Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle
YELLOWSTONE, the very name conjures images of an unspoilt wilderness, of a land shaped by earth’s pimordial forces, yet as the subject of a natural history programme, it’s been sadly overlooked – until now that is. Yellowstone, a three-part series dedicated to the world’s first national park, comes to our screens courtesy of the BBC and if the opening episode is anything to go by, it’s nothing short of stunning.
It begins with the Yellowstone winter, the six month period from November to April when temperatures fall to minus 40 degrees, and follows bison, wolves, elk and otters as they eke out a living in the bitter conditions. And as you would expect, it’s not only visually stunning but provides a fascinating insight into animal behaviour.
Take for example, the Druid wolf pack. We see them first patiently and, as it turned out, unsuccessfully hunting a lone bull elk. Obviously outnumbered, the elk made for the one place he knew he’d be safe from attack – the freezing water. It happened at the start of winter when the elk was still strong enough to survive the cold but had it been later, the outcome would have been very different.
There’s also some remarkable footage of a red fox successfully catching a mouse under six feet of snow, a coyote robbing an otter of the fish it had stashed beneath the ice – an enormous cut throat trout – and bison using their powerful heads to dig through the snow to reach grass which, we’re told, has the same nutritional value as cardboard – just one of numerous facts in Peter Firth’s excellent narration.
But as well as the wildlife, there are around 10,000 thermal features in Yellowstone, including the most famous of them all, Old Faithful. They’re proof that just three miles beneath the mountain encircled plateau lies a magma chamber 50 miles across – a supervolcano that last erupted 640,000 years ago. And although this ‘sleeping volcano becomes a giant deep freeze’ in winter, it provides a degree of warmth that creatures such as bison and otters have learned to turn to their advantage – as we saw in this outstanding film.
The programme ends somewhat unexpectedly with the work of the so-called Snow Man who, as much for love as a living, removes snow from the rooves of Yellowstone’s few buildings – a job as necessary as it is skilled. Necessary because the weight of snow could crush a roof, skilled because one false move could result in death.
I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting Yellowstone in the late summer of 2004, so to see it in winter when visitors are few and far between, was pure magic and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the series has to offer. At last, Yellowstone has the attention it so rightly deserves.