Planet Earth crew devastated as 150,000 antelope die in three days

Planet Earth crew devastated as 15,000 antelope die in front of them

A horrified TV crew working on Planet Earth II saw 150,000 antelope killed off by disease in just three days as they filmed at calving grounds.

Fans of the David Attenborough series will see scenes featuring the Saiga Antelope of Kazakhstan in Central Asia on Sunday.

See also: Wildlife and nature holiday ideas for David Attenborough fans

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Planet Earth II: BBC hits back over recycled avalanche footage

But 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.

"At the time we didn't know if it was the final extinction of the species, which was devastating, emotionally, for the crew."

Filmmakers had driven "deep into the middle of Kazakhstan" for days searching for calving herds of the "amazing" creature.

He said: "To go somewhere so remote to see an animal that looks like it's from another planet was just incredible."

Despite the mass deaths, the Saiga Antelope has not been wiped out.

Chadden said: "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."

Planet Earth II has been a huge hit for BBC1 and on Sunday 9.7 million viewers tuned in to watch the desert episode, while over on ITV, ratings for The X Factor peaked at just 7.6 million.

12 PHOTOS
Baby zoo animals around the world
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Baby zoo animals around the world

These babies, named Sri Kandi (left) and Arjuna (right) were born at Tierpark, Berlin, Germany. They made their debut on 5 March 2012.

Clinging to his mum, baby Changi meets his public  for the first time at Krefeld Zoo, Germany.

This little rhino, named Male, was born in January. He's pictured here with his mother, Mana, at Magdeburg Zoo, Germany.

The zoo at Tierpark in Berlin celebrated the birth of a litter of four dingo babies in January.

Only a few days old, this baby giraffe, named Kimarle, peaks out from her enclosure at the ZOOM Zoo in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany. The 170cm tall giraffe was born on March 9.

A one-month-old baby squirrel monkey clings to its mother's back at Qingdao Forest Wildlife Park, China.

A two-week old baby gorilla is cuddled by her mum, Mumba, a Western Lowland Gorilla, at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park near Ashford, Kent.

Born at Cincinnati Zoo,  US, this one-month old hedgehog is being hand reared by keepers until it is old enough to be included in the zoo's outreach programme.

Ludwig the baby elephant is clearly happy to be out and about at the Tierpark Hellabrunn Zoo, Munich.

These cuties were born in February at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

This cub was born prematurely at Toronto Zoo. His mum rejected him soon after he was born, so he was cared for by staff at the zoo. Here he is making his debut in February.

This six-month old baby Western Lowland Gorilla is seen here enjoying the spring sunshine with her mother at Dublin Zoo.

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