Africa’s Rift Valley lakes

The Rift Valley Lakes of Africa tell the amazing evolutionary story of a small fish inside a species pressure cooker, unlike anywhere else on the planet.

Produced by NHNZ

A tale of three African lakes set in an aquatic world of vibrant colour, shape and movement. In these waters live over 1000 fish species, all evolved from a single family. To survive among thieves, bullies, cheats and tricksters, these fish are evolving faster than any other vertebrate on the planet. Africa’s Rift Valley sets the stage for our own evolution. Fossils show it was here that early hominid species left the forests to their ape ancestors around two million years ago and walked upright across the grasslands to colonise the world. But below the surface of three large lakes, an equally amazing evolutionary feat is happening right before our eyes.

The lakes are teeming with a group of fish called cichlids represented by over 1000 species. Down here, life is hard. Crowding and competition are facts of life, leading to thuggery, bullying, double-crossing, and deception. There’s an ambush predator that buries itself in the sand to strike. Also, a mimic who looks and acts like a harmless vegetarian, until turning on a passerby. A night assassin lives here, eating its victims in their sleep. Also, a scale eater that picks bits from its victim, leaving it alive… a meal for another day.

But heroes can be found amid the chaos and killing. The desire to pass on their genes has led to the most amazing parenting strategies on the planet. In these lakes, you can’t take your eye off your babies or they will be eaten. So female cichlids have evolved a unique form of child care—they suck their young into their own mouths, raising them there, away from harm… or so they think.

In the Rift Valley lakes, every evolutionary strategy is met with a counter strategy. It’s an evolutionary arms race, where each species tries to stay one step ahead of the competition. In this pressure cooker, cichlids are forced to evolve and adapt faster than any other vertebrate on the planet. But how did this come to be? How did the bizarre behaviors arise? And where will the arms race end?

Episodes From This Series

Borneo

48 minutes / 2014

Japan

50 minutes / 2010

Brazil’s Cerrado

50 minutes / 2010

Australia

50 minutes / 2010

New Zealand

50 minutes / 2010

Costa Rica

48 minutes / 2014

Africa’s Albertine Rift

1 hour / 2014

China – Roof of the World

1 hour / 2014

Western Ghats and Sri Lanka

1 hour / 2014

The Arid Namib

1 hour / 2014

Madagascar

1 hour / 2010

Africa’s Rift Valley lakes

1 hour / 2010