Africa - home to the greatest wildlife gatherings on Earth, but even in this land of plenty, wildlife faces huge challenges.

Published: 22 October 2019
The challenge for our team was to film new animals or new behaviour.
— Giles Badger

In the jungles, young chimps learn to use tools to find food. On the savannah, a group of cheetah brothers team up to hunt prey twice their size. And, in crystal clear freshwater lakes, caring fish mothers are tricked by devious imposters.

Africa’s deserts are tough too. In the Namib, hyena make epic treks to find food on the beach, whilst in the Kalahari, the bizarre aardvark digs deep to find a meal. But for much of Africa’s wildlife the greatest threat comes from humans.

Stories from filming

Number of days filming: 227

  • The crew had to wash in a swamp and pull ticks out of each other every night while filming. The butterflies there liked eating sweat so all of their clothes and shoes were covered in them!
  • In Malawi the filming team tried to land their drone on the beach but a group of stray dogs were fascinated with it and kept trying to jump up and grab it! The battery power was running low and Jonny Keeling (executive producer) had to catch it surrounded by barking dogs.

Filming locations and species

1. Western chimpanzee - Ivory Coast
2. Cichlid - Malawi
3. Cheetah - Kenya
4. Oxpecker - Zambia
5. Brown hyena - Namibia
6. Aardvark and Temminck's pangolin - South Africa
7. African elephant - Zimbabwe
8. Northern white rhino - Kenya

Facts on species featured

  • Brown hyenas are one of Africa’s rarest predators, in a single hunt they might walk over 20 miles
  • Cheetahs are the fastest land animal, they can reach 112km/h in just three seconds
  • The pangolin, otherwise known as the scaly anteater, is the only mammal in the world to be covered from head to toe in keratin scales (the same as human finger nails)
  • Chimpanzees use tools to help them get things done. Chimpanzees have been known to crack open nuts with rocks, fish out insects from nests and logs using sticks, and shelter from the rain by holding up leaves like umbrellas, use moss like sponges for drinking water
  • Aardvarks are known to eat around 50,000 ants and termites in one night
  • Some African elephant sounds are so low that they are below the range of human hearing, they can also recognise over 100 different friends from their calls alone

Africa: did you know?

  • The longest river in the world, the Nile (4,132 miles), is located in Africa
  • Africa has one of the world's largest deserts, the Sahara, which is almost the size of the United States
  • Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in Africa
  • Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain on the continent

An interview with Giles Badger, producer of Africa

Tell us about your episode, Africa?

Everyone has filmed in Africa. The challenge for our team was to film new animals or new behaviour, and also put a new slant on the continent. We wanted to explain how some unique bit of behavior that we filmed allowed an animal to survive in the vast array of landscapes that Africa contains. Our other subject was the state of Africa's wildlife today. The Africa film closes the series and the last five or ten minutes is, hopefully, extremely powerful. It talks about the state of the continent and indeed the world's wildlife, which has been driven to the point where some scientists believe we're right on the edge of a mass extinction of life. How we choose to treat our wildlife and conserve our wildlife will dictate the future of all life on Earth. It's a very careful balance that you have to maintain.

As far as I'm concerned, the audience still wants heart-wrenching, remarkable stories and new behaviours. They still want to care, feel like they're learning something new and be taken to new places that create some sort of wanderlust. At the same time, it would be remiss of us nowadays to make a series that doesn't highlight the state of the world’s wildlife.

And you got to film chimpanzees in the Ivory Coast?

In the Taï forest in the Ivory Coast we filmed a young, five-year-old female chimpanzee watching and learning from her 43-year-old mother. Mum is a master nut-cracker, using rocks to bash nuts and get inside to the food. This young chimp would watch her mother and then she would go off into the forest on her own and try and perfect her technique. It’s a technique that can take up to a decade to learn, so she had a tough time of it! She would try and fail; pick up a rock that's too small, and fail; then a rock that's too big, which she could barely lift up; and then a piece of wood… that smashed in half. It is a wonderful, heart-warming story but then when you start to think that this has been going on, passed down from mother to youngster, for 4,000 years, it's a remarkable piece of behaviour to capture.

We were out on location for about a month for this sequence. It was a case of working with a group of scientists who'd been studying the chimpanzees for upwards of 40-odd years. They were the ones that were able to take us to a group of habituated chimpanzees, and then we had to move through the jungle following these chimpanzees - they go elegantly and quietly while we thrash around with all our equipment. I guess we got lucky that this behaviour happened right in front of our eyes.

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