Our Planet season 1 review: A deteriorating circle of life

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Matriarch Desert elephant leads her family through barren lands, Namibia. Photo Credit: Netflix

Episode 5: From Deserts to Grasslands

This episode covers two seemingly opposite habitats – the lush grasslands and the near barren deserts. Despite their barrenness, David Attenborough explains that it provides a vital refuge to creatures that are made to be able to adapt to the dire circumstances of the desert. This is illustrated through the example of the Socotran Cormorant that uses the barren lands of the Arabian desert, which is used by them as breeding grounds.

Our Planet includes footage of the rare Arabian leopard as it prowls a green pocket in the Arabian peninsula, and of a herd of elephants as they journey across Namibia in search of nutritious food and water. It’s a testament to their intelligence as they exhibit knowledge of geography through inheritance and are extremely resourceful with improvising for food where there doesn’t seem to be any. Their companions are the equally rare desert lions that refrain from attacking. There’s something very moving about the way these elephants react to the sight of water, the joy clear in them as they rush forth to take a dip.

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The grasslands, supporting a vast number of lifeforms, are a complete contrast to the seemingly barren deserts. Wildebeest, deer, zebra, and cheetahs are among the many mammals that thrive in what remains of the prairies. 90% of it has been lost to agriculture and swathes of wild buffaloes were slaughtered by humans. The grandeur of the Eurasian grasslands, the steppes, is also depleting. Eagles, nesting on the ground in a land where there isn’t a tree in sight, once preyed on the saiga antelopes, that are now critically endangered and dotted these grasslands in millions once. Extinct in the wild fifty years ago, the Przewalski’s horses that live here are descendants of the few that survived in captivity, and are not as endangered as they once were purely because humans haven’t yet ventured into the Mongolian steppe.

Kaziranga in India is an example of one of the well-preserved grasslands in the world, home to elephants, tigers, and the highly endangered one-horned rhino.

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IMPORTANT TAKEAWAY: History has shown time and again that humans can sustain themselves without chipping away at nature. Evidence? Ancient hay meadows of Hungary, where farming is still practiced in the traditional way, and have become habitats of extraordinarily rich and complex lifeforms.

FAVORITE MOMENT: The entire lifecycle of the Alcon Blue butterflies in the grasslands of Hungary was a testament to the complex permutations in nature. They practically fool the ants into taking care of them like they would their own larvae, though this particular species of butterflies’ caterpillars are prey to these ants.