♪♪ ♪♪ ABRAHAM: From the iconic big cats that enthrall us... to the little-known small cats that are just coming into light... these felines have conquered the planet and are leading extraordinary lives.
They are acrobats in the jungle... opportunists on the beach.
There's even a semi-blind bobcat who can pluck her dinner from the air.
From the oldest desert in Africa... to the highest mountain on Earth, cats have adapted to the challenges of every climate and found a way to survive.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ABRAHAM: The monsoon wetlands of South Asia.
♪♪ Home to an extraordinary cat.
One whose entire life revolves around water.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Quacking ] This is a fishing cat.
♪♪ ♪♪ Their unique ability to catch slippery fish in these weed-filled ponds has allowed them to colonize these vast wetlands.
Beneath their long outer coats, they have a shorter layer of insulating fur that acts like a wet suit, and they have partially webbed feet.
They're well adapted to a life aquatic.
But even so, every fishing cat still has to learn how to fish.
[ Kittens mewling ] ♪♪ This female has two kittens just a couple of months old.
[ Mewling ] ♪♪ Up to now they've been kept safely away from the water's edge, but that's all about to change.
♪♪ ♪♪ This is the first time they've seen water.
It's natural to be nervous.
But these kittens are born water babies.
It's time to show them the real reason they've been brought here.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Long whiskers detect vibrations from fish moving in the shallows... helping to gauge the exact striking distance.
♪♪ Then it's the kittens' turn.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ For now, it's only water plants that need to be afraid.
♪♪ This could take some time.
♪♪ ♪♪ They'll be back tomorrow for another lesson.
♪♪ All over the globe, cats of all shapes and sizes have adapted to the challenges of the planet's most extreme environments.
♪♪ ♪♪ This is the Namib, Southern Africa.
The oldest desert on Earth.
♪♪ There's no surface water for hundreds of miles.
♪♪ ♪♪ Despite this, these desert lions thrive amongst the dunes.
[ Lion growling softly ] ♪♪ ♪♪ They live in small, isolated prides, relying on shared knowledge and experience to find food in this hostile landscape.
♪♪ ♪♪ Emerging from the dunes, 3 sisters, recently orphaned, barely a year old.
♪♪ They are alone... the youngest, most inexperienced pride in Africa.
♪♪ [ Growls ] This is the hardest time of the year for the animals of the Namib.
The desert is at its hottest and driest.
♪♪ Yet, it's this hostility that offers the cubs a chance to survive.
♪♪ It will mean searching, day in, day out.
♪♪ ♪♪ They walk twice as far as lions living on the savannas of East Africa.
♪♪ ♪♪ But this harsh place sometimes throws them a lifeline, a victim of the extreme heat, a dead oryx.
♪♪ These cubs don't have the skills or the strength to hunt yet... ♪♪ ...but like all desert lions, when times demand it, they will scavenge, even on rotting meat.
[ Flies buzzing ] ♪♪ With luck, this strategy of scavenging victims of the harsh desert will keep the cubs from starvation.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ A kudu, a huge antelope, and one rarely seen in the desert.
♪♪ ♪♪ But this is no victim of the heat.
This is a lion kill.
♪♪ ♪♪ [ Growling ] A full-grown lioness who's not going to share.
♪♪ A close call and a vital lesson for the sisters.
In the desert, the biggest danger facing young lions comes from adult lions.
♪♪ ♪♪ The desert has provided just enough for them to survive.
Very soon, they will be old enough and strong enough to hunt for themselves.
♪♪ Cats have evolved to survive in almost every environment on Earth.
The thick fur and large padded feet of Canada lynx enable them to thrive in the deep snow of the frozen north.
♪♪ In the forests of India, wonderfully agile clouded leopards are at home amongst tangled branches.
Large claws provide grip, and a long tail gives them balance.
♪♪ On the African plains, caracal spring almost effortlessly over the tall savanna grass using their long, powerful legs.
♪♪ While some cats are finely tuned to live in just one environment, others have a different strategy.
They will go wherever new opportunities appear.
♪♪ The Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
Here, there's a cat that has mastered life in the jungle emerging to hunt on a tropical beach.
♪♪ ♪♪ Thermal imaging cameras reveal the nightlife on this pacific shore, and it's busy.
♪♪ ♪♪ A jaguar, the biggest and most powerful cat in the Americas.
♪♪ ♪♪ They're built to take on the biggest, most dangerous prey in the jungle... but that task is even more difficult for this female.
Right now she needs to eat as much as possible to provide nourishment for her developing cub.
Tonight, this beach may provide a very welcome addition to her diet.
♪♪ A jaguar's eyes are 6 times more sensitive to light than our own, so even in the dark, anything that moves catches her attention.
♪♪ Around the time of the full moon, turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ For protection, an olive ridley turtle wears armor one inch thick.
♪♪ But for its size, a jaguar has the strongest jaws of any cat.
♪♪ And a bite powerful enough to crack open this rich source of food.
♪♪ She is not the only one that benefits.
Other animals clean up the scraps.
♪♪ Her visit to the beach couldn't have been timed any better.
♪♪ ♪♪ It's the beginning of a seasonal gathering of turtles known locally as the arribada, the arrival.
♪♪ ♪♪ Over the next few nights, 30 thousand turtles will come to this beach to nest.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ It's rare for a cat to have food so readily available, and this pregnant mother isn't the only one that will feed well tonight.
♪♪ As many as 14 jaguars patrol this beach.
One of the densest populations in the world.
♪♪ ♪♪ In fact, they won't eat many, but the meat from just a few turtles will make all the difference.
Soon this opportunity will be over, and the jaguars will return to hunting in the forest... leaving the beach to the thousands of hatchlings that emerge and instinctively head for the sea.
Two and a half thousand miles north... the cool and stormy shores of California.
A very different coastline where a very different cat has found her own way to make a living.
♪♪ At home in her den close to the beach, a remarkable bobcat.
Bobcats usually hunt rabbits and small mammals, but this female has set her sights higher.
♪♪ ♪♪ Here, where a freshwater stream meets the sea... gulls flock to drink and wash salt from their feathers.
It's what she's counting on.
♪♪ [ Squawks ] But it's not going to be easy.
She'll just have to wait for the gulls to come back.
To hunt like this takes determination... and an enterprising spirit.
Most end in failure.
But she returns day after day.
With every attempt, she refines her technique.
♪♪ [ Growling softly ] ♪♪ ♪♪ At last!
But one gull won't keep her fed for long.
♪♪ Fortunately, this beach is never short of chances to hunt.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Gull crying ] ♪♪ There's no doubting her persistence and skill... even if the occasional gull does slip her grip.
And like any cat, once a bobcat has perfected the hunt... they'll keep on killing... ensuring that they have enough food just in case the supply should suddenly run out.
And what makes this hunter truly remarkable is that she's blind in one eye!
♪♪ The Sundarbans of India and Bangladesh is the world's largest mangrove swamp.
[ Animal calling ] ♪♪ Unexplored muddy islands surrounded by the sea... where a legendary big cat rules.
♪♪ ♪♪ Perhaps the most elusive and least understood.
♪♪ ♪♪ The swamp tiger.
♪♪ ♪♪ [ Animal calling ] ♪♪ Only at low tide is it possible to catch a glimpse of what lies within these mysterious mangroves.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ This is when animals come down to the shore to feed... ♪♪ ...both the hunted and the hunter.
♪♪ Low tide also offers a brief chance for this male to patrol the shoreline of his island.
Scent marking is a warning to other tigers to keep out.
This is a place where a cat must live his entire life in tune with the tide.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ With the rising water, life retreats, back into the depths of the mangroves... and he must follow, disappearing again into these strange swamplands.
♪♪ We know almost nothing about these tigers, but researchers now believe that as many as a hundred of them make these remote islands their home.
♪♪ The world's most celebrated big cats continue to surprise us, but the most surprising cats of all... are the little cats.
[ Roars ] ♪♪ ♪♪ Out of the 40 known species, 33 are what scientists call the small cats.
♪♪ They are the most secretive and least studied members of the family.
♪♪ In the mountains of Chile, a guiña, the smallest cat in all the Americas, hunts moths amongst the undergrowth.
♪♪ Ocelots are the most common cat in the Costa Rican jungle, yet they are rarely seen.
Their perfectly camouflaged coats help them to disappear in an instant.
♪♪ African wildcats live scattered all across Africa, from Morocco to South Africa.
They're one of the most widespread of all cats, yet they, too, are hardly ever seen.
♪♪ But now specialized camera technology is giving us a new insight into the mysterious lives of these small cats... in some of the most remote places on Earth.
♪♪ The Karoo Desert, South Africa.
A vast landscape dominated by low desert scrub.
It provides the perfect cover for Africa's smallest cat.
♪♪ [ Cat howling ] ♪♪ ♪♪ She waits for the cool of night before heading out to hunt.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ A black-footed cat.
♪♪ This little female is known to researchers as Gyra.
She's tiny, weighing a mere two pounds, 200 times less than a lion.
[ Mewls ] She'd be almost impossible to find, but she's being tracked with a radio collar.
And using surveillance cameras that rival a cat's night vision, we can at last reveal her nocturnal pursuits.
She can walk 20 miles a night in search of food, the farthest recorded for any small cat.
♪♪ Guided by superb night vision, and responding to the smallest of sounds, she finds almost anything that moves is a potential meal.
She'll even eat locusts... but she prefers gerbils.
♪♪ ♪♪ Or if that doesn't work... birds.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ With a wiggle to tuck her legs in, she gets as low to the ground as possible.
Primed like a spring, she can deliver maximum power to jump!
♪♪ She hits her target 60% of the time.
It's what makes black-footed cats the most lethal hunters in the entire cat family.
And the reason for Gyra's huge appetite is that she's raising her own little hunter.
♪♪ ♪♪ Even the deadliest cat in Africa has a softer side.
♪♪ ♪♪ Perhaps the most bizarre small cat of all lives here... in the heart of Mongolia... one of the most remote and least populated places on Earth.
♪♪ ♪♪ After decades of research, we are now able to reveal an insight into their hidden lives.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ This is a Pallas's cat.
♪♪ ♪♪ She's cautious and she has good reason.
4 of them.
2 months old and just out of the den.
They're already becoming a bit of a handful.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ They live in a world of windswept grassland, an area three times bigger than the state of Texas.
But this outcrop of rocks is a safe place to hide the family.
It's morning, and the kittens are hungry, but a mother can't hunt with four excitable youngsters tagging along.
Today, she will have to leave her kittens home alone.
♪♪ Out here in the open, there's nowhere to hide.
The only thing she can do is try and blend in.
♪♪ Pallas's cats' ears are positioned unusually low on their heads, and that helps them to keep a low profile.
♪♪ ♪♪ What's more, these cats can flatten their bodies to look like a rock.
♪♪ ♪♪ She'll need to hunt all day to provide enough for her growing kittens, who, meanwhile, are getting up to all sorts of mischief.
Play will help them to hone their own hunting skills.
♪♪ A silver vole finds itself the center of the kittens' attention.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ The key is a silent, patient approach.
♪♪ Alas, on these rocks, a vole has the upper hand.
♪♪ Fortunately, the kittens can rely on their mother to provide.
♪♪ ♪♪ Pallas's cats actually do very well here.
There could be as many as 10,000 living in these grasslands... not that it makes them any easier to see.
♪♪ In other places, small cats are living secret lives right under our noses.
[ Thunder crashing ] East of Johannesburg, Africa's biggest industrial complex.
♪♪ It's the size of a city.
♪♪ Behind the barbed wire, surveillance cameras detect intruders every night.
♪♪ ♪♪ A cat has taken over.
♪♪ The tierboskat, also known as a serval.
♪♪ ♪♪ This restricted area is now the home of around a hundred of these small spotted cats... the densest population anywhere in Africa.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ This strange industrial wasteland is teeming with life.
♪♪ It's a place where people rarely venture... and the fences keep out larger predators that might be a threat to the servals.
♪♪ ♪♪ What's more, the water used to cool the heavy industry has helped create lush meadows around these pools, and that, in turn, has led to an explosion of rats and mice... all a serval can eat.
They're not only attracted by the food but by the one thing that all cats need -- their own space where they can be left undisturbed.
This is a small cat paradise.
♪♪ ♪♪ Cats have conquered almost every corner of the planet.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ But now, even in the most remote places, they are feeling the impact of our way of life as we encroach more and more on their world.
♪♪ Around the planet, their numbers are decreasing.
If cats are to survive in our changing world, we just need to leave them some space.
♪♪ Next time...
The frontiers of discovery... LOOCK: Just in front of us.
Ah, that's really special.
ELBROCH: Holy mackerel.
ABRAHAM: ...getting closer than ever before... BORREGO: There you go.
ABRAHAM: ...to the secret lives of cats.
"Nature's" landmark three-part se ries concludes.
It's a critical time for new research and cat conservation.
♪♪ This is an age of discovery that's revolutionizing how we view this amazing super family.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ To learn more about what you've seen on this "Nature" program, visit pbs.org.