Meet the animals of BBC One's Serengeti

The Serengeti, a huge ecosystem in east-central Africa, has captured the imagination of countless writers and film-makers.

On 4 July, a new six-part series following wildlife across the Pride Lands of Africa starts on BBC One.

However, this is no ordinary nature programme: narrated by Star Wars actor John Boyega, this is a drama based on the lives of the Serengeti’s most charismatic animals, told from the inside of their world.

There is friendship and devotion, jealousy and love, tragedy and triumph as their stories entwine into one epic tale.

Let’s meet the characters we’ll be getting to know in Serengeti.

Kali the lioness.BBC/John Downer Productions/Richard Jones

Kali the lioness

Kali is a fierce but flawed lioness, and she’s just given birth to four curious cubs. There’s just one problem - she had them with a male from outside of her pride.

Lions are the only big cats to live in large family units, usually up to 10-15 members, and betrayals can result in exile. Lionesses do most of the hunting, whilst the male lions protect the pride and its territory.

The males in Kali’s pride suspected her secret, and drove her out into the dangerous wild. Will she manage to keep her cubs safe?

Bakari the baboon

Big-hearted, affectionate but terribly jealous, Bakari is part of the baboon troop of Great Rock.

Baboons have complex social hierarchies - dominance between males is determined by fights, but females are responsible for accepting or rejecting new males into the troop and rank higher than the non-dominant males.

Bakari is a low-ranking male. After Sabira - the female who brought him into the troop - is stolen away by the dominant male, Bakari vows to win her back, whatever the cost.

Kike the cheetah sits on a mound, looking out into the sunset.BBC/John Downer Productions/Richard Jones

Kike the cheetah

Kike is also raising her first litter alone.

However, unlike lions, adult female cheetahs tend to be solitary and only seek out others to mate. Kike must go about the world differently now that she has dependants, facing huge challenges.

Speed is on her side: cheetahs can reach up to 112km/h in three seconds - that’s faster than a sports car accelerates.

But keeping her babies alive is a full-time job, and Kike and her cubs must learn quickly if they want to survive.

A pack of young hyenas.BBC/John Downer Productions/Geoff Bell

Zalika the hyena

Young, inexperienced and the daughter of the hyena clan’s warrior queen, Zalika has a lot to live up to.

Hyenas operate in large, territorial clans of up to 80 members, and are natural enemies of lions and hunting dogs. With so many mouths to feed, hyenas both hunt and scavenge the kills of other predators - they might even attack and eat other hyenas.

When tragedy strikes in Zalika’s clan, Zalika is thrust into her role as queen sooner than she expects.

Jasari the wild dog

Jasari is the leader of the wild dogs. Wild dogs - also known as painted wolves - have a unique social hierarchy: when a litter of pups is born, they take priority over the alpha breeding pair and are given first choice of spoils.

With twelve young pups to provide for, Jasari must take advantage of the arrival of the Great Migration and coordinate the pack to hunt.

However, wild dogs have a few natural enemies - mainly hyenas, who threaten Jasari’s pups at every turn.

Two adult elephants, trunks raised, with a baby elephant.BBC/John Downer Productions/Richard Jones

Nalla and Tembo the elephants

Sometimes survival in the Serengeti depends on wisdom, not strength or speed. Nalla is the matriarch of a peaceful elephant herd, and her new baby has just been born.

Female elephants stay with their mothers all their lives, and raise their calves among grandmothers, sisters and aunts.

The males must leave the herd once they reach puberty, and sometimes form bachelor groups that explore new pastures.

Tembo, Nalla’s unruly teenage son, struggles with his place in the family once his baby brother arrives, as he’s no longer the centre of attention.

Three zebras against a burnt landscape.BBC/John Downer Productions/Richard Jones

Shani the zebra

Shani is the leader of her herd. She is smart, but cautious, as she knows the dangers of the Serengeti better than anyone.

Along with wildebeest and other antelope, zebras embark on an extraordinary annual 1,800-mile migration between the Serengeti and Maasai Mara in search of food and water.

This migration is at the heart of Shani’s story. She faces crocodiles, wild dogs and muddy death-traps on her journey - and is separated from her foal when crossing a treacherous river.

As zebras are prey to many animals, their excellent eyesight, hearing and distinctive stripes help them to survive. There are various theories as to why zebras have stripes - one is that the stripes act as camouflage and make it difficult for predators to tell how many are in a group, as well as throwing off the flight systems of flies and mosquitoes.

They even zig-zag when being chased, running from side to side to escape the predators of the Serengeti.

Will Shani’s survival tactics win out and reunite the herd with her son?

These animal families are put to the ultimate test against the elements, their enemies and each other.

You can watch Serengeti Thursday 4 July at 8pm on BBC One, or catch it on iPlayer.

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