Seven Worlds, One Planet (2019–…): Season 1, Episode 3 - South America - full transcript

South America - the most species-rich continent on earth. From the volcanoes of the Andes to the world's largest rainforest, animals here must specialise to carve out a niche.

At the southern tip
of South America,

the Andes Mountains
rise almost vertically.

Their very height affects life

throughout the continent.

The barren slopes look inhospitable.

But like all parts of South America,

they're actually rich with wildlife.

A family of puma.

They live further south

than any other kind of cat on Earth.

These cubs are only six months old,

entirely dependent
on their mother for food.

She knows how to exploit this rugged
landscape to her advantage.

And she has to do so,

if she is to catch the continent's
most challenging prey.

Guanaco, a relative of the camel.

Two metres tall, and over
three times the weight of a puma.

The mother's only hope
is to go for the throat

and try to suffocate her prey.



Her cubs try to help.

But they themselves don't yet

have the skills or the weight

to bring down such large prey.

And the mother is now badly injured.

Her wounds are severe

and will take weeks
to heal properly.

But without food,
her cubs won't survive for long.

The weather in the Andes

is harsh and unpredictable.

Snow makes the camouflage

on which she relies

much less effective.

But she must have food.

The guanaco have left
her normal hunting ground.

And are now in the territory

of a much larger male puma.

He's just made a kill.

But he isn't about
to share it with her.

To hunt here,

she'll need to leave her cubs behind

in the safety
of their home territory.

Almost invisible in the shadows,

she's nearly within
pouncing distance.


Another failure.


She's got her speed back.

Now she must hold on.

But she's in the male's territory,

so her prize isn't safe.

And her hungry cubs

are almost a mile away.

In her weakened state,

she will need
all her reserves of energy

to drag it back onto her territory.

Only her determination to feed
her young keeps her going.

Nearly there.


This one meal

will barely last the whole family

for more than a few days.

Then, their mother - somehow -
will have to summon the strength

to hunt again.

Life for a hunter in this land
is as hard as it gets.

The Andes themselves were built
by forces deep in the Earth's crust.

In this part of the Pacific,

the ocean floor has been moving
eastwards for millions of years.

Where the sediments meet the edge
of the continent, they're pushed

together and forced upwards.

This pressure creates fractures,

up which molten rock rises,

and is then spewed out as ash
and lava from great volcanoes.

Nearly 200 of them stretch in a line
along the length of the continent.

Some erupt with the force of
an atomic bomb every ten seconds.

As the collision continues,
the sea floor is dragged downwards,

creating a deep trench
just offshore.

Rich, cold waters rise up from it.

And this upwelling
creates an abundance of life.




Here, on the coast of Peru,

there are so many sea birds fishing
in the offshore waters

that the cliffs are covered
in droppings over a metre thick.

Humboldt penguins regard
the soft guano as a good material

in which to dig their nest holes.

But it's a messy business.

It's the breeding season,
and more hopeful nesters arrive -

spotless from swimming in the sea.

Time for the residents to get
cleaned up and catch some fish

for themselves and their chicks.

To get to the sea, they cross the
remains of an old nesting ground.

Only 100 metres to go.

But the beach is already crowded
with sea lions.

They, too, have come ashore
to raise their young.

And they don't like being disturbed.

To get through such a minefield
needs a bold and courageous leader.


A brave start.

A dead end.

Now he's in trouble.

This is going to need
a bit of crowd surfing.

But now,
all the sea lions are roused.

Getting through them will be tricky.

A cleansing bathe in the ocean...

..well worth the effort.

The animals living along
the Pacific Coast

are cut off from the rest

of South America by the Andes.

They form a gigantic barrier,

stretching over 4,000 miles

from Patagonia in the south... Venezuela in the north.

This is the world's
longest mountain range.

Many peaks are over four miles high.

They are so tall, they catch clouds.

And so, create an environment
unlike any other on the continent.

The cloud forest.

Every high valley here has its own
unique plants and animals.

One of them is the aptly-named
Pinocchio lizard.

It was first recorded here
50 years ago - and then, lost.

It's only recently
been rediscovered.

Up here lives a creature so rare
that it's seldom seen,

even by those scientists
who have come here to study it.

The Andean bear.

Only a few thousand remain.

They eat mostly leaves and fruit,

often clambering up to the very top
of the canopy to do so.

He's looking for a type
of miniature avocado.

30 metres up.

The only fruit remaining here
is out on the thinnest branches -

too thin to support
the weight of a bear.

A more experienced bear
has turned up and wants a go.

Time for young ones
to watch and learn how to do it.

The trick is to bite the branch
just enough... make it swing down
and bring the fruit within reach.


Now there's a race to be
first on the ground to claim it.

The moisture needed to create
a cloud forest only occurs

above a certain altitude.

So, each peak may now have
its own species.

In Venezuela, there are similar
small worlds created not by rain,

but by rock.

A great layer of sandstone
once covered this entire area,

but rivers cut through it.

As the valleys widened,
the tablelands became first

huge plateaus, then isolated,
flat-topped mountains...

..and eventually towers and spires.

On the tops of the bigger ones,
animals and plants have now become

so different that they can be
counted as new species.

There is no higher waterfall
in the world...

..than this one.

Angel Falls.

Almost a kilometre
from top to bottom.

The vertical cliffs surrounding
many of these mountains

have kept them largely free
from human exploitation.

No such barriers
have protected the lowlands...

..but a few patches of forest
still remain.

One in Colombia is the home of
one of the world's rarest monkeys.

Cotton-topped tamarins.

They're critically endangered.

Only a few hundred families remain.

They live largely on fruit

and are particularly fond
of tree sap.

This is packed with sugars,
so it also attracts insects.

But tamarins like them, too -

a little bit of protein
to add to their diet.

There used to be over 50,000 species
of insect to choose from.

But as the forest has shrunk around
them, it's becoming more difficult

to find the right ones.


South America is changing.


Over 95% of Colombia's lowland
forest has now been cleared.

Farming has taken the biggest share.

This patch of forest
is now isolated.

The few tamarin families here
are now cut off

from the rest of their species.

And beyond their boundary
lies an alien world.


Today, more than 2,000 species
of animal in South America

are under threat.

All across the continent,
forest is being steadily cut down

and replaced by farms.

Images from space
reveal the scale of the destruction.

Throughout South America as a whole,
an area of forest the size

of a football pitch is being lost
every five seconds.

Of all the forests at risk,

perhaps the most precious lies
in the very heart of the continent.

The Amazon rainforest,
the largest on Earth.

Over two million species of
plants and animals now live here...

..more than is found on any other
of the Earth's seven continents.

Food is so abundant that some male
birds, instead of helping with

nest duties, try to mate
with as many females as possible.

This is a male mannequin
showing off to a female.

He does so by dancing.

And he has a team of
subordinate males to help him.

By supporting him now, they may
themselves eventually become leaders

and get a chance to mate.

The team is assembled,
and the performance begins.

She takes a closer look.

The top male signals the end
with a final flourish.

What's the verdict?

Not good enough.

Unbelievable.'s back to practising.

Each animal species in this crowded
environment has to have its own way

of creating a niche for itself.

This is a poison dart frog.

Males raise their young
in a very special way.

A father will place each one
of his tadpoles in its own

tiny pool of water.

This is one - nice and safe.

He might have
up to five other tadpoles...

..but he needs to remember
where he put each one of them.

This one isn't doing so well.

His tiny puddle
has all but dried out.

The tadpole will die
unless its father can find

a better place for it.

If dads are good for one thing...'s piggyback rides.

Fathers are no bigger than a human
thumbnail, but this enables them

to get to places that others can't.

This could be perfect.

The only problem
is that there's no food here.

Fathers need help.

Somewhere in this forest...


A female could do something
a male cannot.

But first, Dad must lead
his partner to their hungry tadpole.

And Mother deals with the problem.

She lays a single unfertilised egg.

And her tadpole
gets a much-needed meal.

For the next six weeks,
parents continue their rounds -

an extraordinary test
of teamwork and memory.

Warmed by the tropical sun,

the Amazon's trees release
so much moisture from the surface

of their leaves that they create
their own clouds.


And these,
over the course of a year,

release up to six metres of rain.

The water flows
through the saturated forest

along 1,000 streams.

They eventually unite to form
the largest river of them all.

The Amazon carries more water

than the world's next seven
biggest rivers combined.

Some sections of its banks
are particularly sought-after.

Scarlet macaws travel
over 50 miles to visit them.

Macaw couples bond for life,

and may stick together
for over 40 years.

Pairs return to favourite trees -
ones they've known for decades.

Parents provide their chicks
with fruits and seeds.

But they're far from the ocean,
and their diet lacks salt.

Without it, the chicks' brains
and bones will not develop properly.

So, someone has to go and fetch it.

Many other creatures
are looking for the same thing.

A clay lick.

The earth here may be 40 times
richer in valuable minerals

than anywhere else
in the surrounding forest.

Over a dozen species of parrot
jostle for space.

There's a strict order
in who feeds first.

Everyone is in a rush to fill up
and get airborne.

Parents have to carry over five
kilograms of clay to their nest

before their chicks
are ready to leave.

Once fledged, these young
will follow their parents

for up to a year,

learning where to find the salts.

Many of the great riches
of South America lie far beyond

the Amazon basin.

Over 1,000 miles
to the south of the Amazon,

there's one creek
unlike any other on the continent.

Here, at Bonito, freshwater springs
bubble up from deep underground.

Filtered through limestone,
they create crystal-clear pools.

And in them
live some remarkable fish.


The water is so clear
that they're able to see

what is going on above its surface.

Brown capuchins are up there,
looking for a meal.

The piraputanga
watch them attentively.

Wherever the monkeys go
along the banks,

the fish follow.

The monkeys are on their daily
search for ripe fruit -

and the fish cannot, by themselves,
know where that might be.

But here it is.

And fortunately, the monkeys
aren't the neatest of feeders.

Every scrap is fought over.

One monkey has the job
of keeping an eye out for danger.

Anacondas are the largest
of all snakes.

They grow to over 200 kilos.

And they usually stalk their prey
from the water.

But it's not fish
that they're after.

If the monkeys stray
too close to the water,

they will be in danger.

The scout gives a warning call.

That might have to be the end
of the monkey's meal for today.

But now the piraputanga know
where the fruit is.

And there's still plenty left
on the tree.

In the monkey's absence,
they go for it themselves.

Success or failure
is just a matter of millimetres.

With a split-second adjustment,

the fish bends in mid-air

and collects the prize.

The piraputanga's extraordinary
feeding technique relies on

these waters remaining clear.

But today, the future
of South America's rivers

has become uncertain.

As the human population has grown,

people have become more and more

reliant on its rivers for one
of the essentials of modern life.


Two thirds of South America's energy
now comes from hydro electricity.

No other region on Earth
is so dependent upon it.

But the way these dams are managed
can cause problems

farther downriver.

These are the Iguazu Falls.

If the dams upriver
suddenly release their excess,

Iguazu can double in size.

And that can cause major problems
for animals that live here.

These are great dusky swifts.

They fly alarmingly close
to the thundering torrent...

..and then vanish.

Miraculously, they're able to fly
right through the curtain of water.

And they do so
because they've built their nests

behind the thundering curtain.

Their enemies - falcons, like this
caracara - can't follow them.

So, the swift chicks are safe.

But now, humans have created
new problems for the swifts.

Just as some of the chicks
are starting to fly,

the spill over the dams
is released in full force.

As the torrent grows,
parents give up on the last perches.

Now the chicks are alone.

But they don't yet have
their parents' waterproof feathers.

Every year, these sudden surges
of water sweep some to their death.


The chicks have never seen the world
beyond the falling waters.

Unless they can find a way through,

they will not survive.

Amazingly, driven by blind instinct,

chicks do manage
to power their way through.

These remarkable birds
have colonised a niche

in which few can survive.

Yet their future - and that of
all wildlife in South America -

will depend on us striking a balance
between the needs of humans

and animals on the richest and
most diverse continent on Earth.

To film one of South America's
most elusive predators,

the Seven Worlds team will travel
to the far south of the continent.

Their aim was to capture footage
of wild pumas hunting.

But what the team encountered
was the struggle of a mother

desperate to feed her family.

Chile's Torres del Paine
covers nearly 1,000 square miles.

Cameraman John Shier has been coming
here for eight years,

but even he has never witnessed
a successful puma hunt.

With so much ground to cover,

the crew use the latest technology
to scout from the air.

Bertie is setting up the drone,

cos it helps find the cats.

Get a unique perspective on exactly
where they are in this habitat.

But expert tracker Roberto Donoso

has 15 years' experience here,

and he relies on help

from a surprising local.

No-one can spot a puma

as well as a guanaco.


John is first to pick up the clues.

Hey. Cat? Cat, yeah. Cat.
Got a cat, OK.

You can see the...

..guanaco from the other side,


That cat is just sat on the ridge.

And the full moon has just risen
right behind it.

It's almost cheesy.

Our very first puma.

Once John starts to get his eye in,

he realises he's being watched
by more than one cat.

It's crazy - so we're sitting here,

we've got this young male

over the ridge,
so we've got that cat.

While you're sitting here, you hear
other guanaco alarming other spots.

And you realise that...
there's just cats roaming

all around the landscape.

Over the coming days, John sees
more puma than ever before.

The situation is like
nothing the crew expected.

For a long time, we used to say
that trying to spot puma was so

unusual and so rare.

But the real remarkable thing
is, actually,

we're seeing cats every day.

And to think that there's this many
puma around is just incredible.

After decades of persecution
by humans,

puma are now protected
in southern Chile

and making a comeback.

But to stand any chance
of seeing them hunt,

the crew would need to find
just the right cat.

Three weeks in, John has spotted
something promising.

He alerts the crew.

RADIO: Not that far,
it's just up here to my right,

about 100 yards from me.

See, he's to the right.

But closer to...
Oh, I got him. Yeah, yeah.

Wow. That's four, all right.

Looks like a pride of lions.

A mother with three cubs - and
Roberto knows exactly who she is.

Her name is Sarmiento.

Her struggle to feed her family
is now the crew's main focus.

The challenge is to keep up.

A mother on the search for food
will roam vast distances.

Seven miles, they've walked.

Haven't stopped walking.

For the crew, this means
dragging heavy equipment

over difficult terrain.

So, we've been following the cats
so much that there's now

a hole in the bottom of my shoe.

Unpredictable weather
makes it even harder.

Five weeks in...

..and John finally thinks Sarmiento
might have some luck.

So, it's more of a hope,
but I think she's going to get

one of these guanaco today.

There's been a big herd
that's streaming into this valley.

And for the last two hours,
she's just been watching them

with laser focus.

Fingers crossed today's the day.



She fought so hard,
the guanaco fought really hard.

In the end, she didn't get it.

It's amazing how she has to fight
to just get a meal, to survive.

Trying to take down
an animal as large as a guanaco

has left Sarmiento badly injured.


Every failed attempt,
she gets weaker.

Yeah. Got it. It was close,
but she got thrown off pretty good.

But a hungry mother
doesn't give up easily.

There's a group of guanacos
down there.

So, we're trying to get in a good
position to launch the drone.

He's here. Yeah, I got it.

She's coming down.

The crew will only have seconds
to get into position.

50. 50 metres. 50.

ON RADIO: OK. 20. 20 metres.

It's time. 20 metres.

Go on, it's running, it's running!

this life-and-death battle

is difficult.

But at last, John sees
Sarmiento provide for her cubs.

I feel greatly relieved.

It's been 30 days,
100 miles of walking with her,

and...we finally got her doing it.

During the chase, I was thinking,
"This time, please, get it down."

There's been three chases
where it got away.

The cubs have got food now,
she had to fight for it.

Conservation efforts here
have given these secretive cats

a rare safe haven, enabling the team
to capture a filming first...

..and tell the remarkable story
of a fearless mother

at the far edge of South America.

Next time...

..a continent marooned
during the time of the dinosaurs,

where the castaways...

..are like nothing else on Earth.