In the Wild (1992) s01e11 Episode Script

The Deserts Part 1: The Killers

Mammals are very special animals to humans - soft, furry, cuddly.
And the loss of a mammal is much more significant than the loss of a reptile or a bird.
All of these are lost.
They're gone.
Perhaps you think that's too strong a thought.
Perhaps you're right.
But nobody has seen a stick-nest rat for perhaps 80 years, in this state anyway.
On Kangaroo Island they still exist.
The little marl, this beautiful little desert bandicoot, seems to be gone forever.
No traces for 70 years.
This beautiful little beast, another desert bandicoot, gone forever.
It's quite obvious white man is responsible, but you can't blame him hunting because the Aboriginals hunted all of these animals for food.
So it's something to do with the way we live, our lifestyle, the white man's lifestyle, that does it.
Now if we go as far out as we can, away from the influences of man, white man, perhaps we can find some answers as to why these things have vanished.
This is one of the most harsh environments in the world.
If you go out here, you have to have everything, be totally self-sufficient, because here there is no help.
The most intriguing of the vanished animals known in this area is the night parrot.
And I'm heading for the most remote waterhole in this desert country, because if the night parrot's still surviving, that's where it's going to be.
Oh, bloody hell! Pardon my language, but that's the way I feel.
That's the fifth one so far.
And that's what you expect coming through this sort of country.
You've gotta have broad tyres to go through the sand, but, of course, they're soft-walled and every little stake goes straight through.
My actual destination is Durba Spring in the Durba Range.
But that's not readily found.
It's on the southern edge of Lake Disappointment.
Sun beating down, brassy, glaring, the whole country quivering.
Everything's gone.
No living things except the plants - trees, spinifex and looking out, mile after mile after mile of nothing.
At least, that's what it appears.
Endless rolling sand dunes.
And yet, these sand dunes, there's so many of them, and the experts still haven't decided how they're formed.
One group think they're formed by the wind rolling them in long lines.
And another group think they're formed by the winds running down their length.
The area's broken here and there by even more deserted patches of stones, gibbers and salt lakes.
And the whole thing is unprepossessing and empty.
And yet, when you look, there's life here.
Even in this hottest part of the day, there are some animals that will persist.
These ridge tops are the refuge areas for animals that live in the dunes.
Almost all the animals come to the top of the dunes to dig their burrows and escape the heat.
And because the camels in particular work the dune tops and they're eroding out, these refuge areas are being destroyed.
The filtering running sand wipes things out.
And the drifting sand blocks up the burrows, plants roll away, there's nowhere for seed to lodge, and the whole thing literally becomes a wasteland where nothing is left to survive.
Now, this is really something.
He's digging for his breakfast.
Watching one of these animals work - they're completely unafraid.
On the scent of food, they'll just go right down and keep on it.
Food is a very important aspect of survival even for a reptile that can live for a long time without a sort of replenishment like we have to have every day.
Once they get on the track of it, they'll go.
Now, this fellow is digging away down in there.
At the moment, he's probably reaching about the end.
Loosens all the sand up, and pushes it up behind him, and his back legs block it, push it out a bit.
And he backs out the hole.
Here he comes now.
Scratches all the way with him.
And the fact that I'm here's not bothering him at all.
He's quite happy.
When you respect animals and live with them, study them and understand them, this is the sort of thing that can happen to anybody anywhere.
If your first reaction is not one of fear and distrust and hate but one of wonder and marvel, this is the sort of thing that makes it worthwhile.
Aren't you beautiful? That's got to be the most beautiful ugly animal in the desert.
That's got to be.
The Aboriginals call him ngiyari, which is a lovely name because 'minga' means 'ant'.
And you've never seen anything eat until you've seen him eating ants.
If you can imagine hundreds and thousands spread on a plate, and licking them up one at a time, that's how this fellow eats.
And he eats 3,000 in a meal.
So it's just (CLICKS TONGUE) sucking them all up.
And enormously fat on it.
Glorious thing.
It's a mountain devil, in case you hadn't guessed.
Moloch horridus - that was what the first scientists called it because Moloch was a devil and 'horridus' is 'horror'.
And the first scientists said, "Great heavens, what a horrid devil.
" And he's been stuck with the name Moloch horridus ever since.
Not much of a tail.
His main body bulk storage is in the fat body and in this peculiar little lump behind the neck.
Yes, that's not his head, that's a little lump on the back of his neck.
Something like a camel's hump in that excess food and moisture in the form of fat, goes into there, and some people think it's a false head.
And we notice that whenever a mountain devil gets really alarmed, he puts his head down tight like that and this false head sticks up.
And it is remarkable, the parallel between that lump and his real head.
And he's completely harmless except if you sat on him - then it hurts a bit, because those prickles are quite sharp.
But as you can see, they're quite soft and flexible too.
Just the points are sharp.
They're a typical dragon lizard in that they change colour to suit their environment and their mood.
And if they're feeling happy they're lighter coloured and if they're feeling unhappy - and, of course, if a lady happens to wander by, that is, a lady mountain devil, then they get really brilliantly coloured up.
Talking of ladies, this one is a lady.
And that tummy is not all fat - there's probably six or seven eggs in there.
And she's probably up here on the sandhill looking for a good place to dig a burrow and lay her eggs.
So we'll treat her with the respect she deserves as an expectant mum, and put her down ready to dig a burrow.
When you take the drought, and all the other factors that are affecting this whole environment right now, it's a wonder you find any living things at all.
And yet certain animals are so well adapted, that they exist even under these harsh conditions.
Like flies, for example.
Here's some fresh tracks.
It's the only thing these ground animals can't hide.
They can't hide their tracks.
Some fresh ones, and there's the mouth of a burrow.
Can't be a very big animal, because it's such a tiny mouth.
But you'd be surprised.
There it goes, along here.
Yes, going to the base of this spinifex.
Could be here somewhere.
Those tracks are quite fresh.
Here he is.
Oh, you beauty! Put you in the shade straightaway.
That's the kadaitja lizard, or knob-tailed gecko.
You can see the knob on his tail.
It's well known in Australian folklore that kadaitja is the evil man, the evil thing.
This lizard is supposed to come along at night if you're asleep, and if you're a man, he crawls up your leg and it removes bits of you that make you a man.
And so you end up not being a man anymore.
In other words, they can render you sterile very quickly.
You'd wonder how an animal as fragile and delicate-Iooking as that could survive in this, what appears to be the harshest of harsh environments.
He's got every trick.
Remember that little mouth of the burrow? What he does, he comes out at night, and in the daytime he pushes the dirt from the burrow back up and closes the mouth so there's just the tiniest of breathing space.
He has a series of baffles to stop the hot air coming in.
Burrows down deep in the ground, and that protects him during the day.
It's always under the edge of a little bush or something like that.
So he gets the full shade effect.
But the animal himself is remarkable.
Great big eyes for nocturnal vision, with huge overhanging brows so that when he is burrowing in the sand, the sand doesn't actually get in his eyes but is pushed away.
And, of course, this most ridiculous little tail.
I don't really know what they use that tail for.
But whatever it is, it's got to be a very good purpose.
That knob on the end, it may be a lure for insects, it may be a sexual attraction thing, because, bear in mind, always, animals are governed by either food or protection or sex.
And every aspect of an animal has to relate to one of those things.
Superb animal, though.
He really is a lovely thing.
Well, here's the beginning of the Durba Range.
But I've still got a long way to go.
Right around the edge of these claypans and gibbers and a few stunted shrubs surviving on the runoff water, but I'm heading for a particular place.
This whole range is really a great saucer of rock, high on the edge, dipping back towards the centre.
Any rain that falls is collected in this saucer and channels out through a few well-marked gorges.
And it's along here, because of the water and the soil, that big trees can grow.
Once the water leaves the range and falls into the sandhills, it's lost forever, just disappears into the endless desert.
No, it's not a dream.
And it's not an illusion.
This is part of the desert too - a real oasis in the desert because here there's water.
There's even date palms.
Great spiky things, totally out of place in the Australian landscape.
We do have native palms like this, but not this particular sort.
These were probably brought here by the drovers who came down the stock route, ate their dates and dropped the seeds.
And it's doomed, because this is a male palm.
But there's a chance, because over here, is another palm.
It hasn't fruited yet, but it could turn out to be a female.
And if that's the case, cross-pollination will take place and we'll have groves of date palms here, which to people who are not involved in the delicate environmental balances, think, "Oh, that's good.
" But bear in mind that these plants have no relation to the Australian environment.
Dates, fruits like that, these spiked leaves, although they're very similar in appearance, are totally different food yields.
And animals out here have not yet learned to adapt to them.
Now, if we go right in, avoiding the spikes - ooh - and have a look at this flower.
It's a male flower.
Only produces pollen.
And you can see, around here there is no evidence of any animal use at all, because while our animals can eat fruit, they can't eat the sort of pollens produced - or they don't appear to be able to eat - the pollens produced by these sort of plants.
The insects make it, but the animals, the things that survive in this oasis, can't use it.
So it would be a tragedy, in a way, if even such typical things as date palms took over.
This is a piece of Australian environment and any introductions have got to be harmful in terms of the real things that are here.
(SIGHS) (WATER TRICKLES) It mightn't look very appetising, but after 300 miles of those sandhills, it's the most beautiful sight I know - a pool of water, permanent water, in the foot of this great gorge.
Because that green scum that looks so erky, is, in fact, a sign that it's good water.
It's living things living in that water.
It's not a dead pool.
Very, very good material.
And around here, it's the core of all of the animals and all of the birds that depend on the drinking place.
And this is why I've come here, because it is the core.
It's the only place I can survive too.
One of the first things you notice about this superb, magnificent place, is death.
Wherever you look, there are the remains of animals - bones, skulls, pieces, feathers.
Death and life seem to go hand in hand here.
This is one of the killers or what's left of him - a cat.
And he's succumbed to the same problems as everything else.
Lack of food.
He's actually eaten the waterhole out.
By constantly preying on it, he's cleaned out virtually everything here.
What's left, he's been unable to catch and he's died.
There's another one.
Same thing.
Probably a surprise to many people, but that's a fox.
He's been caught and surprised and all the evidence here is that he was caught by a dingo.
And you get this odd situation - an introduced animal which is hunting, and by the look of his teeth he was down to his last grind too.
They're well worn down.
Coming around, smelling around the waterhole to catch the birds and things that come in here, and, in turn, he was caught by a dingo.
All of these things are the clues that you look for, or part of them, because when you come to a centre as beautiful and as life-sustaining as this, you automatically expect to find it teeming with life.
And, as you know, I was expecting to find a night parrot here.
And instead it's desolation and nothing.
And so you then search - "Why? What caused it?" There's two of the reasons - introduced animals, predators that hunt and kill and are forced to kill in this immediate area.
The end of a day.
And like thousands and thousands of men before me in this place, I'm doing exactly the same thing - sitting by the most basic of all man's tools, the fire.
You can just imagine what it was like perhaps 200 years ago.
This time of day.
Fires burning.
Aboriginal people sitting around.
Children waiting, knowing, because this is their time of day the warrior, or the old man, just starts to tell a story about this place - the rocks, and waru, the rock wallaby.
He come down.
(WHISPERS) "Ah, he come down, eh.
" He come.
And he stopped.
He look about a little bit.
Hop a little bit more.
Come closer and closer.
Very shy, that one.
And the mimicry is so perfect, that in the flickering light, the man is no longer a man, he's a wallaby.
And the children's eyes are big and staring, wondering.
This place must've supported thousands of people in its time, on the animals and birds that came to this waterhole.
And yet, today, having been around and looked, there's hardly a trace of animal here.
And the big question is, "Why?" Why in such a short time, a a scant hundred years or less, have all of these native animals gone that could support people? And today there's nothing.
(BIRDSONG) Not quite nothing.
Dawn brings the phenomena called the dawn chorus.
That's when you find out what birds are still in the area.
But these are birds that are commonly found all over desert country in Australia.
The things that have vanished are the rare and beautiful and wonderful desert mammals.
They seem to be gone forever.
Birds are charming things and a great deal of interest to biologists.
But among them are some that have vanished too - probably extinct across Australia.
You're probably wondering what on earth this is all about.
This is a mist net.
Very fine.
Almost impossible to see.
And its purpose is to catch birds.
Because this rock hole is the only rock hole in this vast desert area.
The bird is a parrot, it's a night parrot, it's a drinking bird.
To drink it's going to have to come to this waterhole.
The chances are pretty light, though.
There's a thunderstorm kicking up over here.
If it rains, the birds, if they are here, will spread all over the desert, living on the little drops of water everywhere.
I've got a hide set up already to cover watching, to cover all the game that comes here.
This just won't catch night parrots, it'll catch other things too - bats, birds, all sorts, but it's primarily for the night parrot.
It'll come in from out there, land on the rise, walk down to the water, very delicately drink and then fly out that way.
And that's when the net will get him.
Why the night parrot? Very simple.
For something like 100 years, he hasn't been seen.
This is one of the remotest areas in Australia.
No stations, just this waterhole and miles and miles and miles of spinifex desert.
And the night parrot eats spinifex seed.
We've had 18 months of dry.
All the little waterholes have dried up.
The chances were excellent.
If the night parrot still exists in this area, this is where he'll be drinking.
Hence the expedition, the trip, the whole thing.
(THUNDER RUMBLES) Now the weather's caught up.
It always happens.
You plan it.
Because the moment it rains, there's an explosion out.
But at the moment, if it doesn't rain, there's no water out there, it's been hot, very hot, for the last couple of days, and the birds must come in to drink.
All this fuss about a little green bird about that long.
Looks like a fat budgerigar.
And yet, if it's vanished from here it's probably totally extinct across Australia.
(THUNDER RUMBLES) Wouldn't you know it? Two years planning and this coincides with the trip.
Well, that takes care of the night parrot anyway.
All that water across the desert - any survivors will really spread out.
I don't think there's much of a chance, anyway.
Well, that's the end of this trip.
Worked the area, and this magnificent place that should be teeming with life is virtually dead.
The reasons are pretty obvious.
Cats.
Foxes.
And man.
And camels.
All white-man-caused things.
The pressure on this one small oasis has totally reduced the things that relied on it until they went down below the level of reproduction.
Now they're no more.
The old people who lived here knew it to be a wonderful place.
They gave the evidence of the animals that lived here.
Their understanding and trust in the land has been shattered like their culture, like this stone, which is a symbol of it.