Africa – Congo

Episode three of David Attenborough’s latest BBC wildlife documentary. This time focusses on the centre of Africa and the 2 million square miles of densely packed forest, home to the highest concentration of animals in all of Africa.

Here the trees are packed in, as many as 500 per acre (4,046m²), each hectare (10,000m²) producing 190,000 litres of water a year. This encourages storms – 100 million lightning bolts striking the forest each year.

Each sting-less bee pollinates over 1000 blossoms each day, before heading back to harvest the honey in ‘pots’, buried within a tree. Chimpanzees have learnt that by using a large stick, they are able to break through the bark and then use a smaller stick to reach the honey. Younger chimpanzees, imitate the adults, unsuccessfully trying to access the honey with twigs from the forest floor.

A 100kg female rock python, 5 metres long, basks in the elusive sunshine until her blood is heated to 40°C – almost enough to kill her. From there she returns underground to her nest of oddly misshapen eggs, they must be kept at a minimum of 30°C for the full incubation period of three months. She wraps her body tightly around the eggs – so tight she leaves imprints of her scales, the stress of maintaining this one clutch of eggs will take at least three years to recover from. Rock pythons lay between 20-100 eggs and are one of the only species of snake that continue to care for their young after they have hatched, for up to 20 days. But with tough competition, only one in hundred will reach adulthood.

rockpython

In the night, a strange green light illuminates the forest, the locals call it – Chimpanzee fire, but it’s source is not a fire but fungi. For the first time, this bioluminescent fungi was filmed, their enzymes glowing as they digest the decaying matter on the ground. Rarely seen, their species is still unknown, but without them, the debris would pile up higher than the trees themselves.

Meanwhile, as the rains begin to fall a yellow-bellied male leaf folding frog prepares to climb higher than any other male. The top frog’s voice will carry furthest and his position will win him the female. On the way, the other males kick out at him powerfully, knocking each other from the heights, hanging by one toe he looks as if he may fall and lose his chance. He heaves himself back up, reaching the top and the white-bellied female answers his song. As they mate, they climb slowly up a tall leaf, whilst he carefully glues together the edges. When the next rain falls, the moisture will weaken the glue and the tadpoles will fall into the rising water below.

frog

frog3

As butterfly fish leap from the water, a strange pair of smooth headed birds are preparing to build a nest. They are Picathartes and have lived in the Congo for 44 million years, they mate for life. The mother will lay two eggs, a day or two apart, after that both parents will take turns incubating for three weeks. After that they both hunt for food for the chicks.

picathartes

Skimmers are very different type of bird, large lower mandibles enable them to fish in the inland rivers with grace and ease. For their young, born flightless and with a relatively normal beak, it’s not so easy. They struggle to grow and learn the necessary skills in time, before the sand banks of the nesting site is swallowed by the river.

Forest elephants carve paths through the jungle, to a clearing known as Dzanga- Bai – the village of elephants. Created by the elephants themselves, as a place to socialise and mate, it also has a high salt concentration below ground which are needed. A young male, in musth – a state of sexual tension so strong he’s desperate to mate. The females only come into heat once every two years, and as a young bull he is unlikely to find an unattended suitable female. Luckily for him, he does and has possibly his first ever chance to mate. Bolstered by his success, when another male arrives, he decides to fight for the right to stay, but his youth and inexperience meant he lost almost immediately.

At the very edge of the forest lies Loango beach, the very West of the Congo. Forest buffulo and gorillas emerge out onto the sand, while hippos cool in the waves. The salty grass on the beach entices a mother elephant and her baby, as it is an easier and safer place to obtain their salt.

Eye to Eye: This week focused on the difficulty of filming in the forests of the Congo, especially with millions of biting insects and the threat of forest elephants. The Bayaka guides leave James Aldred the cameraman alone overnight on a tree platform waiting for elephants, deeming it too dangerous, as they are easily capable of pushing over trees. In the darkness, an elephant senses James and becomes agitated, pushing the tree and chewing through the power cable of the camera, leaving James in darkness. After a four hour ordeal, the tree withstood the shaking and James was able to get down.

Whilst Mark struggles to even find the chimpanzees that he’s meant to be filming, losing two stone in weight just from searching. Eventually they find the sweet toothed chimpanzee and film her retrieving honey.

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