Lions, Tanzania, Nick Garbutt

Dynasties: Episode Guide

Natural World Safaris

Josh Wright

11 Dec 2018


Dynasties is the latest televisual marvel from the BBC Natural History Unit, whose team have brought us such landmark series as Planet Earth, The Life of Mammals and the UK’s most-watched TV show of 2017, Blue Planet II. Evergreen presenter Sir David Attenborough, still out in the field at the age of 92, blesses our eardrums once again with his inimitable brand of commentary that has enshrined him as the voice of nature programming.

Of the five species featured in Dynasties, only one – the African wild dog, or painted dog – is not quite a household name. Lions, tigers, chimpanzees and emperor penguins are among the most distinctive and charismatic animals on the planet, a fixture of our films, books and TV shows from a young age. How, then, does Dynasties aim to portray these instantly recognisable species in a new light? The clue is in the name. “The family is one of the most powerful forces in nature,” intones Sir David in the series’ introduction, and it is the daily struggle to both establish and protect one’s dynasty that lies at the heart of each captivating episode.

Chimpanzee, Tanzania

episode 1: chimpanzee

The common chimpanzee, along with its cousin the bonobo, are humanity’s closest living relatives. The best science indicates that we share 99% of our DNA with these great apes, and the first episode of Dynasties demonstrates this connection in some incredible ways. The cast comprises a troop of western chimpanzees – a critically endangered subspecies – living in the forests of Senegal. Their behaviour oscillates between tenderness and ferocity.

Remarkably intelligent yet with a terrifying capacity for violence, chimps have been trained as TV stars and astronauts over the course of the last century, while attacks by those kept as pets have left people blind and severely maimed. It is easiest to identify with the chimps of Dynasties when they are shown caring for others, instead of swinging through the trees, shrieking, using their formidable strength to impose dominance. Homo sapiens may be further along the evolutionary path than Pan troglodytes, but there is no denying that the human world exhibits the same dichotomy that we see in the chimps’.

Chimpanzee, Kjersti Joergensen

We are introduced to a number of characters during the episode, but this is David’s tale. An alpha male whose scars bear the evidence of his rise to power, David has ruled over his troop for three years, but his position is under threat. Such a reign will usually come to an end at this time, the aging leader deposed by a younger, stronger, more aggressive chimp. With no allies to help him defend his throne and the onset of the dry season forcing the troop closer together, David must find a way to resist his rivals’ insurrections, or pay with his life.

The intricacies of chimpanzee society are captured with stunning detail here. Troops are patriarchal in nature, yet females perform vital roles as care-givers, not only to their young but also, as evidenced in one touching scene, to adults. Savaged by younger chimps in the night, David lies injured, a deep gash in one leg and a finger torn clean off. Were it not for the devotion showed by his harem of females and their young, who support him and tend to his wounds, David may not have had the strength or resolve to continue fighting.

Chimpanzees, Tanzania, Richard Denyer

But you can’t keep a good chimp down. David rallies and returns to his troop, where one of his attackers, Luther, performs a submissive gesture in an attempt at reconciliation. His presence, for the moment, is enough to keep his leadership secure. In time, however, David knows he must weather another attempt at his life, and in his weakened state, force alone is not the path to survival. It is not through the sharpness of his teeth or the strength of his limbs that David will triumph, but the power of his mind.

First, displays of physical prowess demonstrate his alpha male credentials to all, but his wounds are taking their toll. If challenged, David’s displays could be revealed as the deceptions they are, but they buy him some time. After regaining his strength, he embarks on a diplomatic mission that will make or break his hold on power. Previously, David formed an alliance with an older male, KL, but his aid wasn’t enough to prevent the attack that left David lying injured in the dust. This time, David forms bonds with a number of others, all elders past the age to vie for leadership but whose strength and experience prove invaluable to the alpha male.

The new alliance is beneficial to all, and together, the king and his counsellors are able to stand strong and repel the rival chimps. Through strength of body and of mind, David has survived an attack on his life, reinforced the bonds that tie his troop together, and – most importantly – won the chance to mate with the object of his affections, ensuring his dynasty remains secure.

Chimpanzee, Tanzania
Coming face to face with chimpanzees in the wild is a remarkable experience. A number of groups have been habituated to the presence of humans, making Central Africa the place to be for those seeking intimate encounters with these great apes. In Uganda, our Gorillas, Chimps & Game Safari allows travellers to combine ape tracking excursions in the forests of Bwindi and Kibale with game viewing in Queen Elizabeth National Park; the last of Rwanda’s chimps occupy Nyungwe Forest National Park, the last stop on our Exclusive Rwanda Panorama Safari that includes four scenic helicopter rides over the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’; and the Mahale Mountains beckon those seeking chimpanzees in Tanzania, best experienced on our Ultimate African Safari
Antarctic safari;  emperor penguins

Episode 2: Emperor Penguin

From the dry heat of Senegal to the frozen wastes of Antarctica, the first two episodes of Dynasties demonstrate the stunning diversity of the natural world. The series’ second outing also provides a markedly different experience for the viewer than the first, focusing as it does on the survival of an entire colony of emperor penguins, rather than an individual’s struggle for dominance. This is partly a practical decision by the filmmakers; the battle scars, expressive faces and distinct personalities of chimps like David make them easily identifiable as individuals, while picking an emperor penguin out of a line-up would be a struggle for even the most experienced avian detective.
Emperor penguins, Antarctica | © White Desert

Episode 2’s broader focus makes sense for the species, too. Chimpanzees form troops and are indeed social creatures, but living in a tropical climate with a relative abundance of food means they do have a degree of autonomy, whereas an emperor penguin simply cannot survive without its colony. Even before we witness the birth of the chicks, a raging blizzard forces the birds to huddle together against the onslaught of the cold, their shared body warmth the only thing keeping them alive.

However, despite the admirable show of teamwork, this is not an entirely harmonious society – “all for one and one for all” is not the emperor penguin’s motto. Their striking plumage, heavyset body and waddling bipedal gait may give them the appearance of a portly Victorian gentleman making his way to the dinner table, but when survival instinct kicks in, beaks are used to full effect in an attempt to best their rivals and get as close as they can to the centre of the huddle. Some fall in the melee, and some get up; others don’t. To the credit of the BBC Natural History Unit, they do not shirk their responsibility to depict the brutal reality of life in the Antarctic. For every courtship dance and doting mother tending to their young, there is a lingering shot of a frozen corpse, or harrowing footage of a chick abducted from its parents.

Protective penguin parents, Whichaway Camp
The same survival instinct is seen at work at once again when a blizzard forces a number of adults and their chicks into a ravine. Emperor penguins are not natural mountaineers; this is a readymade death trap. Self-preservation takes over for one mother, who abandons her chick after finding she cannot ascend the slope while keeping her chick between her feet. In the episode’s most heartbreaking moment, the chick attempts to escape on its own, its tiny feet bringing it closer and closer to the lip of the ravine, before the incline becomes too steep and the chick tumbles down the slope like a fluffy ragdoll before coming to rest right back where it started, shivering, crying in vain for the parent who chose their own life over their child’s. This chick will freeze to death, alone, just a few metres from salvation. Remarkably, one mother does succeed against the odds and saves both her life and that of her chick, climbing out with claw, wing and beak to rejoin the colony.
Emperor penguins, Antarctica | © White Desert

The sheer scale and emptiness of Antarctica is difficult to comprehend, and it would be remiss of the filmmakers not to contextualise the penguins’ plight by depicting this on screen. When pulling back from the animals, the always exceptional cinematography shows just how hopelessly bleak and isolated this wasteland really is. It boggles the mind how nature has found a foothold in this most unforgiving of environments.

We have always anthropomorphised the elements to some extent. For the Ancient Greeks, the four winds were personified as minor gods – Boreas, Zephyrus, Notus and Eurus – and in the 5th century BC the Persian king Xerxes I ordered a body of water known as the Hellespont to be whipped, after a storm destroyed a number of bridges which had been built across it.

In an increasingly secular world, we tend to see things in more scientific terms. Is “cruelty” a term that can be applied to the natural order of things? Whatever force conspired to bring the emperor penguin’s ancestors to Antarctica, leaving them to eke out an existence on a vast expanse of mostly featureless ice, would surely be worthy of such a charge; yet, at the same time, their presence here is something to marvel at. In terms of the animal kingdom, there is arguably greater beauty and greater spectacle to be found on every other continent, but one struggles to think of another species whose very existence is more worthy of respect (and a fair degree of incredulous wonder) than the emperor penguin’s.

Penguins, Whichaway Camp

Over the course of the episode, we see our subjects demonstrate surprising grace when pairs of penguins engage in courtship, doffing their heads in a kind of dance and mirroring one another’s movements. Copulation, however, is a different story – all that blubber may come in handy during the winter, but it doesn’t lend itself to lovemaking. We see the best and worst of the penguins’ parental instinct, with tender exchanges giving way to vicious battles as childless penguins attempt to steal others’ chicks for their own. We see a remarkable display of patience and endurance from the male penguins, who go without food for four months and incubate their egg for two, during which the female heads to sea to feed.

The instinct to reproduce drives all life on earth, but it is hard to think of a species which undergoes a more desperate struggle than the emperor penguin. For all the dangers that face a chimpanzee, there is time for these apes to play, to rest, and experience what we recognise to be a form of joie de vivre. There is precious little opportunity for this in Antarctica, but Dynasties at least reveals to us that the lives of emperor penguins are more complex than we had once thought.

No terrestrial animal lives further south than the emperor penguin, and seeing them in the wild is no mean feat. Our Antarctic expeditions take travellers to a number of emperor penguin colonies, including Atka Bay (where Dynasties was filmed) which you can visit on this 8-day trip.

Zimbabwe lion

Episode 3: African Lion

After last week’s excursion in Antarctica, Episode 3 saw us return to Africa, this time visiting one of the most famed game-viewing areas in the world: the Masai Mara of southern Kenya And it’s not just the setting that may be familiar, as the stars of the show are big names too. Attenborough describes the Marsh Pride – led today by Charm, an “extraordinary” lioness – as “perhaps the most famous lion family of all”. The zoologist, wildlife photographer and television presenter Jonathan Scott has followed the pride since 1977, and featured the pride’s members in his BBC series Big Cat Diary from 1996 to 2008.

The Dynasties team filmed the Marsh Pride over 420 days, and joined them at a critical time in their history. With every adult male having left to establish their own dynasty, Charm and her cousin Sienna – both females – are the only adults who remain. The future of their eight youngsters rests heavy on the pair’s shoulders.

Kenya Wildlife Safari

As with the two previous instalments, Episode 3 offers novel and intimate insights on a well-known species, depicting both the brutality and the tenderness present in their world. The lion is the most social of all wild cat species, and the interactions between family members are a joy to see here. For those of us who may be watching Dynasties with a miniature lion of our own on our lap, the lions’ social behaviour may be more familiar than we may have thought.

“King of the Jungle” may be a misnomer for the lion, a species which inhabits plains, grasslands and savannahs (as well as dry deciduous forest in the case of the Asiatic lion), but the conception of this big cat as one of the most fearsome and formidable creatures on the planet is not only well documented, but also well supported. As apex predators, they are indeed the kings (and queens) of their ecosystem. Adult lions have no natural predators across their entire range.

However, this episode of Dynasties shows that the species, despite its reputation, faces a number of threats to its existence. Although most of these threats are external, lion-on-lion violence is not uncommon. Early on in the episode, Sierra is shown to have suffered a gruesome injury on her left hind leg. Although we don’t see how Sierra was injured, a rival lion (or pride) is identified as a possible attacker.

Zimbabwe lion drinking from a pool

Other animals in the Masai Mara also pose a potential danger to Panthera leo. The two adolescent males who have remained with the Marsh Pride, the cousins Red and Tatu, are shown testing their strength against prey far beyond their capabilities. Their first quarry – a 2-tonne hippo – is a dangerous foe at the best of times. (Hippos are responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large mammal.) But alone and with no young to defend, this herbivore wants only to scare the upstart lions away.

Later, the tables are turned on Red when he is cornered by a pack of over 20 spotted hyenas. Even at his young age, Red is still far larger and stronger than his attackers, but with numbers on their side these vicious predators attempt to harass and wear down their foe, taking every opportunity to make tooth and claw count. Red cannot take them all down, and it is only a matter of time before the lion succumbs to the onslaught.

Thankfully for the beleaguered predator, Tatu arrives just in time to rescue Red, driving off the hyenas and reuniting with his cousin. The mutual affection that the two young males exhibit following this life-or-death situation is wonderful to witness. This close bond persists even when Tatu and Red leave the pride some time later, with the pair venturing off together to establish dynasties of their own.

Lion with big mane, Kenya

Lions face a number of threats to their existence in the Masai Mara, but even more so than those threats posed by the natural world, the most insidious – and the one that poses the greatest danger to the survival of the species – is humanity. As a protected reserve, the Masai Mara serves as a sanctuary for Kenya’s wildlife and safeguards the Masai Mara ecosystem; however, despite a network of rangers and anti-poaching units, the sheer size of this wilderness (580 square miles) means not every inch can be monitored at all times. Herders have brought their cattle to graze here, illegally. To protect their livelihood, the herders use poison bait to incapacitate or even kill the lions who could prey upon their livestock.

The herders accomplish their goal, and the Marsh Pride take the bait. Sienna, already weakened, disappears. Charm’s 1-year-old son is almost too weak to stand. Charm and the rest of the pride are strong enough to recover, but they must move on in order to survive. The son is left to fend for himself overnight.

The next day Charm returns, alone, to attend to her son; but nothing can be done. He breathes still, but he cannot follow. Charm is faced with a heartbreaking decision, but she has no other option than to abandon her son and return to the pride; although her daughter Yaya is turning into an accomplished hunter, the family need Charm’s leadership qualities and hunting prowess in order to survive.

The African lion population has fallen by over 40% since the 1990s, and fewer than 20,000 are estimated to survive in the wild today. This magnificent animal can only be saved if the pressures facing communities in the lion’s range states can be rectified.

Kenya Wildlife Safari

Later, when Charm submits to an insurgent male and bears his cubs, she must protect her offspring not from fellow lions or marauding hyenas, but from a herd of Cape buffalo. Sir David tells us that these huge bovines actually seek out and kill lion cubs when they are able to – an insurance policy that will in turn safeguard their own bloodlines by depleting the predator population. Cape buffalo can weigh up to four times as much as the blue wildebeest seen earlier in the episode, making them formidable opponents. By hiding the cubs in a fallen tree and shielding them with her body, Charm demonstrates her remarkable strength and resilience, repelling the buffalo herd and saving her offspring.

Even before battling the buffalo, Charm has had to provide for her family and lead them during one of the most dire moments in the Marsh Pride’s history. To ensure her dynasty continues, Charm has had to bow to outside pressures. When the two males took over the pride, all of Charm’s young cubs were driven out – not yet old enough to hunt or breed, they are of no use to the insurgents, and are just more mouths to feed. Charm attempts to dissuade the males, but it is no use. If the cubs stay, there is a high chance they will be killed. What must be done, must be done. At their young age, Charm’s cubs face an uncertain future, but she has taught them well and given them the best possible chance at survival. To love them, she has had to leave them.

Zimbabwe Lions at Davisons Camp
With her young having left the nest, Charm proceeds with the task of rebuilding the pride. Pairing off with one of the new males, she mates with him and stays close to his side for the days to come, ensuring that he knows her offspring are his. If a male lion isn’t certain of this fact, he will probably kill the cubs – this is his way of ensuring his dynasty continues. And so the cycle begins anew – a story of survival and resilience millions of years in the making. Charm’s cubs are safe, her daughter Yaya has also fallen pregnant, Red and Tatu have embarked upon their own quest, and her younger cubs – despite living in exile – have been saved from the murderous intentions of the new males. It’s perhaps not a fairytale ending, but out here, in the wild, Charm has done what needs to be done.
African lion cub, South Africa | © Nikhil Malik
The Masai Mara is one of Africa’s foremost safari destinations, and our holidays to Kenya offer travellers the chance to witness lions, in addition to a host of other species. The Marsh Pride are a key attraction for those staying at the properties operated by the award-winning Governors’ Camp Collection, including Governors Camp, Governors Private Camp, Little Governors Camp and Il Moran Camp To find out the best way to see Charm and the rest of her dynasty, get in touch with one of our Destination Specialists .
Wild dogs, Botswana

Episode 4: Painted Dog

The penultimate episode of Dynasties once again offered a narrative that differed from those told in previous weeks, with not one but two families sharing the spotlight. The family members in question are referred to by Attenborough as painted wolves, though they go by a number of other names. 'Painted dog' is preferred by many conservationists, including those at Painted Dog Conservation and the Painted Dog Research Trust; 'African wild dog' is the most widely used name, though is beginning to fall out of favour due to its negative connotations; and 'African hunting dog' also sees some use.

Episode 4 takes place in Zimbabwe, and begins at a time of transition. In Mana Pools National Park, two rival packs share a common dynasty – one pack is led by an aging matriarch known as Tait, while the other is led by Tait’s daughter, Blacktip. The painted dog packs occupy adjacent territory south of the Zambezi River, but the uneasy peace between the two is about to be broken. Blacktip is being increasingly hemmed in by human activity to the west, but with hyena-filled forests lying to the south and the mighty Zambezi to the north, the alpha female must look to the east – to her mother’s territory – if she is to provide enough food for her growing pack. An initial skirmish between the two factions ends in victory for Blacktip. With more dogs under her command, Blacktip is able to oust Tait from the feeding grounds that she has occupied for years, sending the mother's defeated pack running in a flurry of pained yelps and bloodied muzzles to the east, where the dangerous lion pridelands lie.

Wild dogs, Zimbabwe

It is this author’s opinion that Episode 4 is the highest point of Dynasties thus far. There are some who take issue with the dramatisation of the natural world in documentaries such as this, criticising the narrative apparatus employed by the filmmakers that applies meaning where there is none. Emotional music, clever editing and the wording of Attenborough’s stately narration may not always be justified, these people argue.

It is certainly true that such visual and aural techniques can sometimes stray into the mawkish, but in this instance, the presentation of the painted dogs’ story comes across not as mere fabrication, but artful design. Yes, the narrative must be made palatable for 21st-century viewers brought up in a world brimming with stories, from film to literature to television. The dogs have been given names by humans, and their stories are being presented to us by other humans. But were it not for this framing, would we be able to appreciate the intricacies of the dogs’ lives and their interactions with one another? The BBC Natural History Unit spent two years filming in Mana Pools, offering an unparalleled insight into the dogs’ existence that only frontline conservationists and researchers would have been privy to prior.

Wild dogs splashing,Zimbabwe

Attributing feeling and emotion to a wild animal is easy to do, but difficult to do convincingly. However, there are few animals to whom this method of anthropomorphisation is more suited than the painted dog. As Attenborough explains following an injury to a member of Tait’s pack, “Painted dogs, perhaps more than any other animal, care for pack members who are old or injured. Tait’s family will protect and feed her while she herself cannot join in the hunt.”

The familial bonds within a painted dog pack are remarkably strong. Over the course of the episode, Blacktip’s pack are attacked by hyenas and lose one of their young in the process, the pup torn apart in a matter of seconds. The hyenas are repelled at a heavy price. “Heads down, tails down, they seem to mourn. For hours, they march in silence. A solemn procession.” Does a painted dog possess the capability to mourn? Does it have any conception of solemnity? None can say. But these highly social animals are clearly distressed by such a loss, which affects not just Blacktip – the pup's mother – but the entire pack.

Painted dogs adhere to a strict hierarchical structure, with each pack controlled by an alpha male and alpha female – generally the only ones permitted to breed – and in doing so they ensure that each pack member knows its place. When space and feeding grounds are at a premium, rival packs do clash, as seen early on in the episode. But internal strife is a very rare occurrence. “All for one and one for all” is the motto of painted dog society.

Wild dog puppy, Zimbabwe

The wild is a brutal place. Death is waiting around every corner in the form of drought, disease, famine, predation, a speeding car or the barrel of a gun. Painted dogs must endure the acts of random chaos that occur from day to day, such as the aforementioned death of Blacktip’s pup, the loss of a pack member to a crocodile ambush, or a lion’s assault. The life of a painted dog is no picnic, but compared to most other denizens of the African wilderness, it is (or, at the very least, it seems) a relatively healthy and fulfilling one.

Compare the story of Tait and Blacktip to that of David, the chimpanzee featured in the first episode of Dynasties. Aside from humans, chimps are widely regarded as the most intelligent animal on the planet, yet their world is one of violence, aggression, and for many males, a sometimes deadly struggle for dominance. David eventually retained his status as alpha male, but his reign would not last long. Around seven months after the BBC wrapped in Senegal, David was “hideously wounded” in an attack likely instigated by a group of younger males challenging for leadership. David died from his injuries a week later.

Looking at the atrocities of human history, it is apt that our closest cousins demonstrate such a propensity towards violence. The painted dog’s brain may be less developed than those of the great apes; the painted dog may walk on all fours, rear its young underground, kill live prey and consume raw flesh; but despite lagging far behind on the evolutionary path, the painted dog exhibits remarkable levels of tenderness, cooperation and bonding behaviour within their packs. There is much to admire about this species, and a fair few things that we as humans could learn as well.

Wild Dog in Botswana
Although once found throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa, the painted dog population has been greatly reduced, having mostly disappeared from North, West and Central Africa. Packs require large territories in which to roam, meaning the species has likely always occurred at low densities; this, combined with the now severely fragmented distribution of packs across a number of African nations below the equator, has seen the population dwindle to just 6,600 adults according to a 2016 estimate. Painted dogs may exist in more than 20 different countries, but are so rare in most places that sightings would be incredibly difficult to come by. However, there are a number of strongholds in southern and eastern Africa where painted dogs can be seen relatively reliably – if you know where to look. Take a look through our blog for more information on the best destinations and itineraries for painted dog sightings, including this trip to Mana Pools National Park which offers the chance to see Tait and Blacktip’s dynasties with your own eyes.
Bengal tiger in India by Russ MacLaughlin

Episode 5: Bengal Tiger

Tigers are, by and large, solitary creatures. Males in particularly are serial loners, who generally take no part in the rearing of their young. They won’t be winning Father of the Year awards any time soon. All tigers will strive to establish their own territory upon reaching adolescence, but until then, cubs live as a family alongside their mother and any siblings they may have. We see this family dynamic play out in the final episode of Dynasties, which takes place in India The tale belongs to a Bengal tigress named Raj Bhera, who has just given birth to a litter of four cubs in Bandhavgarh National Park Over the course of the episode, we see the mother’s role evolve as her cubs grow up, a process familiar to many mammals (including us).
Bengal tiger

As the cubs take their first tentative steps in Bandhavgarh, Raj Bhera is nothing other than a doting and diligent parent. She sits patiently as her cubs play rough and tumble around her, and reclines dutifully when they vie for her milk. At this stage of their young lives the cubs are completely dependent on their mother, which means Raj Bhera must leave the family in order to hunt. Their den is a temporary one, only of use until the cubs are able to follow their mother on her travels. They may not be permanent residents, but it is vital that Raj Bhera choose a den that will keep the cubs hidden away and protected from encroaching wildlife. Few would challenge an adult tiger, especially a new mother devoted to protecting her cubs, but during her absence a defenceless litter is in severe danger – the mortality rate of tiger cubs is about 50% in the first two years.

Omnivorous sloth bears will kill tiger cubs if they can find them, as will any itinerant male tiger, whose bloodline is under threat by every cub he comes across which is not his own. This is done to make the female receptive, since the tigress may give birth to another litter within five months if the cubs of the previous litter are lost. A few well-placed growls from Raj Bhera are enough to deter any intruders, but once the den has been discovered, it is no longer safe. After scaring off an inquisitive sloth bear, she again demonstrates her parental prowess by carrying the cubs to a new location, away from prying eyes. “An experienced tigress like Raj Bhera may know half a dozen hideaways like this,” Attenborough informs us.

As they grow, Raj Bhera begins to impose a firmer hand on her offspring. The cubs need to learn that not every meal is handed to them. Growling and baring her teeth teaches the cubs that subsistence is a struggle, and they may have to fight in order to feed. This does not bode well for Biba, the only female cub, who as the smallest and weakest of the litter must wait for her brothers to finish before attempting to feed. Although Raj Bhera could easily disrupt the pecking order, she must allow the course of nature to take its place. If she ensured each cub got a fair share – from mother’s milk to freshly caught meat – it is possible that none of the cubs would grow to a healthy size and be able to fend for themselves when they finally assume a solitary lifestyle. From the moment a tiger is born, they know nothing more than the survival of the fittest.

Bengal tiger in India by Russ MacLaughlin

Parenting in the tiger world means providing adequate care while also fostering independence. A tigress must balance the role of sole caregiver with that of the dispassionate tutor. Raj Bhera’s adult daughter, Solo, is one of her success stories – paradoxically, Solo’s incursions into Raj Bhera’s territory, which threaten her mother’s ability to provide for her new cubs, is actually good for the dynasty. Solo’s boldness is evidence of Raj Bhera’s success as a parent, even if Solo is not yet ready to meaningfully challenge her mother for territory. Family reunions in Bandhavgarh are not a wholesome affair, and Raj Bhera’s reward for ensuring the continuation of her dynasty is actually of detriment to herself as an individual.

This is not an issue faced by the lions or emperor penguins of Dynasties, and although interfamily rivalry is the narrative focus for Episode 4, the case of the painted dogs is different. The daughter, Blacktip, may have invaded the lands of her mother, Tait, but both dogs rule over close-knit packs of their own as respective alpha females. The supportive bonds enjoyed by painted dog pack members will never be experienced by a tiger after reaching adulthood. Raj Bhera does not have the luxury of a social and cooperative group (as with the dogs or the lions) or even a single partner (as with the penguins) to share the burden of parenthood with. Only she can hunt, feed and protect her cubs during their first formative years. (Tigers generally separate from their mother between the ages of 2 and 2 ½.) The survival of a cub is on the tigress and the tigress alone. The burden is a heavy one to bear.

Bengal tiger, Dudhwa National Park, India

Territory is at a premium in Bandhavgarh, with around 80 tigers sharing 600 square miles of habitat. This equates to just 7.5 square miles of territory for each tiger, far lower than the Indian average, which stands at around 50 square miles. Such a density of tigers – one of the highest in India – means rival tigers challenging for territory is commonplace in Bandhavgarh. Add to this the fact that India is one of the most populous and densely populated countries in the world, and the plight of Bandhavgarh’s tigers is thrown into even greater relief. The effect of the modern world on endangered species has been touched upon in each episode of Dynasties, but although the poisoning of the lion pride in Episode 3 was heartbreaking, it is only in this final episode that we see wild animals coming into direct contact with humans.

Towards the end of the episode, Raj Bhera is forced to search for food outside of her usual territory, straying into human lands and risking her life in the process, with villagers banding together to protect themselves, their families and their livestock. Thankfully, Bandhavgarh’s rangers manage to tranquilise Raj Bhera and safely transport her back into her territory within the park. With such a huge and ever-growing human population – over 1.3 billion, which is more than 17.5% of the world’s humans – India is a country whose protected areas are simply too few and too small to support many more wild tigers than the roughly 2,200 they do at present.

Although buffer zones help to reduce human-wildlife conflict, the simple truth of the matter is that nature does not abide by artificially imposed borders. A contained ecosystem does not allow for the ebb and flow of nature. In the ‘Dynasties on Location’ section at the end of this episode, conservationist Krithi Karanth draws attention to the plight of the tiger. A century ago, there were more than 100,000 tigers living in the wild; today, there are fewer than 4,000. 70% of the population is found in India. “Unlike parks in Africa and the Americas, parks in India are extremely small, so tiger populations in these tiny parks are under huge pressure,” says Karanth. “There is a real danger that we could see this amazing cat go extinct.”

Bengal tiger, Andrew James
Attenborough’s message at the end of the episode – and the end of the series – is to call for more space for the world’s wildlife, to “allow those other creatures we share the planet with to retain some part of their ancient heritage”. But where will this space come from? In the last hundred years or so, the human population has exploded, from around 1.5 billion in 1900 to almost 7.5 billion today. Although this sees us careering towards catastrophe as a species (with impending food shortages plus human-driven climate change and its appendant natural disasters, rising sea levels and refugee crises), the sheer amount of humans populating the planet makes our dynasty seem relatively secure. It is the fragile dynasties of our fellow members of the tree of life that we desperately need to consider more.

Inspired by Dynasties?

If you've been inspired by Dynasties and want to see one of the species featured in the program for yourself, speak to one of our Destination Specialists to start planning your safari.

Get in touch

Contact Us

Add Your Comment

By submitting this form, you confirm that you agree to our privacy policy. Please note our safaris are for a minimum of five days; we do not offer day tours.