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Where The Wild Things Are: Untamed Americas

Wild mustangs in the Great Basin Desert and polar bears in the arctic are among the wildlife profiled in National Geographic's new mini-series, Untamed Americas. National Geographic photos.

Where are the wild things? For those who call a metropolitan area home and seldom leave its concrete and steel confines, or for those who have ventured no further into nature than a zoo, that might be a reasonable question.

National Geographic has the answers for you in a two-night series, Untamed Americas, that debuts this Sunday and Monday.

This expansive, high-definition series sweeps down from the roof of Alaska to the southern tip of South America, and along both the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. Along the way you not only see some incredibly scenic vistas, as you would expect from National Geographic, but some extraordinary wildlife interactions.

Survive and Thrive

Cast against a general theme of "survive and thrive," the four episodes -- Mountains, Forests, Deserts, and Coasts -- explore how creatures from wolves to scorpions to penguins and caimans struggle simply to survive day by day. Taking you to these locations is Josh Brolin with his steady, sonorous narration.

A lone wolf gambles to ease its starvation by running down a caribou. Bighorn sheep, in the snowy Rocky Mountains, vie for supremacy with 20-mph head butts. Bears seek out newly born elk calves hiding in the brush in Yellowstone National Park. Mustangs run free in flats of Great Basin National Park. Gentoo penguins in the south Atlantic seek out mates, and seek to avoid becoming meals themselves as they head to sea for food.

In the desert Southwest, floodwaters are shown in their never-ending work of eroding slot canyons. We are treated to sea lions doing barrel rolls in the Pacific off the coast of Peru, coastal brown bears feasting on a humpback carcass washed ashore farther north, the birth of jellyfish, and even the turbulent and treacherous seas that batter the Falkland Islands off Argentina...and which are flush with Gentoo penguins.

These scenarios reflect just some of the stunning interplay that goes on daily in landscapes remote as well as inspiring to those with a hunger of their own for mountains and forests, and even deserts and coastlines. Interplay that is essential for species to exist. For the wolf, a single caribou will more than sate its hunger and possibly allow it to continue its determined search to form a pack. For the bighorn sheep and mustangs, supremacy among individuals ensures that genes for the strongest in the species are passed down.

Though the series runs the length of the Americas, it also passes through more than a few national parks. In the United States, footage was captured in Arches National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Saguaro National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Death Valley National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Great Basin National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Mammoth Cave National Park and Everglades National Park.

Beyond the U.S., footage was gathered in places such as Canada's Jasper and Yoho national parks, Masaya Volcano National Park in Nicaragua, and the National Flamingo Reserve in Chile.

National Geographic At Its Best

The production is quintessential National Geographic: Two years in the making, with stops in 20 countries, 600 days of shooting, and 600,000 miles in the rearview mirror. Much of the video is the stuff that leaves you scratching your head: How did they find that lone wolf trailing migrating caribou? Where was the cameraman when the grizzly sow was hunting elk calves, or when the manta rays were leaping out of the ocean? How long did it take to capture the moonlight in the puma's eyes in Patagonia?

From the air the videographers follow the lone wolf in his riveting, though fruitless, pursuit of caribou. They use both slow-motion as well as night-vision cameras to peer into noctural antics of bats and scorpions, as well as the pumas. WIth the two combined, we can see how bats use their wings almost like baseball gloves to scoop their prey -- moths-- out of the air.

And we see how a particular moth, the Tiger moth, relies on "ultrasonic sonar jamming technology" to counter the bats. It's high-speed clicks effectively "blind" bats' own sonar. The result are bats doing somersaults in the air and fly-bys as they come close to snatching the Tiger moths out of the air...only to miss.

There are whimsical, and colorful, hummingbirds that move in slow motion and real-time as they go about gorging themselves on nectar. And there's an odd creature that, according to the producers, only came to light recently and is captured here by the cameras feasting at night on the nectar of an unusual flower that blooms for just six days. The Tube-lipped nectar bat, its wings in constant motion as it hovers in front of the flower, captures its nectar with an amazingly long tongue.

"This two-and-a-half-inch bat has a three-and-a-half-inch tongue. The longest relative to body length of any mammal in the world. If human, he'd have a nine-foot-tongue," says Mr. Brolin.

An equally curious creature, perhaps, is the so-called desert penguin, the Humboldt Penguin that calls the arid coastline of Peru and Chile home. These penguins clamber over sea lions to reach the ocean for food. They're feisty birds that sometimes nip at the blubber-covered animals to get them to move out of the way.

But penguins aren't the only comical birds in this production, as we're treated to a strutting flock of bright pink flamingos high in the Andes in Chile's National Flamingo Reserve.

One segment takes us to volcanoes in Nicaragua where poisonous gases swirl about craters. Surprisingly, a bright-green species of parakeet not only tolerates the gases, but actually tunnels into the volcanoes' flanks to nest.

"A human could barely tolerate such toxic conditions, yet somehow these birds survive here. And scientists have no idea how they do it," Mr. Brolin tells us. "One advantage of their noxious neighborhood is fewer predators."

And, for young boys looking to shock young girls, there is even a Regal Horned Lizard in the Sonoran Desert of Saguaro National Park that squirts blood from its eyes to ward off a bobcat.

Set In Magnificent Landscapes

The backdrops are stunningly beautiful. Soaring aerial shots panning down over the frozen, snowy northlands of Alaska, powerful winds tearing at crags, tranquil rivers and emerald lakes.

This is both a wondrous and wonderful series. It peers into places we can only dream of visiting...if we're familiar with them at all. But, more so, it takes us into the natural world, away from cities and videogames, and surrounds us with the wild things out in the world.

For some of us, just watching this series is enjoyment enough. For those who have not yet settled on a profession on life, perhaps it will be enough to kindle a passion for those wild things.

Traveler footnote: The mini-series begins Sunday evening with a simulcast on the National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, and Nat Geo MUNDO. Check your listings for times. The series is appropriate for most audiences, though youngsters might have trouble with some of the gore of feeding or not understand the mating depicted.

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Oh how I wish I could get the NatGeo channel. Guess I'll have to wait for it to come out on DVD

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