Into the Wild New Zealand (2022) s01e03 Episode Script

Wild Fortresses

NARRATOR: In New Zealand,
there are two wild fortresses
One, a remote island
protected by a moat of saltwater,
the other, a hilltop
citadel barricaded
from the outside world.
Under their protection are
the final vestiges of primeval
New Zealand.
A land before humans
and the deadly mammals
that arrived with them, a land
when normal rules don't apply
Birds can't fly,
insects are giants,
and a small reptile
is a top predator.
This bizarre menagerie that
once spread across a whole country
has now been driven
back to make their last stand
in New Zealand's
wild fortresses.
Day breaks over
little barrier island,
an ancient volcanic
cone that has
had a seismic impact on the
wildlife of modern New Zealand.
To step ashore is to
enter a primeval world,
the best preserved example
of New Zealand before humans.
From the thick bush, a
cacophony of birdsong.
Perhaps this is what greeted
the first polynesian explorers
when they made
landfall 700 years ago.
When European explorers
arrived in the 18th century,
they described it as melodious,
wild music with a silver sound.
But to birds, this is the
sound of daily business,
with every call
serving a purpose.
The bellbird song consists
of just three sounds,
similar to chiming bells.
But for whom do
these bells toll?
This trespasser they tell
him he's in another's territory.
He does not heed the warning.
The territorial male must
deal with the intruder.
In the excitement
of the chase, they
stray into the
territory of a more
formidable New Zealand icon
The tui.
So many birds are crammed
together on this lush island
that the battle for territory
is constant and unavoidable.
But it was not always this way.
Pacific rats arrived in new
Zealand in the 13th century
as stowaways with the
first polynesian explorers.
Small ground-dwelling
birds and their eggs
were easy prey for the
voracious, fast-breeding
Then the wave of
European settlement
crashed on New Zealand shores.
Even more dangerous
arrival swept in
Cats, ferrets, and other
predatory mammals.
The wild fauna of new
Zealand was decimated,
with many species lost forever.
North of the city of Auckland,
13 miles offshore, the wildlife
on little barrier island
suffered as much
as the rest of the country.
But in 1895, it became one
of New Zealand's first nature
reserves, with
introduced predators
finally eradicated in 2004.
Since then, the dawn chorus
has grown louder and louder.
It has been a vital sanctuary
for many rare native birds.
The whitehead was
close to extinction,
as was the blue wattled kokako.
And the hihi would
have been lost forever
without little barrier island.
Now, these birds are
being used to repopulate
other parts of the country.
The island is New Zealand's
ark, 13 miles of saltwater protected
from the alien invasion.
On the mainland,
the native wildlife
is still being ravaged.
To create a sanctuary
here requires
different, less scenic tactics.
Orokonui ecosanctuary
lies over 700 miles away
from little barrier island
near the southern edge
of New Zealand.
Here, a six-mile long,
seven-foot high fence
has created a hilltop citadel.
Without the natural
isolation offered by an island,
pest control is a
much more active job
at orokonui, with the
threat of a predator break-in
ever present.
It offers 750 acres of safety
where bird life is booming.
Rare natives like
the curious kaka
are flourishing here and
making their own way
beyond the fence to
repopulate the surrounding area.
Birds make up the vast majority
of the endemic vertebrates
in New Zealand.
The only native
mammals here are bats.
And with no mammalian
predators around,
the birds evolved in
safety, but birds didn't have
the place all to themselves.
Reptiles also thrived.
The tuatara is the last
survivor of a 200 million year old
Their spiny vertebrae more
closely resemble those of fish
and amphibians than lizards.
And they have a
unique hemoglobin
that is strikingly inefficient
at carrying oxygen
around their bloodstream.
You see, the thing
about tuatara is
They are very, very, slow.
Tuatara only grow to
2 pounds, but they are
actually the largest
native reptile species
in the whole country.
There was so little
competition in New Zealand
that they hold the title of top
endemic terrestrial predator.
Their only threat comes
from large birds of prey.
The tuatara diet is mostly
made up of invertebrates.
But if they don't make
a kill, it's no big deal
Their metabolism is
so slow that one meal
will last them for a long time.
They live for up to 100 years,
only reaching sexual maturity
between 10 and 20.
Females produce one egg
every two to seven years
and incubate it for over a year.
So, it's no wonder that
voracious, invasive mammals
that have so many offspring
had such a devastating
impact on the tuatara.
Wild fortresses like orokonui
are allowing the tuatara
to rise again, along with
other native creatures
that evolved to be helpless
against the unopposable mammal
This fortress lies in
the southerly temperate
latitudes, often
buffeted by weather
moving in from Antarctica.
700 miles north, little barrier
is subtropical and humid.
Here, the ancient forest
is bursting with fruit.
The kokako has found
a haven on little barrier.
Its distinctive song can
be heard in few other places
in the country.
It was pulled back from
the brink of extinction
and a small population
trans-located here in 1981.
Now their numbers
are growing steadily.
A male returns to his nest
with a gruel of chewed up
leaves and berries.
There are now more than
100 pairs on this island alone.
Bird life can thrive here
thanks to the unique and pristine
ecosystem that is like
a perfect feedback loop.
Millions of seabirds
nest on the island,
returning vast
quantities of calcium,
lime, and phosphates
to the soil in the form
of well-digested seafood.
This fertilizer helps
support around 400 species
of native plants, many of
them endangered, a doomsday
vault for New Zealand flora.
The rich humus leads to
an explosion of invertebrates,
like the rare and
strange giraffe weevil,
with its huge proboscis
And the venomous 10
inch long giant centipede.
The invertebrates, of course,
feed back into the food web.
With such a huge
amount of food, the birds
thrive, meaning they can live
in unusually small territories,
leading to an
incredible density of life.
Far to the south behind
the wire of orokonui
Life is a little tougher.
An extremely rare and ancient
resident stalks the tussock.
This is a takahe.
It has a remarkable
story of resurrection.
These large, flightless birds
were thought extinct for half
a century before
one final population
was discovered in a remote
mountain valley in 1948.
There are now only
around 300 in existence,
Which makes this
all the more special
Two tiny, fluffy chicks,
barely a day old.
Mama's guarding the nest
while dad is out foraging.
In the wild, the parents
would usually only
be able to provide
enough food for one chick
and the other would perish.
But in the orokonui
sanctuary, the chance
of raising two chicks
successfully is much higher.
Dad forages on tussock grasses,
pulling up a blade in search
of the juicy, tender base.
It's a low-calorie food, so
foraging takes a long time.
Here in the deep south, the
weather can change rapidly.
A southerly wind
picks up, blowing
cold, moisture-laden
air in off the south pacific.
When it meets
orokonui's hills, it
condenses into cloud and rain.
For orokonui, the precipitation
is crucial to the health
of the sanctuary.
The rain clouds
are also building
over little barrier island.
The warmer seas
of the north fill the air
with much more moisture.
The 2,500 foot-peaks
force the air
upwards where the
vapor condenses, creating
an almost constant shroud.
This inspired the
indigenous maori people
to name this place
te hauturu o toi,
the resting place of the wind.
The rain slakes
the island's thirst.
The streams swell, but
these are volatile waterways.
Two days later, and the
torrent has transformed
into a series of calm pools.
These are a fickle refuge for
a rare species of native fish,
banded kokopu.
Growing up to
8-inches long, they
usually live in pools
with a dense canopy
of vegetation overhead.
They wait for the
telltale ripple of moths
and flies before plucking
them from the surface.
The pools formed
by the downpour are
temporary baths for the birds.
But there's usually
competition for a bathing spot.
The bellbirds seem to
have found a quiet pool.
Most birds need regular
baths to keep their plumage
in peak condition.
A juvenile must
wait until the adult
is finished before
it can take a turn
to care for its patchy coat.
But it's not long before
a saddleback turns up.
They are confident, rowdy,
and larger than the bellbirds.
And the bellbirds decide
to give way to the bully.
Saddlebacks seem
tough and curious,
but fearlessness is not a
good quality when dealing with
introduced predators
Perhaps that's why the
species was almost wiped out.
They are now completely
extinct outside of sanctuaries.
But here on the island,
they rule the roost.
The storm has
passed at orokonui.
It's still cold, but
that's no problem
for the south island Robin.
A quick shiver, and she's
put on an instant down jacket.
Dad finally returns with food.
He separates the
soft part from the stem
before passing
it to his partner.
Like many birds, takahe
pairs will likely stay together
for life, especially if they are
successful in raising young.
This far south, temperatures
only average 50 degrees
fahrenheit in the springtime.
It's a cold environment
for cold-blooded animals
to survive in.
That's why the
exquisite jewelled gecko
is active during the day, unlike
most other species of gecko.
On a sunny day like today,
they can be at their most active.
He's in his
element in the trees.
Sticky feet and
a prehensile tail
help him weave his way
through the tangle of branches.
Their dazzling design has
attracted human collectors.
One of these little lizards can
fetch over 20,000 us dollars.
And illegal poaching has
contributed to their decline.
But in sanctuaries
like orokonui,
all they have to worry
about is finding some privacy.
The female won't
lay fertilized eggs,
but keep them inside
her body for safety.
They will hatch there,
and the young will emerge
fully formed and ready to hunt.
Of the more than one and a
half thousand species of gecko
in the world, New Zealand
geckos are the only ones
that give birth this way.
She is doing her part
in their slow march
towards repopulation.
Male Robins are
highly territorial.
This one has claimed
a great foraging
ground to search
for invertebrates
in the leaf litter.
He'll defend it
against any rival
because good territory is
the best way to attract a mate,
And this young lady
likes what she sees.
But Robin courtship
follows a strict etiquette.
Firstly, the gentleman
requests her presence
with a burst of song.
A polite lady first greets
her partner with a curtsy,
bending low and
fluttering her wings.
And then they dance.
She is free to forage
to her heart's content.
The male asserts his dominance
by raising his crown feathers,
occasionally offering
her the juiciest grubs,
then standing erect
in dominant pose.
But she's the one
who's really in control.
If she wants to
mate, she'll solicit
him with a special dance.
But not today.
He might have to
provide many dinners
before she makes her mind up.
The takahe chicks are
now three weeks old,
parents are beginning
to take them on field trips.
They lead by
example, stripping off
the tough parts of the grass.
The young one is learning
how he'll get his daily meal
for the rest of his life.
But for now, he enjoys
the perks of childhood.
On little barrier island, there
are rich pickings by the sea.
A kingfisher has found a crab.
It's a huge meal and will take
a bit of effort to crack open.
The roots of the iconic
pohutukawa trees
that hug the shoreline
provide an ideal spot
to find invertebrates
And their predators, like
the rare marbled skink.
Also on the prowl,
a pacific gecko,
one of a growing
community of lizards
on little barrier island.
They're now being used to
repopulate other sanctuaries.
The nectar rich brushes
of the pohutukawa tree
are in full bloom.
They provide an energy boost
for the local birds that coincides
with their breeding season.
The kaka is a native parrot
that uses its brushed tongue
to reach deep into the flower.
The lack of mammals
in New Zealand
means that many of
the ecological niches
have been filled by
birds, and the kaka
is often referred to as the
monkey of New Zealand.
It's agile in the branches,
thanks to opposable toes.
They also help
grasp and manipulate.
Used in conjunction with
a sharp, powerful beak,
they become even better tools.
Nearly all parrots are
lefties, though scientists
have yet to determine why.
Like most primates,
they are generalists
They can eat anything
from tree sap to grubs.
Or perhaps they
gained the reputation
of being like monkeys
because of their unruly behavior
when drunk on fermented nectar.
As night draws in, a
kaka couple reunite
after the day's foraging.
Kaka mate for life.
They reaffirm their bonds
with mutual grooming.
Beak locking like this is
often observed in other parrots,
but seldom seen in kaka.
It looks rough, but it's
a playful act that's part
of their lifelong courtship.
As little barrier island's
songbirds go to roost,
a choir of nocturnal
insects takes their place.
The largest and most ancient
of New Zealand's insect species
is related to crickets
and grasshoppers
The wetapunga, or giant weta.
A fully grown adult
can span 4 inches
and weigh as much as a mouse.
Some believe they filled
the niche of rodents in new
Zealand's primordial ecosystem.
Despite its fearsome
look, the wetapunga
is a docile critter,
moving slowly as it feeds
on the leaves of native plants.
They were once common,
surviving more or less unchanged
for 190 million years.
Yet in just a few hundred
years since the introduction
of non-native predators,
the wetapunga population
has been decimated.
Little barrier island is now
the only place in the world
where they survive in the wild.
But this sanctuary won't protect
them from their ancient enemy
The tuatara.
This one's a dozen years
old, still a child in tuatara years.
She has much more
energy than a full grown adult.
She's taking a huge
risk moving out of cover.
Even as one of the top
predators in the sanctuary,
there are bigger
creatures waiting to eat her,
creatures like older tuatara.
To avoid the cannibalistic,
but nocturnal elders,
hatchlings are usually
active in the day.
But she seems to think
herself large enough
to tangle with the big guys.
As day dawns on new
Zealand's wild fortresses,
the primordial chorus
once again fills the air.
And there are some
new voices to be heard.
The tomtits are
celebrating a birthday.
For the parents,
the hard work is
just beginning, with
constant foraging
trips for hungry mouths.
And in a nest that
seems a lot less cozy,
there are some new
additions to a family of bellbirds.
The chicks are well
hidden and protected
among the sharp gorse.
The takahe chicks in
orokonui are now 11 weeks
old, awkward teenagers
by takahe standards.
They have almost
reached full size,
and their fluff is
turning to feather.
But despite their
size, like teenagers
everywhere, they can't
look after themselves just yet.
The parents are
still feeding them.
The chicks might be as old as
18 months before they go it alone.
But this heavy parental
investment is needed
They are precious additions
to a fragile population, just one
of New Zealand's many
examples of creatures brought back
from the brink of extinction.
Humans were their destroyers.
Now, they are the protectors.
In these refuges,
primeval New Zealand
is being given the
chance to live again,
delicate populations
surviving, thriving,
in these wild fortresses.
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