Planet Earth II – ‘Cities’



Very late, I know. I’m not going to review the clipshow episode, so sorry if you were waiting for that one.

Cities are the newest habitat on Earth, and a fast growing one. The increase in cities has been bad for many animals as it has resulted in them losing their habitats. But some have used cities to their advantage. There is a large and easy supply of food if they know where to look, and cities are often warmer than the countryside.

In Jodhpur, India, an alpha male langur rules over an urban territory, but he has to defend his position every day. A gang of 15 bachelor males challenge him. Only one will be able to take his place, but he has to drive away each challenger. He succeeds, and lucky too, as he would lose not only his territory, but all the females that are there, and all the infants would be killed as they would have been fathered by him.

That aside, this is a great place for langurs to live. Langurs are associated with the Hindu god Lord Hanuman, and people feed the langurs biscuits, flowers, vegetables. They get a LOT of food too. There is so much food for them it has led to a “baby boom”, with twice as many young born here as would be for the average group of langurs that live in a forest. There is even a mother langur who has twins, something that is very rare. There was some amazing and funny scenes of them relaxing in the temple gardens and sitting on park benches.

Elsewhere in India, in Jaipur, rhesus macaques descend on a market gorging themselves on all the nuts, crisps fruit and vegetables that are on sale there.

The city of Mumbai has leopards which come after nightfall. They are rarely seen, but have been known to attack humans, 200 people in the last 25 years. But what they hunt for are domesticated animals and livestock. We see some leopards catching piglets.

A scene from Toronto, in Canada, shows a mother raccoon keeping her offspring in a chimney. However, her young have grown, and they need to move to a bigger place. She has to carry them down the house with her mouth. The baby raccoons begin to explore a garden, climbing in watering cans, drinking from fountains and eating seeds from birdfeeders. Raccoons, to us in the UK anyway, look extremely cute. I thought so myself, especially seeing them poke their head out of the chimney. But then, they aren’t found here. They don’t seem to be so popular in countries where they are found, as they can be a terrible pest, because they cause damage and carry disease. But, they are still cute.

In Harar, Ethiopia, butchers from the meat market dump bones they didn’t want outside, so they can be eaten by spotted hyenas. Some people even feed the spotted hyenas by hand. The hyenas behave themselves more than they would normally. It’s likely they appreciate being given the food, and know it’s in their interest to be co-operative, and that it’s easier than having to hunt. Unsurprisingly, this area is prized among hyenas, and we see two rival clans fighting over the territory.

In Australia, the male bowerbird builds elaborate nests, as usual it’s to impress females. They decorate their nests with brightly coloured objects they find. Anything from string, pipes, drinking straws, plastic forks, toy cars, clothes pegs. They’re not above stealing from the competition either, they will rob from rival neighbouring bowerbirds if they leave their nest unattended too long.

One bower bird pilfers a small red heart-shape! Appropriate object I suppose, given that this is about romance. A female comes and he shows off his collection. She doesn’t seem interested… and it turns out “she” is in face a “he”. Young male bowerbirds sometimes resemble the females, and this one quite literally steals the other bowerbird’s heart, and flies off with it! Still, he nicked it from another bowerbird in the first place, so you could argue it serves him right.

In New York City, wild peregrine falcons perch on cathedrals, nest on building ledges and the high buildings work similar for them as tall trees do. They prey on pigeons. Watching the falcon and the pigeon in the sky was almost like seeing two spitfires.

Pigeons have a very surprising predator in Albi, in France. The pigeons like to wash themselves in the river, but the oil from their plumage drifts downstream and is sensed by… wels catfish! Strange but true, a fish that eats birds. I first saw this on an episode of Nature’s Weirdest Events, so this didn’t surprise me, but it is still an odd sight to see. Catfish normally stay at the bottom of the river, so coming up to surface is an unusual enough development in their behavior in itself, let alone eating pigeons.

When turtles hatch, their instinct is to find the sea, and they go towards the light of the full moon reflected in the water. However, with beaches you will often find humans, and if there are humans at night there will be electric light. This confuses some of the turtle hatchlings, causing them to go in the wrong direction towards the electric light. Predators, like crabs, have become aware of this and wait. But even if they aren’t caught or escape the crabs, the hatchlings are still in danger. The further they go, the more electric lights, and the more it confuses them. They head towards roads, where they can get run over by cars. They get caught up in litter people have dropped. They can fall into storm drains. Even if they somehow manage to avoid all those dangers, there is very little chance they will last the night, as they will die from exhaustion from spending all that time travelling on land. They are developed to spend most of their life in the sea. This has happened to 80% of the turtle hatchlings on this beach.

This was one of the most distressing parts of the programme. It’s sad to see the baby turtles die so needlessly, and it is our fault, unintentionally, we as humans have caused this to happen.

The programme mentioned that every ten years, an area the size of Britain will be covered in concrete. Of course, there are attempts to try to redress the balance, such as tree planting. Singapore have planted 2 million trees in 45 years, and have gone to lengths to keep their water clean. They have also tried to create “super trees”, which are shown on the picture. They are made of metal, but with creepers planted on them and allowed to grow. There has been observed to be an increase in wildlife since making these changes.

The super trees do look like something from a distant future. Usually when fiction shows things in the far future everything is metallic and silver, but seeing that  it could be green is interesting, and optimistic I suppose.

Similarly, in Milan, they have tried to make “vertical forests”, skyscrapers with trees planted on the roofs and on ledges. The idea is that it will contain the same amount of trees as a forest, but within a city and taking up less space than a forest needs.

The success of such attempts is unknown at this point, but I very strongly believe we should try. In fact, I’d say we have a responsibility, as it is humans who are causing the damage to the planet. We are intelligent enough to know this, and as the top species on the planet we have a duty to look after it, not least for our own sake. David Attenborough made an appearance on camera at the end of this episode to deliver a similar message, and that we shouldn’t lose contact with the natural world.

Planet Earth II was a truly brilliant, awe-inspiring programme. It was fantastic, and it was hugely popular, it had high viewing figures , and it certainly had an impact on the public. A lot of people were talking about it. There were reports that it was more popular with young people than this year’s The X Factor, and it made a lot of people’s top TV show of 2016 lists.

The programme has been criticised saying it glosses over extinction and how small natural habitats are becoming, but I thought it did address a lot of those issues.  But if the situation is even worse than they said, then I think that makes its final message all the more important.

I’m certainly up for Planet Earth III.  It would at least be something to look forward to for 2026 anyway.

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2 Responses to Planet Earth II – ‘Cities’

  1. Amazing review! Even I’m eagerly waiting for PE3, but seeing David at this age with his health taking a beating, who could be his replacement?

    • fused says:

      Thank you!

      Yes, sadly if there is a Planet Earth 3 in ten years time it’s highly unlikely David Attenborough will be narrating it. Even if he is still with us, he will have just turned 100 by then! It’s not impossible I suppose. June Foray (voice actress most known for voicing Granny in the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons) is an example. Her 100th birthday will be this year, and apparently she still works occasionally.

      They will always be able to find people to narrate these documentaries, but David Attenborough is THE narrator and he is so iconic, so I don’t think he can be replaced in that sense.

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