Planet Earth is so spectacular, it is easy to miss the smaller thing in life. But take a closer look and there is a whole undiscovered world. A world where tiny heroes and little monsters need incredible superpowers to help them triumph against giant odds.
The African savannah, a land of legends. Home to some of our planet’s largest and most majestic animals. But beneath the feet of elephants, there is an unexploded world. The world of elephant shrew. It is teeming with all kinds of amazing little grazers and tiny predators. But being small in the land of giants is never easy. And as the herds head this way, life is about to get a whole lot tougher.
An elephant shrew is not much bigger than a hamster. But much faster. On her scale, she is three times faster than a cheetah. Racing at nearly 30 kilometers per hour on a relentless hunt for food. She must eat almost a third of her body weight everyday to fuel her fast-paced life. So she built a network of trails over thousands of square meters to help her find enough food, even in the dry season.
A cobra strikes faster than a blink of an eye. But her tracks help her stay one step ahead. The elephant shrew’s life is frenetic and solitary. Unlikes the king of this big red castle.
Dwaft mongoose often make their home in termite mounds. Only the size of your hand, they find strength and warmth in numbers. Savannah mornings are surprisingly cold. It is all too easy to lie in, but not today. This little hornbill is hungry and keen to go to get breakfast. Twenty mongoose and one hornbill might seem an odd team. But when you are small, it pays to stick together. The mongoose flush out prey. While the hornbill keeps a lookout for danger. Dwaft mongoose patrol a big area, about 50 football fields, marking their territory along the way. The higher the scent, the bigger they will seem to others. Even int the dry season, their patch provides all the food they need. They may be Africa’s smallest carnivore, but they are not afraid to take on big game. A venomous baboon spider. By seizing every opportunity, this tenacious team can survive through the harshest times. But when the rains arrive, everything changes. A life on the road offers little shelter. But the mongoose stay safe and warm. They have chosen their home well. Termite mounds provide excellent protection from the elements. Mixing the spit and dirt, these industrious insects build castles as hard as concrete and as big as an elephant.
Following the rains, the big animals start to arrive. Elephants are the first to make an impact on the landscape. A five-ton footprint creates a water world swimming with all sorts of tiny creatures. Including one of the planet’s oldest. Tadpole shrimps have lived in tiny ponds like this since they were created by the feet of dinosaurs.
Just days after the rain, the whole savannah flushes green. As animals begin to gorge it has enormous consequences. There is no way an elephant shrew can move this mess, but help is here. Dung beetles are onto a fresh pile in seconds hoping to make off with share of the spoils before competition arrives. This ball is very precious. His food and his hopes of winning a mate, all rolled into one. In this tiny world, a single step can be a setback. And a whole stampede can be a disaster. Over a million wildebeest and zebra, the greatest migration on land. The promise of fresh grass driving them on right this way.
Crowned plovers nest out on the open savannah. This female’s new clutch is in danger of being trampled. Only ankle-height, she’s not afraid to stand up to a gazelle. But a herd of wildebeest is unstoppable. Amazingly, all of her eggs are unbroken, but it is still a month before they hatch.
The elephant shrew’S tracks took more of a beating. It is time for some highway maintenance. Back in the fast lane.
As the herds graze on grass, giraffes look to the trees. The acacias are flush with fresh leaves. Protected by long thorns. They are little use against a half-meter-long tongue. But the tree has the second line of defense. An army of acacia ants swarm to the rescue. Attacking any part of the giraffe they can sink their jaws into. Until it finally moves on. The acacia grows special swollen thorns to house its loyal army. And ant-sized cups filled with nectar to keep them fed.
By working together, little creatures can stand up to giants. But sometimes, it is better to run. Sharp, slicing tusks, 150 kilos of muscle. A warthog is imposing. And this mongoose knows just what is is after. A little pampering. The boldest mongoose gets the pick of the juiciest ticks. As the rest of the team join, the warthog gets a thorough grooming. Soon, more clients are trotting into the mongoose spa. The mongoose even mark returning customers as their territory. Those small and smart enough work even the most intimidating animals to their advantage.
Oxpeckers can reach the highest of prizes. And use their sharp beaks to pick off parasites. When one host has had enough, they move on to the next. Oxpeckers get almost all their food on the hoof. With a bit of ingenuity and a very strong stomach, little animals make the most of the migration. But the predators that follow can be more of a challenge. The plover’s eggs have just hatched. Her chick is still finding its feet in a dangerous world. Jackals are opportunistic hunters. And the smaller the animal, the easier the prey. A desperate move. The brave mother does all she can to draw the attention to herself and away from her chick. As long as it doesn’t move, it’s almost invisible. But biting ants are hard to ignore. Mom creates a diversion. Distracting the jackal just enough. But she will have to keep protecting her chick until the migration moves on.
The herds are being plagued by a mini migration that follows them everywhere. Swarms of flies agitate the larger animals. But in the tiny world, it is a moveable feast.
And away from the herds, isolated on rocky outcrops, agama lizards wait for the food to come to them. Most of the time, it’s a bit hit-and-miss. So, when a bigger opportunity presents itself they have to grab it. Lions come here to rest in the heat of the day. And with them come flies. Lots of them. Fortune flavors the brave. But best not to wake a sleeping lion. Maybe there’s os a less direct approach. It is amazing what you get away with when you are small. But when flying in the face of danger don’t push your luck.
As the land dries, the herds move on. Some won’t be sad to see them gone. Peace is returning. The elephant shrew has the run of the place again. Hunting insects at high speed and nothing to stop her. As the seasons roll on new challenges lie ahead. A dried-out elephant footprint really could be the end of the road. But this little beetle is strong. He can lift ten times his own weight. And now with the herds gone, he can’t afford to lose this ball. His Herculean effort has paid off. A female, ready to share his most treasured possession and be his mate.
Life is good for the mongoose too. At least, most of the time. A single mongoose could easily fall victim to a cobra. But when they stand together this little gang is unbeatable. And now they have got new recruits. Still only a month old, but in just three more, they will be fully-fledged members of the team. Even up against the biggest migration on Earth, tiny heroes don’t just survive, they thrive. The savannah is the land of legends. And as it turns out, some of the greatest stories here are tiny.