Today marks the two-year anniversary of Mother Nature’s greatest ever televised battle of speed, pluck and resilience: The Iguana vs Snakes stand-off from Planet Earth II.
Millions of us watched as a new baby iguana hatchling was welcomed to the world on his home island of the Galapagos, a volcanic Archipelago shrouded in exotic history and ecological majesty, only to witness the little tyke immediately ambushed by a den of hungry snakes.
In case you missed it and were living under a volcanic rock with said snakes, here’s the BAFTA award-winning scene from the most-watched natural history show for 15 years:
Two years ago, we turned our tele sets to BBC One in our droves – 9.2 million of us, to be exact – on November 6 2016 to watch David Attenborough narrate the first episode of Planet Earth II, titled Islands, which saw the team examine the unique ecology of the Galapagos.
Between cameos from Komodo dragons and penguins fighting for survival on the sub-Antarctic island of Zavodovski, this little iguana really remained in the popular collective conscious, with the public voting the story of iguana vs snakes the Best TV Moment Of The Year 2016.
Accepting the award, Mike Gunton, Creative Director at the BBC Natural History Unit, simply and accurately echoed viewers’ feelings when he said: ‘Blimey. I love those Iguanas.’
He went on:
We were surprised this would win because most people, or half the people anyway, watched this sequence from behind their sofa, and the other half thought it was the most extraordinary thing they had ever seen.
So I guess those are the people who were shouting at the TV, ‘Run, iguana! Run, iguana!’ So those were the people who voted for us, so thank you very much.
Gunton was right. It was extraordinary television.
It was a high-stakes life and death chase Attenborough himself called ‘near miraculous’ with more twists and turns than the coils of the racer snakes themselves.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not ashamed to admit my heart was in my mouth as the iguana was ensnared by a pit of writhing reptiles – and this from a person who is quite fond of snakes, in general.
The chase was a real underdog story. Classic predator versus prey, Dr. Godfrey Merlen, an English biologist who has called the Galapagos Islands home for the last forty years, told UNILAD.
The youngling, inexperienced and acting on instinct as he bungled quickly across the sand, versus the deadly grace of the visually impaired footless chasers.
So when the little guy escaped the trap of tails and flashing tongues, glee overcame every single person who watched it.
I know this for a fact because it was all anyone could talk about at the water-cooler at work the next day.
Those who missed it on terrestrial or catch up made sure to check out the sequence on BBC Earth‘s YouTube channel where the video has been watched nearly 15 million times since, at the time of writing.
In fact, the clip was so pervasive in pop culture it immediately got the meme-treatment.
The David and Goliath story of the iguana vs snakes enjoyed its time in the sun – someone even got the iguana his own Twitter handle – and it was much deserved.
Why? Well, as it turns out, we all needed the iguana just as much as the BBC needed the incredible ratings, and the Galapagos Archipelago needed a spotlight shone on ongoing conservation efforts, and I, for one, learned a little bit of a life lesson from his resilience and perseverance.
Cast your mind back to 2016; it was a year in which we had already seen the Brexit referendum divide the UK; the passing of Prince, Bowie, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Carrie Fisher, and Harambe; death on an untold scale in Syria; the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub; Brangelina had split up; the relationship between American police and the black community seemed worse than ever; and Pokemon Go had taken over the streets.
Anyone with an interest in current affairs – no matter your political persuasion and disregarding how the media microcosm made everything seem worse – felt a bit battered and beaten.
Then, the day after the little iguana hatchling battled for his life, Leonard Cohen, the Godfather of Gloom himself, passed away and just 24 hours later, Donald Trump – self-confessed sexual assaulter and television personality – was elected 45th President of the United States.
Riots and protests ensued.
Personally, I struggled to tear my eyes away from the screens blowing up around me on the 24-hour news broadcasts, and my Twitter feed read more divisive than ever.
In among all the noise though, the video of the little baby iguana escaping the snakes’ coils kept popping up online, having gone viral within day of its original broadcast.
As Ellen said, the baby iguana speaks to anyone with any fears, because we all love to anthropomorphise cute creatures:
This baby iguana is all of us. pic.twitter.com/8HjGSaqmnK
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) November 10, 2016
As he was being set upon by a den of racer snakes – venomous constrictors endemic to the Galapagos – it’s been suggested the iguana hatchling went into fight or flight mode.
But Dr. Merlen said the exact reaction of the iguana is ‘unclear’, adding:
Built in reactions to predators are common and in the Galapagos – and everywhere else – these reactions are vital for survival.
Clearly an open beach is not a safe place to be for a small hatchling that has no adult to protect its first steps. Darwin finches and mockingbird are wary of snakes as well.
This hyperarousal is a physiological response occurring in all living beings – humans and iguanas alike – which results in a boost of energy during times of great duress or threat, which can either be used to fight or fly.
At a time when everyone seemed to be weighing in with their two cents, and protests and public outrage were the order of the day, the iguana hatchling kind of made it seem okay to run from things if they’re scary enough – perhaps to the pub to forget, just for five minutes, about how society seemed to be crumbling around us.
The series clearly spoke to people. Planet Earth II won three BAFTA Television Craft Awards, for its incredible soundtrack and innovative photography methods, not to mention the little life lessons we learned from Sir Dave along the way.
The team were the first to capture the incredible chase of iguana vs snakes. They have a series of other factual television firsts to lay claim to as well, like the intimate film of a wild snow leopard cub camouflaged against their rocky den in the Himalayas.
They brought a real life grizzly bear doing Baloo’s tree scratching dance from The Jungle Book straight into our living rooms, showed us the courtship dances of beautifully bedazzled birds, and a swimming sloth.
Sir David taught us about the entirety of Mother Nature, from grasslands to mountains, and the importance of preserving its majesty.
We got to follow the lifespans of so many different species, from wise old adults who give birth to a new generation of daring youngsters, just like the iguanas.
These cold-blooded reptile babies weren’t alone in winning our hearts.
Remember the plight of the green turtle hatchlings? This might ring a bell:
Two years after nine million of us watched the iguana win out over the snakes, we’ve probably got a bit more accustomed to the unsettled state of global affairs.
But if it ever gets too much, just remember the little iguana’s life lesson: Pick your battles and don’t feel bad for running away from the snakes, folks.
And if that’s not words of wisdom enough for you, Dr. Merlen, an eminent conservation advocate and ambassador for the Galapagos Conservation Trust, shared more real talk with UNILAD, echoing Attenborough’s powerful closing monologue of Planet Earth II.
— BBC One (@BBCOne) December 11, 2016
No matter how scary the battle between iguana and snake may have looked to a human viewer, all ‘predators and prey must all eat to survive’ – and this naturally occurring consequence of survival isn’t the greatest threat to the iguanas, or their fellow island inhabitants.
He concluded aptly, by referencing the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’, the Darwinian idea inspired by the unique ecosystems of the Galapagos islands:
Even given the renown ‘tameness’ of wildlife on the Islands it is in relation to man that this applies, at great risk, not between predators and prey.
In other words, if you were one of the millions of empathetic viewers who rooted for the little iguana, and enjoyed watching his plight from behind your pillow on BBC One, there’s more to protect him and his kind from than snakes. And it’s us.
In the words of David Attenborough, here’s a bonus lesson: “It is, surely, our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth.”
That includes this plucky little iguana hatchling, may he live long and prosper.
The Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT) is the only UK registered charity to focus exclusively on the conservation and sustainability of the Galapagos Archipelago. You can support their work by becoming a member or donating.
For more stories from behind the memes, follow UNILAD’s new series of interviews with the people who star in your favourite viral content; ‘That’s Meme‘.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.