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Planet Earth II (2016): Season 1, Episode 2 - Mountains - full transcript

The wildlife documentary series with David Attenborough continues with a unique and intimate glimpse into secretive lives of mountain-dwelling animals.


There are only
fourteen peaks in the world

that rise to over 8,000 metres.

All of them are here in the Himalayas.

Lethally cold,
scarred by gales and blizzards,

these mountains are among
the most hostile places on Earth.

Yet, a few special animals
manage to live here.

Snow leopards.

Like all creatures
of the high mountains,

they have had to adapt
both their body and their behaviour,

in order to survive.

Life at extreme altitude has shaped

some of the toughest animals
on the planet.

The sun-baked mountains
of the Arabian Peninsula.

They may only be a fraction
of the height of the Himalayas,

but they are still so dizzyingly steep

that in many places it's almost
impossible to get a foothold.

Yet, Nubian ibex
have made this their home.

The ibex choose the steepest cliffs
to raise their young

in safety,
beyond the reach of predators.

But living this sanctuary
comes with a cost.

These nursery slopes are so steep,

there is almost
no standing water up here.

So, to drink, an ibex family
must descend into the valley,

three hundred metres below.

The mothers pick out
the safest way down.

With soft cloven hooves that grip better
than any climbing shoe,

they are the most
accomplished mountaineers.

But the newborn kids
are still having to find their feet.

This is their first descent.

One mistake could make it their last.

Following the adults,
the kids finally reach the valley.

But once on level ground,
they're vulnerable.

Red foxes lie in wait.

At the first sign of danger,

the young ibex instinctively
run back to steeper ground.

But heading for
this particular rocky outcrop

could be a mistake.

It's a ten-metre drop.

The fox has them trapped,
or so it seems.

This is what ibex were born to do.

Scattering makes it hard
for the fox to pick a target.

And it certainly
can't follow them up here.

All it can do is wait
for one to slip and fall.

But these youngsters are fast learners

and they're now almost as sure-footed
as their parents.

The fox will have to find
its meal elsewhere.

It's just not been a good day.

Now, at last, the young ibex can drink.

But they'll soon need to return
to the safety of the sheer cliffs.

Mastering precipitous terrain
is always challenging,

but there are more fundamental problems
for life in the mountains.

The Alps, Europe's highest peaks.

It's winter,
and food is desperately short.

The golden eagle
has to spend every daylight hour

scanning the slopes for something,
somewhere, to eat.

Her two-metre wingspan
allows her to glide effortlessly

for over 100 kilometres in a single day.

Her extraordinary eyes
enable her to spot prey

from over three kilometres away.

But she is not the only one
who's looking for food.

When she spots a chance,
she must move fast.

She can dive at
over 300 kilometres an hour,

only a peregrine is faster.

During winter, even eagles rely
almost entirely on carrion.

It's a dead fox,
and it could sustain her for days.

Other scavengers must defer.

The hungry crows
soon regain their courage.

They'll try any trick to steal a morsel.

And they are annoyingly persistent.

But this mob
are the least of her worries.

A bigger eagle takes control.

But this kill
is too important to give up,

so she must fight.

For the moment,
she's won the carcass back.

But a kill like this will attract
every eagle for miles around.

As ever, the strongest
wins the lion's share.

Unable to defend the carcass any longer,

the first eagle
must now continue its search.

It may be many days
before she feeds again.

Only the most competitive

will survive the perils
of the mountain winter.

An avalanche,
nine million tonnes of snow

travelling at 120 kilometres an hour,

capable of smashing
everything in its path.

The mountains of North America

are hit by thousands of
avalanches every year.

Yet, one animal spends the whole winter

slumbering within the snow
on these avalanche-prone slopes.

And when spring comes, they emerge.

All across these mountains,

grizzly bears make their winter dens
up to 3,000 metres high

in the deep snow of leeward slopes.

And while they were
half asleep in the depths of winter,

their young were born.

Now, these cubs are taking their
first steps into the outside world.

This mother is leading
her three youngsters

to a place where they can find food.

They need to descend
as quickly as possible.

The debris from an avalanche
is clear evidence

that this slope is still
dangerously unstable.

This is not a place to dawdle.

And they have another reason
to keep moving.

After five months in the den,
these bears are very hungry.

Bears that have hibernated
throughout these peaks

now all descend to the valleys,

where spring comes earliest.

In the Rockies, seasonal change
is swift and dramatic.

In just a few days, the slopes
turn from white to green.

Meadows that only a few weeks ago
were buried beneath the snow

are now full of life.

But in these mountains,
the good times will not last long.

So the bears must feed
as fast as they can.

During the summer months,

an adult can put on 180 kilos,
gorging on plants.

And if they can catch them...

...a marmot or two.

But, just now, the bears have
something else on their minds.

It's becoming warmer,

and the bears are keen
to shed their thick winter coats.

Mothers show the cubs
what to do about this.

They'll soon catch on.

Some trees, it seems,
are particularly suitable for rubbing.

Bears have their favourites,

and will travel
long distances to visit them.

Some itches just have to be scratched.

There are now around
30 bears in this one valley.

As they rub, each leaves an individual
and recognisable scent.

So the tree soon
carries a list of who's around.

Which might help individuals
to avoid a fight.

To best spread their scent.

they really have to put
their back into it.

But the summer is short.

Itches satisfactorily scratched,

it's time to eat.

In a couple of months,

they will have to return
to their dens to hibernate.

So now they must put on
as much weight as they can.

Winter in the mountains returns fast
and hits hard.

Temperature in the Rockies
will drop to -65 degrees.

So cold, that moisture in the air
freezes into tiny crystals

called diamond dust.

This bobcat

is one of the few hunters
to remain active in winter.

Most of his prey
is now hidden beneath the snow

that covers his entire territory.

He hunts by listening for the faintest
sound of movement.

And to prevent crunching footsteps
from revealing his presence,

he uses boulders as stepping stones.

A mouse.

But one is not enough.

The deeper the snow,
the harder it is to detect prey,

and the rewards for the effort
can be disappointing.

To say the least.

By mid-winter, the snow is so deep,

the bobcats are forced
to leave their territories

to try and find easier hunting.

And this bobcat may be in luck,

for this particular valley is blessed.

A river here never freezes.

It's fed by a volcanic hot spring
that heats these waters

to 50 degrees warmer
than the surrounding air.

Hungry animals of all kinds
come here to feed.

Throughout the winter,
the river is full of food

for those who know how to catch it.

Here, even the coyotes
have become fishermen.

But hunting is hard for a cat
that's not used in getting its feet wet.

So he must choose his target with care.

Goldeneye ducks.

But can he get close enough to pounce?

Perhaps he'll have
more luck on the other side.

Here, steam from the river
warms the surrounding trees.

So, up in the branches,
there could be prey.

If only he could get to it.

It's six metres up.

At last, a squirrel.

Not much, but enough to keep him going.

To survive a winter in these mountains
takes tenacity,

and bobcats have that in abundance.

Snow on the equator.

Unlike the Rockies,

in these mountains
there are no marked seasons.

This is Africa's Mount Kenya.

It's over 5, 000 metres high,
which makes its summit

some 50 degrees colder
than the surrounding savannah.

Giant heathers, lobelias and groundsel
grow on its upper slopes.

They all thrive in the tropical sun.

After all, every day is summer.

But once the sun sets, every night
becomes as bitterly cold as winter.

The temperature drops
to five degrees below freezing...

...turning the mountainside
into a garden of ice.

Everything freezes.

But the cabbage groundsels
have a way of protecting themselves.

They close up their leathery leaves
to form an insulating blanket

that shields their vulnerable
central bud.

Night comes to an end...

...and the sunshine returns.

The groundsels spread their leaves wide
to bask in the sunshine once again.

Dawn, in the high Andes...

Here too, the rising sun
brings rapid relief

to animals living amongst
these volcanic peaks.

Mountain viscacha
are up early to claim the best places

to catch the sun's first rays.

For others up here,
the sunrise is even more welcome.

At over 4,000 metres,

this is the highest
flamingo colony in the world.

At night, it gets so cold
that even this salty water freezes over.

And now the flamingos
are trapped in the ice.

Eventually, the sun thins the ice.

But it's still a struggle
for the flamingos to break free.

Walking on thin ice is always risky.

And it's hard to retain one's dignity,

especially when you're wearing stilts.

At these altitudes,

the sun's power can quickly
turn from salvation to threat.

The atmosphere is so thin,

there is very little protection
from ultraviolet radiation.

By mid-morning,
it's risky to linger out in the open.

The viscacha are forced
to head for the shade.

Out on the lake,
there is nowhere to hide.

The white crust of the Soda Lake
reflects the sun's glare

and increases the impact
of its ultraviolet rays.

By mid-day, uncovered
human skin will burn in four minutes.

But this doesn't seem
to bother the flamingos.

In fact, they are on parade.

During the breeding season,

the flamingos perform
these peculiar courtship dances

even through the hottest
time of the day.

They're so eager,
they don't even pause to feed.

The rules are something of a mystery,
but after a month of dancing

all the birds will have paired off
and will be getting ready to mate.

Up here, there are few other
creatures to bother the flamingos.

But then, few other creatures
could even tolerate these conditions.

So, for animals
that have the endurance,

mountains can be sanctuaries.

But rocky peaks, which to us, perhaps,
seem a symbol of permanence,

are more fragile than they appear.

Today, in the Alps,

human encroachment
is changing even the highest summits.

In the Rockies, rising temperatures
are shortening winter hibernation

and stifling the growth
of valuable food plants.

And in the Andes,
some glaciers have shrunk

by 50% in just 30 years.

Even the Himalayas are now vulnerable.

With most of the world's tallest peaks

and covering a million
square kilometres,

this is the greatest
mountain range of all.

And here, temperatures are now
rising faster than the global average.

As the snow line retreats
further and further up these peaks,

there is less
and less space for wildlife.

And that is a challenge

for one of the most majestic
of all mountain creatures.

The snow leopard.

Seldom seen.

The detail of their lives
has long been a mystery.

But now at last, helped by
the latest remote camera technology,

we're getting closer to them
than ever before.

They're very rare.

Only about four of them
in a hundred square kilometres.

There is simply not enough prey
to sustain more.

They live solitary lives.

Nonetheless, they are well aware

of the presence
and the movements of their neighbours

because they leave messages
in a few special places.

They rub particular rocks
with their cheeks.

And they spray them with urine.

The two perfumes
create a unique signature.

Any other leopard can know
which of its neighbours passed this way,

without ever making direct contact.

But there are times
when snow leopards must come together

and the event is often violent.

An adult female and her daughter.

She has devoted the last two years
to raising her cub,

and very soon, it will be weaned.

For now, the cub is still
entirely dependent on its mother.

But staying together as long as this
could cause problems.

The female is now in heat again,

and any male that
smells her signature will know that.

From this moment on,
her cub's life is at risk.

Males kill cubs that are not their own.

But the mother is now driven
by an urge that she cannot control.

She lets the males know exactly
where she is.

From up here,
she can be heard from miles around.

A young male emerges from
the wilderness, eager to find her.

Snow leopards meet so infrequently
that there is uncertainty and tension.

And it's about to get worse.

Another bigger male has arrived.

The mother and cub
are trapped between the rivals.

The cub is now in danger.
Mother must act fast.

To divert the males' attention
from her cub,

she rolls over submissively.

With the males fixed on the female,
the cub has a chance to escape.

The males close in
on the mother from both sides,

keen to claim her for their own.

A fight is inevitable.

The female moves
to escape and protect her cub.

But the big male follows her.

He will not let her leave
until he has mated with her.

With the males gone, the female
is at last reunited with her cub.

But she has been injured.

The cub, however, is alive,
thanks to its mother.

Until her injury heals,
she won't be able to hunt.

Mountain animals survive on
the very edge of existence.

Mother and cub were not seen again.

Until, over a month later,

high on a ridge,
a remote camera was triggered.

The female cat.

She's no longer limping
but she's now alone.

Then an hour after the female has left,
the camera is triggered again.

It's her cub, taking her first steps
towards adulthood and independence.

She is unlikely to see her mother again.

But every now and then,
they will be reunited

through the messages they leave
on the marking rocks.

Her mother has succeeded
in raising her,

but life ahead will be challenging,

and she will spend
nearly all of it alone.

Only the toughest can survive

among the savage beauty
of the world's highest mountains.

Next time,
we explore the world's jungles.

Places of surprise and invention
unrivalled on Earth...

where the battle for survival
is at its most intense.