Uniquely, they have learnt to work together to hunt prey that most other cheetahs would not dare to confront – taking on ostriches. As male cheetahs play no part in the raising of their young, this novel adaptation will most likely disappear when the brothers die.

Female mammals tend to look after their young for extended periods of time, allowing the youngsters to learn skills from their mother that might just give them the edge in the fight for survival.

Off the Falkland Islands lives a pod of nine orca – killer whales. One female has learnt to sneak in to a tidal pool in which elephant seal pups first learn to swim. In an act of extreme daring, she edges into the dangerously shallow pool, to try to grab a naive pup. No other orca knows how to do this, but crucially her calf is learning the technique by following its mother.

Mammals also have the ability to use their senses in ways that defy belief.

Star nosed moles in Canada have the most amazing noses and sense of smell. Their nostrils are fringed by 22 lobes that look like little fingers. These are incredibly sensitive to touch and allow the mole to find and consume food faster than any other mammal. But the mole’s senses are even more stunning under water when it dives. In another TV first, Life reveals a new discovery recently made by scientists that the mole exhales a bubble from its nostrils and then re-inhales the bubble. It is effectively sniffing under water at the rapid speed of ten times a second.

Bulldog bats also have finely-tuned senses. They use echolocation like normal bats – but these bats focus on detecting the ripples created by fish swimming and then use their enlarged feet as grappling irons to snatch them from the water.

Some mammals are so clever that they take advantage of the super-acute senses of others to outwit their predators.

In the forest of Bandhavgarh in India chital deer live under constant threat from tigers. But the deer have allies in the trees above – langur monkeys. The monkeys’ alarm calls often warn them of the imminent threat of a hunting tiger.

But mammal predators also have their own inventive tactics.

In Florida Bay, dolphins have learnt to corral fish by creating rings of mud around them – rings that are made by the lead dolphin beating its tail on the bottom while swimming in a tight circle around a shoal of fish. The fish are so disorientated by this wall of silt coming towards them that they panic and jump out of the ring – straight into the waiting mouths of the dolphins.

Rock Pooling
Cameraman Mike Pitts and producer Adam Chapman travelled to the Falkland Islands on a tip-off that a pod of orca had learnt how to hunt naive elephant seal pups when they first venture into the water.

Despite over-inquisitive seal pups, bad underwater visibility and South Atlantic storms, the crew managed to film a unique hunting strategy and discovered in the process that it is actually only one female in the pod that dares to edge into the small pool where the seals first swim.

Producer: Adam Chapman.

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