Chris and Ella visit Africa’s Animal Oasis

Chris Packham and Ella Al-Shamahi at the WaterholeChris Packham and Ella Al-Shamahi at the Waterhole
Chris Packham and Ella Al-Shamahi at the Waterhole
Friday: Waterhole: Africa’s Animal Oasis; (BBC2, 8pm, iplayer)

If you missed the opening episode of the nature series Waterhole: Africa’s Animal Oasis last week, it’s offering scientists (and viewers) the chance to learn more about waterholes.

Some viewers may have initially thought that most of what they needed to know was right there in the name – they are holes with water in them. However, as this series points out, these oases are vital to supporting African ecosystems, yet little is known about exactly how they support so much life.

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To put that right, BBC Studios Natural History Unit teamed up with Mwiba Wildlife Reserve in Tanzania to build the world’s first waterhole with a built-in specialist camera rig.

Chris Packham and biologist Ella Al-Shamahi were also recruited to take a look at the footage from the half-submerged and weather-proofed remote cameras, and share what it reveals about the complex dynamics of the waterhole for the very first time.

As Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Science and Natural History, says: “Welcome to the secret life of the waterhole, a bustling oasis where elephants, lions, leopards and hundreds of other species meet and compete for water.

“This ground-breaking series gives scientists the chance to study how waterholes influence animal behaviour like never before, and gives viewers a ringside seat at an astonishing piece of natural theatre.”

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The series was filmed over the course of six month, and in this second instalment, it’s now the hottest time of the year – and the coolest place to hang out in the evening is the waterhole.

But as the cameras reveal, the shift to nocturnal activity brings new dynamics – and a new predator.

A group of hyenas has moved into the area, but the creatures are so elusive that even with the cameras, it’s hard to work out just how big their clan is. What the experts do know is that since the hyenas arrived, the other predators have been keeping a low-profile, with no lions or leopards are spotted at the waterhole while they are around.

So, to learn more about the animals that have had such a dramatic effect, Chris and wildlife cameraman Bob Poole use remote cameras to monitor the hyenas’ nearby den. In an ambitious experiment, they attempt to count them, and discover there are more than they ever imagined.

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Meanwhile, Ella explores how the increased footfall is changing the shape of the waterhole, while the rise in temperatures has also impacted on the residents’ behaviour.

The cape buffalo, who were once regulars, are nowhere to be seen, but the elephants are turning up in ever-increasing numbers – and it seems they are in search of more than just a drink.

Meanwhile, even though the waterhole is becoming a riskier hangout, new bird species are also visiting the oasis, including yellow-billed storks. They spend an hour trying to fish, but could they have carried fish eggs there themselves on their feet? And, as ominous rain clouds gather, it seems the waterhole is in for another dramatic, but what will happen to the animals?

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