Big Beasts (2023–…): Season 1, Episode 8 - The Orangutan - full transcript

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[Tom Hiddleston]
Giant animals, living legends.

Fantastic creatures.

These are nature's big beasts.

But experience the world
from their perspective,

and you'll see it's not easy being huge.


- The larger the animal...
- [growling]

...the higher the stakes

and the more epic the adventure.

[birds chirping]

[Hiddleston] The jungles of Borneo.

Fifty feet up.

The last place you'd expect
to find a giant.

A male orangutan

is the world's largest tree-living animal.

Being as heavy as a heavyweight boxer...

- can make climbing a little risky.
- [gibbers]

[branches thudding]

But in orangutan society,
size brings status.

And he is the biggest male around.


[bellowing continues]

He's fathered
many of the youngsters in the area.

[orangutan bellowing]

All his sons are aiming
to be king of the jungle like Dad.

But orangutans have the longest childhood
of any animal,

apart from us.

It takes eight years of intensive training

before they can begin
reaching for the top.

The journey to becoming a great ape

begins in the safety of Mum's arms.

[mother orangutan bellows]

Less than a year old,

a young male needs one-to-one tuition
if he's to get to grips with life,

among the tallest tropical trees on Earth.

Some over 300 feet high.

Growing up among these green giants,

the first thing to master
is getting around.

The stakes are high.

Many orangutans fall and break bones
at some point in their lives.

A baby must watch and absorb
everything Mum does.

Choose the right branches.

And test their strength.

Even experts can make mistakes.

But Mum shows the way
with patience and caution.

- Her neighbors, on the other hand...
- [monkey shrieks, chatters]

...take a more carefree approach.


Proboscis monkeys are the next biggest
primate in these trees

and Asia's largest monkey.

But being a quarter of the size
of an orangutan

makes it safer to throw themselves around.


This troop is led
by a much more hands-on dad.

He proudly sports an epic appendage.


The biggest nose of any primate
takes seven years to grow.

It's worth the investment.

It makes him very popular with the ladies.

All seven of them.

[monkeys chattering]

He fathers their babies...

and keeps them safe.

[monkeys shriek, chatter]

Living close to the river...

[monkeys chatter]

...Dad must be on constant alert.

[monkeys squealing]

- [birds squawking]
- [monkeys chatter, squeal]


[monkey honking]

A 20-foot saltwater crocodile...


...will devour anything it can catch...

[monkey honks]

- [monkeys shrieking]
- ...including careless monkeys.

[shrieking continues]

Dad needs to make sure this doesn't happen
to his family.


[thunder rumbling]

Most afternoons there's a downpour.

[frogs croaking]

Finding shelter
when you're this big isn't easy.

So orangutans have figured out umbrellas.

Mum's effort leaves a bit to be desired.

To the left a touch?

Much better.

And as the rain gets heavier...

she ups her game.

Too little too late.

It may be miserable,
but regular rain and tropical sun

create perfect conditions
for growing giants.

[birds chirping]

Not only record-breaking trees.

These jungles are also home to
the largest flower in the world...


Growing a bud bigger than a basketball

takes up to five years.

After heavy rain,
the petals finally unfurl.

Four feet wide.

[bird chirping]

But this monstrous bloom
doesn't smell so sweet.

Rafflesia emits a stench
like rotting meat.

Like a giant, stinking carcass,

it's irresistible to flies.

[flies buzzing]

As they move from flower to flower,

they transfer pollen and help create
the next generation of giants.

[buzzing continues]

A jungle of gigantic plants makes ideal
breeding grounds for colossal insects.


This tiny larva
may only be the size of a grain of rice.

But she's a very hungry caterpillar...

on a mission
to increase her weight 2,000 times.


In just six weeks...

she's grown as long as
a proboscis monkey's nose.

She spins a web of strong silk...

binding waxy leaves to create a tent.


A waterproof cocoon.

While the caterpillar prepares
for another radical change...

the proboscis monkeys
are more creatures of habit.

Every morning, they breakfast
on vast quantities of tough, toxic leaves.

Their huge potbellies
have multiple chambers

that can slowly break down
this otherwise indigestible diet.


Even so, Dad must lead his family

up to a mile a day
in search of more nutritious food.

[monkeys honk, squeal]

But that can also lead to danger.



Amplifying his call
with his supersized snout...


...Dad sounds the alarm.

[honking continues]


Weighing up to a ton,

a male saltwater crocodile

is the biggest reptile in the world.

[monkeys chatter, squeal]

And he has the strongest bite force
of any animal.

[bellows, hisses]

- Thankfully, crocodiles can't climb.
- [monkeys chatter]

But if the monkeys
are to find fresh leaves,

sooner or later they'll have
to cross the river.

And he'll be waiting.

[birds singing]

Male orangutans are the only great apes
who live on their own.

The fruit they need to sustain such
big bodies is scattered so far and wide,

there's simply not enough
for a big family to share.

Dad only has to look out for himself.

But mums don't have it so easy.

[young orangutan chatters, squeals]

This one is teaching her four-year-old
where the best fruiting trees are.

Helping him to build a mental map
of the forest can take eight years.

If only he could pay attention.

Like a toddler, he just wants to explore.

It's the only way
to get the hang of climbing.

And Mum knows the odd fall...

- [branch cracks]
- [young orangutan squeals]

- all part of the learning process.
- [squealing continues]

At this age, crossing from tree to tree
is still beyond his reach.


Mum uses her size
to bend branches and shorten gaps,

while her little lightweight
is left hanging.

[young orangutan squealing]

She's a remarkably relaxed mum.

- But this problem needs solving.
- [young orangutan squeals]


[young orangutan squeals]

Time to build a bridge.

[young orangutan squeals]

[young orangutan chatters, squeals]

Whenever he gets stuck, which is often,

Mum's there to lend a hand.


She even makes a makeshift zip line.

[chattering, squealing]

With years of experience to guide him,

he's slowly discovering how to find figs.

Two-thirds of an orangutan's diet
is fruit,

so he'd better get used to
life in the treetops.

But this existence
is becoming ever more precarious.

Half of Borneo's rain forest
has been destroyed.

Most of it replaced
by oil palm plantations.

Learning to navigate the jungle isn't easy

when it's being pulled away
from under your feet.

- [grunts]
- [squeals]

[both grunting]


It's now five years since this 13-year-old
male left his mum's protection.

Remembering everything she taught him,

he's branching out on his own.

Teenage orangutans
even make their own beds.

- [orangutan bellows]
- He's learned to make it firm enough

to support his weight.


But a larger female
likes the look of his handiwork.

Out on his ear.

[teenage orangutan bellows]

He'll have to find somewhere else
to sleep tonight.

[animals chatter]

Proboscis monkeys can settle down
pretty much wherever they like.

They still haven't
crossed the river though.

Maybe tomorrow
they'll rise to the challenge.


- [insects buzzing]
- [animal barking]

Inside the giant cocoon...

something is stirring.


Like insect alchemy,
the hungry caterpillar is transformed.


Into an Atlas moth,

the largest moth on Earth.

Now she's on a very different mission.

With no mouth, she only has two weeks
to find a mate before she dies.

So she releases a powerful perfume

that males can pick up from miles around.

Carried on wings
wider than a pair of hands,

he homes in on her irresistible scent.


As soon as she's mated,
she begins laying hundreds of eggs.

It's the last thing she'll ever do.

But her giant genes will continue

when the tiny caterpillars hatch.

[birds squawking]

In a strip of forest along the river,

the moment has arrived.

Time for the proboscis monkeys to cross.


It's a big distance to make
in a single leap,

but the coast looks clear.

When a 50-pound primate
falls three stories...

it's a dinner bell for giant crocs.

- The others follow quickly...
- [shrieks]

...using branches as catapults...

- [shrieks]
- ...and their weight for momentum.


[monkeys shrieking]



[monkeys shrieking]

Too small to jump,
babies cling to their mums.

[baby monkey squeals]


[monkeys chattering]



With webbed hands and feet,
they're good swimmers.

[male monkey honks]

[monkeys honk, shriek]

- But smaller females are slower.
- [shrieking]



The croc will go hungry this time.

Dad knows he's done his job.

His whole family are safe,

and the leaves are always greener
on the other side.

[monkeys shrieking]

Since leaving Mum,

the adolescent male has grown accustomed
to looking after himself.

All alone,
he roams the forest in search of food.

He's already the weight
of an average person,

and heavier than any other
tree-living mammal.

He's approaching peak physical ability.

With flexible hip joints,
toes like fingers

and a grip over six times stronger
than our own,

this elite gymnast is ready to scale
trunks as tall as the Statue of Liberty

and climb to the canopy.

The high life comes with many dangers,

but with around 90% of babies
surviving to adulthood,

no other species, apart from humans,

- is better at keeping their young alive.
- [mother orangutan bellows]

And it's all thanks to years of care

and devotion
from the greatest animal mum of all.

It's still a long climb to the top though.

All young males take around 20 years
to grow big enough

to achieve the status
of a true jungle king.