Nature "Drakensberg: Barrier of Spears" on WXXI-TV

Sun, 09/05/2010 - 8:00pm

Pictured: Eland heard on the grasslands

Credit: ©AWF/ORF

Join the world's largest antelopes as they make the dangerous and beautiful journey from the lush valleys to the perilous peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains. Masked by the staggering beauty of South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains are their vicious seasons of fire and ice. Here lives the ultimate survivor: the eland, a member of the antelope family. In order to overcome the ever-changing endurance test cast by nature, these tenacious mountaineers risk an annual migration towards the summit in search of greener pastures. Nature tracks their epic climb in Drakensberg: Barrier of Spears, encoring Sunday, September 5 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable1011/cable 11). Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham narrates.

Cliffs like spines of a dragon form the majestic Drakensberg Mountains (their name actually means Dragon’s Mountain). Born of Jurassic molten lava, they span more than 600 miles and tower more than 10,000 feet. Despite the impossible terrain and unpredictable weather, they are home to a fascinating array of animals, including crab-hunting frogs, bone-devouring vultures, cliff-dwelling baboons and furry ice rats. But none is as remarkable as the eland. Normally found in Africa’s hot, dry savannas, these nomadic antelopes have learned to adapt to the cold and harsh environment of the Drakensberg. Eland are the world’s largest antelopes. They can grow as big as oxen and weigh more than half a ton. In spite of their size, they are nimble climbers and gentle grazers.

The eland’s annual journey begins during the summer in the fertile valleys of the Drakensberg. However, this grassland paradise is soon battered by wet spells, turning it into a green desert with rotting plants and little to eat. Driven by hunger, the herd has no choice but to move to higher ground. Casualties abound along the way. The mortality rate for the eland calves is an astounding 70 percent.

The high alpine meadows prove to be no havens, either. Lightning from thunderstorms sets afire miles of good grazing, so the herd must again move on. They leave the scorched landscape for another hungry haul to the very top of the Drakensberg. Once at the peak, the eland feast on the green pastures and build up their fat reserves before the first snowstorms hit. They will then be on the road again, back down the mountain. For the nomadic eland, home is always a step ahead.