Planet Earth III (2023) s01e03 Episode Script

Deserts and Grasslands

This is Guelta d'Archei
in Central Africa.
A hostile, seemingly empty world.
There is life here.
But it exists at the
very limits of survival.
For this is a world
with almost no water.
Lands like these cover
over a third of our planet.
Here, life is forced
to do things differently.
This is the most
ancient desert of all.
The Namib - in south west Africa.
It is one of the
hottest places on Earth.
Yet this male ostrich and his mate
have come here to start a family.
Few predators venture
out during the heat of day.
But such safety comes at a price.
Out in the open, the
newly-hatched chicks are exposed
to the crushing heat of the sun.
But not all of
the brood have hatched.
Until they do, the
family will stay here.
The adults take it in
turns to protect the brood.
So whilst the female
takes a well-earned break,
the male takes over for
the most testing shift.
He gently rolls
the unhatched eggs
calling to the young within them.
He doesn't want to
leave anyone behind.
The temperature continues to rise
by five degrees Celsius every hour.
He protects the chicks
that have emerged
shading them with his own body.
At the end of another
gruelling day in the sun
he's lost almost all his energy.
But he must resist the urge to rest.
The cool of the
night brings some relief
but now predators
are out and about.
It's going to be a long night.
Dawn brings a surprise.
Three additions to the family
to greet the returning female.
But there's a problem.
The chicks won't survive another
day in these temperatures.
Yet the male is reluctant to leave.
Some of the eggs
have still not hatched.
But time has run out.
They must depart.
Just a few minutes too late.
Alone and without the
protection of its parents,
this hatchling's chances are slim.
Survival here, as in all deserts,
is on a knife edge.
So desert dwellers have had
to evolve in remarkable ways.
Some have even given rise to
legends of dragons and unicorns.
And even the dunes have
their own magical quality.
Indeed some have their own voice.
Here in Arabia,
this extraordinary sound
is created by billions
of moving sand grains
vibrating against one another.
The eerie song they produce
can be heard for miles
across the world's
biggest sand desert.
Winds have also built
sand into surreal shapes.
Deserts around the
world can appear so alien,
that they seem to belong
to another planet altogether.
Few more so than here in Australia.
Yet one little creature
chooses this desert
to prepare for a most
important event in its life.
A male spotted bowerbird.
For the last two months,
he has been busy in
anticipation of brief rains
That is when females
will look for a mate.
So he's built a bower,
a sort of theatre,
a stage on which he will dance
with a female, if she is willing.
He decorates the entrance with piles
of empty snail shells and bones.
How could any female resist?
The rains are due any day,
so it's his last
chance for improvements.
You can never have too many shells.
But in his absence
a rival male drops by,
to size up the competition
and cause trouble.
Wreck your neighbour's bower
and your own might look better.
And perhaps one of the best bits
would look good in his bower.
The owner is back.
And something isn't right.
Repairs are needed.
Still no sign of rain or females.
Undeterred, he continues
his preparations.
Time to rehearse
his courtship display.
But sadly he may
only ever dance alone.
For the last three years,
the rains have failed.
Without them,
the females won't mate.
They need the rains to provide
food for their family.
Changes in the climate
are affecting these birds,
just as they are affecting us.
A quarter of the world's
people live in arid lands.
So we, too, have to deal
with climate change.
Less rainfall and extended
droughts allow deserts to grow.
And as they do,
so does the likelihood
of one of nature's
most intimidating events.
A dust storm.
A wall of dust up to a mile high,
travelling at almost 70mph.
Today these destructive storms are
some of the most powerful ever seen.
Unstoppable, they can
travel thousands of miles
overwhelming towns and
cities across the world
in an instant.
It takes millennia for life to
adapt to the extremes of deserts.
These baboons manage to survive
in one of the driest
environments on Earth.
The Erongo region in Namibia.
Not a single drop of rain has
fallen here for eight months.
Life here for these
baboons is as hard as it gets.
And it's especially difficult
for this young female.
She has just given
birth to her first baby.
She's desperate for water.
Without it, she can't produce milk.
The tiny of amount of
moisture in her food
is simply not enough
for both of them.
The troop must constantly
search for water.
And they won't wait for her.
At last, one of the troop's scouts
finds a tiny trickle on a rock face.
But not for everyone.
The young mother will have to wait.
Access to the precious
water is determined by rank.
She is so low in
the pecking order
she might fail to
get any drink at all.
Because jumping the queue
is severely punished.
It's risky, but she
can't wait any longer.
A dangerous move.
But there's no match for
a mother's determination.
This will be enough to keep her
and her baby alive until rain falls.
Rain brings salvation not
just to her and the troop,
but to the thirsty land.
When it does fall,
it can transform a desert.
And turn it into one of
Earth's most productive landscapes.
They support the greatest
concentrations of large animals
to be found anywhere on the planet.
Here nature is at
its most spectacular.
This leopardess, believe it or not,
is ready to hunt at
a moment's notice.
She is one of the few
special leopards that have
learnt to hide in the tree tops,
and wait for their
prey to come to them.
Without making a sound,
she gets into position.
Not this time.
And now her
presence is known to all.
But leopards will go to
astonishing lengths to succeed.
And some are more
daring than others.
This leopard climbs up to a
branch nine metres above the ground.
She's higher than the
roof of a two-storey house.
Leopards have killed themselves
jumping from these heights.
To succeed on these
equatorial grasslands,
you must be adaptable
and sometimes brave.
The Eurasian Steppe,
the largest grassland on earth.
It tests animals in a different way.
Here, the wind can blow
at speeds of nearly 80mph.
And temperatures drop to
below minus 30 degrees Celsius.
Yet one bizarre creature has evolved
ways to survive in these extremes.
Saiga antelope.
Small but tough animals that lived
alongside woolly mammoths.
The male's enormous nose
both filters out the dust
and warms up the cold air
before it reaches his lungs.
But at this time of year, it also
serves a very different purpose.
It impresses the females.
And the bigger it is, the better.
This old male knows what it
takes to hold their attention.
But they make him work for it.
And if that isn't effective
he has other ways
of impressing them.
A bush - very majestic.
But when you are king of the steppe,
there's always someone
waiting to claim your crown.
This young buck fancies his chances.
He aims to steal the king's harem.
The challenger charges,
ready to do battle.
This could be a fight to the death.
70% of rutting males will die.
The older male eventually
begins to gain the upper hand.
And with one final effort,
he drives the young rival away.
The king has kept his crown -
and his harem.
Only the strongest saigas
can endure and succeed
in one of the harshest
places on Earth.
But close to the equator, where
there is constant warmth and water,
there are grasslands
close to paradise.
This is the most bio-diverse
grassland in the world
the Cerrado in Brazil.
Here there are thousands of
species of both animals and plants
found nowhere else.
A rich and complex community
that is kept in balance
by this ghostly creature.
A maned wolf.
Quiet and shy, it's
little known and seldom seen.
Unlike any other wolf in the world,
their diet is mostly vegetarian.
And they particularly
like lobeira fruit.
This plant increases
the fertility of the land,
and helps to sustain
the entire Cerrado.
The maned wolves,
odd though it may seem,
are, in effect, the gardeners
of these unique plains.
The dense grass in
turn provides this female
with a comfortable home
and somewhere to
hide her three puppies,
just one month old.
She is so rare that she's
been fitted with a radio-collar
so that scientists can
study her continuously.
And our remotely controlled
"den camera" reveals a mother
only comes here for a few
hours a day to suckle her pups.
She spends much of her time foraging
to provide for her growing family.
Now, alone in the den,
her puppies are suddenly in danger.
Not from other predators
but from fire.
Their home is being
burnt all around them.
These fires can race
through a mile of grassland
in a matter of minutes.
The Cerrado devastated.
In order to clear
land to grow crops.
This particular fire
didn't reach their den.
But it's empty.
This time, the family were lucky.
But her species faces an
alarmingly uncertain future.
At the current rate
of habitat destruction,
these may be some of the last
maned wolves to survive in the wild.
In grasslands,
the land and the animals
are so closely interconnected,
that the loss of one key species
could well trigger the collapse
of the entire ecosystem.
That's what happened
here in central Africa,
when 95% of the elephant population
were killed for their ivory.
Without these essential gardeners -
life couldn't flourish.
This male is one
of the few survivors.
He still bears the scars
from his persecuted past.
But the slaughter
was stopped just in time.
With an end to poaching,
this male is part of a growing
herd that now lives in safety.
Today, it's thought this is
one of the largest groups
of African elephants
surviving in the wild.
As they recovered their numbers,
their grazing encouraged a
healthy growth of new grasses.
And they created
space for other animals
bringing life back to Zakouma.
This miraculous transformation
shows what can happen
if nature is allowed
to restore its own balance.
Abakar is part of the team of local
rangers who risked their lives
to protect these elephants.
And the elephants
didn't just heal the land.
They did something
no-one had anticipated.
As we understand more
about the wonders,
the connections and the
fragility of these landscapes
the consequences of our
actions are thrown into sharp focus.
They show we urgently need to do
everything we can to
help nature heal itself.
To film maned wolves,
the Planet Earth crew joined
pioneering scientists in Brazil.
If you get a direction, Bela,
please let me know.
Yeah, she's like three o'clock
from the car here.
Like 800 metres, too.
Without their help the wolves
are almost impossible to track,
let alone film,
in the dense grass of the Cerrado.
It's so hard to find them,
they're sort of solitary
animals in a huge grassland
with sort of metre high grass,
which is the same
height as the wolf.
And it's like looking for a
needle in a haystack currently.
Shall we turn the car around,
if she's going to head that way?
Yeah, maybe.
The researchers have radio
collared two female wolves.
Both have puppies.
They hope to track one to a den
and set up remote cameras inside.
The footage would provide the
researchers with crucial information
and help to protect
this endangered species.
She's in here somewhere.
Maned wolf, they're so special.
It's very important to
understand more of this species.
When we get more knowledge,
its getting easier to protect them.
But the signal from
one of the females
takes them in a worrying direction.
So it's led us directly into
this huge epic scale farmland,
the likes of which, to be honest,
I've never seen before.
And it shows you what little is
left of their natural habitat.
50% of maned wolf habitat
has been lost to farmland.
And the radio collars show
they now regularly stray
into this unfamiliar landscape.
Tragically, the researchers
discover the body
of one collared mother wolf
on farmland.
The cause of her death unknown.
Her puppies won't
survive alone for long.
Without delay, the
researchers set out to find them.
They rescue five,
one-month-old pups,
hidden in the long grass.
To assess their condition,
the pups are taken to
an emergency rescue facility.
They will be cared
for around the clock,
until they are strong enough to
be released back into the wild.
Their mothers death is
a huge blow for everyone.
For the crew, the only
chance of filming in a den
now lies with one remaining
collared female known as Nhorinha.
She's more here to the right.
Is that her there? No.
Yep, I can see her,
she's there. She's here.
Yeah, got her, got her, got her.
She's coming towards
two o'clock now.
50 metres away from the car.
She's coming behind this tree
in the middle here, let's wait.
I've got her, I've got her. OK.
Eventually the team capture the
first images of Nhorinha on camera.
To finally see our wolf is amazing.
Using a drone camera,
they follow her to her den.
The drone reveals the first
glimpse of Nhorinha's puppies.
Oh, my God.
And she's moving them
something that's never
been witnessed before.
This is very special,
my heart stopped there, like
I can't believe what
I'm really seeing here.
We know where the den is now.
The following morning,
they return to the den site.
They want to rig their cameras,
but can only approach when they
know Nhorinha is not at the den.
Is she nearby?
No, no signal yet.
Nhorinha is out of
here, at least 1km.
So it's very good news for us.
Let's try to approach it.
Barbara checks that
Nhorinha is away from the den,
so the team can go
in without disturbing her.
Very good.
The den isn't immediately obvious,
but the grass here is flattened,
so they place their cameras
and hope for the best.
We're about 80m from the den.
This is as close as
we can be safely.
This is the moment of truth,
we're turning them on.
And we're live,
and the camera hasn't moved.
Luke keeps watch over the cameras,
while the team continue to
monitor Nhorinha's movements.
Before long,
they are stopped in their tracks.
Just see this huge plume
of smoke in the distance,
you know, directly behind the
den where our mother maned wolf
has been with her puppies.
I'm quite anxious. I'm sure the
other researchers are as well.
And the fire may well have
been started by farmers,
in order to clear land to grow crops
that will be used to feed
chicken and cattle around the world.
The heat from the fire
when we're working that close
is so intense that I can feel
it burning the skin on my arms.
It moves so fast, there's no way
you'd escape something like that.
Every single cell in your body
just wants to get out of there.
But actually this whole place,
this whole Cerrado, is
surrounded by farmland and roads,
so, actually, when you
really think about it,
the wildlife has nowhere to run.
After a difficult few weeks for
Barbara and the research team
Hello, how you doing?
How was it? It was good.
The crew have some
good news for them.
Oh, track, there's one right there.
Right now. Yeah.
Can you see? That's live?
Yeah, yeah, that's live.
Oh, my God!
I've never see anything
so cute in my entire life.
No! Me neither. Me neither, guys.
Look at this! Look,
it's looking at the camera.
That's the first
record in the world,
so intimate inside the den.
Nobody ever saw this.
Such new information
of such important species.
You feeling emotional, Barbara?
It's difficult not to be.
I don't have words to describe it.
It's too much for me.
The cameras continue to gather
first-of-its-kind footage,
providing insight into the
all-important first weeks
of a maned wolf's life.
And, crucially, how much
space must be protected
to support future generations.
I really hope that every
person in the world could see
from their house, how special,
and how beautiful,
amazing these animals are.
I feel quite worried,
but not hopeless.
I will fight every day
and every year to help them.
I was born in Cerrado,
I grew up in Cerrado,
and Cerrado, it's my home,
I have to protect it.
Next time
the world of freshwater.
The lifeblood of Planet Earth.
And a stage for the most
extraordinary animal dramas.
Habitat Explorer brings animals
and their habitats to life.
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and make origami animals!
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