Narrator: The drakensberg has the highest peaks in africa South of kilimanjaro. It is home to many creatures. But to live here is no easy feat. Its beauty is matched only by its danger. Within its unassailable peaks, mystical reptiles Make their home the dragons of the mountain. Their realm is one of the most beautiful And least hospitable in the world. This is dragon mountain, where only the cunning survive. Narrator: When the amazulu first saw these cliffs, They called them ukhahlamba "a barrier of spears". Decades later, in early 1837, a group of weary dutch travelers Rolled their ox wagons through this landscape. Between the spires and the mist, they imagined they glimpsed A large, fire-breathing serpent. They named its lair dragon mountain. These two groups of travelers were vastly different. But they seem to have found common ground When they saw the mountain. Frightened by the severity of the landscape, Captivated by its mystery, their names tell Of the unknown dangers hidden within the jagged ledges. But this harsh and rocky terrain, however unyielding, Still supports life. And those that call this place their home are as resilient As the land on which they live. They are adapted to survive In an environment inhospitable to most, In conditions that have made the drakensberg South africa's last truly pristine wilderness. The life that exists here does so largely unencumbered by man. The moist montane grassland marks the lowest life zone Of the drakensberg's altitude levels. Ranging up to 6,500 feet, these open meadows Comprise many types of grass. And they are home to a number of creatures. Species that live at the base of the mountain Benefit from higher temperatures and more rainfall Than those higher up. Standing at the gateway to the drakensberg Is the first dragon of dragon mountain Smaug giganteus. His scientific name is a direct result Of his resemblance to the fire-breathing monster. But at a little under 8 inches long, He does not share the same reputation. These open grasslands at the very base of the drakensberg Are his domain. More commonly known as a sungazer, He is the largest of the girdled lizard family And the only one in the drakensberg region That can survive away from the rocky shelter Of the mountain peaks. This is because he is endowed with a skill that none Of his other clan members have: The ability to burrow. Smaug spends the majority of his day gazing out Across his territory, scanning for intruders and predators. Then, when it is time, he returns to his lair. Each lizard digs its own burrow, Often delving almost 7 feet into the earth, And always facing due east to make the most Of the sun's warmth. Rows of thick, spiny scales act as protection from predators. Sungazers are formidable defenders of their grassy realm On dragon mountain. They can defend their turf for as long as 20 years Before the next generation takes over. Small creatures like smaug share the lower meadows With the largest congregations of animals Found in the drakensberg. The drakensberg embraces almost every high-altitude biome: From grasslands, to lush forests, And extensive shrub communities. It contains several dozen pockets Of different flower species. Each of these communities is remarkable For their sheer variety. 2,153 species of plant have been identified so far. An astonishing 30% are found nowhere else on earth. And they have developed ways to deal with the specific trials Of the areas in which they live. These are dependent on two main factors: How high they are and which way they face. Some plants have to deal with incessant winds, Some are snow resistant, while others stay dormant Within the earth for most of the year, Only coming out when there is enough water And light to support them.
Small creatures like smaug share the lower meadows With the largest congregations of animals Found in the drakensberg. Blesbok thrive on the fresh young growth Of the open grasslands. Families live in mobile groups, continuously searching the land For the best grazing. Calves remain with the breeding herds until they are a year old. When they reach this milestone, they're cast out And left to face the mountain on their own. Blesbok are adapted to life on the grassy plains So they don't wander onto the higher slopes. However, south africa's largest antelope Is a very capable climber. In the summer cape eland migrate to the top of the escarpment For fine grazing, During which time they can obtain enough moisture From their food to go for long periods without drinking. Red hartebeest, on the other hand, Can only live in areas with ready access to water And so, like blesbok, Are confined to the mountain's lower slopes. The drakensberg is the most vital water catchment area In south africa. Some of the country's primary rivers begin their journey here. They are fed by vast waterfalls. Among these is the thukela falls, The second highest in the world. These powerful veins of moisture Continuously drain through the mountain. And they are coursing with life. But to exist here is no easy feat. At higher altitudes, temperatures can drop so low Rivers freeze over, making them inhospitable to most. The inyanga river frog only lives In the semi-permanent streams of the drakensberg. They start their journey as eggs, And their metamorphosis may be completed In little more than 30 days. This is the last remaining habitat in the world That supports them. They thrive in the fast flowing streams that begin their journey At the very top of the mountain. Moving upstream, the 6,500 foot mark Signals the beginning of the sub-alpine zone. This region is where south africa's national jewel exists. The protea flower is the country's emblem. This particular species of protea only grows At 7,380 feet, On the basalt slopes of dragon mountain. The protea nubigena. Its name means "in the clouds". It is confined to very steep slopes Below the sentinel rock formation. Here it's exposed to sunshine for only half the day, And is out of range of fires that are more common lower down. These very particular requirements mean that it has The smallest distribution of any drakensberg endemic. At these high altitudes, there are creatures Specifically adapted to endure The pressures of the unrelenting habitat. The maluti river frog lives in the crystal clear streams That flow through the sub-alpine zone. Their pristine waters leave all inhabitants Vulnerable to predators. The only way to survive is to become a shadow. Remaining unseen in the bottom of the waters, The maluti river frog has the ability to stay undetected. It only lives in streams in the afromontane grasslands At altitudes of around 5,700 feet. Where it uses the cold as an ally And up here the cold is a very powerful partner to have. As it sits motionless in the water, It seems like another feature of the riverbed. Surviving in temperatures others can't, The maluti river frog has little competition for resources. Because little in the way of food inhabits these streams, It often has to journey great distances, Constantly moving through the high-altitude waterways Of the drakensberg, in search of food. Only the hardiest and most dauntless Can survive the drakensberg. And just as inhospitable as the mountain, Are the forces that produced it. Forged by magma and basalt over 20 million years, It is a standing relic of the great geological shifts That shaped the world as we know it today. A tectonic drift occurred around 1.8 billion years ago. The super-continent gondwanaland split into antarctica, South america, australia, and africa. Magma rose up from below the earth's crust, Solidifying and fusing as it spread and cooled. This happened continuously for 20 million years. The process of lava erupting and cooling over itself Formed a two kilometer-deep crust of dark basalt Over the earth's surface...
That dropped off suddenly into the sea. Wind and rain then beat the mountain back over a period Of a billion years to leave it where it stands today. This process is ongoing: The drakensberg escarpment Is eroding at a rate of over 1 inch every hundred years. Today, the drakensberg lies in the west of kwazulu natal, On the lesotho border. The entire range of mountains stretches over 600 miles, Abruptly dividing the highveld's grassy plains to the east And the natal woodlands to the west. Over 600,000 acres of this range are protected As the ukhahlamba-drakensberg park that, as of 2000, Is a unesco world heritage site. It's home to over 2,000 species of plant And an abundance of birds, Mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Each step up the mountain Is a little more perilous than the last, And each inhabitant a little more dauntless. At higher altitudes, oxygen levels begin to thin, Making it harder to breathe. And the cold becomes steadily more piercing, With nighttime temperatures Regularly dropping below freezing. Almost 70 degrees fahrenheit colder Than at the base of the mountain. These skinks rely on the rocks to survive. To endure the conditions, they need the heat from the sun. They obtain this either by basking, Or by using the stored heat within the rock. But exposure leaves them vulnerable. The jackal buzzard is a nomadic hunter And a specialist aerial predator. It is able to soar Or hover with equal proficiency. Exposed on the rock, the skink is at its most vulnerable. The buzzard skims low over the boulders in search of prey. But being small has its advantages. In this landscape, only a few rocks are lifesavers, Providing the cover they need. And competition for these is fierce. Life up here is difficult enough for the skink. Predators are not the only things that They have to worry about. There is another dragon of the mountain The drakensberg crag lizard. The colors on mature males are pronounced During breeding season. This is also when the lizards become more aggressive. They are the generalists of dragon mountain, Thriving from the base to the top. Where these rocks and ledges are a constant obstacle to others, The drakensberg crag lizard negotiates them with ease, Using them to hunt, bask, and, most importantly, for shelter. But in order for them to accomplish this, They are dependent on very specific shapes of rock. There are few crevices that are the right size and shape To protect them from both predators and the elements. At times they become comatose during the winter nights. If their body temperature drops below 23 degrees fahrenheit, They will freeze to death. The only way to prevent this is by sheltering in crevices. And not all of these are good enough To beat the cold of dragon mountain. The best fighters lay claim to the best shelter. Those that are forced to use shallower, more exposed cracks Are the ones that will freeze during the night. Reptiles are not the only creatures Battling to live up here. Closer to the summit, it becomes steadily more difficult To survive the mountain. Human beings have evolved to function best at sea level. Our bodies struggle to withstand the menacing temperatures, High winds, and lack of oxygen. Each resident of the sub-alpine zone Similarly has had to develop its own way of dealing With the stresses of altitude. Like us, rock hyraxes lack the natural equipment To deal with the severe cold. Unlike the mountain's reptiles, however, they are unable To counter this by climbing into narrow rock crevices. So, just like everything else on dragon mountain, The rock hyraxes have had to find their own methods To survive the elements: They cuddle. Cuddling helps conserve heat And counteracts their poor ability to thermoregulate.
Because of their need for each other's body warmth, They always live in family units. They are indiscriminate in their cuddling partners Neighbors, friends, and even strangers will all do. They have a great ability To economize on energy and resources, And they can eat virtually all types of vegetation, Obtaining most of their moisture needs from their food. This is vital in a land as unyielding as this. The hyraxes have, however, developed another technique To cope with the stress of life on the mountain: They relax. A lot of the hyrax's day is spent chilling out. But don't let it fool you, this is a tactical move Doing nothing helps them conserve vital energy. Energy that they muster to masterfully scale The rock faces. They are generally very sluggish, only coming out To forage in the late morning after a long lie-in. They minimize the time spent on the rocks Where they are exposed to predators. Their key defense strategy is their ability to eat rapidly. The hyraxes can consume their entire day's meal In just an hour. And they are dependent on the shelter of rocks to survive. Their clawless feet are useless for digging, So they rely on natural cavities provided by the mountain. Not all of the drakensberg's inhabitants are confined To the close quarters of the rocks. Many birds scour the mountain looking for opportunity. These scavenging white-necked ravens Continuously patrol the landscape looking for food. For them, death is necessary to ensure life. Without it, they cannot continue. In the same manner, this black-backed jackal Relies on the lives claimed by dragon mountain. Perhaps the most impressive of the drakensberg's scavengers Is the lammergeyer. These beautiful vultures take to the skies In a constant search for the carcasses of deceased animals. But it is not only the scavengers that survive up here. Naturally adapted to climb trees, A family of chacma baboons manages to navigate The rocky mountain with ease. Chacma baboons are equally at home moving along branches, Climbing a rock face, or foraging through the grass. But the lack of trees here means the mountain Is not a generous provider. Baboon troops that live up here often have to journey for days, Scouring the dimly dressed grassy peaks. The family moves as a unit, Climbing higher and higher, restlessly foraging. They are capable of obtaining The majority of their water needs from their food. And they are dietary opportunists, Eating virtually anything that is edible. Both of these traits are crucial adaptations For surviving the mountain. This nomadic society is founded on codependence: Each member is responsible for looking after the other. The higher they move, The less nourishment the landscape provides them. But as a part of a strong family unit, They are able to make the most of any opportunity. This region is home to the third dragon of the mountain. The spiny crag lizard. The only place in the world that it lives is here: Between 4,900 and 8,200 feet above sea level On the drakensberg. It has evolved to thrive in a rugged world. Fallen rocks lie scattered in boulder fields, Creating an obstacle for most mountain inhabitants. It has a heavily armored tail and body. These natural shields are a great defensive aid. When threatened they will wedge themselves inside crevices, Using these spines as anchors against extraction. The heights are their realm, and they are especially conditioned To endure the trials of altitude. This is achieved by basking. They will spend the daylight hours absorbing the sun's rays. Without this, they would perish up here.
They stand at the doorway To the last of the drakensberg's altitude zones. At almost 9,000 feet, the alpine region Is the bleakest of dragon mountain's altitude belts. It is a barren realm. Frost is common. Mist continuously enshrouds the peaks. And intense winds relentlessly barrage The few creatures that live here. The only shelter comes from the snow-resistant tussock grasses And the unyielding basalt rocks. For half of the year, Temperatures drop below freezing, Sometimes falling as low as -4 degrees fahrenheit. And right at the top of this vast, ageless landscape, Lives the most unassuming of characters. This innocuous red rock rabbit Is dwarfed by the rocks that he inhabits. And this is the very secret to his success. He is a master at inconspicuous foraging Moving undetected between the shadows of rocks. Up here, the only way to survive is to stay hidden. Between these sheer cliff faces, jagged buttresses, And unassailable pinnacles, Predators are always looking for a meal. And at every moment he is vulnerable. His only defense is his ability To blend into this vast, bleak landscape. For dragon mountain's smallest residents, Remaining undetected is vital for survival. But some creatures have no choice but to dash out In search of a meal. An ice rat leaves the safety of the overhanging rocks To forage in the open. They have thick fur that helps them cope With the extreme cold. They also have an elongated small intestine that aids them In absorbing nutrients from their food. This efficient digestion system means they don't have To stay out foraging for as long as other rodent species Found lower down. These are social animals when in their burrow, But they always forage alone... Despite the dangers of the mountain. Predators with keen eyesight prowl the landscape for food. The tiny mammals are not equipped With the same sharpness of sense that the raptors have. Despite this, they have to feed. Often the ice rat's best defense is the mountain itself. What is a burden to some is a refuge for others. And the ice rat lives to forage another day. There is little else in the world that can compare To what is found up here. This is the apex of the mountain, The most exposed and inhospitable of all its regions. But even here, at the very summit of dragon mountain, Creatures can be found among its rocky outcrops. Perched on the very edge of the world, With the clouds for a carpet and the sky for a ceiling, The last dragon of the mountain... The lang's crag lizard. Also known as the suicide lizard, Its name comes from its habit of hanging from ledges At extreme altitudes above 8,900 feet. It has endured because it lives in an area Where little can harm it. The inhospitable summit of the drakensberg. Because of this remote location, Little is known about the lang's crag lizard. Only that it makes its home here On the top of basalt giants. Hidden by cold and altitude, left to live undisturbed... A dragon as imperceptible as the cliffs it lives in. Like the mountain's summit, It remains largely outside of our reach. Yet another mystery of the landscape. With every step towards the summit, A new adaptation can be seen in the creatures that endure The ruthlessness of the mountain. The dragons that live here are shrouded in the mystery Of the landscape they inhabit. They have made their home in a wilderness so remote That it occurs largely beyond our reach. And the creatures that they share this beautiful, Unforgiving stage with are some of nature's hardiest... Illustrating a will to survive That seems as improbable as it is remarkable. And their stage is one of the most spectacular on the planet.