Seven Worlds, One Planet (2019–…): Season 1, Episode 2 - Asia - full transcript

Asia is the largest and most extreme continent on Earth. The animals here live in the hottest deserts, tallest jungles and highest mountains in the world, but global warming and deforestation threaten many species including the orangutan.

Asia, the largest of all
the Earth's continents.

It stretches from the equator
to beyond the Arctic Circle.

This is a continent of extremes.

Here, temperatures can drop to
below minus 60 degrees Celsius.

On land, survival
is almost impossible.

But, for a few weeks in summer,

the ice melts and
the coast is transformed.

This is one of the biggest
gatherings of mammals

to be found anywhere on Earth.


These are Pacific walrus.

For most of the year, they feed
out in the Arctic Ocean,

emerging to rest on the sea ice.

But now, climate change
has melted the ice here,

and the only place within reach
of their feeding grounds

where they can rest are
a few beaches such as this one.

100,000 of them - almost the entire
world population - are here.


They are gigantic.

A male can weigh over a tonne.

And many die in the scrum.

On a beach 250 miles to the west,
there's a further danger.

Polar bears.

They, too, have been forced
to spend more time ashore

by the dwindling ice.

And now, they're very hungry.



But adult walrus are tough,
well-armed and agile in water...

..and could fatally injure the bear.

He's failed.

The narrow beaches here
are backed by cliffs...

..and some walrus scramble up them,
escaping the crowd.

At the top, they are 80 metres
above the beach.

But this is not a place
where a walrus should be...

..nor are they the only ones
to have found it.

The bears have got up here too.

The walrus' instinct is
to find safety in the water.

They can still smell the sea.

And they can hear it.

Just the polar bears' presence
is enough to spook the walrus.


Many walrus that climb the cliffs
never make it back to the ocean.

Even once the polar bears
have moved on,

the walrus need to return
to the sea -

and some take the nearest way
to do so.

As one crashes on the rocks,
those on the beach stampede

and more lives are lost.

In the course of just a few days,
over 200 walrus die.

Now the polar bears
can feed on the carcasses.

These events only occur
once every few years.

But as the world warms and
the ice retreats still further,

they may become more frequent.

Inland, the ground is gripped by
winter for six months of the year.

Two million square miles
of northern Russia

are locked beneath the ice.

But even so, some creatures have
managed to make their homes here.

They leave evidence of
their presence in the snow.

These tracks all lead
in one direction.


Kamchatka has the highest density
of active volcanoes on the planet.

Temperatures underground
reach 250 degrees Celsius,

pushing up cauldrons of boiling mud
and clouds of steam.

But in spite of the dangers,

some creatures travel long distances
to visit the area.

A Kamchatka brown bear.

He spent the long winter
sleeping in a den below ground,

and now he is extremely hungry.

But finding food means
getting dangerously close

to the scalding fountains.

This is the only place
for many miles around

where a bear can reach grass that is
snow-free - thanks to the hot earth.

Putting a foot wrong here
could lead to real trouble,

and bodies have been found of bears
that stumbled into the pools

and were scalded to death.

And this bear is not alone.

Brown bears, by and large,
are solitary creatures,

and this is one of the few times
of the year when they tolerate

the presence of others.

And now, they are so well-fed
and relaxed

that they even have time to play.


This volcanic spot has become
a warm oasis in Asia's frigid north.

Away from Arctic Russia,

Asia has the hottest deserts,

highest mountains and
tallest jungles on our planet.

This is a continent of
incredible variety.

But it was not always so.

Some 89 million years ago, India was
an island lying away to the south.

But it drifted northwards,

pushing up the sediments
between it and mainland Asia.

Over millions of years,
the sediments lying between

crumpled up and rose
to form the Himalayas.

Now, these are the tallest mountains
on the planet.

They stand over five miles high.

India is still moving northwards and
these mountains are still rising.

Asia's mountains stretch all the way
from Afghanistan,

across northern India,
to here in central China.

These are the mountains
of Shennongjia...

..among China's highest.

The forests here were,
until comparatively recently,

the least known in the world.

Few outsiders had any idea of what
animals might be living in them.

There were stories of
humanlike monsters -

Yetis, Abominable Snowmen -

who left strange footprints
in the snow...

..but little else.

And indeed, there are monkeys
living in these snowy forests -

and they're very strange.

Meet the blue-faced, gold-coated
snub-nosed snow monkey.

They are among the heftiest
of monkeys.

Big animals keep warm more easily
than small ones,

and they survive in
colder conditions

than any other monkey on Earth.

They all have snub noses.

Perhaps prominent ones would only
too easily get frostbitten.

The whole group huddles together
at the slightest opportunity

to keep warm.

And who wouldn't?

Even adults, if they get separated
from the group, can freeze to death.

Now, in the depths of winter,
food is desperately hard to find.

The head of the family leads them
to the edge of their territory

in search of something to eat.

The only food here is
wretchedly unnourishing -

bark, moss and lichen.

There's hardly enough to sustain
one monkey, let alone a family.

But they share it peaceably.

Survival depends on the group
keeping together.

In these mountains,
any food is precious.


A rival group?

They, too, are searching for food.

The two males go head-to-head.


And now the females join the fray.

Outnumbered, the intruders retreat.

Their leader is the last to go.

The fight was over
the smallest of meals,

but it was ferocious nonetheless,
and the family is now scattered.

But they must stay together.

The youngest are already
badly chilled.


She can see her father,

but has she the strength
to reach him?


Back to safety and warmth.

The huddle is the only
source of warmth

in these bleak, frozen forests.

To the west of the Himalayas,
in Iran,

lie some of the hottest deserts
on Earth.

This is the Lut Desert...

..and here, temperatures
can reach 70 degrees Celsius.

The blisteringly hot rocks
and baking sands of Iran's deserts

may appear totally lifeless...

..but a few trees manage to grow
in the shade of the canyon walls.

And here at least,

migrating birds passing through
can stop for a little rest.

A flycatcher.

With luck, there might be
a meal of some kind here.

There are spiders in the crevices.

Not much, but worth having.

And there's something
moving up there.

The bird was mistaken.

It was a viper with a lethal bite.

This species has only recently
been discovered -

and so far, it has been found
nowhere else but here.

Its camouflage is so effective
that it's almost impossible

to see it on these rocks.

And on its tail, movable scales
have been modified

to look like a spider's legs...

..and its tip like an abdomen.

Migrating birds only appear
in this barren desert

during a few weeks of the year.

This is the snake's only chance
to eat for months.

A shrike.

It has flown here from Africa
and hasn't fed for days.


Better luck next time.

Conditions are almost as harsh
on the dry plains of northern India.

A male Sarada lizard does his best
to get himself noticed.

It's breeding time.

The wide-open spaces
are a good place to be seen.

He's only seven centimetres tall,

but a rock will help
to make him conspicuous.

And he's already been noticed
by one female.

It's time for him to show off.

The more healthy and virile he is,
the brighter his colours are.

And females like
bright, flashy colours.

But he, it seems, is not
as conspicuous as he might be.

In the neighbouring territory,

there's another male who's found
an even bigger rock.

So the newcomer is not making
quite such a good impression.

The one on the big rock
is attracting all the females.

The newcomer will need a higher
platform if he's to be seen

by a female - and he'd better
do something about it.

He only lives for a year.

This is his one chance.

He will have to fight if necessary.

His rival isn't backing down.

So now, the males can fight
to the death.

The newcomer has won.

Now, he can claim the high platform
and the best territory.

And the females will choose him
for a partner

as long as he can fight off
the other claimants.

As the Himalayas rose
over millions of years,

they eventually formed a
gigantic barrier that prevented

rain clouds from the south
travelling farther north...

..and a completely new weather
system developed in southern Asia.

The monsoon.

These drenching annual rains
transformed southern Asia.

Dense rainforests formed, in which
plants and animals of all kinds

were able to proliferate and evolve.

Some of the tallest jungles
grow in Indonesia,

the home of the largest of all
tree-living animals of any kind...

..the orangutan.

There is a multitude of things
to eat here,

but you have to know
where to find them.

Young orangs stay with their mother
for years, learning how to do that.

This youngster has only
just started.

Termites - an important source
of protein.

But perhaps they are
an acquired taste.

He's off to search for something
he might prefer.

It's hard to know where to look...

..or where it's safe to clamber.

Different levels in the forest
contain different foods,

and some of the most delicious
are in the very highest parts

of the canopy, 50 metres
above the ground.

He's a couple of years old and
he's already getting adventurous.

His mother could climb right
to the top in ten minutes or so

if she wanted to, but she lingers
to keep an eye on him.

A fall from this height
could be fatal.

Where the gaps between the branches
are too wide for him,

his mother lets him use her body
as a bridge.

Only ten metres to go
before the top.

But it's hard going for small hands.

He's had enough.

Time for a rest...

..with Mother.

And this is his reward -

ripe mangoes, sweet and juicy.

There's so much he must learn.

He will depend entirely
on his mother until he's seven.

It's the longest of all childhoods,
except ours.

In these dense forests, it's not
easy for animals to see one another

at any distance, but songs
carry well through the jungle.


This is the characteristic sound

that echoes through the
Sumatran forest at every dawn.


But what can this be?


Of all the sounds in
the Indonesian forests,

this is one of the strangest
to our ears.

It can be heard
nowhere else on Earth.

And this is the singer...

..a Sumatran rhinoceros.

She's tiny, only a fifth of the size

of her more familiar
African relatives.

Her head could rest comfortably
on your knee.

She is the gardener of this Eden.

She doesn't just live in it,
she helps to create and sustain it.

She eats fruits and then sheds
the seeds in her droppings,

and so spreads the foods
she prefers through the forest.


In this dense tangle, she uses sound
to locate a possible mate.

But her calls are unanswered.

She is living behind a fence...

..for her own protection.

In the past, Sumatran rhinos were
widespread throughout southern Asia.

Today, there are fewer than 70.

It may well be that,

as she approaches the end of
her natural life,

she will have become
one of the last of her species.

Because in the last 40 years,
one third of the forests

of Southeast Asia
has been destroyed,

in order to sell timber and
food products around the world.

The forests of Borneo and Sumatra -
home to the orangutan, rhinos

and thousands of other species
that have evolved here

over millions of years - are now in
real danger of being lost forever.

It seems that the animals
whose home this once was

are worth less to us than
the land they lived on.

Viewed from space, the scale
of destruction is only too obvious.

Asia has undergone a faster change
in the last 100 years

than at any other time
in its history.

Its forests are being annihilated.

Its cities are expanding.

And as the human population
approaches 4.6 billion,

the largest of all continents
is no longer able, it seems,

to allow space for its wildlife.

The oceans around southern Asia
are also feeling this pressure.

These seas feed billions of people
around the world.

For many fishermen here, their catch
is their only source of livelihood.

And there is one fish here
that they prize above all others...

..the whale shark.

It swims slowly,
gently harvesting the plankton.

It's almost 20 metres long,
the largest fish in the world.

They are also under threat.

Like many shark species in Asia,

populations have declined
by more than half in recent years.

They are an easy and valuable catch.

But here, there is a respect for
the seas and their inhabitants.

Whale shark hunting has now been
banned across Indonesia's waters.

This whale shark
plays a different part

in the lives of these fishermen.

They feed him and the relationship
seems to bring joy to both parties.

And with this new protection has
come something truly remarkable.

Whale sharks from far away
are seeking out these fishermen.

And in these safe waters,

there is a chance for their numbers
to increase.

And maybe one day, other shark
species will be protected, too.

The people here have made
a simple but extraordinary choice -

fishing in a way that is sustainable
for themselves and the animals.

Caring for wildlife is surely
our shared responsibility.

Across this vast continent,
and across the world,

it is decisions like these
that are key

to protecting the planet's
most precious diversity.

I first went in search of orangutan
in 1956.

Then, there were around 175,000

living in the remote forests
of Borneo.

ARCHIVE: I found
on the forest floor

the rinds and cores of durian fruit,

which I knew was the favourite food
of orangutan.

Then we heard a crashing in
the branches ahead

and, high up in the trees,
we saw a great, furry red form.

He seemed enormous. He was probably
almost five feet high.

In the 60 years since, I've returned
to Borneo on many occasions

to film and document its wildlife.

But during that time,

the island's orangutan population
has more than halved -

leaving them endangered -

and finding them in
their natural habitat

has become ever more difficult.

The cause of this decline
was evident during a visit in 2012.

When I first came to this river
in Borneo in 1956, the rainforest

stretched unbroken on either side
of the river for hundreds of miles.

Today, it's very different.

Now, only patches of forest remain -

so, to film orangutan in the wild,

the Seven Worlds crew
joined a research team

heading for the Gunung Palung
National Park.

This 400-square-mile area is home
to Borneo's largest remaining

wild orangutan population.

Here, they are protected
and studied.

The crew follow a mother -
known to researchers as Bebe -

and her infant, Bias,
as she teaches him how to find food.

Like all orangutan mothers,
Bebe has to work hard to raise Bias,

and this means she may only
have four or five infants

in her lifetime.

This low number of babies means
it's hard for orangutan to recover

from population decline.

Researchers want to know why
orangutan give birth so rarely.

Today, they're following
a young female, Walama,

to find out if she's pregnant.

But to do this, they'll have to
put themselves in the firing line.

So what we do is,
we have to wait till she pees

and we have a bag on a fishing pole.

And when she starts to go, we run
over there and try to catch it.

Yeah, a few years ago,
I was featured in a magazine as

"The Top Ten Worst Jobs in Science".
It was kind of a joke,

but Orangutan Pee Collector
was number one.

So, not...

Not too glamorous, apparently.

Research is starting to show
an important pattern -

that orangutan can only conceive

when there's enough food around
in their home.

The team will now test the sample
to discover if Walama is pregnant.

But the orangutan within
Gunung Palung are the lucky ones.

Those beyond the borders of the park
face a very different world.

Many are left with no home at all.

This footage shows members
of International Animal Rescue

attempting to dart and sedate
a stranded orangutan

so it can be moved to safety.


Rescued orangutan are treated,

but, with each passing year,

there are fewer places
left for them to go.

Since 1960, the destruction
of Borneo's rainforests

has been happening
on an industrial scale.

Huge areas were initially stripped
for timber,

and then a very different
type of tree was planted...

..oil palm.

Today, it has become the most
widely-used type of vegetable oil

in the world, and Borneo is
the location of almost half

the oil palm plantations
on the planet.

These uniform plantations
can't support life in the same way

as a rich and diverse rainforest.

But oil palm is very important
to the local economy -

and it's highly efficient.

Simply using another type of oil
might take up more land,

leading to more deforestation.

And this is where it ends up.

Palm oil is found in around
half the packaged products

in our supermarkets,
as well as in biofuels.

The balance between our needs
and conservation is hard,

but we can offer a vital lifeline
for our forest relatives.

We may be able to protect them
through simple choices

like buying products made
with deforestation-free,

sustainable palm oil from companies
that support local people,

using existing plantations without
cutting down more rainforest...

..keeping Gunung Palung's
inhabitants safe, including Walama.

She did become pregnant
and now has a daughter to care for.

Their future will be determined
by the choices we make today.

Back in 1956, I never imagined that,
within the space of my lifetime,

these intelligent apes
and the ancient forests

they have lived in
for millions of years

would be placed under
such dire threat.

Just how much longer
they will inhabit the planet... up to all of us.

Next time,
a land of the unexpected.

The richest and most diverse
continent on Earth...

..South America.

# No, I don't wanna walk alone

# I want to believe

# Can you hear my call?

# As love will speak to me. #