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Emotional Animal Documentaries Moments That Everyone Loves 

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Animal kingdom is filled with marvels and wonders that would keep you guessing till the very end. One such moment was documented in the film, “Spy in the Snow” (2018) when a group of Emperor Penguin chicks was traveling through the snowstorm all by themselves and came across a giant Northern petrel that are known for preying on penguin and albatross chicks. What happened next could only be imagined. The penguin chicks were now face-to-face with the petrel. At first, they try to run away. But Emperor penguins struggle with that and usually cannot escape without falling. That’s when the petrel swooped in and grabbed the neck of one the chicks who had fallen in the snow. While the rest of the chicks could have left and saved their own lives, they instead got together and released the chick from the petrel’s grasp. What happened next will blow your mind! They abandoned their attempt to run away and formed a defensive circle to fend off the predatory bird. Despite their tiny sizes, they were all geared up to fight the petrel when another unprecedented help found them. Amidst the standoff, there appears out of the blue—an Adélie penguin! They are considered by many to be the cutest penguin species, but did you know that they are also the fiercest hunters? This one was no different. It stomped over and put itself right in the middle between the petrel and the penguin chicks. Even petrels don’t mess with Adélies. The predatory bird flew away and their kind rescuer escorted the penguins to safety, and their destination—the sea—where other Adélie penguins start to arrive as they see the herd come up! Looks like the one who rescued them was just the frontrunner!

But this is not the only time that you’d see an act of courage being displayed by a species that is likely to lose their life in case a stand-off does take place. Proboscis monkeys—to reach new feeding grounds—often need to cross reptile-infested waters. Usually, they take the narrowest path and try to cross it with minimum disturbance so as to not attract unwanted attention.  Sometimes, however, they choose to leap. One such documented moment came in BBC Earth when a male and female monkey lept into the water infested with crocodiles. The sound of their leap traveled 200m and attracted the attention of one of the crocs. But these monkeys have evolved to be great swimmers and are able to dodge the attentions of such threats. But the same cannot be said for their young—one of whom had to cross the river with its mother and almost drowned, much to the concern of the onlookers!

While it is expected that survival of the fittest in the rule of the jungle, the documentary film, “The Last Lions” (2011) gives it a whole new meaning. A widowed lioness fends against all threats of the nature and her pride after losing her mate. Cast out, she embarks on a journey to save the lives of her cubs in unknown lands. In one instance, the lioness and her cubs have gone days without a hunt. Spotting a nearby herd of buffalos, the lioness decides to attack. But they are surrounded by all kinds of threats. With the cubs nearby and safe, she makes her way to the herd. While succeeds in feeding, her meal is stolen by a pack of hyenas soon after. But for now, she is able to produce milk for her young and make sure they survive.

But love like that is not only shared by those among the pride. In “My Octopus Teacher” (2020), filmmaker Craig Foster develops an uncanny friendship with a common octopus in a South African kelp forest. Their bond was captured by Foster himself when, on one of his dives, he found the female octopus playing with fish nearby. A rather unusual behavior from one of the most antisocial animals known to man. While playing, she spots Foster and immediately rushes to him. What entailed right after has never been seen before. The octopus hugs Foster in an embrace. The filmmaker later recalls in the documentary that that was the last time they ever interacted with each other in the ocean.

In another tale of familial bond between animals and humans—”The Elephant Whisperers” (2023) that follows the relationship between an orphaned baby elephant and a tribal couple who saved him from sure death. Baby elephants—when abandoned by the herd—rarely survive. After the loss of her daughter, Bellie turned her motherly affection towards Raghu, her elephant son who, she recalls, used to wipe her tears when she used to mourn the loss of her daughter.

Survival in nature is often very challenging but even more so for penguins in the brutal Arctic region. In “March of the Penguins” (2005), amid an unforgiving winter, penguins strive to survive and bring new life into the world. These penguins faced nature’s harshest trials and tribulations together and displayed unwavering bonds and resilience in the face of everything they faced.

Another awe-inspiring sequences from “Planet Earth” features The Great Migration, which is the annual migration of millions of wildebeest across the Serengeti. This epic journey showcases the resilience and determination of these animals as they face predators and treacherous river crossings.

In “Planet Earth II,” many were able to catch a glimpse of the rare sight of a snow leopard making an incredible leap across a chasm to catch its prey. The sheer athleticism and grace of this elusive predator were captured in such stunning detail that it is now famously known as one of those dramatic moments in the nature that might be hard to forget.

When we talk about marine life, “Blue Planet” brought us the chaotic and mesmerizing sardine run, where billions of sardines migrate along the South African coast. This underwater ballet attracts a frenzy of predators, including dolphins, sharks, and birds, creating a breathtaking spectacle. But for those who caught a glimpse of what life looks like under water for these tiny creatures, it was unequivocally impressive that nature is emblematic of so much resilience.

In “The Battle at Kruger“, an amateur footage-turned-viral documentary, a particular moment captures a dramatic showdown between a pride of lions and a herd of buffalo in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The unexpected twist of the buffalo returning to rescue a captured calf left many contemplating about the range of emotions and bonds of attachment every creature of the nature is designed to form.

Human Planet” showcased the extraordinary bond between Kazakh hunters and their golden eagles. The footage of eagles diving at incredible speeds to capture prey is a breathtaking example of natural human-animal bonding.

Elephants are considered emotional beings that express joy, anger and heartbreak in ways that humans do at times. “The Secret Life of Elephants” provided a poignant glimpse into the emotional lives of these giant mammals, capturing their mourning rituals for deceased herd members. Several touching moments in the documentary film underscored the deep familial bonds and intelligence of these magnificent creatures along with their own uncanny rituals to bid farewell to members of the herd.

The Hunt” delivered a heart-pounding sequence of a cheetah chasing down a gazelle. The slow-motion footage highlighted the cheetah’s unparalleled speed and agility, making for an unforgettable experience for all who watched.

But speed is not the only commendable aspect when it comes to natural life in our world. In “Blue Planet II,” a scene where an octopus uses shells to camouflage itself and escape a shark attack showcased the ingenuity and survival skills of marine life. This clever escape left audiences marveling at the creature’s resourcefulness.

In the sky realm, David Attenborough’s “The Life of Birds” featured the perfect example of intricate and mesmerizing courtship dance of the albatross. The elaborate rituals and synchronized movements of these birds highlighted the beauty of avian mating behaviors.

The groundbreaking documentary “Life” revealed the advanced tool-using abilities of orangutans. Footage of an orangutan fashioning a tool to extract honey from a tree underscored the intelligence and problem-solving skills of these primates. Many believe that the apes are capable of a lot more, including communicating in the language of humans. But that would have to be an evolutionary matter rather than a matter of training the creatures.

But with these documentaries, it may not always be what it appears to be. Disney’s “White Wilderness” famously perpetuated the myth of mass lemming suicide. This controversial moment sparked grave debates and intense criticism, which ultimately led to a greater awareness of the importance of accurate wildlife representation.

On the contrary, “Ocean Giants” documented the heartwarming story of a group of divers rescuing a humpback whale entangled in fishing nets. The whale’s apparent gratitude, shown through acrobatic displays post-rescue, moved everyone—from those who were present at the scene to the audiences.

In another tale of the sea, “The Blue Planet” took audiences to the ocean’s darkest depths, revealing bizarre and otherworldly creatures. The sight of bioluminescent fish and other deep-sea dwellers illuminated by submersible lights was both eerie and enchanting.

Earthflight” used innovative techniques to give viewers a bird’s-eye view of the world. In a standout moment, the audiences were shown the use of a burrow camera to observe puffin families. This beautiful sequence provided an intimate look at their nesting habits and chick rearing.

The brutal clash between two massive male elephant seals competing for territory was a raw display of nature’s power in water, as documented in the “Frozen Planet.” The sheer force and aggression of these colossal creatures left a lasting impression on its audiences, with many wondering how the survival of these seals might be adversely impacted by the changes in the climate.

Blue Planet II” captured incredible footage of dolphins creating glowing rings of light as they hunted bioluminescent prey. This stunning visual display showcased the beauty and mystery of the ocean at night as well as the hunting habits of the most social marine creatures.

Life” brought us an intense scene of Komodo dragons hunting and taking down a water buffalo. The strategic patience and power of these ancient reptiles were highlighted in this dramatic and somewhat gruesome sequence. Komodo dragons are the largest extant species of lizard and mostly survive on decaying flesh of dead animals, but they are also known to hunt live prey and are widely considered capable of taking down animals as large as horses and buffaloes.

David Attenborough’s “The Private Life of Plants” showcased the incredible world of leafcutter ants. Watching these industrious insects cut and transport leaves to their nests was a fascinating insight into their complex social structures. Contrary to popular belief, leafcutter ants don’t actually eat the leaves!

Another moving depiction in “Flight of the Butterflies” followed the epic migration of monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico. The sheer scale of this journey and the challenges faced by these delicate insects made for an unforgettable story of endurance and transformation.

But that’s the only time that a documentary tugged at the hearts of their audiences. “Heart of a Lioness” documented the extraordinary story of a lioness in Botswana adopting a baby antelope. This rare instance of cross-species adoption showcased the complexity and unpredictability of animal behavior.

*This post originally appeared on ReadingRanked*

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