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Planet Earth II (2016): Season 1, Episode 6 - Cities - full transcript

Cities are the newest habitat on Planet Earth. The series documents the wildlife in our cities.


In the last 6, 000 years

the surface of our planet
has undergone a sudden change.

A new habitat has appeared,

entirely designed and constructed
by one species for its own purpose.

This man-made landscape
may seem alien to animal life

but for the bold, this is a world
of surprising opportunity.

Jodhpur, India.

A gang of bachelor male langurs

has come to challenge
the resident alpha male.

This alpha rules over
a valuable urban territory.

But maintaining dominance here
is a constant struggle.

The bachelors have united
to try and overthrow him.

If they win, one of the challengers

will take over
the alpha 's troop of females,

and may kill his infants.

There are 15 males
in this bachelor group.

The alpha must evict every single
one of them from his territory.

He has chased half the bachelors away,

but a splinter group has looped back
and is harassing his females.

Once again, he has to battle.

Finally, he manages to expel them all.

He returns home victorious,

but with a serious wound
on his right leg.

It's a hard life for him in the city.

Keeping the intruders away
is a daily challenge.

But it's worth it.

For these urban territories

are probably the best
langur territories in the world.

They're filled with
rich feeding grounds.

Here in the temple gardens,

the langurs have, over centuries,
developed a surprising relationship.

One that guarantees them
a constantly replenished source of food.

The people here associate langurs
with the Hindu God, Lord Hanuman,

and revere them.

They're given all the food they can eat.

And this high-energy diet
has led to a baby boom.

Female langurs in this city

give birth to twice as many young
as their forest counterparts.

This mother is so well fed
that her rich milk

can support something
rarely seen in the wild.

Twins.

And all these babies can create troops

that are far larger than those
found in the forests nearby.

With less time spent looking for food,
there is more time for play.

The rewards of living in a city
can be huge.

The challenge is to find your niche.

But how to create a home in a world
that wasn't designed for wildlife?

It's far brighter, louder and busier
than anywhere in the natural world.

The continuous traffic creates barriers
to animal movement.

And in this decade,
the urban environment

is predicted to grow by nearly 30%.

What's more, to come here,

animals have to compete
with the world's top predator.

People makes the rules here.

Four billion human beings
now live in the urban environment.

It's here that animals have to contend
with the greatest change

that is happening
to the face our planet.

So why would any animal
want to come here?

New York City.

This densely built-up landscape
is as unnatural as anywhere on Earth.

And yet, this wild peregrine falcon
looks out onto an ideal habitat.

Strange as it may seem,
this vastly-altered landscape

replicates the conditions
in which peregrines evolved.

The towering buildings
have a multitude of ledges

on which falcons can nest,

and the high perches that they need
to catch the wind.

New York City has the highest density

of nesting peregrines
anywhere on the planet.

Winds striking the sides
of the skyscrapers

are deflected upwards
and can help the birds gain height.

And the great areas of concrete
roasting in the sun create thermals,

so that, with very little effort,
the birds can soar over the city.

And so many peregrines can live here,

because down at street level,
there is a lot of potential prey.

Diving from height,
the falcons can reach speeds

of over 500 kilometres an hour.

But their prey stay down low
and close to the buildings.

Too risky.

The peregrine pulls out of his stoop.

But the effort is not wasted.

The falcons need to
flush their prey into the open.

And Manhattan is surrounded by water.

Out here the odds change.

Ana' in the peregrine 's favour.

With abundant prey here all year round,

it has taken only 40 years

for these falcons
to establish themselves here.

And now, among skyscrapers,
they're more successful

than their cousins
living in the wilderness.

Mumbai, in India,
is home to over 20 million people.

And there are predators here

that, though rarely seen,
are rightly feared.

Carnivores,

lured by the prospect
of plentiful unsuspecting prey

are on the prowl.

A leopard.

Every night, under the cover of darkness
they come out to hunt.

These are big animals,

and they're looking for large prey
to satisfy their hunger.

To catch more than a glimpse of them
and reveal their hunting behaviour,

you need night-vision cameras.

Leopards have attacked
almost 200 people here

in the last 25 years.

But humans are not their usual prey.

These leopards are on the hunt
for something else.

Pigs.

These leopards prefer to hunt
the domestic animals

that people have brought to the city
in considerable numbers.

The pigs keep their family close.

The ceaseless noise of the city
plays to their advantage.

It conceals their approach.

And the leopards are using this cover
to hunt all over the city.

This is a thriving population.

In fact, the highest concentration
of leopards in the world

is right here.

It's not only the abundance of food
that attracts wild animals to cities.

They're usually several degrees warmer
than the surrounding countryside.

And here in Rome, in December,

one animal is taking full advantage
of this extra heat.

And it's leaving it's mark.

In a single winter's day,

ten tonnes of its droppings
rain down on the city.

Starlings.

In the evening, they come back
to the warmth of the city

after feeding in
the neighbouring countryside.

They must return
to their roosting trees.

But the first to do so
are at the highest risk

of being caught by birds of prey.

So, they wait for others to arrive.

There's safety in numbers.

As daylight fades, the sky fills
with a staggering one million starlings.

And then follows
one of nature's great spectaculars.

How, or indeed why, they perform
these marvellous aerobatics,

we still do not fully understand.

Eventually, en masse,
they brave the descent

and fill the branches
of their favourite trees.

On these cold winter nights,
the city's extra warmth

can mean the difference
between life and death.

A city, of course, can provide

not only shelter and abundant food,
but glamour.

These varied objects
have been carefully chosen

by a bird for their brightness
and their colour.

This great bowerbird
has spent over a decade

building this collection of
mostly man-made objects.

Out on a golf course
in Townsville, Australia,

he's putting the final touches
to his enormous bower,

that he hopes will impress
a visiting female.

He spends two hours each day
rearranging his prized objects.

"Perhaps that would look
a little better over there."

But it seems that something is missing.

Instead of going into town
to collect new objects,

he's decided to raid
his neighbour's bower.

"A clothes peg! Excellent!"

"And a shiny toy car."

It's a risky game if you get caught.

The owner is back.

There is one bower
where the risk is worth it.

A particular object has caught his eye.

He'll have to wait
for the owner to leave.

This is his chance.

A real treasure.

A scarlet heart.

"Got it. "

The stage is now set
for female visitors.

His luck may be in.

The seduction can now begin.

He's showing off his best goods.

"Perhaps a little plastic piping?

"Or maybe a bit of coloured string?"

But his guest doesn't seem to be
paying much attention.

"A fork?

"Madame?"

Nothing seems to be working.

Something is just not quite right here.

But he still has one trick
up his sleeve.

The scarlet heart.

As a final thrill,
he expands the pink crest

on the back of his head.

The sign of his adulthood.

But he's made a mistake.

This is not a female

but a young male who hasn't yet
developed that head crest.

And he's making off
with the scarlet heart.

It's not easy finding sex in the city.

Raising a family in the city
is not easy either.

It's spring time in Toronto,

and this mother raccoon has exchanged
her native treetops for rooftops.

Since giving birth two months ago,

she's kept her offspring
safe and warm inside a chimney.

Now, her young
have outgrown their nursery.

This is her first major
challenge as a mother.

The time has come to move to a new home.

She needs to get her youngster
to ground level.

But instead of an easy climb
down a tree,

she is faced with a vertical drop,

with little to cling onto.

Her baby's first glimpse
of the urban world,

from a terrifying ten metres up.

This is the last of her litter
to be brought down.

Its siblings are already

- busy exploring the area.

And they have much to learn.

This one has fallen into a back alley
and is trapped.

Mother comes to the rescue
and demonstrates what must be done.

That's the way.

Raccoons are opportunists.

And they're eager to explore.

But they'll have to learn very quickly

how to get along in this
strange new environment

so full of hazards.

Mother comes to the rescue once more.

Urban raccoons are now
demonstrably better

at problem-solving
than their country cousins.

When the feeding opportunities
are this good,

the time spent working out
how to get to it

is well worth it.

The complexity of urban life

favours the clever.

But to compete with humanity
during daylight hours,

takes more than just intelligence.

It takes nerve.

One enterprising species of monkey

has moved into the city
of Jaipur in India.

The Rhesus macaque.

But how to get a share
of all this juicy fruit?

Every morning,
the troop make the same journey

through the urban jungle,
just as human commuters do.

Sometimes, inevitably,
there are traffic jams.

Once they get to the market,
trouble begins.

Being both intelligent and brazen

is the key to beating
human beings on their home turf.

It's daylight robbery.

There are some animals
that most would consider too dangerous

to tolerate in the city.

Spotted hyenas.

They're feared throughout their range.

In the outskirts of Hara in Ethiopia,

two clans are coming face to face
to battle over a prized resource.

There are about 60 hyenas in each clan.

And they're well matched.

After three hours of
posturing back and forth,

the losers retreat

and the victors head
to claim their prize.

They have been fighting
over access to the city.

Once inside the city walls,
they head for one place.

And they know exactly how to get there.

The ancient meat market.

The scent of all these carcasses
lies heavy in the air.

This tradition goes back over 400 years.

The human butchers put out
the bones they don't need

and these hyenas deal with them.

They're the only animals that can.

No other here has such
powerful bone-crushing jaws.

And this relationship
between man and beast

has now been taken a step further.

Yousuf is calling the hyenas
to his house.

He and his forefathers,
going back five generations,

have been feeding the hyenas

by hand.

The inhabitants of this town
believe that hyenas

provide another very important service.

Eating the bad spirits
that haunt the streets.

These are wild and ferocious animals,

but once within these city walls,

they behave in a completely
different way.

Throughout the rest of Africa,
spotted hyenas are feared

because they kill livestock,
sometimes even children.

They are perhaps the most
vilified animal on our planet.

However, here in Harar,

their relationship with people
is entirely peaceful.

They have won the trust of man.

Losing its fear of humans

has enabled one animal
to spread into cities everywhere,

and in huge numbers.

Pigeons are by far
the most successful urban bird.

Here, in Albi, in the south of France,

the pigeons come to the river to bathe.

They need to preen
their flight feathers,

clean off the city dust,

and cool themselves down.

But death lies in wait.

A predator that has taken advantage

of the very thing that has led
to the pigeon's success...

Their lack of fear.

As the pigeons bathe,
oil from their plumage flows downstream,

and is detected.

A monstrous Wels catfish.

Introduced here just 40 years ago,
they have proliferated.

Virtually exterminated
the local fish stocks...

And they've now developed a taste
for pigeon.

Their eyesight is poor,

so they use their barbels to sense
the movements of their victims.

This is a radical new hunting strategy

for what is normally
a bottom-dwelling fish.

After a thousand years
of living in this city,

pigeons are now having to learn
to avoid a fish.

Our cities are always changing.

Sometimes very swiftly.

And animals must cope with the changes,

or disappear.

One of the greatest changes
in recent times

has come from a single invention
made less than 140 years ago.

Electric light.

It has become more and more powerful,

filling our streets with light.

It's everywhere in the city.

It even goes underground.

The difference between day and night
is becoming less and less perceptible.

And that has a profound effect
on the activities of wildlife.

In the wilderness,
light triggers all kinds of behaviour.

On the night of the full moon,

hundreds of tiny
hawksbill turtle hatchlings

emerge from the safety of their nest
deep in the sand.

Their instinct is to reach the sea
as quickly as possible.

And their guide is the light
of the full moon reflected on the water.

But this young hatchling is confused.

It's going in the wrong direction.

Bright light is coming from the land.

And all these hatchlings
are travelling up the beach towards it.

Predators are ready to take advantage.

Crabs now make their burrows
directly beneath the beach lights

and wait for their prey to come to them.

Even if a hatchling escapes,

they're still in peril.

The lights become
more and more bewildering.

80% of all hatchlings on this beach

are now disorientated
by the lights of the town.

Roads bring many to their end.

Hundreds get trapped
in storm drains every night.

Exhausted by the effort of travelling
such a distance on land,

this hatchling's chances
of surviving the night are slim.

This turtle is one of
the countless species

that have been unable
to adapt to the change

brought about by the urban environment.

Only a small number of animals

have managed to find ways
of living alongside us.

And every ten years,
an area the size of Britain

disappears under a jungle of concrete.

But it doesn't have to be like this.

Could it not be possible to build cities
more in harmony with nature?

How, and whether we decide to invite
the wildlife back, is up to us.

This tree is rising nearly 50 storeys.

It's one of almost 800 being planted
to create a vertical forest in Milan.

This number of living trees would
normally fill two hectares of woodland,

but here, they occupy
one-tenth of that area.

Greening the walls
and roofs of our buildings

could create
a rich and extensive habitat,

if we wanted it to do so.

There is one city where that idea
is being applied on a major scale.

Singapore.

Two million trees have been planted here
in the last 45 years.

This city is now richer in species
than any other in the world.

And this practice extends
to all parts of the city.

The waterways have been cleaned up,

and smooth-coated otters
are coming back.

But perhaps the most spectacular
example of city greening

is this grove of super trees.

These 50-metre high metal structures
are now full of life.

Creepers have been planted
to grow over the outermost branches.

Is this a vision
of our cities of the future?

The potential to see animals
thriving within our cities

is achievable across the globe.

More than half of us now live in
an urban environment.

Whether we choose
to create a home for others too

is up to us.