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S40 Ep11

Hippo King

Premiere: 4/6/2022 | 00:00:30 | Closed Captioning Icon

Follow the life of an old hippo, a king of its kind, and discover the true character of one of Earth’s largest land mammals.

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About the Episode

From Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, an old, battle-scarred hippo bull has an incredible story to tell. Previously hippos were almost always misunderstood because their secret life happens beneath the water and under the cover of darkness. This tale imagines a story of 35 years from when the hippo was a vulnerable orphan to the ultimate battle that crowns him king decades later. From birth to exile to redemption, follow the life of the “Hippo King” and discover the true character of one of Earth’s largest land mammals.

Buzzworthy Moments:

After spending time bonding with her son, a mother hippo leads her calf into the main pod, where the rest of the hippos live, for the first time. The calf huddles near its mother and other calves for protection as its father lurks nearby, using his razor-sharp tusks to establish dominance with any hippo that appears to be a threat.

The mother hippo loses strength in her old age and dies next to her calf. Predators such as lions, vultures and crocodiles take advantage of this feast and approach her body. The calf makes a heartbreaking decision to leave his mother’s body behind to protect himself and escape fast-chasing lions.

As the calf returns to the river, he is met with a challenge and exclusion. The dominant bull makes his way to the calf and fights him off, forcing the calf to find a new home. The calf spends his time alone, grazing during the night as he cautiously avoids predators like hyenas.

As the seasons change, the calf grows larger, as does his ambition to become the dominant bull. When he returns to the river as a fully grown bull, the dominant bull comes out of the water, bearing his tusks and ready for battle. The two aggressively fight, bite and chase after each other, until the older bull retreats in defeat. He has now won the dominant position and title “Hippo King.”

Noteworthy Facts:

Oxpeckers are little birds that clean hippos’ wounds and remove parasites. Submerging underwater is the only way hippos can get rid of the oxpeckers.

Kigelia africana, known as sausage trees, bears a fruit that resembles the shape of a sausage. This “tree of life” blooms when the drought is at its worst and is the only source of food during this time.

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PRODUCTION CREDITS

HIPPO KING

NARRATED BY
RUSSELL BOULTER

DIRECTED BY
WILL & LIANNE STEENKAMP

CINEMATOGRAPHY
LIANNE STEENKAMP

AERIAL FILMING & SOUND
WILL STEENKAMP

HIGH SPEED CAMERA
FALK EGGERT

EDITOR
ALAN MILLER BFE

WRITERS
WILL & LIANNE STEENKAMP
ALAN MILLER

ONLINE EDITOR
ROLAND MITTERMÜLLER

GRAPHIC DESIGN
CHRISTIAN STOPPACHER

COLORIST
LEE NIEDERKOFLER

MUSIC COMPOSED BY
CHRISTIAN HESCHL

SOUND DESIGN & DUBBING MIX
STEFAN K. FIEDLER

SCIENTIFIC ADVISORS
TRACY BLOWERS
JASON ALFONSI

SPECIAL THANKS
ZAMBIA MINISTRY OF TOURISM AND ARTS
DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL PARKS & WILDLIFE
ZAMBIA CIVIL AVIATION AUTHORITY
ZAMBIA NEWS AND INFORMATION SERVICES
NSEFU CAMP GUIDES
CONSERVATION SOUTH LUANGWA
ZAMBIAN CARNIVORE PROGRAMME
TON & MARGAUX DE ROOY
ROB & EMILY CLIFFORD
KEYALA PHIRI
WILLIE SHUMA
ANITA BALLETTO
MENNO BAKKER

CO-PRODUCERS
JÖRN RÖVER
TOM SYNNATZSCHKE

PRODUCTION MANAGERS
TRAUDE GARTNER
PAUL REIF

LINE PRODUCER
ROMAN LANDAUER

UNIT MANAGER
DINAH CZEZIK-MÜLLER

EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS
ANDREA GASTGEB
SABINE HOLZER

FOR NATURE

SERIES EDITOR
JANET HESS

SENIOR PRODUCER
LAURA METZGER LYNCH

COORDINATING PRODUCER
JAYNE JUN

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
JAMES F. BURKE

LEGAL COUNSEL
BLANCHE ROBERTSON

DIGITAL LEAD
DANIELLE BROZA

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER – DIGITAL
AMANDA SCHMIDT

SOCIAL MEDIA EDITOR
KAREN HO

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT
CHELSEY SAATKAMP

BUDGET CONTROLLER
JAYNE LISI

ONLINE EDITOR
STACEY DOUGLASS MOVERLEY

RE-RECORDING MIXER
JON BERMAN

ORIGINAL EPISODE PRODUCTION FUNDING PROVIDED IN PART BY
BRADLEY L. GOLDBERG FAMILY FOUNDATION

ORIGINAL SERIES PRODUCTION FUNDING PROVIDED IN PART BY
CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING
ARNHOLD FOUNDATION
THE FAIRWEATHER FOUNDATION
KATE W. CASSIDY FOUNDATION
SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III
KATHY CHIAO AND KEN HAO
CHARLES ROSENBLUM
FILOMEN M. D’AGOSTINO FOUNDATION
LILLIAN GOLDMAN CHARITABLE TRUST
LEONARD AND NORMA KLORFINE
SANDRA ATLAS BASS
COLIN S. EDWARDS
GREGG PETERS MONSEES FOUNDATION
KOO AND PATRICIA YUEN

SERIES PRODUCER
BILL MURPHY

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
FRED KAUFMAN

A PRODUCTION OF THE WNET GROUP, TERRA MATER FACTUAL STUDIOS, SKYLAND PRODUCTIONS, AND INTO NATURE PRODUCTIONS IN ASSOCIATION WITH DOCLIGHTS/NDR NATURFILM

THIS PROGRAM WAS PRODUCED BY THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC, WHICH IS SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS CONTENT.

© 2022 THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

FUNDING

Support for Nature: Hippo King was provided by Bradley L. Goldberg Family Foundation. Series funding for Nature is also made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The Arnhold Foundation, The Fairweather Foundation, Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Kathy Chiao and Ken Hao, Charles Rosenblum, Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, Leonard and Norma Klorfine, Sandra Atlas Bass, Colin S. Edwards, Gregg Peters Monsees Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen, and public television viewers.

TRANSCRIPT

♪♪♪ NARRATOR: In Zambia's Luangwa Valley... a future king was born.

From season, to season... one year, to the next... he embarked on a journey towards greatness.

He already had the attitude and behaved like royalty.

♪♪♪ Gradually he became fearless.

Becoming stronger with each fight... more confident with each journey.

He was a formidable contender to the throne.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ NARRATOR: From waters shrouded in mystery, comes a story of an African leviathan.

Every movement prehistoric... every contour otherworldly... ...slowly rising from the deep... ...an old hippo bull.

The years have taken their toll.

His tired, cloudy eyes reflect a brutal life hard-lived.

He has seen it all.

His maze of scars -- skin-deep memories from ancient battles.

But in his prime... this once-invincible bull chose a path of war.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ This is the remarkable story of his journey... that led to the ultimate battle that crowned him king.

♪♪♪ A long, long time ago, in Zambia's Luangwa Valley... where a mighty river is home to one of the largest hippo populations in the world, the dry season had just begun.

In the blistering heat, a hippo pod was basking in the sun, and one female had separated herself from the others.

♪♪♪ It was the day a future king was born.

He took his first glimpse of the outside world.

The little newcomer drew unwanted attention.

♪♪♪ His mother was well aware of the danger.

She kept her calf close.

♪♪♪ But the crocodiles weren't her only concern.

A lion, in search of prey.

♪♪♪ Her calf, a perfect target.

And this young male was heading straight for them.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ But something made him hesitate.

The river belonged to another predator.

♪♪♪ [ Lion growling ] ♪♪♪ It gave her time to hide the calf.

But the lion braved the waters.

While focused on finding the calf, the lion was facing a protective mother.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ His courageous mother saved his life.

In those first few weeks, his mother kept him separate from the main pod.

This precious time together was essential in strengthening their bond.

♪♪♪ Recognizing his mother once they joined the pod would be crucial for his safety.

He would rely on her protection for years to come.

And then the big day arrived.

His mother led him to the main pod.

♪♪♪ He was ready to join his family.

♪♪♪ Becoming part of the main pod seemed to be a safe move with all-'round protection.

But amongst these 3-ton giants, the calf was all the more vulnerable.

[ Hippos grunting ] Explosions of aggression are common amongst hippos.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ But ironically, it was his father that was by far the biggest threat.

♪♪♪ When he went into battle with an opponent, razor-sharp tusks clashing, their brute force would crush anything in their way.

[ Hippos grunting ] ♪♪♪ Calves often fall victim to these brutal fights.

Thankfully his mother was protective and caring.

But with the river shrinking and the pod growing, tension would only rise, so becoming part of a crèche provided a safe space.

The youngsters stayed close together, surrounded by a few protective mothers.

They spent their days basking in the sun, with not a care in the world.

And that's when he got to meet his new friends.

The oxpeckers.

Little birds that removed parasites and cleaned the hippos' wounds.

But they often made things worse.

To many, they became a nuisance.

Every fresh wound was a reason for battle.

They were out for blood.

♪♪♪ [ Oxpeckers screeching ] Getting rid of them was mission impossible.

♪♪♪ Submerging was the only way.

And when the river became too low, water cannons were brought to bear.

♪♪♪ An effective way to send a bird packing, but they would always return.

Oxpeckers would be his lifelong companions.

As this dry season progressed, carmine bee-eaters made their entrance.

With the river now low enough, they were able to start nesting.

[ Carmine bee-eaters chirping ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ While the birds added a splash of much-needed color to the advancing drought, the calf grew into a more confident youngster.

He would stand his ground... and took on his first battles.

He was learning to be bold.

Sparring sessions prepared him for the fights that were to come later in life.

♪♪♪ And he would lean on his mother to reach greater heights.

Heights he could still only dream of.

He already had the attitude and behaved like royalty.

Until the true king of beasts arrived.

Being surrounded by lions quickly brought him back to reality.

♪♪♪ His attitude faded as fear took hold.

♪♪♪ The river was their haven.

But the lioness could swim, too.

A calf his size is easy prey for a lion.

The big cat was surrounded by hippos.

[ Lion snarling ] ♪♪♪ Her snarls were intimidating.

But an adult hippo could easily kill her.

In this river, she was just as vulnerable as he was on land.

The lioness made a daring move, so close to the hippos.

her pride intently watching.

♪♪♪ She might have made it past the hippos, but crocodiles still lurked below.

From the safety of the pod, the calf watched the saga unfold.

♪♪♪ The lioness was fortunate to make it across alive.

♪♪♪ As the Luangwa River kept shrinking, more and more hippos congregated... and fought over every inch of space.

The cruel reality of the drought hit hard.

A feast had begun.

Dead hippos attracted attention.

It was the calf's first time to experience the dark side of the dry season.

♪♪♪ When the hippos suffered, the crocodiles thrived.

♪♪♪ With the river at its lowest, the hippos desperately searched for food and space.

♪♪♪ [ Thunder crashing ] The first blissful rain finally arrived.

It brought relief to everyone in the pod.

A moment to relax.

Even the calf's father dropped his guard.

A moment a challenger had been waiting for.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Hippos grunting ] His father had to defend his throne.

There could only be one dominant bull.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ It was an equal match.

A fight like this ended in stalemate.

♪♪♪ His father did some serious damage to his opponent, but the bull himself was nearing the end of his reign.

[ Thunder rumbling ] ♪♪♪ The season had turned.

The Luangwa Valley transformed into an emerald green paradise.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Thunder crashes ] ♪♪♪ The calf had made it through his first dry season, and was now thriving, with plenty of grass and space.

Making it this far was a significant victory.

Many hippo calves don't survive their first few months.

For him, the future seemed promising.

♪♪♪ Throughout the different seasons, the calf remained close to his mother and was mostly by her side.

♪♪♪ Every time the rains returned, it meant the end of hardship.

♪♪♪ The cycle of the seasons saw him grow ever bigger.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ These periods of prosperity made the youngster more independent, which encouraged him to aim higher.

♪♪♪ Throughout the years, the calf grew into an adolescent, gaining confidence and size.

♪♪♪ He followed his mother from one pod to the next, and with his newfound bravado, he spent most of his time sparring with his peers.

Slowly his tusk force grew bigger and sharper.

He was a king in the making.

Luangwa lay at his feet.

Having walked these paths for centuries, the hippos of Luangwa know its secrets to survival.

His mother, too, had a lifetime of experiences behind her.

She knew how to survive here, even during the worst droughts.

But she was getting old and frail, and had not given birth to any more calves.

So it was still just the two of them.

♪♪♪ Now as a subadult, he no longer depended on her, but would stay with his mother for as long as he could.

♪♪♪ Their bond seemed everlasting.

♪♪♪ But then, as the dry season reached its peak, everything changed.

♪♪♪ His mother... prone and vulnerable.

♪♪♪ She desperately tried to make it back to the river, but she had no strength left.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ His mother was facing a slow death.

She had reached the end of her time.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The next morning, the youngster stood by helplessly.

His mother had died.

He threatened the lions that surrounded her but was ignored.

♪♪♪ Scavengers were circling.

There was nothing he could do.

♪♪♪ He was frustrated and confused, not knowing where to go.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Wandering around aimlessly, he hadn't noticed the trap he was walking into.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ That was a close call.

He had no choice but to leave his mother.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Every opportunist, every predator... all made the most of this feast.

From the river, he became a spectator to nature's primal display.

The cycle of life played out right in front of him.

♪♪♪ Each creature fought for its right to feed, its right to life.

♪♪♪ [ Crocodile hissing ] ♪♪♪ Taking turns, predators from both land and water took full advantage of the death of a giant.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Lion growls ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Lion growling ] ♪♪♪ His yawn was an outcry of distress and desperation, but displaying his tusks was regarded as a direct challenge by the dominant bull.

♪♪♪ Before he realized what he'd done, the dominant bull attacked.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ An excruciating grip to oust him from the pod.

The punishment for his unintended insolence may have cost him his tail.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The message was clear.

He was no longer welcome.

He could never return.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The first night on his own.

He was used to feeding in the dark, but this night was darker than usual.

Without his mother, it felt more dangerous.

For good reason.

Lions hunt at night.

♪♪♪ He was unsure of their intentions.

♪♪♪ This time, he wouldn't let them come close.

The lions' hunt had begun.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Fortunately for him, they killed an antelope.

He continued grazing... but kept a close eye on the lions.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Lion growling ] ♪♪♪ Anyone in his way was charged at.

[ Hippo growls ] Now he had to fend for himself.

♪♪♪ [ Lion growling ] The predators were in the middle of a fierce battle.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Maybe best to make a run for it.

♪♪♪ By daybreak, the young bull was desperate to get back to the river.

Having been evicted from his pod, he needed to find a new home.

The bull in charge of this pod immediately noticed his arrival.

But the young bull was hoping for acceptance.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The dominant bull was not going to make it easy.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ If he could show submission, the bull might allow him to stay.

♪♪♪ An important lesson in life -- Giving in sometimes gets you what you need.

♪♪♪ Although the young bull was now accepted by a new pod, with this dry season persisting, he was forced to search for food in daytime.

♪♪♪ There is a tree in South Luangwa that blooms when the drought is at its worst.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The fruit of the sausage tree.

Not long ago, his mother had led him to this place.

A modest oasis in the grip of the sun.

♪♪♪ The African sausage tree, known here as the tree of life.

The massive, solid fruit, seemingly inedible, is the secret to survival.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ These fruits would help him get through the toughest of times.

But eating the enormous sausages was not all that easy, especially for a grazer.

It required a special technique.

He had seen his mother master the art.

Now it was his turn.

♪♪♪ Another year had gone by.

And as always, the new wet season brought salvation... and new experiences.

A surprise for the young hippo bull.

Elephants in his lagoon.

Such an intrusion drew a crowd.

And they weren't just after an innocent swim.

A yawn was supposed to be a threat... but was perceived as an invitation.

A game of hide-and-seek ensued of gigantic proportions.

Usually hippos and elephants stay out of each other's way.

But the elephants deliberately gate-crashed the hippos' pool party.

The elephants teamed up to chase the hippos around.

♪♪♪ But they were way out of their depth.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ How can a 3-ton giant vanish just like that?

For once, the hippos had the upper hand.

[ Thunder crashing ] ♪♪♪ The plentiful wet seasons are fleeting, and the inevitable dry times returned.

♪♪♪ But even the worst droughts would eventually make space for the rains again.

♪♪♪ Years passed by.

♪♪♪ Nearly a decade later, the subadult had turned into an adult bull.

Together with a few fellow bachelors, he had found a new home in a lagoon.

It wasn't deep, but rolling helped to keep their bodies moisturized.

The muddy substance formed the perfect sunscreen.

Life here was peaceful, but it wouldn't last.

The rhythm of the seasons meant change was the only constant.

A few months later, the bull's lagoon had dried up.

♪♪♪ Everyone else had left... except for his constant feathered companion.

But then he received an unexpected visitor.

A leopard, searching for water.

♪♪♪ But the sun had soaked it all up.

♪♪♪ There was nothing left but cracked, dry earth.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ There was no point in staying.

He needed food and another place to live.

Hippos depend on water.

♪♪♪ Desperate times were upon him.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Nighttime.

He knew where to go for food.

♪♪♪ Now that he'd become a large bull, he visited the tree of life more often.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Enjoying the fruit, he was unaware he was being watched.

An acquaintance from earlier, also in search of food.

Unlike him, she preferred meat.

Silently, she approached a target.

Recognizing the difference between predators, he knew, to him, a leopard was harmless.

She paid no attention to him, focused on her hunting.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ His curiosity got the better of him.

What was she up to?

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Try staying unnoticed with a giant herbivore on your tail.

♪♪♪ [ Crying ] Busted.

It turns out, hippos don't make good hunting partners.

♪♪♪ After the thrill of the sabotaged hunt, the bull made it to the river by dawn.

Having lived in the lagoon these previous months, he was new here.

How best to make an entrance?

Subtle.

He stood on the edge of a new phase of life.

And with daybreak... came courage.

He arrived with a splash.

♪♪♪ As the years went by, the Luangwa Valley remained his home.

Another wet season.

The bull had grown in confidence and stature.

♪♪♪ He was no longer willing to remain submissive.

[ Hippo growling ] ♪♪♪ Now in possession of much bigger armory, he showed off his impressive tusks and was eager to put them to the test.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Hippos grunting ] A brief challenge, with no real winner.

But it was a good start.

His future seemed all the more promising.

From season, to season... one year, to the next... he embarked on a journey towards greatness.

His shadow reflected the size of his ambition.

His wounds, signs of his bravery.

Whichever path he chose, it would ultimately lead him to battle.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ He was growing into a formidable contender to the throne... ...though he was still no match for a dominant bull.

♪♪♪ Gradually he became fearless.

With each step, he got a little closer to the end game.

Becoming stronger with each fight... more confident with each journey.

And whenever he was challenged, he'd respond in kind, audacious and bold.

♪♪♪ He was on the cusp of supremacy.

♪♪♪ And then, one fine morning, his transformation was complete.

♪♪♪ He radiated self-assurance.

♪♪♪ The potential of victory drove him forward.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ A fully grown, impressive bull entered the arena.

♪♪♪ The dominant bull immediately responded to his arrogance.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ There was no stopping him.

They sized each other up.

He hadn't fought an experienced bull like this before, but he had no intention of backing down.

In hippo warfare, the first act was a show of armor.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ He blatantly claimed the territory already.

A red rag to a bull.

His opponent took the bait.

On second thoughts, he may have overplayed his hand.

♪♪♪ [ Hippos grunting ] ♪♪♪ The dominant bull was merciless.

♪♪♪ He tried to escape... but the dominant bull was hot on his heals.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ But in the face of sustained conflict, he found his courage.

Once those tusks clashed, they were both in for a long battle.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ He was getting the upper hand, forcing his opponent to retreat towards the edge of the bank.

♪♪♪ But the dominant bull wasn't giving up that easily.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Both bloodied and exhausted, the older bull eventually admitted defeat.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ And that is how he became king.

♪♪♪ As the dominant bull, he reigned for many years.

♪♪♪ He was admired by his calves... and always surrounded by his harem of females.

♪♪♪ He was a protective and successful ruler.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ His fortunes rose and fell throughout his supremacy.

♪♪♪ But now his fighting days are over.

He is 35 years old, and no longer the ruler of a hippo pod.

But it's been a life filled with battles lost and won.

A life whose unrivaled legacy is forever reflected in the waters of Luangwa.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪

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