Mammals, review: Sir David Attenborough’s late-career golden era is a wonder to behold

Mammals features David Attenborough's usual Hollywood-worthy visuals, swelling orchestral score and soothing narration
Mammals features David Attenborough's usual Hollywood-worthy visuals, swelling orchestral score and soothing narration - Emily Garner/BBC Worldwide

Have you noticed how David Attenborough is becoming more prolific with age? The naturalist is about to turn 98, but he’s already clocked up his third programme of 2024. Once upon a time, we had to wait several years for a fresh Attenborough series. This late career spurt perhaps points to a man who wants to savour the world’s wonders while he can.

Mammals (BBC One) was his latest blockbuster and had all the expected hallmarks – Hollywood-worthy visuals; swelling orchestral score; soothing narration. The only thing missing from the opening episode was a digression into environmental finger-wagging.

He began his latest opus with a look at nocturnal behaviour. Two-thirds of mammals are now creatures of the night, mainly to avoid humans. Our host marvelled at how their keen senses mean that they thrive in darkness.

The first show-stopping sequence came in Zambia, where a leopard climbed a tree to hunt baboons. Cameras got so close, we saw a droplet of drool fall from her jaws at the prospect of a meal. Captured in night vision, the big cat’s rippling power and glowing eyes looked otherworldly.

A demonstration of teamwork came in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater, where a clan of spotted hyenas combined forces to overpower a Cape buffalo. Apex predators didn’t hog all the headlines. A fennec fox, a frisky armadillo and a dinky Etruscan shrew got their moment in the moonlight.

An hypnotic hour closed with two vivid examples of the animal world intruding on urban life – sights so incongruous, they almost looked computer-generated. Crowds gathered to watch 1.5 million bats emerge from under a bridge in Austin, Texas. Chicago is home to 9m people and 4,000 coyotes. Rather than scavenging for food waste, these wily coyotes hunt wild prey. Rabbits rather than roadrunners, disappointingly.

Attenborough recently said that “nobody else can hold a candle to the BBC Natural History Unit”. He’s right. This was breathtaking TV, crafted by the best mammals in the business: us humans, led by a certain tireless nonagenarian.

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