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National Geographic Specials Survivors of the Skeleton Coast

The Namib Desert on Africa's Southwest coast is one of the driest, oldest and most forebidding locations on the planet. Through the lenses of noted wildlife photographers Des and Jen Bartlett, it is one of the most fascinating places as well.

Narrator: Peter Coyote.

The Namib Desert on Africa’s Southwest coast is one of the driest, oldest and most forebidding locations on the planet. Through the lenses of noted wildlife photographers Des and Jen Bartlett, it is one of the most fascinating places as well.

Thick fog, terrible winds, unbearable heat and treacherous currents have turned the thin strip of land where the Namib Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean into a trash heap of dead ships, littered with the bones of sailors who escaped from the sea only to perish in the roaring dunes; hence its name, the Skeleton Coast.

Yet, for all its danger, a magnificent menagerie of animals large and small has managed to adapt to its harsh demands.

Every frame of this lovely adventure brims with rare wonder and the simple decency of its filmmakers. Married for 36 years, the Bartletts have made this sere landscape their home for nearly a decade.

Together, through years of patience and persistence and the help of a pair of small airplanes that look like bicycles with wings, they have captured the wonderful diversity of nature and the often terrifying power of the landscape that surrounds them.

This is terrain both rugged and fragile. Its balance is so delicate that a single lizard scampering across the dunes can send an avalanche of sand hurtling toward the ocean, its roar ringing undisturbed for miles.

Insects survive on the moisture they manage to suck from the fog. It is the only place on earth where lions can feed on whales. But it is the elusive elephant population that make this desolate place so captivating.

The elephants of the Namib, the tallest in the world, have captured the Bartletts’ imagination and, with respect and excitement, they do nothing to hide their infatuation, which is as catching as the flu.

If “Skeleton Coast” offered nothing but the images of these great beasts trekking through vast expanses of desert before sliding down the dunes in their constant hunt for water, it would be enough.

Yet, the Bartletts have managed to embrace and present an odd and beautiful ecosystem as well. The desert may be dry, but this remarkable introduction to it is anything but.

National Geographic Specials Survivors of the Skeleton Coast

(Wed. (14), 8-9 p.m., PBS)

Production: Filmed by National Geographic. Producers/directors/photographers, Des and Jen Bartlett; co-producer, Barry Nye; additional scenes directed by Mark Stouffer; writer, Nicolas Noxon; cinematography, Scott Ransom.

Crew: Editors, Nye, Leslie Parry; sound, Mike Lonsdale; composer, Neil Argo.

Cast: Narrator: Peter Coyote.

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