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BBC Planet Earth crew left devastated after witnessing death of 150,000 antelope

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Emily Badiozzaman
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Sunday nights have never been so thrilling, thanks to the presence of the BBC’s Planet Earth II.

We’ve seen some of the most epic scenes the islands, mountains, jungles and deserts have to offer, all to the sultry tones of David Attenborough and dramatic music from Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, The Dark Knight and fittingly, The Lion King).

This week, we enter the grasslands and plains. And we’re in for some iguana/racer snake levels of bad-assery. A buffalo has to fight for it’s life against a pack of lions in the Okavango, but it’s with the critically endangered Saiga antelope in Asia where tragedy strikes.

So much so, the film crew were left understandably traumatised.

Over three days of filming in remote Kazakhstan, they witnessed the death of 150,000 Saiga antelope from disease. All as the animals gathered to collectively give birth. We know. It’s a beautiful but cruel world.

A bacterial infection swept through the calving herd almost entirely wiping out the species.

Chadden Hunter, producer of the Grasslands episode, told how he thought he was witnessing the “extinction of the species” as the animals started to die.

He said: “When we were out there in the calving grounds, with hundreds of thousands of females all giving birth at the same time, a very ­virulent disease swept through the population and killed around 150,000 of them in a matter of three days.

“At the time we thought we were watching the greatest natural catastrophe that I’d ever heard of. We watched 150,000 of these magnificent animals die in front of us.

"We didn’t know if it was the final extinction of the species, which was devastating, emotionally, for the crew.”

This is not the first time the disease has had a catastrophic effect on the animals (which 100 per cent look like they’re something out of Star Wars). In 2015, almost half the population died.

Thankfully, this bout wasn’t the end of them.

“We’ve since heard that the last few mothers and babies we filmed have survived. It was a potent reminder of how fragile yet resilient nature can be,” says Hunter.

Grasslands will be the second last episode of the series which follows 10 years after the original series aired. Planet Earth II was shot in 40 different countries, with crews making 117 filming trips. Shooting days totted up to 2,089, or just over 5.7 years non-stop. 

Tune in 8pm Sunday for spectacularly built tension, incredible 4K shots and probably complete and utter heartbreak.

Here’s a sneak peak of what you’re in for:

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Emily Badiozzaman

Emily is a freelance writer for Shortlist.com. She covers breaking news, entertainment, style and lifestyle for the site. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found eating and drinking or thinking about food and drinking. Follow Emily on Twitter: @ebadiozzaman 

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