Broadcaster: BBC One
Duration: 60 mins
Review by Tamara Ozog and Chris Willmott
When you think of predator–prey relationships, the first image that springs to mind is often that of a big cat chasing some kind of antelope before dragging it to the ground. It is perhaps no surprise therefore, that this first episode of the BBC series The Hunt starts and finishes with a chase of that kind, specifically a leopard tracking an impala, and a cheetah hunting a gazelle.
The real value of this programme, however, is that it doesn’t simply settle for those stories and includes a variety of different predator-prey encounters. In total the programme features nine sections, eight describing different sorts of interactions and, as is increasingly common with wildlife programmes, a final section on how they went about capturing some of the footage featured earlier.
The hunts covered include:
- Leopard and impala
- Zambian wild dogs and wildebeest
- Parson’s chameleon, Nasatum chameleon and praying mantis (the latter features as predator and prey!)
- Darwin’s Bark spiders suspending orb webs over rivers in the Madagascan rainforest
- Nile crocodiles and wildebeest (again!)
- Amur falcons and alate termites
- Orca (killer whales) v humpback whale calves
- Cheetahs and gazelles
- The making of… the section about crocodiles.
Some of the most interesting aspects of the programme stem from the differences between these encounters. For example, leopards can only sustain maximum speed for a distance of about 4 metres, and so must get as close to their prey as possible before striking, whereas wild dogs have got much more stamina and so set up for a long chase. Meanwhile the difference in tongue length between Parson’s chameleons and Nasatum chameleons influences how close they have to get to their prey; the shorter the tongue, the nearer you need to get, and therefore the greater the likelihood you will give away your presence. There are also comparisons between the advantages of hunting together with others from your species, tempered by the fact that your share of the spoils at the end is therefore less.
Another striking feature was the number of hunts that are unsuccessful. We are told that six out of seven attacks by leopards end in failure. We also see the dominant crocodile making several abortive attempts to catch a wildebeest. However, once he has done so he and his dependants can survive for a year on just the one meal. In contrast, a leopard will need to eat once a week and wild dogs need a successful hunt every day.
This episode would be useful background viewing for a student of zoology. There are seven programmes in total in the series, see this BBC page for more details.