David Attenborough’s Dynasties – Reviewed

Every animal in the world goes through a daily battle simply to live and breathe. The Chimpanzee is no different. Giving us another incredible insight into the planet, David Attenborough is back with his new series – Dynasties. This series focuses on one of the most powerful forces in nature. The family.

They battle for survival against the elements, and their rivals. We’re treated to a previously unseen glimpse into the chimpanzee’s family unit. Beginning in the arid conditions of Senegal in West Africa – this is the story of one chimp family.

It’s so hot and dry. This is the very limit of where they can survive. 32 chimpanzees are in this particular group, ruled by one incredibly strong and determined leader – David. As an alpha male, he gets the best of everything, but can trust no one. He’s surrounded by rivals prepared to kill him for his crown. This is a battle for power, politics and ultimately survival. He’s ruled over the troupe for three years – chimps don’t normally last longer than this in their position.  His torn ears are testament to the battles he’s already undergone to protect both his status and family.

Those battles are likely to get a whole lot harder. The dry season is beginning and his rivals are gathering once more. Normally alpha males have allies – but David is fighting his battles alone. He’s never been more vulnerable. His daily role is to keep order amongst the group – to display strength. Diffusing social issues – displaying to the group to show he’s in control.

Strength isn’t everything. David needs to be political to hold onto power – create allies. His first attempt at this is by grooming an older male named KL. He’s past the age to challenge for his role – but can, vitally, help to fight. In the world of chimps, grooming helps to build bonds and create friendships. Friends don’t solve everything though.

Dry season is beginning and the temperature soars to over 40 degrees. This creates ideal sand-pit conditions for the infants – but with the adults, tensions were rising. A new man – Luther. Displaying his strength – he begins to assert his power through intimidation. Displaying to the other chimps his power and ultimately his desire to reign over the group. David needs to do something and fast. This is a battle he can’t fight on his own.

As the dry season peaks – fires destroyed three quarters of their territory. Much of their food and shelter went up in flames – removing all the water with it.  The group need to stick together to survive. Chimps luckily have a good memory – they could use knowledge passed down from generations. They could use sticks to dig through the parched earth. Their reward? A hidden water source!

It’s one issue after another for their leader, David. Three out of seven females are coming into season  – all at the same time. This creates a social nightmare for David. He’s got to prove he’s got the authority. He’s got to prove he is the right male for one of the females to mate with. Rivals respond with displays of power. Chaos takes over the group.

As night falls, younger males have turned on David. As the sun comes up, it’s the job of the younger chimps and the females to tend to his wounds. They can’t stay there. Water’s running out – the whole group has to move onto the nearest water source. And that’s a 6 mile trek. They’ve got to leave David behind. David’s new ally, KL has to leave him for dead. This leaves a power vacuum at the top – who will take his place?

Friendless and wounded he somehow musters the strength to search for food he must rejoin the group before he’s exiled for good. Remarkably, a week later he makes the journey to find the others – no fit state to fight. Has to make himself look as bold as possible . reunited with comrade KL grooming each other reaffirms the bonds of friendship

The 6 mile trek is only half the battle. He’s made it but exhausted and fragile, holding onto his leadership by a thread. A let up is around the corner however. Rain filled clouds bring an end to a long drought. David’s territory is transformed, water everywhere and a glut of food. His displays are slowly becoming more assertive but he hasn’t had time to heal properly, he takes every given moment to gorge on more food.

Luther, the once fierce competitor, with a submissive gesture seeks forgiveness from David. Although he’s unwilling to accept. David begins to build on friendships with other males – older so they can’t challenge for power but strong enough to fight for him. Over following weeks Luther finds himself sidelined. Other males now gather round David, Luther has no choice but to step inline David has his group around him once more but he doesn’t show them how weakened he really is – injuries haven’t healed. Sure enough, a female comes into season – this is his chance to mate. Thankfully, the others have no choice but to step in line. 9 months later – a baby chimp!

The program may stop but the battle for survival continues. Females will continue to come into season – tension will rise and the whole thing will continue. The fight is never won. He may have gotten through this breeding season but he’s just buying himself some time until another female comes into season when he’ll face competition once again.

Catch David Attenborough’s ‘Dynasties’ Sunday 8pm on BBC1




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