In the Wild (1992) s01e04 Episode Script

Barrow Island Part 1

Dry as dust.
That means, usually, dead.
This isn't.
All it needs is water, which we have and sunlight.
And that dry-as-dust death becomes alive.
Because this is the desert.
And the desert has many, many strange ways of coming to life.
To live in the desert, you have to have all the tricks of the trade - how to survive with no water, sun, wind, sand blast, hungry animals all looking for you to eat, all there.
That's why I particularly like deserts.
(ENGINE STARTS) Over half of Australia is desert.
Now, to most people, this means, um, a lifeless wasteland of blazing, rainless heat.
But most of our deserts are covered with specially adapted plants.
It's permanent.
And this supports a unique range of animal life.
And it's this marvellous wildlife that fascinates me.
And particularly here, because this is an island, a desert island.
Barrow Island.
There he is.
(PANTS) He got I'll track him from here.
Come on.
Come on! There.
That's better.
Isn't it? Eh? Well you're probably wondering why I ran this bloke down.
Certainly not for fun.
This is the big This is the perentie.
It's the biggest animal on the island that hunts in the daytime, except, perhaps, the sea eagle.
It eats lizards and snakes, bandicoots, possums, just about anything.
It's a carnivore.
He's not much smaller than the biggest lizard in the world, which is a komodo dragon.
Lives off the islands off the north coast of Australia, near Bali.
They grow to 12 feet.
These only grow to 9.
Sharp claws.
Very sharp, both back and front feet Stop hissing.
Very sharp teeth.
(HISSES) And a very long, flogging whip tail all add up into a very formidable weapon.
When he's really moving, he can do 100 yards in about seven seconds, and there's not too many people can do that, me included.
'Cause they've got a 3-chambered heart.
When they've done the 100-yard dash, the blood is recycling through their body in such a way to get the deoxygenated blood back through, so after 100 yards, they've literally done their dash, and they just run their head into a spinifex bush, hide their head, and like the fabled ostrich, they just aren't seen anymore.
The reason for catching him is to mark him.
And we mark him by spraying a colour code on his leg.
Now, it doesn't matter much, because, in fact, these animals shed their skin.
And after a short while, it peels off.
And so when we peel the skin off, the paint comes with it as he sheds his skin.
So it's not a permanent marker.
And that gives us the time factor on how long he's been marked so we get an idea how far they move in a given time.
When you have permanent tags, like we do on the hare-wallabies, you have to recapture the animal.
This doesn't hurt in any way.
It's a temporary marker.
Well, I think we'll spray this fellow If we can get him still long enough.
Come on, come on.
Simmer down.
Put that there.
(CAN RATTLES) And that's the third goanna in this area.
Yellow is the colour code for this area.
It's the third one in this particular area we've caught.
So we start to get an idea of how they work out in territorial range.
There you go.
Right, off you go.
Barrow Island lies 60km off the north-west coast of Australia.
It's a low table of arid limestone and spinifex, and it supports the richest assemblage of wildlife found on any Australian island.
It's existed for at least 6,000 years in total isolation.
(PLANE ENGINE RUMBLES) But in 1964, it suffered a blow that could have been fatal.
Oil was discovered.
Barrow oilfield has become the second-largest in Australia.
In 1964, I did my first big study here and found lots of new animals, and when the report came out on that, everybody got terribly excited about it.
When the oilfield was declared, then the Explorers Club asked me whether I'd come and do another study to see what the effect would be on all these wonderful animals with the oilfield development.
That was in 1966, and I went straight up expecting the worst.
And it wasn't so.
The animals were actually increasing with the oilfield.
Just one there.
Oh, beaut.
No, put it on.
WAPET - that's the oil company that runs the island - had some very solid conservation measures.
No pets, no firearms, no interference with the animals, but most important, they had a restoration program started, because that's the key to conservation.
The real importance of Barrow is that it was separated from the mainland about 6,000 years ago.
And it was left undisturbed.
(BIRDSONG) Barrow is really a living museum.
It's a tiny piece of what the mainland was like before the white man came with his firesticks and crops and changed the whole balance of life.
It was so important that as early as 1908, it was declared a Class A reserve, and as such, that was one of the first in Australia.
To protect wildlife, you first have to protect the environment and the habitat.
In this case, it's the spinifex.
These harsh, prickly plants that dominate the island.
Each bush balls, so it's a round shape, and it cross-protects with its leaves.
Each leaf protects the others.
That forms a pattern of shadow that makes the interior of the bush much cooler.
And it stops the evaporation of the ground underneath.
You take one leaf Because they are really leaves.
They're not needles.
They're really flat leaves that have rolled right around into a ball.
And you can see the groove where they've joined up.
They're protected with a brutal spine.
Soon as you touch these bushes, that spine enters and breaks off.
Looks pretty dead for feeding, but here and there on it are the seed heads, just beginning to come out.
And the euros, in particular, come along, and they grab these seed heads, just as I do, and pull it out.
And they chew the succulent end, which is full of moisture and full of food.
And remember, we're in desert - moisture is very, very important.
This is one very important source of moisture.
So spinifex is really a very, very important part of the country.
The side issues are when the wind's blowing and carrying dust and sand, it acts as a trap, filters the fine material down and adds humus, I suppose you'd call it - soil build-up, rich soil build-up - in the plant itself.
And then, of course, there's lots of insects and things live in there.
Other plants' seeds get caught in there.
And when this bush dies, there's a ready-developed soil bed for something else to come up, start the colonisation process all over again.
So there you see what's called the 'arian' environment - a desolate, harsh, waterless, sunbaked area - and animals and plants use every trick, every possible way to survive.
So we'd call it a shocking place to live.
Nobody would want to live here, really.
But these things can all live here superbly.
As a result of my studies on the island, the oil company asked me to become their conservation consultant in 1970.
At least four times a year, I come back to make sure conservation measures are being carried out and to study and monitor the wildlife.
These are euros, kangaroos specially adapted to living in arid areas.
They're the largest animal on the island, and because they've evolved for centuries without threat from predators, they show little fear of man.
(GRUNTS) Tch, tch, tch, tch.
(IMITATES GRUNT) There's a lot of scientists been here since the island was discovered.
But in spite of all the work, very little is really known about the wildlife, and every time somebody comes here, there's something new or different discovered.
If you know what the wildlife on Barrow is, it's a surprise.
Travel in the daytime and just see one or two euros.
That's because everything goes to earth in the daytime and comes out at night.
And so I come out at night.
That's when I do my work.
A lot of animals come out on the roadside to feed on the regrowth and new growth that's there.
Well done.
Yeah, that's the Barrow Island possum.
See the big eyes, like most nocturnal animals, and the whiskers, of course, for feeling his way in the dark.
He's even got whiskers on his wrists, which let him feel the branches of trees that he's climbing without looking to see where he's going.
Pretty little fellow.
Shortened tail, because on Barrow, there aren't any trees, but it's still a climbing tail, that pad underneath.
See how it curls around and get a grip.
Boy, wouldn't he love to get his teeth into me? Look at that.
Look at those teeth.
Can you imagine them sinking in? Mind you, he eats anything - lizards and mice, if he can get 'em, fruit.
Beautiful fur.
Beautiful animal.
Grab him by the tail.
They can bite.
What have we got this time? No, let's have a look at him.
Back to light.
There's no shortage of volunteers, 'cause the boys enjoy working with the animals, and that's the key to conservation.
Unless people care about it, all the knowledge won't save anything - neither the animals or the environment.
Just gently let him go.
Let him go.
Just let him go.
Yeah, he's quite a lovely bloke, isn't he? Righto, leave him or he'll stay there all night.
It's too nice.
(LAUGHS) Right, off you go, sport.
Come on, we've got some more to catch yet.
Well, go on.
Go home.
The missus is waiting for you.
Ah! That's a rock rat.
They have a very special place.
There's that one and the Barrow Island mouse - two small rodents, native rodents.
It's not a marsupial.
It's a real rodent.
Look at those teeth.
They're real chiselled teeth, just like a mouse or a rat.
They have a protective device of a very delicate, tender skin.
So delicate, if you put 'em in the sun, they'll die, so they're nocturnal, of course.
But it's more delicate than that.
It's so delicate that if you touch the animal, the skin breaks away in your fingers.
And that's a protective device, because when they're hunched up in a burrow or in a clump of spinifex and a carpet snake comes through, a Children's python, or anything else, and makes a grab, the little animal can slip away, and it has to have a scar - it loses a bit of skin - you can see this fellow's been grabbed at, and the last part of his tail is just a little bit scarred and knobby, where it's broken away there.
It's so delicate and so tasty.
Bandicoots eat 'em like lollies.
They pick 'em up and they skin 'em right inside out.
They just leave the skin turned completely inside out.
Bit pongy here.
It's the local rubbish dump.
These are all freeloaders.
They've solved part of their problem by coming and eating the scraps from the kitchen.
But they still have the problem that all the animals on this desert island face - the problem of getting food and getting shelter.
Workdays begin at dawn, and every day's a workday.
They begin early because it'll get to over 130.
Even the vehicles are geared for our environmental program.
They run on natural gas and cut out the pollution factor.
Those tall masts are warnings.
Over the bumpy roads and the hilly roads, you can see another vehicle coming and avoid accidents.
(ENGINE CHUGS) There are over 300 pumps like this.
Nobody wants a leak because, apart from the loss, there's the damage to the environment.
A big leak could destroy hundreds of acres.
Even in a well-run field, you get the odd maintenance leak, like a gland or a cracked joint.
The other thing about these pumps is the noise.
" It's with you day and night.
And one of my first problems on Barrow was that the noise might affect the animals, keep them away.
Everybody was worried about that.
The animals actually use the things as shelter and shade.
They're quite accustomed to it, and it appears to make no difference at all.
Tex Nichols.
Tex Nichols.
MAN: Roger.
M34, Tex.
There's a spill about six seven yards.
Mark it down for the treatment.
Roger, roger.
Will do.
Life in any desert is fragile and delicately balanced.
We've managed to preserve this priceless living laboratory by understanding it.
The miracle of its wildlife will continue, despite current interference by man through his need for oil.
Sunlight and water.
You must have life.
That's what it's all about.
Without them, nothing.
Six days ago, in the bottom of a dry claypan took a handful of mud and put it in a jar and added sunlight and water.
And in six days, there's three generations of life in there.
Plants growing towards the sun, on the glass.
Algae, the lowest plant life there is.
Animals, six species moving around, one already dead, and two other generations coming through.
They're the basis of all living things here.
Bigger animals eat them and then bigger ones eat them until we get right up the top of the pyramid - the chain of life.
It's a pyramid with these at the bottom, the base.
Without that, nothing else can live.