Watching “Life of Mammals”–yes, I’m a junkie! This is the last of the series, the primate one, and it’s got such amazing footage that I can’t help but comment.
Plenty’s been written, of course, of the love-hate relationship humans have with chimps–we’re enthralled because we see ourselves in them, we’re dismayed because we see outselves in them. And this is no exception, of course. At one point, a chimp is using a length of wood as a hammer to crack nuts. Attenborough shows it a nut and the chimp makes a sort’ve half-nodded acknowledgement and holds out its hand–quite politely, no grabbing–and Attenborough drops the nut into its palm, sets it down, and starts hammering on it. All very calm, very laid back, very…primate.
And then there’s some other footage that is completely astonishing. It’s one thing to know that chimps routinely hunt monkeys, another thing to see a group of a half-dozen males (and one female) descend (or ascend as the case may be) on a troop of red colubus monkeys with practically military precision. They take up positions in the trees and get as close as possible, and once they’re spotted, they start shouting commands (I swear to god, that’s what it sounded like–at the very least they were loud vocalizations that contained definite information) at each other, cut off the infants from the females, fight off the brave but completely outmatched male colubus monkeys (which is chilling right there–these pint-sized monkeys flinging themselves on chimps that look enormous, which swat them casually out of the air so the poor critters plummet forty feet to the forest floor) and then sit back with a few dead monkeys, and begin eating them, with leaves, and sharing the meat out politely with their fellow hunters.
It’s sort’ve like watching the Morlocks hunt Eloi. You want to root for the Eloi, but you know full well the smart money’s on the Morlocks.
Really, the footage in this series blows my mind. It’s hard to find nature shows that include ANY shots of a fossa, let alone five minutes on the fossa, including sifaka hunting and fossa nookie. And while I knew that grizzly bears were predators, I always had a vague notion that “hunting” meant salmon and maybe the occasional rogue berry, which notion has been complete disabused after watching one run down an elk. (The elk hit a tree with one of those abrupt smack! moments that makes the viewer go “Owhh!” Sort’ve like when a snowboarder rolls and starts hitting rocks on the way down. The crunch of impact transcends all species boundaries.) Then it chased a ground squirrel. Watching a tank-sized grizzly chased a ground squirrel was astonishing–who’d’ve thought a beast that size could corner like that?
I may buy it off e-bay, although I’d better wait for a bit, since the recent re-showing probably boosted the price. Just too damn cool.