One of our daughters recently introduced us to the “Our Planet” series on Netflix. Blew. Us. Away. Now I discover that at least some of them are available for free on YouTube.
Like most people, we love nature, animals and plants, and while we don’t always love insects, have come to respect the role they play in this complex world.
I can’t begin to describe what video cameras and technology and teams of hundreds (thousands?) shared through the “Our Planet” series, but I’ll try. The first we saw was called “Jungles,” about the rainforests that cover our globe. I was somewhat astounded to learn they are found in as many countries of the world as they are. Usually I think of rainforests being mainly in Brazil along the Amazon, but the true list is far longer: several parts of Africa, more in South and Central America, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Australia, British Columbia, and even islands like Puerto Rico. As the cameras glided over extensive miles and miles of rainforest, we may think, wow. Who says the world is running out of space? How vast and wonderful these important forests are for the production of oxygen we all need to live.
But the flip side is the knowledge that these forests overall have shrunk, according to The Nature Conservancy. “Of six million square miles of tropical rainforest that once existed worldwide, only 2.4 million square miles remain,” says livescience.com. Only 50%, or 75 million square acres of temperate rainforests (milder climates receiving plentiful rain where you find coniferous or pine type trees and some broadleaf) still exist.
What do we find in those rainforests? Amazing, beautiful, astonishing creatures and plant life species that I had never heard of. Narrated by the unparalleled David Attenborough, the films bring out gasps, make you laugh, and maybe make you weep. In the first one we watched on the jungles which thrive in rainforests, the orangutan’s baby — so adorable and found only in Indonesia and Malaysia — watches his mother intently as she teaches him what he will need to survive. It takes at least 10 years before he’s launched on his own. Clearing of jungles (deforestation) has reduced the population of these precious creatures by 100,000 in 20 years.
We watch the exotic and amazing mating dances of fun and unusual birds, such as the bird of paradise. What an apt name. The male struts around showing his fancier features, like he was a new car: blinking his lights (eyes), changing his eye color, puffing out his sides in a way that truly excites the lady bird he’s courting.
The film “Coastal Seas” demonstrates how the cycle of life depends on small fish like anchovies swarming the relatively shallow waters near our coasts. These and bigger fish thrive there partially because the shallower water lets sunlight reach them. Then bigger fish provide sustenance for still bigger fish such as dolphins, who work wonderfully together to catch dinner. The smart, communicative dolphins (those clicks!) round up prey by stirring up mud in a circle and the smaller fish panic, jumping out of the water, to the delight and bountiful grazing of the dolphins. The great cycle of life: cruel and fatal for the relatively few victims caught in this muddy circle, and Attenborough assures us that most of the fish escape and live on.
When we were in Alaska last year, we learned closer at hand of the salmon swimming upstream to spawn their offspring, and also how the great grizzlies of the northland await this season as if their lives depend upon it. That cliché, for them, is true. In the earlier BBC series “The Earth,” we see how grizzlies lard up with live fish and munch them down for their long winter hibernation ahead; their “toddler” grizzlies also absorb the art of “Stayin’ Alive.”
Will we humans learn the art of staying alive? Do we have the will to do what we need to sensibly protect precious wildlife, plants, trees, birds, insects and effectively curb the invasive ones?