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Walking With Beasts: Episode 1, screened on BBC last Thursday at 20-

Here is a quick rundown of Episode 1 (New Dawn ) of Walking With 
Beasts (I wrote a long report this morning but lost it when the PC 
crashed). Overall good, less cringeworthy and more interesting that 
WWD. Focused on mid-Eocene Messel, so a bit misleading to feature 
_Ambulocetus_ (from Pakistan). As always, the animals seem unable 
to spend more than a few seconds without vocalising. Episode started 
with end-Maastrichtian dinosaurs etc, then bolide impact: this scene, 
witnessed from space, clearly owed much to the opening scene of 
'Armageddon'. Then on to Messel where the main characters were 
_Gastornis_, a _Leptictidium_ family, a lone _Ambulocetus_ and 

The research was clearly up to the minute, the animation excellent. 
_Ambulocetus_ was a croc-like ambush predator, as postulated 
recently by Hans Thewissen et al, _Leptictidium_ hops rather than 
strides and _Gastornis_ had the 'Witmer and Rose' head and was an 
awesome carnivore, not a takahe or parrot analogue. However, they 
briefly showed two live tamanduas, thus paying homage to the idea 
that _Eurotamandua_ is a primitive myrmecophagid. However, this 
ignores recent research by Fred Szalay and others which indicates that 
_Eurotamandua_ is not even xenarthran. A small hyaenodontid-like 
animal was killed by the _Ambulocetus_ but they never said what it 
was. Much of the giant ant footage was actually of live Amazonian 
army ants (the ants swarm through the forest, killing a hatching 
_Gastornis_ chick). 

_Ambulocetus_ swimming was excellent - superb scene where it 
approaches a (real live footage) crocodile in the water, the croc bursts 
away rapidly when the _Ambulocetus_ gets close.

_Gordinotia_ behaved too much like a hominoid - the vocalisations 
were chimp noises and a worried _Gordinotia_ vigorously shook a 
small tree, as chimps do when trying to get attention. 

Another thing the graphics people seem unable to avoid: _Gastornis_ 
killed the propalaeothere by shaking it to death, and on killing it then 
delicately took it to pieces, eating a little at a time. In reality I would 
think one fatal crushing bite - no shaking - and then swallow the prey 
whole. The propalaeotheres got drunk by eating fermented fruit.. yet 
again a reference to something shown traditionally in natural history 
TV programmes (famous footage of elephants and baboons getting 
drunk on fallen fruit in east Africa).

Predictably, all the animals died when the Messel lake belched up a 
load of CO2... except for the cute little _Leptictidium_ family. Ahhh.

Caveats as above, I really liked it and look fwd to the following 
episodes. Episode 2 features _Basilosaurus_ (which behaves like an 
orca, killing dorudontines and self-beaching to catch moeritheres).

School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
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