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In the nature documentary game, few out there stand toe-to-toe with Planet Earth, and its currently airing (in Europe) sequel has proven itself a remarkably gorgeous and engaging follow-up. The latest episode featured something that, while incredible, isn't at all joyous or celebratory, as the production crew happened to film a whopping 150,000 antelope dying. And in just a three-day span.
The episode in question was "Grasslands," and the animals in question were the saiga antelope located in Kazakhstan in Central Asia. Producer Chadden Hunter says the Planet Earth 2 team was out in remote areas of the country back in May 2015, to find calving herds of the antelope, but what they found was a large population of them being rapidly killed off by a bacterial disease. Here's how Hunter put it to International Business Times.
At the time we thought we were watching the greatest natural catastrophe that I'd ever heard of. We watched 150,000 of these magnificent animals die in front of us. At the time we didn't know if it was the final extinction of the species, which was devastating, emotionally, for the crew.
Not even David Attenborough's ever-calming narration can completely subside the horror and shock of witnessing such a massive wave of death. It's hard for my brain to even consider such a large number of animals in the first place, and they're all happy and hanging out in my imagination. The helplessness felt while staring all that awfulness down would be suffocating, knowing that there's nothing miraculous to be done. And also possibly thinking, "I definitely don't want to catch whatever they have."
Thankfully, the wave of antelope deaths was not, in fact, signaling the extinction of the Saiga Antelope. At the time when the episode was filmed, scientists was predicting that half of that particular species had been wiped out by the mysterious infection, and it definitely remains endangered around the world at this point. But they're still out there, and earlier this year, Kazakhstan's Ministry of Agriculture performed a population survey and found there were over 108,000 adult saiga antelope to observe, mostly in the Ural area.
Animals dying is a fact of life on Earth, and Planet Earth 2 hasn't been shy about showing how predators and prey get on in nature. But it's still something else entirely to see that many animals dying in such a short amount of time. I'm now gonna need David Attenborough to come tell me about some cute penguins or koala bears learning how to do backflips.
Planet Earth II has already been airing in the U.K. to huge ratings, but everyone here in the United States will have to wait to watch it in full until it makes its debut on BBC America on Saturday, January 28, 2017. To see what else you can look forward to watching in the meantime, check out our fall TV schedule and our midseason premiere schedule.