When Australia separated from Gondwana ages
ago, its animal species were isolated from the rest of the world. Not quite all of them,
though. Birds could still fly between the land masses. Giant birds called moas developed in these jungles where food was abundant and there were few predators. Some of them weighed as much as 550 pounds. This is a distant relative of those birds. This brush-turkey, or pouched talegalla, is
hard at work. A kangaroo is watching him, but the bird is
too busy to notice. These Australian turkeys are anything but lazy. The talegalla is polygamous and has to provide a place for his females to lay their eggs.
He’s building a very unusual nest. The turkey gathers together leaves and other
plant materials to build his love nest… That’s a nest? Yes it is, and some may weigh
as much as four tons. “That turkey’s got himself quite a job to do”… It works like this: The turkey gathers all the leaves he can. Then a fungus grows among
them and they decompose. This process of decomposition produces heat, which turns the nest into a
real incubator. The incubator always has to be between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius. To take the temperature of the nest, the turkey has a thermometer in his tongue or in his beak we don´t really know… And here he is, deep-sea diving in a sea of leaves. All in the name of reproduction. A very original system. After a few go-rounds, scientists have decided that evolutionarily
speaking these turkeys are very close relatives of the reptiles since only these birds and
reptiles use this system of heated nests. It’s a curious case, but whatever it takes to reproduce. And from here I go to Africa where some tribes hunt
in a very unusual way… We’re in Borgou, in northern Benin between
Nigeria and Togo, home of the Bariba and Betamaribe groups of the Somba people, one of Africa’s
oldest tribes. Formerly hunters, today they also grow crops
and keep livestock, but hunting is still more for them than just a way to acquire food. They hunt in small groups led by a chief. Their arrowheads are treated with Strophanthus,
a deadly poison that they get from a plant. Once a year, in May, a number of tribes come together
for the hunt. The hunters set out from their different villages playing their flutes and beaded rattles. The Council of Elders selects a meeting place. The hunt is very important for the Somba people. They hunt to eat… and to demonstrate their courage and intelligence. Special powers are attributed to the hunters, particularly to the chiefs, who have the ability
to neutralize the animals that they are goingto hunt. When everything is ready, they’ll
give the order to set out. No one knows how long they will be in the
bush, and the hunt may sometimes last for weeks. The Bariba use hunting lures. Of all the Somba groups they have the most ingenious hunting
techniques. They hunt antelopes, zebras, monkeys, elephants,
buffalo and all kinds of birds. This camouflaged hunter moves silently across the land. He knows the terrain and the behaviour of his prey intimately. If luck smiles on them and they take down a large animal, they will carry it back home
to cut into pieces and share all around. Forest rangers allow the Bariba to hunt, but not
so the poachers who use rifles rather than arrows and sell ivory and tusks on the black
market. There are both responsible and irresponsible
hunters. And from here to the Caribbean. In addition to its gorgeous beaches, the Caribbean island of Cuba has other less-known features such as this mangrove swamp. The word mangrove comes from a Guaraní word meaning “twisted tree”. Under water, mangrove roots look like a twisted mass of vegetation. The many roots stabilize the sand and mud. Ocean water and fresh water mix here. The
mix is full of nutrients, fish and crustaceans. Plants have adapted to the lack of oxygen
and easily reproduce, turning the swamp’s floor into a tangle of vegetation. The area under the water is a labyrinth and above the surface it’s an aquatic jungle. Many other leafy and woody plants thrive in addition to the mangroves. This is a habitat for great quantities of vegetation, and many animals as well. A snake slithers along a mangrove limb. Is he looking for some eggs for breakfast or for a distracted rodent for an appetizer? These mangroves develop in a very individual
fashion. Their seeds are long and pointed and when they drop they have several options. They may float away, germinate, or grow roots to sink into the swamp floor. It looks very peaceful here… but it’s not. To birds, the mangrove swamp seems like a peaceful place to nest, especially if they eat fish. Many animals live off the mangrove’s leaves
and fruit. I’m looking carefully for anything that moves
in the treetops and anything that may emerge from under the water… This is a Cuban or Desmarest’s hutia. And this is a boa. And these floating tree trunks… with eyes… are mangrove crocodiles. I’m in Peru, in these rugged mountains full of vegetation, of cliffs and mountain streams. We’re looking for city of the clouds, where the Chachapoyas live. It more a fortress than a city. A fortress at an altitude of 9,850 feet. The wall is 2,000 feet long. I walk its length, amazed and somewhat seasick … It’s rectangular, built on a base of limestone, and covers an area of 15 acres. How could this city have been inhabited by the Cloud Warriors, light-skinned and handsome Indians said by Spanish chroniclers to have been exceptionally stubborn and courageous? They were not only courageous but also unconquered until the Incas cut off their supplies of
food and water. Even then the Chachapoyas held out for months before they surrendered. Inside the walls, Kuelap is a city of roundhouses with unusual conical roofs. As we approach the innermost enclaves of the Chachapoyas and their cliffside tombs, the atmosphere turns otherworldly… and supernatural More than 100 mummies have been found at the sacred mountain cliffs of La Petaca. The atmosphere here is surreal. How did they bury their dead on these inaccessible cliffs? We have no idea; it’s hard to imagine… Nevertheless, the mummies
are perfectly preserved, if a mummy can be considered perfect that is. The sarcophagi of Karajia contain many Chachapoya mummies. The secrets of these statues that
gaze off into space are another mystery that has yet to be explained. They are a real challenge
to archaeologists and to me they are inexplicable. I’m flabbergasted… There are those who say that these handsome Indians had European origins… European extraterrestrials? A Spanish lagoon called Villafáfíla also
holds many secrets. Every year it is visited by migratory birds
that pass through here on the way to Extremadura and Andalusia. I had never heard the expression “whoop like a crane”, but it’s common if you spend any time with ornithologists. And indeed the birds do call loudly when they sight the lagoon. I thought it was from joy, but from what I’ve seen they do it in order to stay together. About a thousand cranes stop over here for several weeks. They find everything they need, especially food in the form of plant stems, small animals and tasty bulbs.
When autumn ends they’ll again take flight to spend the winter in Extremadura and Andalusia.
But cranes aren’t the only ones to visit Villafáfila. Naturalists, a few tourists and the simply
curious also come here at the end of September when the sky is full of wild geese.
These migrants began to visit us here in 1975. Why 1975? We don’t know. At first there were
just a few individuals, but word must have gotten around because now there are nearly
23,000. Geese are very unusual in that they choose
their mates for life. Even if their mate dies they never remarry. Instead they become solitary.
Who would have thought that of a goose? They eat grains and seeds and have plenty
of food. Flying on…
those who continue the journey will fly south to the marshes of the River Guadalquivir.
The bustard also likes to hibernate here. It is
the largest terrestrial bird in Europe. In
Villafáfila, there is a stable colony of about 2, 000 bustards.
The male is considerably larger than the female –something common to many species– and weighs
about 40 pounds. That’s why it flies only short distances and if it can’t fly, it runs.
Spanish bustards find everything they need in this area, so they don’t migrate. They
have thoroughly adapted to this countryside and to this salt water lagoon.
When spring comes, the bustards begin their courtship. They divide up into two groups:
males on one side and females on the other. The males display their attributes, above
all their white feathers, and the more the better… hoping that a female will show interest.
While the females consider their options, the male will take flight in order to fluff
up his wings… Like a crane lifting off for a long journey…
Thre are many tribes in Papua New Guinea that had no contact with white men until 1935…
Here in the Highlands, neighbouring tribes have not always got along.
In fact, sometimes they get along very badly, and there are constant battles and wars among
them. These men belong to a tribe known as the Asaro
mud men. The Asaro take advantage of the idea that
guile may win out over brute force, particularly when their warlike neighbours believe in ghosts
and spirits. Most of these tribes believe in the spirits
of the dead, in supernatural beings that live in the forest, and in other spirits called
tomia that inhabit objects and may bring on bad luck.
The mud men’s defense is a frightening mask. Here they are forming them out of mud. They
believe that these terrifying masks saved their ancestors from a sure death.
Some of them smear their masks with clay. This seems to work well because in addition
to camouflaging the mud it does wonders for the skin.
Then they tie tree branches to their waists and place the masks on their heads.
Some pig’s teeth add to the disguise… And finally, a second layer of a different,
more watery mud. This trick had its origins in an old man named
Pukiro who had a dream about some monstrous beings…
The village was besieged by a large enemy tribe. Inspired by his dream, Pukiro ventured
into the forest when the sun went down with a mud mask over his head and long claws made
of bamboo shoots. When the enemy saw him emerging from the darkness they fled in terror.
It’ doesn’t surprise me… They may look like carnival revellers in the
light of day but in the forest at night they look like ghosts… and cunning wins out over
force. It’s easy to be surprised in the Caribbean
as well. The word cenote comes from the word dzonot in the language of the Mayas. Cenotes
are found in Yucatan, Florida and Cuba. Cenotes are filled with fresh water filtering
in through surrounding limestone. This is a cenote on the island of Cuba. It’s
connected to the sea by a series of caves. At first the water was half fresh and half
salty but as time passed it got less and less salty and the creatures that inhabit it had
to adapt. They are strange creatures indeed.
This one is a Cubanichthys, but it’s easier to call it a blind fish. These exotic fish
live in permanent darkness. They have no pigment and no eyes, since there is almost nothing
to be seen where they live. Not much is known about them…
Although they are blind, they have nothing to fear.
We do know that there are four species of blind fish… Their appearance is otherworldly,
but that’s simply an adaptation as always. Their ancestors were nocturnal and had kidneys…
but they gradually adapted to this fresh water habitat. But they haven’t been studied in
depth. There they go with their dorsal fins to look
round a bit at the bottom of the cenote. There’s barely any light here, and hardly
any predators … But there’s food. This is a shrimp, a delightful
appetizer for the Cubanichthys… Although the fish can’t see, it detects signals
sent out by the shrimp. Like a pale shadow it slowly glides toward its prey, safe in
the knowledge that it won’t be swallowed in a moment of carelessness.
Here time doesn’t exist. The cenotes hold great quantities of fresh water, sometimes
in the open and sometimes in deep caves … In Yucatan they were sacred places. Some unfortunate
people were unceremoniously thrown into them from high cliffs and if they didn’t die they
were considered gods… That’s not surprising since almost none of
them survived… Human remains have been found at the bottom of many cenotes…
Of course this was long ago. Today they are great places for diving. Exploring their depths
is an incredible experience, as long as you’re not too disturbed by bones and legends…