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  • [static crackling]

  • [static crackling]

  • [indistinct muffled radio chatter]

  • [David Attenborough] Just 50 years ago,

  • we finally ventured to the moon.

  • For the very first time, we look back at our own planet.

  • Since then, the human population has more than doubled.

  • This series will celebrate the natural wonders that remain,

  • and reveal what we must preserve

  • to ensure people and nature thrive.

  • When human beings built their first settlements

  • some 10,000 years ago,

  • the world around them,

  • on the land and in the sea,

  • was full of life.

  • For generations, this stable Eden nurtured our growing civilizations.

  • But now, in the space of just one human lifetime,

  • all that has changed.

  • In the last 50 years,

  • wildlife populations have, on average, declined by 60 percent.

  • For the first time in human history,

  • the stability of nature can no longer be taken for granted.

  • [ice cracking]

  • But the natural world is resilient.

  • Great riches still remain.

  • And with our help, the planet can recover.

  • Never has it been more important to understand how the natural world works,

  • and how to help it.

  • [birds calling]

  • [waves crashing]

  • Wildlife still flourishes in astonishing numbers

  • in a few precious places.

  • Along the Peruvian coast of South America,

  • seabirds congregate in colonies millions strong.

  • They come here to breed.

  • [birds calling]

  • Every morning, the birds leave their colonies

  • to fish in one of the richest seas on Earth.

  • It is an astonishing daily migration

  • of five million birds.

  • The huge flocks of cormorants and boobies are all seeking one thing:

  • anchovies.

  • [water rushing]

  • The boobies carpet-bomb the shoals.

  • More and more birds join the feeding frenzy.

  • [water splashing]

  • [classical music score plays]

  • All in this immense assembly are here

  • because a powerful oceanic current, the Humboldt,

  • sweeps up from the Antarctic,

  • bringing with it rich nutrients from the ocean's depths.

  • 90 percent of the life in the oceans

  • is found in the shallow seas close to the coast.

  • Away from the land,

  • the seas, for the most part, are a blue desert.

  • But even these distant waters may be enriched

  • by a most unexpected connection to the land.

  • Some deserts,

  • often hundreds of kilometers from the ocean,

  • provide the raw materials for life.

  • [wind blowing]

  • Every year, winds sweep up two billion tons of dust into the sky.

  • At least a quarter of it eventually falls on the sea,

  • providing nutrients needed by the microscopic organisms

  • that are the foundations of ocean life.

  • [water splashing]

  • Dolphins explore the vast, open ocean

  • in search of the riches that distant deserts may have nourished.

  • [dolphins spouting]

  • A shoal of mackerel has discovered a swarm of krill...

  • the small crustaceans

  • that feed on the ocean's floating microscopic plants.

  • But the mackerel themselves are food for the dolphins.

  • [dolphins whistling]

  • [water rushing]

  • They drive the mackerel towards the surface,

  • and into the range of birds.

  • Shearwaters.

  • The wings that normally propel the birds through the air

  • now drive them six meters down through the water.

  • [water rushing]

  • Whilst the birds pick off the top of the shoal...

  • the dolphins attack the underside.

  • [water rushing]

  • [dolphins whistling]

  • [water rushing]

  • After 20 minutes of feasting,

  • the predators from both the sea and the air

  • have had their fill.

  • The stability of life on our planet

  • relies on such connections between different habitats.

  • Water evaporating from the surface of the sea

  • condenses to form great clouds.

  • And these eventually release the fresh water as rain.

  • But these life-giving rains are not evenly spread over the land.

  • This vast salt pan in Africa

  • is all that remains of an ancient lake.

  • It's totally waterless and oven-hot.

  • Few places on the land are more hostile to life.

  • A few tracks cross it, made by animals searching unsuccessfully for water.

  • [snorting]

  • But very occasionally, this whole landscape is transformed.

  • [thunder rumbling]

  • [thunderclap]

  • A huge deluge drenches the salt pan.

  • [rain pouring]

  • [thunder rumbling]

  • Triggered by some unknown signal,

  • flocks of lesser flamingos arrive from thousands of kilometers away.

  • The algae that the flamingos feed on

  • have lain dormant as spores in the dust.

  • But most importantly,

  • the birds are here to breed.

  • Perfect conditions might occur only once in a decade.

  • [flamingos squawking]

  • The birds nest on an island far from the shore.

  • [mud splashing]

  • They build mounds of mud that raise up their eggs

  • and so keep them just marginally cooler than they would be at ground level.

  • [flamingos chattering]

  • The water surrounding the island is so salty

  • that predators do not venture into it.

  • So the nests are safe.

  • [squawking]

  • Thirty days later, thousands of chicks start to hatch.

  • But there is no shelter from the scorching sun.

  • The water that once surrounded their island, protecting them,

  • has now dried up altogether.

  • [cheeping]

  • The last to hatch step out into a desperately harsh world.

  • -[chicks cheeping] -[squawking]

  • [squawking]

  • Somehow or other, the growing chicks must find fresh water to drink.

  • -[cheeping] -[squawking]

  • They cannot yet fly, so they must walk, guided by some of the adults.

  • They may have to trek for 50 kilometers.

  • [frenzied cheeping and squawking]

  • Some... cannot keep up.

  • The salt has solidified around their legs.

  • [cheeps]

  • -[squawking] -[splashing]

  • Most of the chicks, in spite of everything,

  • and having walked for days,

  • eventually reach fresh water.

  • [frenzied squawking]

  • It is the end of a long journey...

  • but only the first of the trials that will be imposed on these flamingos

  • by the irregularity of the rains.

  • -[rainfall] -[snorting]

  • If rainfall is more predictable and certain,

  • then life can flourish more richly,

  • both in numbers and variety.

  • The Serengeti plains in East Africa support over a million wildebeest.

  • [grunting]

  • The herds follow the seasonal rains,

  • grazing on the newly-sprouting grass that comes in their wake.

  • [grunting continues]

  • Each year, within a three-week period,

  • the females give birth to over a quarter of a million calves.

  • [bleating]

  • This youngster is just a few days old.

  • Playing strengthens its legs for the long journey that lies ahead.

  • [grunting]

  • The calf must stay close to its mother.

  • Without her milk, it would starve.

  • -[snorting] -[grunting]

  • And the herds are always traveling,

  • following the rains as they drift across the plains

  • in order to find fresh grazing.

  • Eventually, they reach woodlands.

  • [birds chirping]

  • [grunting]

  • Hunting dogs.

  • Wildebeest calves are a favorite prey.

  • And the dogs are hungry.

  • The calf must stay with its mother, protected within the herd.

  • [wildebeest snorting]

  • The dogs have incredible stamina...

  • but the calf is defended by the herd.

  • They need the calf on its own.

  • [snorting]

  • [African wild dogs panting]

  • The mother blocks the dogs, shielding her calf.

  • It makes a run for safety.

  • And it just manages to get back to the herd.

  • The future of this whole migration depends on the regularity of the rains,

  • but also on the continued existence of the great open grasslands

  • across which the herds make their immense journeys.

  • -[insects chittering] -[birds calling]

  • In places where rains fall abundantly throughout the year, forests grow,

  • and in the warmth of the tropics,

  • they support an unparalleled richness of life.

  • [overlapping animal vocalizations]

  • Half of all the species of land-living animals

  • live in these stable worlds.

  • [bird whistling]

  • The sheer diversity is breathtaking.

  • We still have not catalogued

  • all the species that live in the tropical forests.

  • The relationships between them all are multitudinous and complex.

  • [wings buzzing]

  • Plants often depend on animals to pollinate their flowers.

  • And these intimate connections

  • are just as important as the great global ones.

  • [buzzing]

  • These are traps.

  • Flowers shaped like buckets,

  • produced by an orchid.

  • [buzzing]

  • Each red bucket is filled with an oily liquid that drips from above.

  • Male orchid bees need a rich perfume with which to impress their females,

  • and the orchids provide it.

  • But the bucket is slippery,

  • and the liquid into which the bee has fallen is sticky.

  • The only way to get out

  • is through a narrow tunnel.

  • As it emerges, the bee is gripped tight.

  • And that gives enough time for the plant

  • to glue pollen sacs on the bee's back.

  • So the orchid has its pollen taken to another plant...

  • and the bee is rewarded with a perfume,

  • with which, when it recovers its strength,

  • it can woo a female.

  • [water crashing]

  • There are no pronounced seasons in a rainforest.

  • It produces food in one form or another the year round.

  • It's so rich that the females of some birds

  • are able to raise their young entirely by themselves,

  • and that allows the males to spend their whole time attracting females...

  • [cheeps]

  • ...as manakins do.

  • There are over 50 different species,

  • each with its own highly elaborate dance routine.

  • [cheeps]

  • The golden-collared manakin

  • starts by clearing his dance floor.

  • [cheeps]

  • A female arrives and he starts his routine,

  • rocketing from one perch to another.

  • [fluttering]

  • [cheeping]

  • She checks out every detail.

  • Finally, he performs his signature move.

  • [tweets]

  • The back-flip...

  • [calls]

  • ...with twist.

  • [calls]

  • Perfection.

  • -[cheeps] -[whir of wings]

  • The red-capped manakin has a very different act.

  • [cheeps]

  • It's a kind of slither.

  • [cheeps]

  • [feet pattering]

  • [cheeps]

  • [cheeps]

  • With wing snaps.

  • [snap]