The premise of Our Planet, Netflix’s new nature documentary, is to include humans in the story of Earth. It’s a radically simple concept, and one that makes sense given our increasingly major role in shaping the natural world. But at the end of the day, any David Attenborough-voiced documentary worth its salt better deliver the goods of stunning wildlife footage, too.
While we have yet to see all of Our Planet, a clip provided exclusively to our sister site Earther shows there’s at least one epic sequence to look forward to. In the clip, five male cheetahs work in tandem to take down a wildebeest on the Serengeti.
“It’s almost unheard of to have that many cheetahs operating together,” Adam Chapman, a producer with Our Planet who has spent much of his career filming big cats, told Earther in a phone call. “It’s a very unusual. So we knew we knew we had to try and capture some of that drama.”
Chapman said in following the cheetahs for weeks, he and the small crew got to see how the rest of the animals reacted. Their arrival on the scene clearly made potential prey nervous. Zebras pawed the ground and snorted, impalas shook their heads and twisted their horns, and one foolhardy guinea fowl chased after the cheetahs crowing in warning.
That made it easy for the crew to find the cheetahs, but it also meant that when the cats wanted to hunt, they had to be more stealthy, clinging to the outcrops of trees and brush that interrupt the grasslands.
The clip shows them eying one of the massive wildebeest herds that crisscross the savannah before lurching into high gear. Chapman said the crew watched as the cheetahs took turns chasing different wildebeest before eventually identifying the one they would work to take down together. Because while cheetahs are speedy, weighing in at around 54kg they’re generally a bit small to take down a 272kg wildebeest alone.
Chapman estimated the whole hunt took three minutes from when the cheetahs burst from hiding to when they draped themselves onto the unlucky wildebeest, though he said “time slows down” even watching the scene unfold from afar.
The cheetah scene feels intimate, like you’re the sixth member of the squad, but it was shot from a long distance in a jeep with a unique camera rig that allowed the shot to stay stable despite bouncing across the grassland.
Just like Our Planet, I too have a duty to inform you that this type of natural scene is facing very real human pressure. A study released just last week in Science found that human activity over the past 40 years on the edge of the Serengeti has, in the researchers’ words, “‘squeezed’ wildlife into the core protected area and has altered the ecosystem’s dynamics” including fire on the landscape, carbon storage, and food for grazers.
The study concludes that conserving some semblance of the ecosystems at the heart of the Serengeti — and ensuring wild cheetah hunts continue as they have for thousands of years — will mean better managing development outside protected areas.