Life in the Snow (2016) Movie Script

These are our planet's
winter wonderlands.
And the remarkable animals
that call them home.
I'm Gordon Buchanan
and, as a wildlife cameraman,
I've visited many of these
unique and special places.
But the animals that live in places
like this need to be resilient,
and many of them
are specially adapted
to make the very most
of these seasonal conditions.
I'm going to reveal
the extraordinary animals
that don't just survive, but
positively thrive, in the snow.
Oh, very, very cute!
Each has different and surprising
tactics to face winter head-on.
From the polar bear mother,
who spends seven months
without food and water
to give her babies
the best start in life.
To the fox, who can catch food
it can't even see.
And a seasonal specialist,
the reindeer,
and a surprising secret
behind that red nose.
Just how these animals
make these places their own
are amongst the most incredible
stories in the natural world.
I hope you've snuggled
up nice and warm,
because it's time to meet
the amazing animals
that spend their life in the snow.
Each year, up to one third of our
planet is transformed by snow
into a sparkling world
of wonder and white.
The animals who live here must
adapt to this dazzling change.
How they rise to the challenge
of living in the snow
is what sets each of them apart.
Our first animal is the world's
largest land carnivore.
They face the coldest temperatures
the Arctic has to offer.
But they seem to take it
all in their stride.
The polar bear.
Most animals couldn't live
this close to the North Pole.
But he appears
to be revelling in it.
In fact, the bears roll in the snow
when they want to cool down.
But how is it possible
to get too hot in the Arctic?
The polar bear has
the thickest fur of any bear.
But, it's the 11 centimetre
fat layer beneath the skin
that makes all the difference.
It keeps in the heat
like nothing else.
It works so well,
polar bears can swim for mile after
mile in the freezing Arctic Sea.
To maintain this vital layer,
they need to eat as much fatty food
as they can find.
The polar bears' staple diet
is seal.
But they spend most of their time
under the ice.
The bear can't afford a drawn-out
game of hide and seek.
His sense of smell is 100 times
better than ours.
Able to track a scent
from 20 miles away.
A bear can smell a seal
through a metre of snow.
A seal can be nearly 50% blubber.
He'll catch nearly one a week,
enough to keep his insulation
in top condition.
At this time of year, female polar
bears have a very different problem.
They have their cubs in the
depths of the Arctic winter.
A polar bear simply can't give birth
out on the Arctic ice -
with such small, vulnerable babies,
it is way too cold.
Down to minus 50 Celsius.
So, for a pregnant mother living
in such a cold and exposed place,
there's really only one place to be.
And that is underneath the snow.
It might sound counterintuitive,
but we can actually use snow
to keep us warm.
Within this lump of snow
is trapped air,
and trapped air makes
a fantastic insulator.
So, when you're in a snow hole,
or a snow den,
you could even get cosy.
And, when a polar bear is
underneath the snow like this,
the temperature inside can be an
incredible 30 degrees warmer
than the temperature outside.
And when she's hidden
in a den like this,
that's when something
truly remarkable happens.
Around the turn of the New Year,
across the Arctic,
under three feet of snow and ice...
..female polar bears give birth.
Then in early spring,
they emerge for the first time.
April in Svalbard.
Just the right moment
to see this happen.
Oh, very, very cute!
Both cubs combined aren't even
as big as the mother's head.
At three months old,
this is their very first experience
of the outside world.
During her time in the den,
she loses half her body weight.
Her milk is 30% fat,
so her cubs grow fast.
Look at that!
They're already 20 times heavier
than when they were born.
Just about big enough to take on
their frozen world.
And it's all down to their mother's
winter hidden beneath the snow.
Polar bears aren't the only animals
to use this strategy.
Our very own common dormouse spends
more than half of its life asleep.
Avoiding the winter altogether.
And the Arctic ground squirrel
can let its body temperature drop
to 2.9 degrees below freezing.
It's the coldest any mammal can get.
Remarkably, it appears to change
the chemistry of its body
to stop ice crystals forming.
Every few weeks, it has to feed,
so it shivers and shakes
in its sleep
to raise its temperature
just enough to wake up.
But bears are the most
impressive hibernators of all.
Able to survive up to seven months
without food or water.
There is no doubt about it.
Taking shelter beneath the snow
is a really good strategy.
For a baby bear, for the first
few months of its life,
the den is its world.
But sooner or later, mother bears
and the cubs do need to emerge.
And getting the timing right
is absolutely critical.
It's spring in North America.
And this young female black bear
has just come out of her den.
In a normal year, she'd emerge
to greet a brand-new spring.
But an unexpected cold front
has blown in from the Arctic.
What's worse, she has
three-month-old twin cubs with her.
This is her first ever litter.
She should be keeping them warm.
Instead, she gets up and leaves.
After half a year in hibernation,
she's desperate for food.
Her cubs don't have the three
layers of waterproof fur
all adults bears grow - they're
defenceless in this weather.
Their instinctive survival strategy
is to climb a tree.
But this only works
for avoiding predators.
Up here, they're even more
exposed to the cold.
At last, their mum returns.
But straightaway,
she sets off again.
Walking in thick snow is almost
impossible on little legs.
They struggle to keep up.
Hopefully, Mum has a plan
to keep them warm and safe.
Overnight, temperatures
drop to minus 12 degrees.
Dawn. The storm has passed.
But, what about the cubs?
Their mother led them
to a sheltered spot
and kept them warm through the chill
of the night with her own body heat.
Experience can make all the
difference to living in the snow.
It's been a steep learning curve for
this family, but they've made it.
Being ready and equipped
for the cold is critical.
As I can show you.
This is a thermal camera.
It sees temperature
as different colours.
Right now, I'm just wearing
a thin top,
and it should show me losing
body heat in red and white.
Now, as I stand here,
I can actually feel the cold
nipping at my exposed skin.
On the thermal camera
that will show as white hot.
So it's all about layering up.
It's about keeping that heat in,
and we do that with insulation.
For any animal that lives
in a snowy wilderness,
they've got to be able to take
the cold in their stride.
And there is one very special animal
that does that better than most.
The Arctic fox.
They live further north than any
other member of the dog family.
And something extraordinary
makes this possible.
In the warm days of summer,
they look very different.
Then, every year,
as the winter approaches,
they undergo
a spellbinding transformation.
They grow a thick,
snow-white winter coat.
I'm lucky to be able to see this
up close,
with a fox that's been
brought up by people.
Hello, you handsome, handsome boy.
My word.
That is the most sumptuous coat
I have ever seen on any animal.
In fact, Arctic foxes have the
warmest coat of all Arctic mammals.
In winter, their fur becomes
200% thicker.
There's a longer, outer layer,
with hollow hairs that trap air
to increase insulation.
And a dense undercoat provides
even more warmth.
An Arctic fox won't
even start feeling the cold
until it's minus 40 degrees.
And, they have other clever features
that help them get through winter.
Their ears are round and tucked into
their deep fur to reduce heat loss.
And, to prevent frostbite,
their nose is short and stubby.
And a magnificent tail
means that when the Arctic weather
is at its worst,
they can hunker down
and use it as a blanket.
Being well-dressed for winter
is an obvious advantage.
But to survive
in a snowy landscape like this,
you have to be able to exploit every
single opportunity to get food.
And foxes are experts at that.
They have incredible senses.
Particularly their hearing.
And, despite having
these fairly small ears,
this fox will be able to detect
its prey with pinpoint accuracy,
even when it's hidden
underneath the snow.
But learning how to use this skill
takes time.
Their preferred food are lemmings,
small, Arctic rodents.
Many foxes won't make it
through their first year
and that's mostly
down to a lack of food.
Their sensitive hearing
means they can detect
lemmings scurrying
through tunnels in the snow.
But the fox also has to judge
the depth of the snow.
And then...
..with this dramatic pounce,
he's trying to punch
right through the snow
and catch the lemming underneath.
It isn't easy.
But practice makes perfect.
The fox's ability to track
down prey using its hearing alone
is truly amazing.
Relying on your hearing in the snow
can be a real challenge.
Have you ever noticed that
when there's a blanket of snow,
the world seems a very silent place?
That is because the snow
literally deadens the sound waves.
The snow stops the sound from
bouncing and reflecting off things.
In my pocket I have a speaker,
and on this speaker,
I have the sound of a vole.
To many creatures, voles means food.
See, if your dinner relies on you
being able to detect these little
creatures that are scurrying about,
beneath the grass, beneath the snow,
you'll see what the challenge is.
Pretty loud.
There's the vole.
I can barely hear it.
It's almost completely gone.
So I'm about a foot and a half
above the speaker,
and I can just about hear it.
Thankfully, I don't rely
on voles for food.
But, what if you had to listen out
for this sound
from high above the snow?
That's the challenge faced
by the great grey owl.
But this magnificent bird
pinpoints sound so accurately,
it can launch a strike from the air.
So, how does it achieve
this incredible feat?
The disc shaped feathers on its face
collect the sound waves
and directs them to the ears
on the side of its head.
It can work out exactly
where the sound is coming from.
These skills come into their own
when the owl takes to the wing.
Special edging on its feathers
mean that its flight
is completely silent.
Nothing can hear it coming.
In the final moments,
it brings its talons
into exact alignment
with the sound of the prey.
Catching a meal
without ever seeing it.
But there is another way to find
a vole under the snow,
and that's to go in after it.
Although the least weasel is several
times larger than a vole,
its body is exactly the same width.
Once the weasel finds a hole,
it's an old-fashioned game
of cat and mouse.
Although it doesn't always
end in getting dinner.
Whatever the outcome,
at least the weasel is small enough
to take shelter beneath the snow,
away from the worst of the weather.
But, what if you aren't able
to get out of the cold?
Well, one animal has some
surprising ways to cope.
Reindeer. There could not be another
animal more closely associated
with snow and Christmas.
And, there could even be some truth
in that famous red nose.
Reindeer live in the forests
and tundra of the far north.
In winter, they dig through the snow
to find food.
Out here, they're breathing in air
at temperatures
down to minus 40 Celsius.
To stop it chilling their lungs,
they pass the air
through chambers in their nose...
..where a network of blood vessels
heat it up.
We can see this
on the thermal camera.
Where they warm the air up,
their noses really are red.
And, when they breathe out,
their noses take the precious
body heat from their breath,
so it isn't lost to the atmosphere.
And it isn't the only thing
that makes
reindeer so well-equipped for snow.
I am a perfect example of an animal
that is not adapted
for walking about
a snowy environment like this.
I'm 12 stone, 12 and a half stone,
and all of my weight
is distributed onto my feet.
Size 12. Big feet for a human,
but not big enough to stop me
from sinking down into the snow.
So, why don't reindeer
have the same issue?
The answer lies in their
specially adapted feet.
Their four toes splay out
to increase their surface area,
stopping them from sinking,
and giving them traction.
This ability is one reason
we domesticated the reindeer.
The Dolgan people of Siberia
use reindeer
for their nomadic lifestyle,
literally moving house every week
or so, with their help.
So clearly, I need to increase
the surface area of my feet.
There we go.
Adapted for walking in the snow.
Big surface area
to stop me sinking through,
spikes to stop me
slipping on the ice.
That is so much better.
It's easy. I can walk
through the forests,
I'm not sinking down into my waist,
I can go fast,
I can almost go silently.
Like I belong here.
Other animals
also use this approach.
Polar bears have huge paws,
30 centimetres across.
And their pads are covered with
tiny bumps to give extra grip.
And the snowshoe hare has long,
fur-covered feet
to help it move effortlessly
across the snow.
Yet, despite
their special equipment,
even reindeer find sheet ice
a little tricky.
But reindeer have something else
that really sets them apart.
Their eyesight.
When it's bright and sunny
like this,
my eyes struggle to cope
with the amount of UV light
that's coming from the sun,
is bouncing back up off the snow.
But reindeer,
they see things differently.
Not only can they see in colour
like I can,
they can also see in ultraviolet.
And that's vital.
Because some very important things
show up in ultraviolet.
Tracks in the snow show up clearly,
helping reindeer find a path.
They can see the telltale scent
marks of predators in the snow.
And most important of all, a staple
part of their winter diet, lichen,
stands out like a beacon.
So, when deep snow covers
the other plants they eat,
they can hone in
on this extra food source.
No wonder reindeer are so closely
associated with this time of year.
With these specialist skills, they
can get through the deepest winter.
When temperatures plummet,
we start burning more calories,
just to keep warm.
So, finding extra food
can make all the difference.
In fact, it's vital.
But when your larder is frozen
solid, you have to be resourceful.
The robin.
The gardener's colourful companion
relies on soft earth
to pick out worms and grubs.
But a deep frost means the ground
is frozen solid.
If only there
were someone to dig it up.
Deep underground, in total darkness,
where the frost can't reach,
moles are digging their tunnels.
And pushing up fresh,
soft piles of earth.
For the robin redbreast,
this is an opportunity.
It's a real lifeline.
And one that could continue
for the whole winter.
When food is hard to find,
joining forces can help.
And one resourceful animal has
worked out just how to do this.
Wolverines are the largest member
of the weasel family.
In winter, most of their diet
is made up of the animals
that haven't made it through
these testing times.
But, with the world covered by snow,
it could take hours
to find this meal.
This is where the wolverine's
resourcefulness comes in.
It has an airborne spotter.
One of the most intelligent birds
in the world.
Although it's found a moose,
a raven isn't strong enough
to dig it out of the snow.
So it calls out, attracting
the wolverine's attention.
It will even lead
its ally towards the food.
Wolverines are renowned
for their strength.
But the meat is frozen solid.
there's an answer for that.
The wolverine is one of the
only animals on the planet
whose teeth and jaws
are specifically adapted
for eating frozen food.
They can cut through meat and bone
as hard as concrete.
This is what the raven's
been waiting for.
Newly revealed leftovers
are their reward for finding food.
And there's one final
clever strategy
in case times get really tough.
The wolverine will
bury part of the meal,
storing it away
in the freezer for later.
Two different species
working together like this
is rare in the natural world.
But, when you live in one of
the toughest places on Earth,
it can make sense to work as a team.
Musk ox are Arctic giants.
They live in family groups of
around 20 in the northern tundra,
where they face some of the
planet's most extreme weather.
When it comes to being prepared
for the coldest part of winter,
these musk ox certainly look ready.
That long, thick, shaggy coat
is so efficient,
a musk ox only uses a small amount
of energy to keep warm.
They can even slow down
their metabolism
so that in the winter time
they require less food.
Because finding that food
can be a challenge.
In winter, the snow is covered
with a thick layer of ice,
making it hard
to get to the plants beneath.
So musk ox use their large
front hooves like snow shovels.
And the neighbours are quick
to spot an opportunity.
Ptarmigan, hardy Arctic birds
that also feed on plants,
but can't break through the ice
on their own.
Arctic hares
join the winter feast too.
Soon, the musk ox
have quite an entourage.
But finding food
is just one of their problems.
Protecting their calves
is perhaps the most important.
They're born just before the spring.
Everything is new to this calf.
But the snow
is a particular challenge.
It'll need to get to grips
with it soon.
There are predators here.
Arctic wolves.
They are big, strong,
and live in packs.
The calves are vulnerable.
They must try to keep up.
The musk ox form a defensive ring,
with the calves in the middle.
A wolf would be foolish to mess with
this impenetrable wall of musk ox.
When it comes
to living in the Arctic,
these animals are hard to beat.
Relying on hunting to get a meal
is always a challenge.
So how do predators like wolves get
through the toughest time of year?
Here in northern Norway, these
wolves are habituated to people.
It's a rare opportunity
to get closer than would ever be
possible with a fully wild pack.
Look at the size of the paws.
You are a beaut.
Just stroking this wolf,
you could lose your hand
in its coat.
And when I part the hair you can see
that underneath there's these fine,
very soft hairs that gives
And these longer outer hairs
repel the snow and water.
His coat is perfect
for these conditions.
Look how narrow the wolf is,
you look at the wolf face on,
it's got this big head.
But its shoulders are quite narrow,
and that's a physical adaptation
that helps him move around
through deep snow.
So, no matter what physical
characteristics you have,
clever hunting strategy
is essential.
And in these bitterly cold
it helps to have friends.
Wolves live in tight-knit
family groups.
There's a strict hierarchy.
Alpha males and females
are in charge.
Every pack member knows their place.
The strong relationships between
the wolves are critical
for getting through hard times.
It's February
in Yellowstone National Park.
At this stage of winter,
the elk are weak.
But elk are several times
the size of a wolf.
They need to work together.
One wolf charges,
making the elk run.
They can identify the weakest animal
by the way it acts and moves.
One wolf cuts the elk away
from the herd.
While two more
come in from the sides.
A tactical manoeuvre that means
the whole family will feed.
A wolf's ability to hunt as a team,
as a pack,
that's really what helps
guarantee its survival.
In Yellowstone,
the wolves have found a way
to get through the harsh winter.
But, for other animals
that live here,
there's another way to survive.
These bison are caught in the grip
of the worst winter
for a generation.
The snow is too deep
to break through.
And they need to eat.
But Yellowstone holds a secret.
This winter wonderland
has a burning heart.
Formed on a giant volcano,
Yellowstone is peppered
with thousands of hot springs
and spectacular spouting geysers.
The bison
can take advantage of this,
but they need to move.
They're taking a big risk.
This journey could use
all their remaining strength.
Some won't make it.
But even as night falls,
the bison push on.
The herd have reached an oasis.
The hot springs warm the air,
and melt the snow.
And there's grass here.
But this paradise
is too good to be true.
Volcanic springs can contain
toxic chemicals like arsenic.
Over time, this could
make the bison ill.
But, right now,
this is the lifeline they need.
Knowing every secret
in the landscape
can make all the difference
to surviving in the snow.
And some animals take using thermal
springs to a whole new level.
In these heated pools,
Japanese macaques take refuge from
the freezing winter temperatures.
The water
is a steamy 41 degrees Celsius.
It's not just
a chance to keep warm, though,
it's also an opportunity
for the group to socialise.
But this spa is exclusive.
Only the elite of macaque society
are permitted entry.
The rest are left on the sidelines
to look for other distractions.
Even the less privileged monkeys
are lucky,
compared to those animals
that live in the coldest
and most extreme place
on the planet.
On the day like this
in the mountains,
the temperature is about
minus 1, minus 2.
On a different day
with a bit of wind chill,
you're talking about
minus 20, minus 30.
But, if you want it colder
than that,
if you want the coldest ever
recorded temperature,
you have to go to Antarctica.
Recorded by satellite in 2010,
the temperature hit a mind-blowing
minus 94.7 degrees Celsius.
The average temperature at the
South Pole is minus 50 degrees.
Winds have been known
to reach nearly 200mph.
Much of the land is surrounded
by permanent sea ice.
Which means the animals that live
here have developed some of the most
amazing survival strategies
in the natural world.
Harsh as it is up top, in the water,
temperatures remain about
minus 2 degrees all year round.
This eerily beautiful world
is where Weddell seals
spend much of their lives.
They live closer to the South Pole
than any other mammal.
Feeding on fish underneath the ice.
Surely this is a potential problem
for an air breathing mammal?
Well, there are some natural holes,
cracks and openings
in the constantly moving sea ice.
And that's where the seals'
remarkable adaptations come in.
They can hold their breath
for over an hour,
swimming far and wide
in search of the next air hole.
They've also developed
a kind of sonar.
Listening to the minute differences
in the echoes
from this peculiar call,
they can detect gaps in the ice.
But, most amazing of all is how they
stop a hole from freezing over
in these sub-zero temperatures.
Weddell seals have large, strong,
and protruding teeth.
They use them to rasp away
at the ice.
It takes extraordinary effort,
but it keeps their precious
breathing holes open.
Going to these lengths
is the only way to survive
in extreme places like this.
Our final group of animals
can face up to the elements
like no other -
the Antarctic penguins.
Under their skin, penguins
have a thick layer of blubber
to keep them warm.
And it gives them
that distinctive rotund shape.
To save time and energy, they take
advantage of the ice to get about.
Even their waddle
is energy efficient.
And, on top of all of this is
their most fortifying of features -
Penguins may not be able to fly,
but they do have a lot of feathers,
and it's thought that penguins
have more insulating feathers
than any other bird,
and I've got some here.
Just look at them.
These are from an emperor penguin,
a species that has to endure
bitterly cold Antarctic conditions,
and it is a masterpiece.
At the base, it's incredibly
downy and fluffy.
The quill part is stiff,
the end is slick.
This is the waterproof part.
And on the bird,
these feathers interlock.
The outside is waterproof.
It creates a waterproof seal
and underneath is an air void,
full of these downy feathers.
This is an incredibly sophisticated
form of insulation.
When it comes to a life in the snow,
the emperor penguin
really does deserve its name.
They're able to live further south
than any other penguin.
For three months each year,
the males remain out on the ice
whilst their partners go fishing.
They face temperatures of minus 50
and winds that can exceed 100mph,
all to achieve
one extraordinary thing.
In a place with no shelter,
no materials to build a nest,
and where everything
is frozen solid,
he is responsible for
bringing up the next generation.
Balanced on his feet, the closest
part of his body to the ice,
he's protecting
his most precious possession,
an egg.
In a specially adapted pouch,
the egg is kept
at 38 degrees above freezing.
But it's not just about keeping his
egg warm and off the frozen ground.
To survive,
the penguins must stick together.
They move in and out of formation
with the other expectant
fathers to keep warm.
Then, one magical day,
the hard work pays off,
and he receives the ultimate gift.
A brand-new baby penguin... show off proudly when
Mum returns home from fishing.
Whether a parent or a baby,
nature's winter wonderlands
are demanding places to live.
Yet, as we've seen,
our animals are more than up to it.
They've come up with
extraordinary ways to survive,
and even thrive.
For me, these animals are some of
the most impressive on our planet.
They've overcome every challenge
to each lead
a remarkable life in the snow.