Review: Africa 2013: Countdown to the Rains Episode 3

Presenters Simon King and Kate Humble. Image from: Spencer Scott Travel

Rating: four star

This was the last of three episodes set in the stunning Luangwa Valley in Zambia. The last two episodes have slowly introduced more animals and their lives and this episode is mostly spent catching up with the stories so far.

After a short shower in last weeks episode the weather is dry and warm again. Without enough rain the drought has proved too much for some of the hippos, providing food for other animals, including red-billed oxpeckers. We see both the wild dogs and the lions down on the salt pans. With the small rain shower, many species have given birth, including the impala. The wild dogs decide to go hunting and a pup even manages to catch and impala fawn. The lions, on the other hand, have decided to hunt buffalo, catching enough to feed them for a couple of days. The agility and power of lions and wild dogs still surprises me.

Simon heads out to try and find some leopards one last time, before dawn has even broken. Leopards are highly elusive animals so it can take a long time to find them, especially as they are so well camouflaged. Through reading the behaviour of other animals in the bush he works out a leopard must be nearby. He stops by a fig tree, a favourite of leopards as they love to dangle off the horizontal branches, and notices that the helmeted guinea fowl are on edge. Over the edge of a mound comes bounding  a leopard cub, honing his hunting skills on the guinea fowl. Then appears his mother, this is not only a leopard, as Simon says, but ‘the’ leopard family from an earlier episode. I genuinely can’t believe their luck. 

Towards the end of the episode the clouds are building once again, then a wall of sand comes up the river, with torrential rain straight behind it. We see how heavy the rain is falling, and then in the aftermath Kate shows that several of the crews tents have been blown down. This is the typical African storm I know; heavy rain and winds. Unfortunately the rain did not last very long, however there are still green shoots to be found springing up. The elephants have moved away towards where the rain was headed in search of fresh growth. The young elephant with a shortened trunk is spotted, much to my delight. I am glad it has survived the drought.

A female in the salt pan pride of lions has been seen wondering alone, so they decide to follow her. This provides a wonderful ending to the series, when we discover she has had two cubs. They are just so tiny and adorable. We are lucky to have seen them, as they were hiding in the bush. It goes to show that learning a bit about animal behaviour can lead you to great finds like this.

Finally I got to watch the red button extras, which by the way you can catch on iplayer. We get a glimpse into the lives of hyenas. The Lion King hasn’t really done them any favours and they are a fascinating animal. Similarly vultures are talked about, they may not look pretty but they are essential to avoid disease spreading as they eat animal carcasses that may have infected tissue. The problem of snaring is also highlighted, as the bushmeat trade is a very real problem to the future of animals. The crocodile eggs still haven’t hatched, and it looks like the real rains are on their way. They need to have more than normal to compensate for the lack of rain last year. It could just be that they are seeing the impacts of climate change, but let’s hope not.

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