Our Great National Parks (2022) s01e01 Episode Script

A World of Wonder

[quiet tranquil music plays.]
[President Obama.]
Hanauma Bay is one of my favorite spots in the world.
I grew up in Hawaii.
This was my backyard.
My love of the natural world began here.
When I was growing up, wild spaces and everyday spaces, they were one and the same.
An essential part of our lives.
I wanna make sure that the world's wild spaces are there for my kids and my grandkids.
Join me in this celebration of our planet's greatest national parks and wilderness.
A journey through the natural wonders of our shared birthright.
[dramatic music plays.]
My mom used to tell me that when she was pregnant, she'd come and sit and listen to the ocean and look at the waves lapping over the coral reefs.
She used to joke that that was the reason I was so calm.
I had spent a lot of time here even before I arrived in the world.
When I was six, Hanauma Bay joined the growing number of protected wild spaces.
What began as a common desire to secure wilderness for people to enjoy has become a worldwide movement to preserve these areas for future generations.
[tranquil music plays.]
They're a place to escape the burdens of everyday life and an inspiration for our children.
They're a haven for endangered species and a hotbed for scientific research.
Not only do they nurture the greatest array of life on Earth [elephant trumpets.]
they regulate our climate, clean our air, purify our water.
When humanity started to protect these wild places, we did not realize how important they would become.
Today, they are some of the last strongholds of wilderness and wildlife.
Some remain so remote that we're only just starting to unravel their secrets.
Take Loango National Park in Gabon on the west coast of Africa.
It's a haven for tropical forest animals.
Yet many of the creatures here are all drawn to the very same place.
[tranquil music plays.]
The beach.
[birds squawking.]
One of the last places where the vast Congo rain forest meets the Atlantic Ocean.
[tranquil music continues.]
Buffalo graze vegetation coated with sea salt a mineral that's hard to find in the rain forest.
[buffalo snorts.]
[tranquil music continues.]
A red river hog with a craving for fresh seafood.
[tranquil music continues.]
African forest elephants come to the beach and mingle with marine giants.
Like this one-ton leatherback turtle.
And there's one creature here who's figured out how to make the most of all the seaside amenities.
By day, hippos stick to freshwater lagoons.
[water gurgles.]
Sheltering from the sun.
As evening approaches, they usually trek inland to favorite grazing grounds.
[hippo snorts.]
But not this guy.
[hippo growls.]
[suspenseful music plays.]
[hippo snorts.]
He has other ideas.
[hippo growls.]
He heads straight for the surf! [dramatic music plays.]
[hippo snorts.]
[dramatic music continues.]
His three-ton frame feels lighter in salt water.
The waves wash away parasites and soothe the scrapes and bruises of the day.
There's nowhere else you'll see a hippo in the Atlantic Ocean.
[hippo snorts.]
But he's not here just to take a dip.
He wants to catch the waves.
[tranquil music plays.]
He rides the ocean swell north, up the coast.
[tranquil music continues.]
Until he reaches his favorite spot for dinner.
Now that he's worked up an appetite, he'll spend the whole night grazing.
As the sun sets all along this coastline, other hippos follow suit.
Leaving their lagoons to hang ten.
[dramatic music plays.]
The surfing hippos of Loango.
It just goes to show, the natural world can continue to surprise us as long as we give it space to thrive.
[tranquil music plays.]
Nature's remaining strongholds are often in areas that are difficult to reach, making national parks important and valuable sanctuaries for iconic animals, as well as rare and extraordinary creatures.
On the other side of Africa, on the island of Madagascar, the remote Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.
[tranquil music plays.]
This inaccessible stone fortress has given rise to species found nowhere else on Earth.
A rock iguana, recently discovered and never filmed before.
His long digits and claws help him grip the sheer rock face.
[tranquil music continues.]
The forest surrounding the peaks shelters rare creatures native only to the Tsingy.
Including one of the park's most elusive residents.
The Decken's sifaka.
Many of these endangered lemurs call this park home.
Like most primates, they spend much of their time in the safety of the trees.
This small group has a new responsibility.
[tranquil music plays.]
At just eight weeks old, his strength will soon be put to the test.
So Mom gives him lots of encouragement.
[tranquil music continues.]
Building his confidence to leave her side and explore his new world.
[tranquil music continues.]
Climbing and jumping is the best training for life in this park.
In time, he'll cover 30 feet in a single leap.
[tranquil music continues.]
Until then, it's baby steps.
He may be undeterred by the oppressive heat, but the others save their energy by resting in the shade.
It's the height of the dry season.
Sifakas mostly rely on leaves for food and water.
But resources in their patch of forest are running out.
The only fresh food lies in small, shaded sanctuaries scattered between the peaks.
[tense music plays.]
The females decide it's time to make a move.
[tense music continues.]
[tense music intensifies.]
A maze of craggy, razor-sharp spires lie between them and survival.
Below, gaping chasms.
[tense music continues.]
Baby must use all his strength to cling on to Mom.
His added weight means her every move requires pinpoint precision.
[tense music continues.]
A single misstep could prove fatal.
[tense music continues.]
It's a labyrinth, but they know a secret route.
[tense music continues.]
One day, he'll learn it too, but, for now, he just needs to hold on tightly.
Expert hunters patrol the exposed rock.
They shouldn't stay out here any longer.
Mom makes one last push [dramatic music plays.]
closing in on safety until finally they reach a sanctuary hidden between the rocks full of juicy leaves.
[tranquil music plays.]
An epic and exhausting journey.
One he'll repeat many times in the years to come.
[tranquil music plays.]
The more isolated the national park, the more unusual its creatures and the more extraordinary their behaviors.
Which makes islands especially important to protect.
Like this one in southern Japan.
Home to Yakushima National Park and an ancient forest.
[tranquil music plays.]
Moss carpets the ground.
Fig and banyan trees knit their roots through the landscape.
Giant Japanese cedars, some over a thousand years old, tower high overhead.
[tranquil music continues.]
Isolation has shaped the creatures that live here.
Many that live on islands are smaller than their mainland cousins.
This sika deer is just three feet tall.
His diet of dead leaves is filling, but it's not the tastiest.
[jaunty music plays.]
And it doesn't satisfy his sweet tooth.
If only he could reach the fruits and berries high above.
But there are windfalls in Yakushima.
If you know where to find them.
Japanese macaques.
[quiet jaunty music plays.]
This is the gang he was hoping to find.
[jaunty music continues.]
Now, he just has to be patient.
[macaques squeal.]
And the macaques are the key to the sweetest food in the forest.
[macaques squeal.]
[suspenseful music plays.]
They say good things come to those who wait.
All the deer know that these monkeys are messy eaters.
[suspenseful music plays.]
[jaunty music plays.]
The food they drop is packed with sugars.
[jaunty music continues.]
But there's only so much to go around.
The deer make the most of the feast while it lasts.
[macaque chatters.]
[suspenseful music plays.]
But a distracted stag becomes the perfect plaything.
[suspenseful music continues.]
And it turns out, there's no such thing as a free lunch.
[jaunty music plays.]
In return for eating his fill, the deer is taken for a joyride.
[jaunty music continues.]
It's good to keep your allies on your side.
But this is definitely the last stop.
[macaque squeals.]
Our national parks do much more than provide wildlife with food and sanctuary.
And we're still learning the true benefits of protecting wilderness.
[tranquil music plays.]
In 1872, Yellowstone, in the western United States, became the first national park in the world.
Two million acres of wild space in the Rocky Mountains.
[tranquil music continues.]
Geologically active and spectacular.
[geysers roar.]
[tranquil music continues.]
Home to the largest concentration of wildlife in the lower 48 states.
[tranquil music continues.]
One of America's greatest ideas.
Established for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.
And it caught on, sparking a global movement.
Today, around 15% of land and nearly 8% of our oceans have been protected.
Most of it in my lifetime.
We've come to understand the true value of these last wild places and that what happens inside our parks affects us all.
Take rain forests.
They're home to more than half of all life on land.
If you're not sure why this biodiversity is so important to protect, consider this.
A quarter of all our medicines originated in rain forests.
We're still discovering new medical advances hiding in plain sight.
In Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio National Park, even familiar faces can surprise us.
A three-fingered sloth enjoys the sun.
With the slowest metabolism of any mammal, he can't afford to waste energy.
But he's hungry.
Fortunately, he doesn't have far to go.
[jaunty music plays.]
When it can take a month to digest a single leaf, you may as well look for just the right one.
[jaunty music continues.]
Like all sloths, he struggles to see.
So he sniffs for the best leaves.
Passing on the old ones.
Until he finds perfection.
[thunder rumbles.]
But dinner is going to have to wait.
[rain splashes.]
The rain chills him.
[tranquil music plays.]
Unlike the monkeys, he can't warm up by moving quickly.
But the rain forest provides the ideal sun chair, from which to perform a neat trick.
He changes color, turning vivid green.
It's algae so far found only on sloths that gives him his unique tinge.
And that's not all.
There's an entire micro kingdom living in his fur.
At least 80 species call this place home including sloth moths, who spend their adult lives on their gentle host.
His perfect mix of thick, damp fur, warmed by the sun, ensures the little world inside his coat thrives.
That's why scientists believe that this sloth could now benefit all of us.
[tranquil music plays.]
He's like a tiny pharmaceutical factory.
Fungus in his fur produces chemicals that have the potential to fight cancer, malaria, and antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
[tranquil music continues.]
If we can protect him and his rain forest, this sleepy sloth might just save us all.
To safeguard our parks and all their inhabitants, we must also protect the health of lands and waters beyond their borders.
[exciting music plays.]
Because every protected wilderness, no matter how remote, is connected to the outside world through the movements of wind, water, and wildlife.
Over Australia's north coast, a quarter of a million magpie geese flock together heading for Kakadu National Park.
[geese squawk.]
A landscape dominated by wetlands, rivers, and billabongs, where shifting waters shape the fortunes of all.
[birds squawking.]
In the dry season, the geese gorge on water chestnuts revealed in muddy shallows.
But one animal's good fortune can be another's peril.
Saltwater crocodiles, the world's largest reptiles.
[birds squawking.]
The dry season is a dangerous time for these predators.
A 15-foot male trying to make his way to deeper water must cross a rival's patch.
But it's worth taking the gamble.
Crocs that don't move in time risk being entombed in the drying mud.
[dramatic music swells.]
But he makes it to the river system that connects Kakadu to the sea.
Now, his mission picks up pace.
[tense music plays.]
He passes on his usual prey.
[tense music continues.]
There are better options where he's heading.
[tense music continues.]
[water splashes gently.]
[tense music plays.]
Cahills Crossing.
A road that only floods at the highest tides of the year.
He's timed it perfectly.
[tense music continues.]
As the river rises, mullet traveling from the sea take their only chance to run the crossing and continue their journey upstream to their spawning grounds.
And the crocs know it making this possibly the greatest gathering of saltwater crocodiles on Earth.
But the water's so churned up, he can't see the fish.
So he splays his limbs and points his digits.
His scales are covered in pressure sensors.
[tense music plays.]
By spreading out, he can more accurately detect the movement of his prey.
Driven by instinct, the mullet won't turn back.
[dramatic music plays.]
These ancient predators have the most powerful bite in the animal kingdom.
[dramatic music continues.]
Then, just an hour after high tide it's all over.
He returns to his solitary life, the beneficiary of the park's protection and the rich bounty that comes from the seas beyond Kakadu.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
One and a half thousand miles of reef, atolls, and islands.
The largest coral reef system in the world.
Most of it protected as a marine park.
[tranquil music plays.]
Beneath the surface, an explosion of life and diversity.
[tranquil music continues.]
It's a busy underwater metropolis.
Corals represent just 1% of the ocean, yet support nearly a quarter of all marine life.
[tranquil music continues.]
The Great Barrier Reef is so extraordinary that even the smallest of places here has a huge role to play.
[tranquil music continues.]
Raine Island is just half a mile long.
A tiny strip of sand in a vast ocean.
The park is a lifeline for 90% of the region's endangered green sea turtles.
Each summer, thousands of them travel huge distances across the Pacific to reach this tiny island the largest green turtle nesting site in the world.
[tranquil music continues.]
Up to one million eggs are laid in the sand here every season.
As they have been for a thousand years.
[tranquil music continues.]
But our world is changing fast.
Today, the accelerating pace of climate change is having a devastating impact.
The hatchling's sex is determined by the temperature inside its nest.
Hotter sands now mean that up to 99% of eggs that hatch here are female.
And there's more.
As the planet warms and waters rise, nest sites can flood, drowning the eggs.
With much of the beach just inches above sea level, Raine Island is at serious risk.
It's been said that we're the first generation to feel the impact of global warming.
And the last that can do something about it.
Our parks, like the rest of the planet, are now threatened by extreme weather, escalating pollution, and biodiversity and habitat loss.
[tree thuds.]
Some of it, the result of the choices we all make in our daily lives.
We risk our own well-being and that of future generations.
But we're not powerless.
We can turn things around.
If we act now.
In some protected places, we already have.
[tranquil music plays.]
In the heart of Africa, Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park.
After genocide tore the country apart, this tiny nation rebuilt.
[tranquil music continues.]
And as Rwanda healed, it prioritized conservation.
The rich volcanic soil is farmed right up to a discreet stone wall.
Beyond the boundary, one of the last two populations of endangered mountain gorillas.
[tranquil music continues.]
The family is making the most of the bamboo.
There are nine females in this troop, including this mother with her newborn, the youngest gorilla in the whole park.
Just three weeks old, she's barely able to raise her head.
In a few months, she'll be given a name by the Rwandan government in a ceremony that celebrates the arrival of each new gorilla.
She and her seven siblings are part of a baby boom which has seen mountain gorilla numbers double.
While their father, Mirambo, grabs a little shut-eye, his three-year-old son, Paradiso, keeps a watchful eye over the family.
[tranquil music plays.]
He seems keen to impress Dad [tranquil music continues.]
and has all the makings of a future leader.
But he's gonna need some shaping.
[gorilla snorts.]
Volcanoes National Park is a gorilla's paradise, but it wasn't always this way.
Just 40 years ago, poaching and habitat destruction were rife.
[gorilla snorts.]
But efforts to protect the gorillas mean that, today, Mirambo and his family are safe.
Even when they do leave the sanctuary of their forest.
They carefully cross the park wall.
[cheerful music plays.]
[cheerful music swells.]
Others, too, leave the park in search of delicacies.
Rare golden monkeys that live only in these mountains come to pocket potatoes.
But wildlife isn't harmed.
And neither do farmers lose out.
Damaged crops are paid for, and revenue from wildlife tourism is reinvested in local communities.
[cheerful music continues.]
Meaning people can live sustainably with nature.
[gorilla snorts.]
[cheerful music continues.]
And there are plans to increase the size of the park.
Ensuring that by the time Paradiso reigns here, his future, and that of his species, is secure.
Active conservation is responsible for protecting so many of the world's national parks and their inhabitants.
In Yellowstone, that's included species that are fundamental to a nation's identity.
[water splashing.]
[tranquil music plays.]
Just over 100 years ago, American bison were facing extinction.
[tranquil music continues.]
Today, in the safety of the trees, a bison calf, just minutes old.
[tranquil music continues.]
Soon, she'll be strong enough to explore her world and meet her playmates.
Some 5,000 bison now roam Yellowstone.
A key attraction for the millions of visitors who come to the park each year.
[tranquil music continues.]
The feeling of seeing a bison for the first time is something I will never forget.
[bison growls.]
It's here that, as a kid, I started to truly appreciate for the first time my place in nature.
That I was part of something much bigger than myself.
I wish everybody had the chance to visit a national park.
To experience the sheer joy and wonder of nature.
To understand that each one of us is part of this precious natural world.
Each breath we take.
Each glass of water we drink.
So many of the medical and scientific discoveries we make.
The fabric of wild space connects to our lives in so many ways.
It's up to us to protect it, to care for it, and to pass on these wild spaces to the next generation.
Join me as we explore the wonders and secrets of some of the most extraordinary national parks on the planet.
[tranquil music plays.]

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