Last Chance to See (2009) s01e01 Episode Script

Amazonian Manatee

20 years ago, my good friend Douglas Adams spent a year tracking down endangered animals together with the zoologist Mark Carwardine.
Now it's my turn.
Mark and I are heading off to find out exactly what happened to those species that he'd seen dangling on the edge of extinction two decades ago.
It promises to be exhausting, exhilarating and exasperating.
But I wouldn't miss it for the world.
Mark Carwardine, how are you? How very good to see you.
How are you? Thanks for waiting.
I paid extra to go business so that my luggage would be out last.
A little privilege you get.
I see you've come dressed for the jungle.
Well, not exactly, no.
Welcome to Manaus at last.
Thank you.
My travelling companion is to be Mark Carwardine, an internationally-renowned zoologist and photographer.
In the pursuit of the weird and the wild, he's travelled to almost every country in the world, encountering pretty much every conceivable creature, and several of the inconceivable ones.
We're starting our adventures in the Amazon, the biggest river system in the world.
We've arranged to set out from Manaus, on the banks of the Rio Negro, where Mark has a fast boat waiting to take us up river.
That's not the Amazon.
No, that's the Rio Negro.
Goodness me.
There we go.
Two things, I think the most important bit of kit, binoculars Oh, thank you.
Sorry they're not wrapped.
No, no that's wonderful, that's wonderful.
And a hat.
Oh, they're good.
Oh! We're hunting for the lugubrious Amazonian manatee, a large seal-like mammal that once swam these waters in vast herds.
What are our chances of seeing a manatee? Pretty slim, to be honest.
They're here, we're going to go to the right areas where they occur, but the fact that it's murky water and the fact that when they rise to the surface to breathe, they have two little nostrils at the top of the snout, and all that breaks the surface is just enough for the nostrils to blow out, take a breath, and they disappear below again.
So not only are they rare, you could be on top of one and you still might not see it.
They were confused with mermaids in the early days, weren't they? Yeah, although you had to be quite drunk as a sailor.
I think the reason they were called mermaids is cos the females have mammary glands in the same position as female humans, and I think that's how the term originally came about.
In fact the name "manatee" is taken from the word in Carib, one of the old Brazilian tribal languages, meaning "breast".
Though not noticeably breasted to the casual observer, the manatee is a large, fully aquatic mammal, sometimes known as a sea cow.
Manatees are spectacular only in their single-minded devotion to doing everything as slowly as possible.
Unfortunately, when escaping from hunters, they have also been inclined to do it rather slowly and the species is now classified as vulnerable to extinction.
'To begin the hunt, Mark has brought us to a lodge 'aimed at fulfilling the every need of the 21st century jungle tourist.
' You've taken me to the middle of the jungle, and we're sitting on golf carts.
I'm sorry about that.
So they've got electricity for charging them.
I notice a phone signal.
I know, it's like an out of body experience.
Oh, dear.
How unusual.
'Whilst I admit to being a fan of the 21st century's little luxuries, 'I must admit that this isn't entirely what I'd expected of the Amazon.
' See the macaws? Hello.
Thank you.
Oh.
Thank you very much, very kind.
The Lodge is comprised of seven towers, linked by a five-mile network of walkways.
Mark first came here exactly 20 years ago together with author Douglas Adams.
I became friends with Douglas in the early '80s and we decided we wanted to do something for wildlife and travel together as well, and we came up with this idea of Last Chance To See.
We got a world map and Douglas stuck pins in where he'd like to go, and I stuck pins in where the endangered animals are and we came to a compromise, and strangely enough, the first place we came to was here.
We started off in the towers here and went off into the jungle looking for the Amazonian manatee.
By 1988, Douglas Adams was the celebrated author of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and a personal friend.
While he trotted the globe with Mark, I lived in his house, fielding requests for lenses and guidebooks to be sent to exotic locations, and I came to know jealousy on an inter-stellar scale.
Douglas, as we know, died very sadly almost what, five-and-a-half years ago now, and I never spoke to him about this, but did he express a desire to go back and look 20 years on? He became really passionate about conservation.
He'd done a lot of good work for conservation after Last Chance to See, and we were both very keen to go back and see what had happened in the years in-between, and, very sadly, I was talking to him about that very thing the night before he died, and we were planning the next trip and planning to go back around the world and review all those projects, so, very sadly, he missed out on that.
After Douglas died, Mark asked me if I would be interested in accompanying him on the journeys they'd been planning.
Though Mark and I have never travelled so far as to the corner shop together, for better or for worse, our fate is sealed.
I have to confess I'm quite nervous about this whole enterprise.
I like my creature comforts rather more than I like my creatures.
I must say, standing next to him, he's so tall as well.
He's so brown and so bright and knowledgeable, it makes me feel really short and white and stupid, to be honest.
I'm quite nervous of Mark.
I don't know him that well.
I've met him before, but he's such an all-round expert on all living things and I shall feel very foolish if I say, "What's that?" and he gives me a long, burning look as if he cannot believe there is a sentient being on the planet who is unaware of what a capybara is.
Mark has been telling me of a local legend in which the Amazonian manatee is guarded by a most peculiar bright, pink dolphin, known locally as the boto.
It is said that if you want to find manatees, then you must first make your peace with the dolphin.
Unlike the manatee it shares its waters with, the boto is a fast-moving predator, living on fish and small crustaceans.
The boto is typically eight feet long, becoming pinker as it becomes more excited.
It should be noted that the boto is only found in the Amazon basin and is recognised as an endangered species in its own right.
It should also be noted that dolphins are Mark's most favourite thing in the whole wide world.
We're going to see a lot of animals on our adventures, but you're particularly excited about today.
Why is that? You know how some people need a cigarette or a drink every so often to survive normal daily life? I have to see a whale or a dolphin at least once every couple of weeks to survive.
I lay awake last night thinking about today.
I know it's sad.
How wonderful! I love it.
It's fantastic.
I had heard that there was a legend that at night, the pink river dolphin turned into a gentlemen with a black top hat - it's very specific - and an Edwardian waistcoat, and ravished the local women, and it was explained to me that this was probably missionaries justifying the arrival of rather surprising pink babies in Indian tribes.
One of the things I want to try and do today is to get some underwater shots of them because they're so hard to approach normally and the visibility is so bad.
There are very few pictures of them underwater.
My dream is by the end of the day at least have one great underwater shot.
'In an attempt to increase visitors' chances of glimpsing the rare dolphin, 'staff of the lodge have been feeding the boto from a floating platform in the river.
' Thank you.
Did you have a pee before you left, by the way? No, I didn't.
I could get into the water, I'm sure it's big enough to accommodate my urine.
You mustn't pee in the river.
There's a fish here called a candiru fish.
Have you heard of that? That's an urban myth, isn't it? No, no, it's true.
It's about this long and if you pee in the water, which I'm serious that you mustn't do, it swims up your urine and into your willy.
Basically, it's designed to go into the gills of a fish, so it gets into the gills and the spines come out, it lodges itself in there, drinks the blood and then when it's full, it lets go and drops to the bottom and digests it.
But if you get one up there it's apparently unbelievably painful, and you have two choices, you chop your willy off or you have to get to a hospital, and given that we're nowhere near a hospital, there's only that first choice.
I've got a couple pieces of string, actually, so if you just tie a knot in it.
Please!I've done mine.
Don't be Which size do you need?Oh Sorry! Wicked.
But the fish does exist? No, no, the string's a joke.
But the fish is real.
Then I'll be extra careful with my family package.
Gracious.
'Having been distracted by Mark's "hilarious" joke, 'we fail to notice that while we haven't found the dolphins, the dolphins have found us.
' Oh, look at that.
Fantastic, it came right out of the water.
Yay!Oh, they're fantastic.
Aren't they beautiful? They're so lovely.
You notice when they're swimming around, they can do sort of handbrake turns.
Most dolphins, all the neck vertebrae are fused, and it's designed for swimming fast so when they turn they don't break their necks.
But these dolphins are designed for swimming in the flooded forest and weaving in between all the trees and roots, so when you watch, they can turn on a sixpence and they can bend their necks and they're very different to marine dolphins.
Really interesting.
Yeah.
Yes! Astonishing.
Very beautiful, and unmistakeably dolphinous.
That obviously isn't a word, but you know what I mean.
'As a creature more at home on the land than in the water, 'I am more than a little uncertain about joining Mark in the river to get his shot.
' I would be a lot more uncertain if I knew what Mark told me later.
Not only is this water home to the candiru fish, it's also popular with piranha fish and frequented by passing bull sharks, the most deadly shark in the world.
The sediment in the water means that one simply has no idea what, if anything, is down there.
And suddenly out of the murky darkness, the unmistakable shape of a dolphin appears just inches away.
Oh, they're very soft.
They feel like an old vinyl Lilo.
One of those little paddling pools or something you used to blow up.
They've got that sort of vinyl feel.
Sorry.
The lodge has provided everything we had hoped for, with one noticeable exception - a manatee.
Amazing.
We decide to leave the tourist trail and fly in search of a man who spends his life tracking manatees, if only the rain would ever stop.
My God, I'm glad we didn't take off in this! Whether or not we get to take off depends on the only man with the skill, and the plane, to get us there.
Captain Wilson, a Christian missionary pilot.
But even with God on his side, he's taking no chances with the elements.
So if you get caught in this when you're flying, do you just have to land somewhere and wait? Yes, on a river.
Isn't that dangerous? Not with experience, you still.
.
You can't be sloppy.
You still need to respect.
We always respect water, fire and wind, always, you know? I don't think Stephen quite realises what we're in for now because we're going to do some serious searching for the manatees and to do that you have to go much deeper into the jungle and we've got a boat which I hope is going to be waiting for us, I'm not sure if it's going to be there, but we're going to search for it from the plane.
Right, Stephen?Yes?We're off.
Are we really?Yep.
Blimey.
The rain's pretty much gone.
Let me grab your Oh, thank you so much.
.
.
The weather and other things, give us a safety flight in Jesus' name.
Amen.
What did he say?I just heard "in Jesus' name" at the end.
May the Lord help us.
It's perhaps only in flight that you begin to get a sense of the scale of the Amazon rainforest.
It's a place of extremes.
The Amazon basin contains the biggest rainforest in the world and a network of rivers containing a fifth of all the river water on the planet.
This forest contains a tenth of all the species known to science and we're on the lookout for just one of them.
Are you excited? I'm extremely excited.
Is that your excited face? It is.
What do you expect me to look like? No, it's thrilling.
It is.
I genuinely am astonished that I'm doing this.
I've never come anywhere close to anything 'But before attempting to spot manatees, 'first we have to spot the boat that should be waiting for us.
' It should be around here somewhere.
We've spotted it? Fantastic.
That's a relief.
There it is.
Pumas and jaguars don't swim on the boats, do they? Very rarely.
Don't tell me there's mobile reception.
Please!There's no signal.
Of course there isn't.
We've flown two hours south of Manaus, deep into the rainforest, to find a boat called the Cassaquiari.
Don't forget to come and get us, will you? No, exactly.
Goodbye, Captain.
Thank you so much.
That was a very memorable and enjoyable flight.
After you.
Thank you very much.
Hey, bon dia.
'With luck, the Cassaquiari should be able 'to take us to the manatee-hunting scientists that we've come to find.
'As our last link with civilisation departs, 'before any hunting can take place, we must make ourselves at home.
' Power.
No, that was working perfectly before.
Bugger.
You actually touched the switch.
It was working perfectly, you complete swine.
Right, let's get this in here.
Oh! No power.
Right, we're going back, that's it.
That is it! Oh, well, never mind.
It was worth a try.
There's no "never mind" about it.
Where are the other plugs? I cannot go for four days without power.
Oh, I despair.
You may well despair, but not as much as I do! 'While I attempt to resolve the complex technicalities essential to the expedition' Oh, well.
'.
.
Mark is distracted when one of the crew spots something in a nearby tree.
' Well, they're saying it's a cobra, which is very unlikely here and they're saying it's venomous, so I can't quite see it yet Oh, wow! It's right here.
It's an emerald tree boa, which is one of the most spectacular snakes in the Amazon, probably about a metre above where we're going to be, hopefully.
Can we go under? I think he's a bit worried about going underneath.
Look at that.
Can you keep the boat steady to get a photograph? That's it.
If you can hold it there.
I'll try and take the picture one-handed.
It's not Mark, it's the extremely valuable camera I'm worried about.
OK, this is perfect.
Oops.
LAUGHTER So this is a boa, so it's not venomous at all, it's It's a constricting snake and it feeds mainly on bats and small birds, and this is how you'd typically find it.
I've never seen one in the wild before.
I've seen them in captivity, so it's a really special moment, and it is one of the most attractive snakes.
God, this is impossible.
The snake wonders what the hell we're trying to do.
Look out, mind that branch.
Poor thing, it's looking completely baffled.
Oops! OK, this is the one, this is perfect.
Mark Carwardine is not just a photographer, he's also an environmentalist.
As the heavens open and manatee hunting is quietly shelved for the day, I discover another side of Mark when he reveals that the risk of falling into the Amazon is not the greatest danger he faces in the line of duty.
A lot of it is quite dangerous.
The trouble is that a lot of endangered animals are being threatened by people who are prepared to do anything to get at them.
There's a lot of money in wildlife trade and skins and horns and ivory and so on, and the poachers who are killing the animals are armed.
A lot of them carry around AK47 sub-machine guns, Kalashnikovs, which they are prepared to fire, and so when you go out on patrol with these people, you have to expect that you could get into serious trouble.
And I was also working in Cambodia just recently and the week before I got there, five of the people who I was going to be working with were killed by poachers in their sleep.
They were in hammocks in the rainforest, fast asleep in the middle of the night.
And poachers turned up and killed them all with machetes.
And this kind of thing is not unusual, it's all part and parcel of conservation these days.
Right, come on.
A little bit further back, a little bit more like that, how's that? Well, it's a bright light but it'll have to do.
Well, here we are in the middle of a rainstorm in the tropical rainforest.
I'm hot and sweaty and I want so much to be in a hotel that's got air conditioning and Wi-Fi and cellular coverage and things like that, but what am I moaning about? I'm in one of the most extraordinary parts of the world, and I'm in the company of an extraordinary man.
He knows so much generally about zoology but of course particularly about marine mammals and river mammals like dolphins and manatees which he's so sweetly passionate about, he just can't see enough of them.
And he's prepared to put up with all kinds of hardship in order to go and see them.
Anything that nature can dream up, anything that could feast and gorge on other animals Crikey, there's thunder.
.
.
It's around the place and it wants to crawl up one's bits, you know? Mark told me to close the door last night because vampire bats had come in.
Listen to that thunder.
We're all going to die.
Fortunately, we are in the safe hands of a captain who knows these waters well.
The river we have come to, the Rio Aripuana, is a tributary of the Madeira, which is in turn a tributary of the Amazon.
This would be one of the biggest rivers in England if it were in England, wouldn't it? The one we're on now.
Oh, it would be, yes.
A tributary of a tributary of a tributary of a tributary.
The Madeira is one of the biggest rivers in the world and it's a tributary.
When you think of the scale of the whole place, this is just half of the Amazon that you can see on the map here.
The whole area is about twice the size of Australia.
And there may be 10,000 manatees spread out.
So talk about needle in a haystack, we've got a task for ourselves.
A century ago, these waters were said to be home to great herds of manatees.
Today, they are few and far between.
We are heading out to meet the one man who may be able to lead us to a manatee in the wild.
I think this must be Marc and Ivano up here.
Thank you very much.
Oh, that's great.
Hello, you must be Marc and Ivano.
Marc van Roosmalen is a self-styled naturalist who has dedicated many years to this otherwise unstudied stretch of river.
He claims to have discovered several species unknown to science, and while the scientific establishment treats those claims with caution, we are still hoping he will be the person who can help us on our quest.
Hey, hello.
Shake hands? Marc has made this remote village his base while working on the river.
His secret of success is employing Francisco, a man who grew up in the village, to track animals.
Could you ask Francisco if he's ever seen any manatees? He saw.
Oh, really? Recently? When was the last time? He has seen it a week ago.
And where was that? Here, very close here, in the lake.
He's telling me now that he just saw them feeding in these lakes behind the Just over here.
It's really close so we could go there and he says you can see them feeding on the floating vegetation.
Would he be willing to take us? Yes, we can go anytime.
MUSIC The place where Francisco suggests we hunt is a few miles up the river.
While we travel, Mark discovers that Ivano's taste for endangered species developed at an early age.
When I was a child, we ate manatee a lot.
You loved to eat manatees? I thought you loved to watch manatees.
Because the meat of manatee is not like a fish, it's different.
The taste is like a cow.
Really, like beef?Yes, like beef.
Have you had it in the last few years? No, no, I think the last time I ate manatee was like 10, 12 years ago.
Do you miss it? A lot.
Do you really? It was really that tasty? Yes, lovely, very lovely.
So you can't get manatee meat anymore? No, no, it's illegal.
We cannot eat, we cannot find because nobody wants to sell, because it's illegal.
Is there not a black market for manatee meat? Maybe sometimes you can get, but it's not easy.
The boat's cook, Grassa, even recalled manatee recipes from her own childhood.
Her father, hunters.
Sounds like a complicated recipe.
No, it's very easy.
She said that they first kill the manatee and you've got the back of manatee, cos the meat's much better.
They boil it first.
The meat, boil it, and put to dry and after dry, you fry it and you put in a can with the fat of manatee.
That's the way.
But for us, Grassa is sticking to one of her less controversial recipes.
I gather there's a lake just behind the trees here with the manatees hang out.
So Mark has gone with Francisco and they've taken a boat through all the foliage to find a way through for us later on and see if the manatees are there.
I think this is probably going to be the most challenging part of the trip for Stephen because we have to be quiet.
BUZZING Shh, flies making a noise.
We have to lower our voices from now on because the manatees aren't that far away, and if they hear us, we're never going to find them, so it's silence until the others come back and we just keep our fingers crossed.
(Special non crunchy vegetables.
Shh.
) Finding the creek to be overgrown, Marc van Roosmalen and Francisco resort to dragging their boat overland to get to the hidden lake where Francisco believes the manatee live.
(That's where Francis was saying that they got in (through a little channel off the river, off the main river.
(And there's now a bunch of them inhere, with a bit of luck.
) Oh, look.
That was a flying fish or something.
I think it was, yeah.
It leapt out and swam across.
You can really feel that this is the right place, can't you?Yeah.
It's got a sense of being cut off.
Absolutely.
If you're gonna see manatees, this is the place it's gonna be.
Right.
This is a sign that there are manatees.
They were feeding on these maybe this morning.
And it's floating all over the place.
So we know for sure that there's manatees here.
So there's lots of manatee food here.
It's all looking promising.
These lilies, they're the kind of thing that the manatees like to feed on.
They might lift their mouths and the top of the snout out of the water to get a good grip on those.
One of the best things about manatees is that they're eating plants that have lots of silica in them, so it wears down their teeth a lot.
And they have this fantastic conveyor belt system where their teeth are all molars, and they move forward about a millimetre a month.
And as they cometo the front, they drop out and then they're replaced by the next lot.
It's a sort of anti-manatee device by the plants to stop them eating by having lots of silica, and the manatees overcome it by just replacing their teeth! That's fantastic! That is extraordinary.
Over how many millions of years would that take place? Locally, the manatee is known as the "ghost of the Amazon", and we're beginning to see why.
In spite of hunting now being illegal, sightings of the Amazonian manatee are getting more and more infrequent.
And increasingly, we're wondering if here, in these far-flung lakes and rivers, illegal hunting still goes on.
Good tip apparently is to wear the hat, and then the hood over it.
Cos then you can move your head freely.
Are you sure? Now I see more.
Now move your head freely.
Free movement of head? I may have got that wrong.
I can't hear a word you're saying.
Do you not like it?It's good! Maybe I've got it the wrong way round.
That looks really good, actually.
It's quite comfortable! Ah.
It's an absolutely beautiful little lake.
We didn't see any manatees, but we saw a lot of evidence of manatees.
Or at least evidence it's the kind of place they'd live.
Yeah, I really thought we might see one, actually.
It's disappointing.
Quiet as we were, they certainly would have known we were here.
Relatively quiet!Yeah.
I think you have to be absolutely silent.
We did make a fair amount of noise.
We can either try again or we do know places where there are captive manatees, of course.
We won't leave Brazil without seeing an Amazonian manatee.
Yeah, I really, really wanted to see one in the wild, though.
That would have been the thing.
I know.
The next two days, we searched rivers and lakes There is a movement, isn't there? I thought it was a reflection.
We ploughed tributaries of the tributary.
But if there are manatees in the Aripuana, then they chose to stay concealed in the murky waters.
Some might think that to be outmanoeuvred by one of the slowest-moving creatures on earth is embarrassing, but not us.
Marc has an old tracker's trick to increase our chances of finally outfoxing the wily manatee.
He's taking us to a zoo.
Manaus is home to over 1.
5 million people, and, I'm assured, a handful of obliging manatees.
INPA is the Brazilian research institute tasked to study life in the Amazon.
It's one of the few places in the world that keeps captive Amazonian manatees for scientists to observe.
With a hard luck story and natural charm, Mark has talked his way in to the manatee centre of study.
Ah, look, look at this!Oh, my! Oh, look.
I love their whiskers and faces! They look so gentle, don't they? Completely harmless.
They are a bit like seals, aren't they? There's a great description I read where somebody said they're a bit like seals but they're more like travelling cases for putting seals in.
I think it says it all.
They're not related to anything else.
They're extraordinary animals, unlike anything else.
They're not quite like seals, they're not quite like dolphins or whales.
You see those flippers, their very long flippers?The front ones.
Obviously adapted from the forearm and the hand.
But they use them.
It's like walking, exactly.
They do use them to walk on the bottom of the river.
I think I'm in love.
They've got that slow grace that big animals have, like elephants, which are so surprisingly graceful when you see them.
Yeah, actually the Brazilian name is peixe boi, which means fish cow, or ox fish.
And they're basically underwater cows.
There's no better way of describing them - just munch away at aquatic grasses all day long, and don't do very much.
Just move around slowly - fairly quiet, peaceful sort of life.
Marvellous.
Vera De Silva is in charge of INPA's manatees.
She immediately takes us away from the main tanks to see something neither Mark nor I had expected.
Tucked around the back, Vera has a number of orphaned manatees with tell-tale rope marks and machete cuts, typical of the marks left by hunters.
The people hunting them use the calves as bait.
They get the little one and not the mother.
They will tie the little one and make them call.
They make a sound and they will call the mother, and the mother, she won't stay, and she comes.
Cos they do help one another.
If there's an injured one, they might help to bring it up to the surface.
I don't know.
In captivity, we notice this.
In the wild, I don't know if there is a record of this.
Human activity has resulted in the manatee being one of almost 17,000 species currently on the endangered list.
We're inclined to think of periods of extinction as naturally-occurring pre-historic events.
But the greatest mass extinction the world has ever seen is happening right now.
Human activity is causing it, and human activity alone can put it right.
You need to holdUnder there.
Yes.
So he can These young manatees are now receiving round-the-clock attention to nurse them back to health so that scientists can study them before releasing them back into the wild.
Mmm.
See he's got that prehensile lip, all the hairs on the lip.
? He's slipping away! Oh! I've got to grip him quite hard.
He's got his eyes closed, look at that.
He's enjoying himself so much.
And also the nose here.
Yes.
Yeah, got the skin-flaps closing the nostrils.
It could be done underwater.
Presumably it would be with the mother, obviously.
Yes.
Though he specialises in underwater photography, Mark has never yet been able to get a picture of an Amazonian manatee.
This is an opportunity heisn't going to pass up.
Vera, I don't suppose Icould ask a huge favour? Would it be possible to get in the big tank with the adults?Er Please.
Yes, I will let you try.
But because the animals are not used to have people swimming with them, I don't know how they will react.
Has anyone been in with them before? Er, a long time ago when our oldest female had her first calf.
And she was very aggressive towards the diver.
And she put him towards the wall, so she didn't let the person approach the calf.
It will be an experiment for everybody! OK! This is the first time I've ever done this - swimming with Amazonian manatees, it's a big life tick for me.
Do you mind passing me the camera? There we are, I've got it.
Thanks a lot.
Great, thank you.
Not only did Mark not seem to be in any danger from the manatees, but they barely seemed to notice him.
I'm struck by the quiet peacefulness of these big animals, and the thought that back when great herds moved in these rivers, they would have been ridiculously easy prey.
I can't help thinking of the many creatures, like the iconic dodo, whose placid temperaments made them all too easy to chase into extinction.
In an area as vast as the Amazon, a law to stop hunting can never be enforced.
So the challenge is to change attitudes that have been held for generations.
We have heard of one team who are trying to do exactly that.
We've travelled 400 miles west of Manaus to the city of Tefe.
At first, one is struck by an almost complete absence of cars - the result of Tefe being a city still unconnected to the rest of the world by road.
Though founded as a base for missionaries in the 17th century, these days, Tefe is best known as the town closest to one of Brazil's biggest reserves.
Whoa! Sorry! It's the home of rhythm! The reason we're here is to meet Dr Miriam Marmontel and her team from the Mamiraua Institute, who have a novel approach to ending hunting.
This is Mark.
Hi, pleased to meet you, hello.
We've come to the right place, I can see, cos you've got manatee earrings.
Amazing!How wonderful! Though no-one knows for sure, it is thought there may now be only a few thousand manatees living in the Amazon.
Miriam is draining a tank in preparation for releasing Piti, an orphaned manatee, back into the wild.
Oh, there he is! While this will have a marginal impact on numbers, the hope is that by involving traditional hunting communities, the release will have a significant impact on attitudes to manatees.
So where did he come from? He got entangled into a fishing net, or so the locals told us.
But when we got him, he had a harpoon wound through his back.
So they harpooned him at somepoint, either to take him out of the net or intentionally.
Has he exhibited fondness for you or any particular humans? For Michelle, who got him.
She went up and brought him in a speedboat.
Before the team can transport Piti, he has to be moved and measured to see if he's big enough to be released.
Oh, they're so strong.
Oh, he's very good.
He's so trusting, isn't he? He obviously loves you.
He does.
You can tell.
It's all right, it's OK.
Lots of water I suppose now he needs, yes? You're going to measure?We're going to obtain all measurements.
Piti has been puttingon several centimetres every week, after spending six months in a tank.
Miriam confirms that he is, at last, ready to begin his journey back to freedom.
Will you miss him? You can have all the science and expertise in the world and it only works if you have somebody like Michelle, who the manatee trusts, who spends all day, every day with him.
We may give ourselves six kicks up the backside for what we do that causes the extinction of animals, but we have to give ourselves the odd pat on the back for at least being aware of animals in a way that no other animals are aware of animals.
As a human race I think we're terrible, we do terrible things.
But thank God we have this relatively small number of people who do devote their lives to it.
Yeah.
You were telling me the other night that in the world conferences, people are giving up.
When I do things like this, it just gives me hope again.
I love animals.
I mean, you can't help but be moved by things like this.
I think you've got to get into the field, you've got to get to see things just to remember what it's all about, otherwise it is all just facts and figures on paper.
MANATEE FARTS I think he's just farted! Yeah, really! Seriously?Yeah.
I know, they fart a lot, don't they? I'm right in the cloud of it coming up right now.
Mmm, nice(!)Can you smell it?I'm getting a whiff now, yes.
Are you? Mmm.
Imagine what it's like here.
Mmm, yeah.
Well, at least he's not a meat-eater or it'd be worse.
No, that's true.
Oh, Jesus, yes! God! Holy woly! That's pretty rich, isn't it? He's allowed to, he's only one year old! Could have waited just a minute.
Oh, my God! Just like that.
Oh, yes, I see what you mean about the, um He had a little bit of an old poo there.
Watch your feet.
God, he's strong.
If you'd gone in there, there'd have been trouble.
The nearest known group of manatees is still 100 miles away, which means to get there, we plan to spend the next day travelling by boat deep into the heart of one of the biggest reserves in Brazil.
Oh, well done.
Yes! OK!Yes.
Hooray! Fantastic.
But you know what they say about the best-laid plans.
We should have noticed what the omens were telling us.
The following morning, in readiness for the long journey, we've been asked to get to Piti's boat in time to sail at first light.
I don't claim to be the first to fall for an animal like Piti, though I dare say few will have done so quite so dramatically.
CRASHING Argh! Oh Oh, God! Oh! I had put one foot off the side of the pontoon and fallen heavily on my right arm.
A paramedic from the nearest hospital is shipped out to confirm my worst fears.
It's broken, I think.
He's asking about your spine.
How is that? The spine is good.
Feels good.
Can you explain that it's incredibly painful? It's very, very painful to move or twist my arm.
When he moves, it's intense pain.
Well done.
Oh! Argh! Ah! Take it easy, there's no rush.
Oh! Ah! That's it, justArgh! Ah! OK.
Well done, well done.
Argh! Thank you so much.
Argh! Ah You OK?Yeah.
Argh! Jesus! God! OK, you're there.
Two helpless creatures, side by side, on a small boat in the apparent endlessness of the Amazon.
Hello.
Hello, how are you guys doing? Not so good, huh? Captain Wilson has responded to our SOS, and I'm heading to a Manaus hospital.
Suddenly, for me, the adventure is over, and we are all alone with our thoughts.
Extinction happens and the world keeps turning.
Does it matter if the Amazonian manatee ceases to exist? Some will argue thateach species has a crucial place in a complex eco-system.
Perhaps.
But this is what I think.
I think that it's just indecent if humanity, through our actions, or through our neglect, should cast into oblivion an intricately perfect piece of evolutionary engineering millions of years in the making.
I think that, somehow, we have to do better than that.
What a day! Er, we've been on the go since four o'clock this morning.
We did manage to get Stephen to Manaus in the end.
It wasn't easy, but we gothim here and we got him checked over by several consultants and doctors in a couple of clinics here, who unfortunately confirmed our worstfears which are that his arm is quite badly broken in three different places and he needs an operation to put a couple of metal pins in to hold it all altogether.
So what we've decided is we're going to fly him to Miami.
Meanwhile, I'm going to try to charter a float plane really early tomorrow morning to catch up with Piti, the manatee who's still on that boat, but who will now be about 500 miles or so west of Manaus.
Well, we thought yesterday was bad.
Today's proving even worse.
Stephen had a sleepless night and we were up half the night making phone calls and receiving phone calls with last-minute arrangements.
Then we lost Stephen's X-ray.
We've found it again, thank goodness.
And we lost the key to the storeroom with all the kit.
I think everyone's just too tired.
I've got food poisoning, I'm throwing up every half an hour or so and feeling really ill.
I'm on the float plane, as you can see.
Managed to speak to the rest of the crew on their satellite phone.
And I've got the co-ordinates to their boat on the lake somewhere 500 miles away in the Amazon written on the back of a laundry list.
And the plan is to try and find them there, and should be landing in the next hour and a half or so, if all goes to plan.
For once, plans work out.
And with the light beginning to fade, just minutes before Piti must be released, Mark's plane touches down.
Hi.
How's Piti? He's doing fine, ready to go into the pen.
Fantastic.
Half a world away, I successfully check into a Miami hotel to await my fate at the hands of the surgeons.
But with all the distractions of the West at my disposal, all I can think about is Mark, the team from Mamiraua and a young manatee which has distinguished itself only by a prodigious talent for farting.
Miriam has sent out a message inviting the children of five villages to be the first to come and see Piti.
Few will ever have encountered a live manatee before.
Nobody knows if they will respond.
As the boat closes in on Piti's final destination, the news of his arrival has been spreading.
And by boat and canoe, in twos and threes, and then in a flood, they come.
The local team has built an enclosure where Piti can become acclimatised to the lake, and where local children can come to learn about him and help look after him until it's time to release him fully into the wild.
It's OK, he's nearly clear.
Fantastic.
He's in.
Miriam is hoping that the enthusiasm of children for one manatee will feed back through families and villages, and that manatees will at last come to be seen as something to be cherished, rather than culled.
If successful, she's hoping to repeat this scene throughout the Amazon basin.
So when the day finally comes and you feel he's ready, what do you do, just lift the door and say goodbye and hope for the best? We attacha radio tag him, so we can also follow him and monitor his movements.
And be close to him, make sure there's no hunters following him.
The locals will hopefully help us with that.
So he'll be the best looked after manatee in the world.
Definitely.
Hi, Stephen.
It's Mark.
Mark, hello, how good to hear your voice.
Hi.
'Tell me about Piti - how did it go?' He's certainly in good hands, and a couple of the girls from theinstitute are staying on in the village with him.
They're gonna look after him until he gets moved out into the middle of the lake.
Everyone thinks he stands a really good chance, which is fantastic.
'Oh, that's so wonderful.
' Just sorry you couldn't see him.
Wherever we meet next, it is firmly understood that Stephen never leads, he only follows.
And everybody helps him onto boats, because he's a clumsy arse.
That's got to be understood.
Well, don't do it again.
I will do my very best not to do it again.
OK! Speak to you very soon.
You bet, lots of love.
All right.
Bye.
I wish Stephen had been here to see this.
He'd have loved it.
And it makes me feel really positive.
You can get really bogged down and dragged down by all these population figures and trends and animals disappearing and declining in numbers.
And some of us think there's no hope at all.
Then seeing this and seeing all these people who've given so much for just one manatee, it really does give me hope.
If encountering a manatee can move these children as much as it moved me, then maybe there is an outside chance that the greatest period of extinction the world has ever known will not claim the lugubrious, flatulent, and slightly wonderful Amazonian manatee.
On his visit to Africa, there was one animal that obsessed Douglas Adams for the rest of his life.
It weighed three tons, had a horn to die for, and had one of the worst tempers in the animal kingdom.
Now it's my turn.