Walking with Beasts is a 2001 six-part television documentary produced by the BBC in the United Kingdom, narrated by Kenneth Branagh. In North America it has been retitled Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, and the original Discovery Channel broadcast was narrated by Stockard Channing. Like its predecessor, Walking with Dinosaurs, it recreates life in the Cenozoic by using a combination of both Computer-generated imagery and animatronics. Also like its predecessor, it was re-edited and re-narrated as a second "season" of Prehistoric Planet for the Discovery Kids lineup.
The first episode depicts the warm tropical world of the early Eocene which was 16 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs. In this world, birds, including the six foot carnivorous Gastornis, rule the world, while mammals are still very small. The setting is near the Messel Pit in Germany. Due to volcanic activity, sudden bulk escapes of carbon dioxide trapped underneath lakes are a hazard. The episode centers around a Leptictidium family foraging for food. The Leptictidium is a small leaping shrew-like mammal. While the family is foraging, a female Gastornis successfully hunts down a Propalaeotherium and defends her territory from another Gastornis. Unfortunately, while the Gastornis is out hunting, a horde of large ants (known as Formicium) ambush its egg,just starting to hatch. When the night arrives, we see a band of lemur-like Godinotia, socializing in the dark. The episode also shows the Ambulocetus, or the "walking whale", lying in ambush for its prey, both on land and underneath the water. Although it looks like a mammalian crocodile, the episode explains that from the Ambulocetus, all the whales would eventually evolve. It tries to attack the Leptictidium and Propalaeotherium, but fails. It finally manages to catch a small carnivore in the dark of the night. The episode ends with an earth tremor unleashing trapped carbon dioxide out from underneath the lake, suffocating most of the surrounding life (but the Leptictidium featured are lucky this time)
The second episode is set in late Eocene, when the polar caps froze over and drastically changed the Earth's ocean currents and climate. The first part of the episode explains how an early whale, Basilosaurus mates and how the world is changing into an ocean famine. On land there is an Andrewsarchus driven to the beach to feed on turtles. the narrator explains that Andrewsarchus, the largest mammal predator ever to walk the earth is a sheep in wolf's clothing. Back in the ocean, a starving mother Basilosaurus is forced to hunt in the mangrove swamps. Unable to catch the early monkey Apidium, she is then hunting a Moeritherium. The Moeritherium crawls on to land, but in the mangroves, land does not last long. However the Moeritherium escapes and the Basilosaurus returns to the sea. The cast moves on to land where a herd of Embolotherium struggle to survive: one of their calves dies and two Andrewsarchus feast on it but the mother Embolotherium drives them away because she has a strong bond with her offspring, even if it is dead. Back in the sea the mother Basilosaurus preys on a group of Dorudon and is successful. The episode ends with the mother Basilosaurus swimming with her newborn calf.
The third episode takes place during the late Oligocene, in Mongolia, where there were seasonal rains followed by a long drought. It tells the story of a mother Indricotherium, a massive hornless rhinoceros that was the largest land mammal to have ever lived. The episode first shows the mother Indricotherium giving birth, and then tending to the male calf as it matures. While giving birth, the mother defends the helpless calf from several Hyaenodon, large creodont predators. Also, the mother's old calf tries to come back but is chased away. It gives a snapshot into the future of the calf. The mother raises her calf for three years, but eventually chases him away after she mates with another male. The episode then chronicles the young Indricotherium travels until it reaches adulthood, including encounters with Cynodictis, and large aggressive Entelodon, which are distant relatives to the modern-day pig.
The fourth episode takes place in the Great Rift Valley in eastern Africa. The climate has changed, and now great grasslands have replaced trees. The episode focuses around a tribe of small hominids known as Australopithecus, one of the first apes able to walk upright and a close ancestor to humans. The Australopithecus has evolved to walk upright so as to better maneuver the plains as well as the climb the trees. However, it notes that although the Australopithecus looks human, it still only has the mind the size of a chimpanzee's. Some of the topics explored in the episode are the close social bonds among the tribe, how they use grooming as a means of communication, and how they work together to forage for food and to defend one another from attacks from such animals as an angry male Deinotherium and the predator Dinofelis. It touches upon how competing tribes of Australopithecus war among one another, although most of fighting is for show. It also explains the hierarchy in the tribe among the males (who are much larger than the females) and tells a story of how the dominating male is eventually overcome by another male, who wins the right to feed first at a carrion and to mate with the females. Another story tells of a young Australopithecus (nicknamed "Blue") who tries to fit into the tribe after he is orphaned. In this episode, some homage is paid to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (namely, two tribes of Australopithecus fighting over water, and the tribe driving off a hungry Dinofelis using tools).
Filming Location: Brazil
The fifth episode shows the strange fauna of the isolated continent of South America and explores the effects of the Great American Interchange, which had happened 1.5 million years earlier. Since South America had drifted apart from Antarctica 30 million years ago, many unique mammals had evolved, including the Doedicurus: an armoured glyptodont that had a cannon ball-sized spiked club on a bony tail; the Macrauchenia, a long-limbed litoptern, somewhat resembling a humpless camel with a short trunk; and Megatherium, a very large ground sloth. Before the continents of South America and North America collided, an 8 foot tall predatory "Terror Bird", Phorusrhacos, had reigned as top predator. However, the great cats, migrating from the north, soon displaced them as top predators. The episode focuses on a male Smilodon, a sabre-toothed cat, named Half Tooth, whose leadership of a pride is threatened by two males who are brothers and work together against him. The rival males ultimately chase off Half Tooth (actually Half Tooth backs off wisely without any serious injuries, feeling that the two males would be too strong for him), kill his cubs, and take over his pride. Next, the episode shows the Smilodon cats hunting down Macrauchenia and trying to protect the young from the two brothers (in vain) . In the background, "Terror Birds" still hunt, but give way to the Smilodon. However, a Megatherium,who wanted to eat meat as diet supplement, charges the pride of Smilodon, in order to eat some of the carrion. In the process, the Megatherium kills the dominant rival male, enabling Half Tooth to return, kill the other male and reclaim his territory.
The sixth episode takes place during the last Ice Age. It starts in the peak of the summer. The North Sea has become a grassy plain because the ice at the polar caps has caused the sea levels to drop significantly. Grazing on the plain are herds of Woolly mammoth, Saiga antelope, and European bison. A clan of humans (Cro-Magnons) is also there spending the summer. The central focus of the episode is the migration of the herd of mammoth as they travel 400 kilometers from the North Sea to the Swiss Alps for the winter and then back again in the spring.
As the mammoth herd migrates south, the episode shows two large deer, the Megaloceros, fighting for rights to a harem of females. As the male Megaloceros fight, a group of humans ambushes them, killing one . A mother mammoth and her baby are separated from the herd, but survive a stalking Cave Lion. Eventually the herd of mammoth reach the Swiss Alps and the mother mammoth and baby rejoin the herd.
The episode also depicts a clan of Neanderthals, who have especially evolved to survive in the cold climate. One is charged by a woolly rhinoceros, but escapes, in part because of his stocky constitution. The climax of the episode is when the clan of Neanderthals attack the herd of mammoth as they turn back to the north. The Neanderthals are gifted hunters who are able to chase a couple of mammoths off a cliff by using fire and weapons.
The episode ends in a Victorian museum with people looking at various skeletons of some of the animals featured in the series. The final words of the narrator are: "We have since built museums to celebrate the past, and spend decades studying prehistoric lives. And if all this has taught us anything, it is this: no species lasts forever." The camera then pulls back through the roof of the museum until the whole world is visible. Then we are looking at a road and a cart pulled by modern day horses drives past the screen, a whinny is heard, and the cart reverses across the screen followed by a herd of mammoths.
The following are Walking With... series specials:
BEASTS UNLEASHED; OfftheBox WALKING WITH BEASTS: Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry REVEAL Your Inner Cavemen and Take a Walk on the Wild Side. TV Writer Marion McMullen Heads Back to the Stone Age as the BBC Walking with Beasts Exhibition Opens Today in Coventry
Jul 02, 2011; COMING face to face with a woolly rhino can be a startling and eye-opening experience. You certainly don't mess about with this...