In ten parts, the award-winning David Attenborough (2002 Emmy winner for The Blue Planet: Seas of Life; The Life of Birds) introduces us to the most diverse group of animals ever to live on Earth, from the smallest - the two-inch pygmy shrew, to the largest - the blue whale; from the slowest - the sloth, to the swiftest - the cheetah; from the least attractive - the naked mole rat, to the most irresistible - a human baby. The Life of Mammals is the story of 4,000 species that have outlived the dinosaurs and conquered the farthest places on earth. With bodies kept warm by thick coats of fur and their developing young protected and nourished within their bodies, they have managed to colonize every part of the globe, dry or wet, hot or cold. Their adaptations for finding food have also had a profound effect on the way they move, socialize, mate and breed.
David Attenborough and the BBC have a well-earned reputation for producing some of the greatest nature programs, but The Life of Mammals
could well be Attenborough's magnum opus. Much of the footage shot for this series had never been seen before, and is presented with the respect and reverence for the natural world that Attenborough has made his trademark. It never ceases to surprise: the sight of a lion taking down a wildebeest on the African savannah has almost become a cliché of nature programs, yet in The Life of Mammals
the cameras keep rolling and the viewer witnesses the fallen animal's herd coming to its rescue and driving off the lion. It's a moving sight and just one of many remarkable scenes.
A thorough and entertaining overview of one of evolution's greatest success stories, the series is loosely structured to follow the development of mammals, beginning with the basics in "A Winning Design," which clarifies what makes a mammal different from reptiles and birds--no, it isn't egg-laying: both the platypus and the echidna are egg-laying mammals; it's their ability to adapt. And it's this adaptability that becomes the crux of the remainder of the series. "Insect Hunters" focuses on mammals who have specifically adapted to eating insects, from the giant anteater and the armored armadillo to bats, which have evolved into complex and effective hunters. "Plant Predators" demonstrates the particular (and often peculiar) adaptations of herbivores, while "Chisellers" is about those mammals who feed primarily on roots and seeds, ranging from tree-dwelling squirrels to opportunistic mice and rats. "Meat Eaters" talks about the evolutionary arms race that exists between predators and prey, and the unique adaptations of both individual and pack hunters. Omnivores are explored in "Opportunists"--mammals like bears and raccoons, whose varied diet allows them to occupy nearly any environment. "Return to the Water" discusses those mammals such as whales, seals, and dolphins that have left behind life on dry land and adapted completely to life in the sea, existing at the top of the food chain. The last three episodes--"Life in the Trees," "Social Climbers," and "Food for Thought"--take the viewer through the development of primates, eventually culminating in that most successful mammal: man. --Robert Burrow