In the Wild (1992) s01e03 Episode Script

Tropical Australia Part 2

The unknown is always exciting, and the most unknown part of this country is the wildlife during the wet.
Roads are impassable, and off-roads, even foot movement is unbelievably hard.
So very few naturalists have ever studied the patterns of life in this country during the wet.
(STILLNESS) Isn't that wonderful? The sound of the Top.
Because this area is the heart of the Top in the wet.
The whole zone moves out of this woodland savanna.
'Cause you've got eucalypt trees and grass underneath, and that's about all it's got.
This monotonous, even-Iooking country during the wet is where all the animals that normally live in the jungle and the billabongs and the rivers are flooded out, and they come up and live in this.
The mountains feed the water off down the rivers, and the refuge is here.
Each one of these trees, these eucalypts, each burgeoning, growing grass, all contains a complement of animals - they're all living here.
But they're spread so thinly that you have to know where to look and how to look.
You could go for days in this country and not see a thing except, perhaps, unfortunate animals dead on the roadside.
And that's all you'd see.
And yet if you know where to go, it's full of it.
Everywhere you turn, there are animals, but not like it is in the dry, when they're all brought in together on the tight little waterholes and billabongs.
Now they're spread out, breeding, ready for next season and the dry times to come.
It's this part of the Top End where I'm working now.
You can always see birds in this country, but where do the other things go, the ground-living things? Here's one place.
Hollow trees.
Tracks on 'em.
Everything says they've gotta go.
(LAUGHS) Oh, yes.
There we are.
Come on.
Come on.
(LAUGHS) That's the little tree goanna adapted for living in the swamps.
He can swim.
And at this time of the year, though, it's too much water.
He's too open to his enemies, like hawks and things.
So out he comes and up into a hollow tree, and there he's quite safe.
Notice how fat his tail is? That's all the dry season's tucker.
And he'll live on that.
He can get out and add a little bit to it.
But he can live on that for the rest of the year.
Might take him, um, 18 months to get another meal, but he'll survive.
Many people make that mistake, that all animals have to eat every day, and it's not true.
These fellows and things like them manage on one meal a year, perhaps.
That yellow throat is part of his protection, pretending to be a snake, and that head comes out, the yellow colouring there.
He looks rather like a green tree snake.
So his enemies tend to leave him alone.
Alright, we'll let him go again.
There you go.
Course, there's not room up in the trees for everything.
There's all sorts of places are used.
That's one that's not.
Too small.
Ah! There's a good 'un.
Looks like a worm.
But it's really a snake.
Fact, it's called a worm snake.
Typhlops, the blind snakes.
This one's scientific name is nigroterminatis, which just means 'black-tipped'.
It's probably a defence mechanism.
When something sees that black tip, it looks like the toe of a much bigger animal, so they leave it alone.
Quite harmless.
No poisonous bite.
They live on ants.
That's why they're down here, on the ground.
Night-time, they crawl along.
They'll come to an anthole.
They poke their head down the hole, and they just have their body sort of lash around - doesn't matter.
'Cause as the ants come rushing up to drive away the intruder (IMITATES BITING) until You can hold him up to the light like that.
You can count all the ants he's eaten in the last meal.
Well, back to anteating.
That's plenty of food in this country.
Notice we always put the stone back again.
If you come up here, always put things back when you've had a look.
Leave it for other people to enjoy too.
West from Katherine, the flat savanna gives way to a series of rivers and steep escarpments which inhibit the movement of wildlife.
There are few people here, but the wildlife is affected mostly by the huge herds of cattle.
As the country changes, there's a dramatic change in plants.
Even things like palms, relics from wetter climates in the past.
As the land dried up, small patches of these were isolated.
Since these major roads have been sealed, high-speed traffic doesn't give any animal on the road a chance.
Some people actually go out of their way to run over things like snakes.
It's crazy out here.
These things don't hurt anybody in this country.
Usually, if you slow down, they'll move off.
(LAUGHS) But this fellow's not going to.
(DOOR CLOSES) Come on, sport.
Off the road.
Bad places for blokes like you.
(SIGHS) I don't know.
Bet you all know what it is, even if it doesn't look like it now.
It's a frilled lizard.
See if we can get him to get his frill up a bit.
Come on.
Nope.
Too miserable and cold.
Not often when you're in the wet that you get miserable and cold.
Just today, there's a cold wind blowing.
It's a little bit bitter and nasty.
The frill itself is a defensive thing.
Opens right out like that and is used as a bluff, a scare thing.
When the animal's all folded up neat and tidy, frill tucked away, it can run through the bush easily and the frill doesn't affect him.
Slides through, even covers his front legs.
So he just slips through.
If he comes upon an enemy suddenly, pop! He pops up that frill, opens his mouth, and there's this great big monster peering at the enemy or whatever it is.
That way, he's able to protect himself by bluff.
Back feet with sharp claws, long hooks.
Long tapering-off tail.
The short, blunt head with quite big teeth.
That's his nostril there, and that's his ear back there.
Then, of course, the frill comes out around that.
Beautiful patterning on the frill.
That's the Victoria River.
I'd hoped to work here, but there's no way.
These rivers are the the arteries that connect all of the environments of the Top up.
Normally, they're the best place to work.
You use the boat, come in, go up and down.
Not a small boat in that.
Not so much the speed of the water, but the logs, the rubbish floating down, catch your prop and snap it off - next thing, you're rolled over and gone.
Normally, this bridge is 40 foot above river level.
I don't know how many Sydharbs are going down there.
Sydharb is the amount of water held in Sydney Harbour.
It's a measure of flow.
There's no other measure big enough in the Top End for the immense amount of water that flows away to sea every year, so they just call it Sydharbs - 10 Sydharbs a day, 20 Sydharbs a day.
And 18 farms, all that mud is running out to sea too.
This time of the year, these are barriers, not corridors at all.
It's alright for flying animals.
They can get across them.
But crawling animals, walking animals, wriggling animals, hopping animals, they get caught.
All of the animals are pushed out into the cliffs.
I have to go there.
Actually, I'm lucky to be here now.
You can see the debris over there.
The river was over the bridge yesterday, up and down like that, that fast.
If you can get here at the beginning of the wet, when the rivers first rise, you get a tremendous amount of information - animals get caught by the flood and pushed up, and you can catch them.
But this time of the year, it's completely useless.
You've got to go up in the rocks where all the survivors have escaped, found refuge.
That's why so little is known about this country during the wet.
Scientists and naturalists are paid for results mostly, and if you can come out and collect 1,000 animals, you're a good guy, but if you come out and work a whole season and only get a little bit, it's not much good.
So I'm up here not getting much good.
Let's go on and do some more work.
(DOOR CLOSES) This is the best of it.
All the environments up here, this is the one that takes your heart away and your breath away and your eyes bug out.
The cliffs lead down into the valleys.
The two go together almost always.
The valleys, with the rivers in them, are the arteries of the country.
The cliffs, wet-weather refuge, and a whole host of animals live here, even in the driest, harshest times.
In the wet season, all the valley populations move up into these cliffs.
And they then compete with the residents.
You can see anything here.
Cloudy day.
Even nocturnal things will be out.
Whoa-oa! Got you.
That's about the most dangerous animal up here.
The death adder.
Pretty small, insignificant-Iooking thing.
Except when he bites.
Look at those fangs, those great, huge fangs, in that little head.
They're retractile - they move.
The reason for this, he's a hunting animal.
And because he's short and slow, once he digs in with the fangs, he's got to hang on.
He's got hollow fangs - they've got a hole right down the middle - and a lot of poison, perhaps half a teaspoonful.
Once he bites, the whole lot goes in, and a bad bite could kill a healthier dog in about three minutes, I guess.
Just because he's bitten that stick doesn't mean he's out of poison.
His poison glands are about the same as our spit glands.
He can make poison as quick as you can make spit.
But, like most of these things you can spit yourself dry, and he can bite himself dry, and it takes a long time to come up again into as strong as it was.
The really dangerous time for snakes is after they've been quiet for quite a long time.
If they've been catching food recently, they've expended the worst part of their poison, the distilled stuff, the really good brew.
The tail's interesting too.
That little spine wriggles.
The death adder lies in a sort of S-bend and wriggles the spine, and a bird or a lizard sees it and thinks it's an insect leg, dives on it to grab it and he's gone.
They don't chew their food.
They swallow it whole.
They've got this marvellous dislocated jaw which allows them to swallow things three or four times as big as they are around.
Of course, you don't find them very often.
They don't come out in the daytime very much at all.
Cold day like today, he's out, having a little bit of a sun.
Too much sun and he gets sunburnt.
Snakes do get sunburnt.
They can die from it.
Well, although he's a bitey and baddie, in nature, you let things go when you finish with them.
He doesn't like me very much.
The way he flattens his ribs out.
That warning colour - the orange-and-yellow.
In nature, that is "Look out.
" And if you see him, you look out.
He's a killer.
Out here in the bush, they're not likely to affect anybody, and they have a part and a place in the pattern of the ecology here.
The only things I kill out here are cats, things like that, that have been brought in by white man.
The things that belong here, enjoy 'em, look at 'em, and leave 'em for somebody else to enjoy.
We really know nothing about what happens when all these animals are forced together during the wet.
There's plenty of food and plenty of water, but enormous pressure on shelter and cover, so probably there's a lot more predation and a lot more tolerance for personal living space.
Things as large as the emu have no worries anyway.
Powerful legs for kicking.
A top speed of 60km per hour.
They can easily outrun most predators down in Australia.
The smaller birds are less fortunate if they're caught napping.
(BIRDS TWITTER) Those birds you can hear calling are sounding an alarm, a specialised call, to warn of danger.
And it's around this tree, so there's something in it.
(LAUGHS) Come to mother! You beauty! A green tree snake.
Look And Look at this! Look at it! There's two tree snakes, side by side.
No wonder the birds are excited.
He's looking for things to eat.
This bloke must have already been here, I think.
Come on, little man.
Come on.
Come on.
There's a good chap.
These are poisonous but not dangerous.
Their fangs are in the back of their head, not the front.
Look at the way they move through those leaves.
Oh, Lord, lovely things! That one's a Territory tiger.
Oddly enough, he can hear me now through the vibrations of my voice on the leaves.
Gets it all from his belly.
Where's the other fellow gone? (SIGHS) All that for that.
(SNIFFS) Pity we've found a smell-o-rama.
This fellow's protecting himself with stink.
Very strong.
It's not only skunks that do it.
These fellows ooze out a real stench.
But they can bite.
Let's have a look.
Open your mouth.
See? Fangs are right at the back.
Hardly see them.
They're little, tiny things.
Not at all like a death adder or the king brown, brown snake, any of those.
He can hear very, very well, listening to everything that's going on.
That flickering tongue, that's listening, picking up the air vibrations, what's happening.
Those big eyes help you to tell that he's a nocturnal snake.
Comes out at night-time.
They pick up the extra light, the pupils enlarge.
Just like a cat's at night-time.
They open right up.
Unlike a cat's, this animal's pupils contract to a small round hole, whereas a cat's pupils are, of course, very big, and in the daytime, they contract to a slit.
There you go.
That's it.
That's it.
Back you go.
You can see why he's called a tree snake.
No worries at all.
Beautiful! (THUNDER RUMBLES) Each day during the wet, humidity and clouds build up until about midafternoon.
A rumble of thunder.
Down comes the rain.
It's a sight very few visitors ever see, because visitors come here in the dry, when you get the red cliffs and the brown/green of spinifex and grass and this dramatic blue sky.
But because it's wet, that's why I'm here, to find out what happens.
(SIGHS) Well, one nice thing about cliffs is you're out of the rain when the wind's blowing that way.
Raining like billyo out there and dry as it comes here.
Beautiful place.
All that silt flowing out in the river once was flowing over here.
These fine sands are when the river was slow-flowing - a very fine mud.
Lots of vegetation.
No silt.
All that coarse stuff, when the river was flowing fast and hard.
You might wonder why I'm carrying this gun.
Especially up that hill.
It's very simple.
You imagine that this is Australia.
Cape York up there, Western Australia over here.
Victoria down there.
When these cliffs were formed, a great inland sea came down through there.
And until that time, there was a race of pigeons called white-quilled rock pigeons - they had big white spots on their wings.
They lived right across this northern part of what's now Australia.
When this sea came through, it made one lot live over there and one lot live over there - it cut them off, in fact.
There were no pigeons at all.
Then the land lifted again, these cliffs, and the pigeons from the west started moving east and the pigeons from the east started moving west, and around the back of Victoria River, they met.
In 1969, when I was up here, I collected the only ones of these pigeons that have ever been collected.
It was a scientific expedition for the Harold Hall, British Museum expedition.
We got six of them.
And since then, thousands of dollars and thousands of man-hours, scientific man-hours, have been spent looking around these cliffs for the pigeon - it's never been found again.
It might seem strange to kill these pigeons if they're so rare.
Why not preserve them? It's almost a paradox.
You can't preserve something until you know something about it.
And the only way you can know something about it initially is to collect them - what they eat, where they live, how they live, what their relationship with their environment is, all has to be known.
Then when you make a reserve, you can make a reserve with that animal in mind.
And so first you collect, then you preserve environment, and that way, you preserve your species.
There was just a chance I might locate it again.
And so I came prepared.
And, of course, the other barrel is for the cats, which are probably the reason for the decline of the pigeon.
The last time I was through, I shot something like 40 cats in two days here.
They were right along these cliff edges killing everything that moved.
It seems obvious that the feral cats have already done their work.
Pigeons may never be seen again.
It's already too late.
They were just another one of the species that's become extinct since the white man came to this country.
But the terrible tragedy of this and the sadness that arises from it is softened and alleviated when I look out over this tremendous land, this magnificent place where we live, and think of the things that we still have and that can still be saved if we respect the forces of evolution and conservation and creation, if we respect our environment and all the living things in it.
So, after all of this rivers, jungle, plains, hills - what happens in the wet? It's incredibly complex.
Nobody's really studied it, but what we've found out on this trip alone, when the rains come, all the low country is totally inundated, and everything has to move out, and there's enormous pressure on the higher ground.
Animals that don't normally live on higher ground move up into there.
It's a time of interchange, a time of new partnerships being formed, between animals and plants.
It's a time of movement, of migration, across the country, forced migration, maybe only half a mile a year for things like lizards and snakes.
But slowly, the pressure is on.
The other thing is that each one of those major environments forms a barrier to something.
This area is a major barrier.
These immense tumbles are the only gap in this entire range.
When the wildlife comes, the plants and the animals, they run into the barrier of the range.
This is where it all stops.
This, in fact, is the Great Dividing Range between the west and the east.
And these areas, these relict areas, where animals and plants come to rest, as it were, they can't go any further, are most important to naturalists, to scientists, to ecologists, and, in fact, to everybody, because this is really where the heritage of Australia is, the whole essence of it.
All of the animals and plants that have ended up here, against this barrier, have come this immense journey, through evolution, through time and through space.
This is their last chance.
The last major evolutionary change in this continent is white man's intrusion - his flocks, his firesticks, his axes and dams.
It's too valuable to throw away.
We've got to save it.
And the study of these places is essential for the saving.
It's no good just saving a place to save it.
You have to know what makes it tick and how it interacts and how it is together with itself.
Then you can save it with some purpose and save it forever, because you know how to do it.
But you don't know if you haven't studied it.
All of this is forever.