It's Hard Out There for a Predator

The Hunt shows the difficult lives of the carnivores of the animal kingdom.


'The Hunt'
'The Hunt' / BBC America

The Hunt. BBC America. Sunday, July 3, 9 p.m.

Based on the approximately 1.2 zillion bugs-and-bunnies-avengers with Twitter and Facebook accounts who wanted to disembowel and eat a Minnesota hunter last year for killing Zimbabwe's saintly Cecil the Lion last year, I'm guessing an eight-week documentary revealing that the animal kingdom is in large part composed of creatures who are neither pacifists nor vegans is going to come as a shocking and even traumatic surprise.

For misanthropes who still sport "NUKE THE WHALES" buttons from their last Fleshapoids concert, though, BBC's The Hunt is likely to be a sublime experience. Orcas inflicting mass infanticide on humpbacks! South African falcons gorging on winged Indian termites! Ethiopian wolves ravaging giant mole rats! Nature in all its maniacal blood-drinking glory!

To be, however reluctantly, fair, The Hunt is not really a Cute Furry Faces of Death snuff reel. Actual kills are few, far between and usually discreetly shielded from the camera. (The single exception: Insect victims apparently fall outside the Documentary Film Geneva Code, possibly because of all that unpleasantness in New Mexico a few years back, and their decapitations and disembowelments go uncensored and unmourned.)

The lack of bloody debauchery is partly a matter of taste, but even more a reflection of stone reality: Rapaciousness is hard work. Contrary to the example of my cat Melissa, the terror of tuna cans everywhere, leopards muff five of every six attacks, African crocodiles nine of 10, and lots of other carnivores are even more inept. "Most predators fail most of the time," observes The Hunt's narrator, David Attenborough. "It's what makes them the hardest-working animals on the planet."

Thus The Hunt is more of a high-stakes chess match, albeit one featuring spectacularly photographed athletic grace. Its preternaturally omniscient cameras document the shifting strategies employed by both predators and prey.

Among the most fascinating sequences in the opening episode is the lengthy pursuit—at speeds of up to 40 mph—of a wildebeest by Zambian wild dogs. While running, the dogs, with their greater stamina, have the advantage; but the wildebeest has a 10 to 1 weight advantage that turns the tables when they square off. If two wildebeests join together, protecting one another's backs, they are practically invincible; but sometimes their herds are inexplicably apathetic and simply stand there watching.

You don't have to be some kind of anthropomorphizing Disney nut to find the end game of these combats saddening and even a little scary. But it's also useful to remember that the predator, just as much as the prey, is fighting for survival; if he doesn't kill, he doesn't eat, and he won't live long. When The Hunt's cameras catch a glimpse of jaguar cubs watching their mother's hapless pursuit of a defiantly speedy gazelle, their expressions look pensive. Perhaps they know that 90 percent of jaguar cubs don't make it to their second birthday. And perhaps they're thinking that a zoo doesn't sound so bad.

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  1. I’m looking forward to this because these types of shows are excellent reminders that nature is “Red in tooth and claw”.

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    1. “… but sometimes their herds are inexplicably apathetic and simply stand there watching.”

      Kinda like 98% of us clueless Americans who will watch as the Trumpler trumples all over our liberties very shortly, when just a few of us could get together and, um…. Well… Talk very, very persuasively to this Giant Asshole, shall we say… I have been told that properly tuned and lubricated woodchippers make a very Siren Sound…

      1. … but sometimes their herds are inexplicably apathetic and simply stand there watching.

        That’s probably a signal that it’s a nerd wildebeest getting chased.

        “Eh, it’s only Eustace. No big loss there.”

        1. Yeah, or like he was a total asshole. “Finally!”

    2. Yes, nature is brutal. But let us not forget that mutualism and commensalism is just as common as predation and parasitism, if not more.

  2. “Most predators fail most of the time,” observes The Hunt’s narrator, David Attenborough. “It’s what makes them the hardest-working animals on the planet.”

    By the way, there are enthusiasts out there who try to recreate and hunt exactly the way the ancients did. All the way down to hand-making their own crude bows exactly as various indigenous tribes do (or did).

    They’ll spend the first half of the year making the bow, and then after acquiring the requisite permits and licensing from our sublimely modern institutions, they’ll undertake hunting a deer or some such animal using no other technology than the whatever weapon they created.

    It’s painfully slow and patient work which usually ends in failure, especially considering that sans the Hollywood treatment, those ancient weapons are really only effective at alarmingly close ranges.

    1. Bow hunting with modern equipment is pretty sweet though.

      1. A study conducted by the Oklahoma Fish and Wildlife Agencies found that approximately 50% of deer that were shot were never recovered, noting that this rate was similar to data from other studies. Some deer survived for up to 5?7 days before succumbing to their wounds. “71% to 82% of all shots taken” miss the target[30] and “shot placement is, for all practical purposes, random”.[31]

        Actually that’s not too encouraging. High-powered rifles offer mercifully quick death.

        1. “High-powered rifles offer mercifully quick death.”

          I like to point this out to anti-hunting people whenever I meet them.

          Think about how a deer “naturally” dies most of the time… Disemboweling by predators, a slow and agonizing end from a disease or wound infection, wasting away from starvation over several weeks… It’s not like they would lay down for a nap and pass away peacefully if not for those bloodthirsty hunters.

    2. I recall a discovery special “I, Caveman”, with (unfortunately) Morgan Spurlock. I did find it interesting that 9 city folk were eventually able to bring down an Elk with atlatls. We are not as far from the savages as many think we are. While cityies make most of us very soft, a little hunger and some basic tools and we are the deadliest predators on earth.

      1. Ohh and I LOVE the show Alone! Damn that is some crazy shit.

    3. I dabble in such things. It takes about 4 days to make a bow. The hard part is letting the wood dry out to the ambient humidity. That can take up to a year. Getting good with a primitive bow takes a looong time, if you wanna hit bullseyes at 20 yards consistently. That’w why most bowhunters use compound bows with sights, releases, and stabilizers. That and the much longer ranges. I have nothing against compound bows, but I personally don’t like to shoot them.

      1. Nerdfact: The first compound bow patent was granted in December, 1969. Every “modern” firearm action was developed before 1900. Yet AFAIK in every state’s hunting regulations, the compound bow is classified as a “primitive” method.

  3. I was watching Monarch of the Glen last night and Golly the Ghillie had this line referring to the laird’s sister and her New Age-y friends:

    I know the type. Nature lovers. Should spend a few nights in the open… see how much nature loves them.

    It seems rather appropriate for the “1.2 zillion bugs-and-bunnies-avengers”.

    1. Environmentalists… people who look like they don’t spend a lot of time out in it.

  4. Jaguar cubs watching their mother’s hapless pursuit of a defiantly speedy gazelle

    Perhaps she’d have been more successful if she’d pursued a creature that actually lives on the same continent.

    1. Perhaps she’d have been more successful if she’d pursued a creature that actually lives on the same continent.

      Just another loser who can’t make it in a globalized economy. “WHERE MAH SAVANNAH GONE??”

      1. Suburban lawns are an expression of the subconscious yearning for the savannah landscape that made us human.

    2. Nice username. Sort of libertarian:

      “The platypus has been featured in the Dreamtime stories of indigenous Australians, who believed the animal was a hybrid of a duck and a water rat.[83]:57?60 According to one story, the major animal groups, the land animals, water animals and birds, all competed for the platypus to join their respective groups, but the platypus ultimately decided to not join any of them, feeling that he did not need to be part of a group to be special.”

  5. But it’s also useful to remember that the predator, just as much as the prey, is fighting for survival; if he doesn’t kill, he doesn’t eat, and he won’t live long.

    And if the predators don’t eat pretty soon there are too many prey, and they starve.

    Perhaps they know that 90 percent of jaguar cubs don’t make it to their second birthday.

    In the spring, when the fawns are born, a typical herd of whitetail deer will double. During the year about 70% of the fawns and about 30% of the adults will die, to get back to the population that can survive winter.

  6. They’re trying to make nature programs more edgy nowadays.

    1. I get your sarcasm and smile, but you gotta admit, those BBC film crews do some absolutely fantastic camera work. Sometimes I’ll be watching and suddenly think, “how in the hell did they manage to get that shot??”. Those guys deserve recognition for that awesome work.

  7. I went a safari last month in Kenya. If anybody here has never done one, it must be on your bucket list. Simply amazing experience, well worth the effort of trekking it halfway around the world.

  8. The show sounds interesting, though trigger warning is needed for anti-human Attenborough content.

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  10. leopards muff five of every six attacks

    Am I the only one who read that as muff dive?

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