Seven Worlds, One Planet, the latest offering from the BBC Natural History Unit, merits a spot at the top of your binge list.
The second episode of BBC’s Seven Worlds, One Planet opens with the line: “Asia, the largest of all the Earth’s continents; it stretches from the equator to beyond the Arctic circle.” Cut to the episode title card, and the viewers are greeted with an aerial shot of a remote strip of coastal land somewhere in Northern Russia, every square inch of the beach crammed with Pacific Walruses.
This is the biggest gathering of mammals to be found anywhere on Earth. The entire world population of the Pacific Walrus species, over 100,000 of them, are packed together on a beach not more than 100 metres long. The Earth’s largest continent is not big enough for its wildlife anymore.
BBC’s latest blue-chip natural history series spans seven episodes, featuring extraordinary wildlife stories and the unseen wilderness of our seven unique continents. Filmed over four years, Seven Worlds, One Planet involved more than 1,500 people and visits to more than 40 different countries. Over 2,000 hours of footage shot has been constrained into seven one-hour episodes of astonishing storytelling, narrated in the familiar, dogged voice of Sir David Attenborough.
Here, we deconstruct the second episode of the series, which explores the farthest reaches of Asia, and show you why this latest installment from the long line of BBC Natural History productions deserves a spot on your binge list.
First and foremost, the climate crisis takes centre stage in Seven Worlds, One Planet. The aforementioned Pacific Walrus spends most of its life in the ocean hunting for food, emerging only to rest on sea ice. But with the increasingly warming climate melting the ice here, the Pacific Walrus can only rest on these few narrow beaches, which are close to their feeding grounds.
These are gigantic creatures; males weigh as much as a ton, and packed so tightly together, many of them die in the scrum. Some of them scramble up the cliffs, which back these narrow beaches, to escape the crowd. What follows is a heartwrenching sequence of events, as these walruses plummet to their death, while attempting to find their way back to the sea. As more and more of the Arctic ice melts, a lot more walrus carcasses will line these remote beaches of Northern Russia.
The makers of these films have become so adept at plotting the emotive graph of the audience. As we seethe in the anger we feel towards humanity, we are transported to the volcanic Kamchatka for a cuddle break with tumbling-in-the-snow Kamchatka Brown Bears.
It is almost redundant to talk about the aesthetic magnificence of these natural history films anymore. But, the following set-piece in Central China, where we are introduced to the Golden Snub-nosed Monkey, has to be some of the most visually stunning ape sequences in the wild ever caught on camera.
From the harsh winters of Russia and China, we are transported to the near-boiling deserts of Iran. Here, we witness one of the most curious creations of evolution – a horned viper with movable scales and a strange-shaped tail. From Iran, onwards to the Indian subcontinent, more spectacle awaits; this time, in the form of bright-blue flag bearers, the male Sitana Lizard. Jaw-dropping footage of a cowboy standoff and head-to-head between two male fan-throated lizards segues to southern Asia’s young, dense rainforests.
The majority of Indonesia’s rainforests are found on four of its 17,500 islands, of which Sumatra is the most famed for its tigers, orangutans, rhinoceros, and elephants. A wonderful orangutan sequence has us privy to the day-to-day life of a mother and baby, as she trains her young one to climb the tall trees of these Bornean rainforests.
This is when we are introduced to a strange song, one that echoes through these forests every morning. Songs carry well through the jungle, making it the primary means of communication amongst animals here. The singer of this particular heartrending tune is a Sumatran Rhinoceros, one in search of a potential mate. As the camera follows the rhinoceros, it comes up against a fence. Living behind fences, which exist “for her own protection”, her calls remain unanswered.
Sumatran Rhinoceros used to be widespread in South Asia, but now with much of its habitat destroyed, there are only 70 individuals left in the wild. One-third of South Asia’s forests have already been destroyed to sell timber and other goods around the world. As the forests continue to diminish and the cities expand, and with the global population reaching a figure of 4.6 billion; there is seemingly not enough space for 70 rhinoceros on the planet’s largest continent.
With distressing rhinoceros calls still echoing in our ears, we are transported to the immaculate waters of the Cenderawasih Bay in Indonesia. A Whale Shark appears onscreen, but it is not another tale of animal extinction at the hands of humans; we get thrown a curve ball, it is a uplifting story of sustainability and human-animal co-existence. Whale Shark hunting has been banned in Indonesian waters, and here in West Paupa, these gigantic fishes gather safely in numbers for an easy meal, provided by the local fishermen.
As these filter feeders suck in the water around them to take in the krill fed to them by the fishermen, we too suck in the air around us as we sigh in relief. At last, a brief smile can break on our lips. There is hope.
Find out when and where you can watch the series here.
Nikhil Sreekandan is a journalist with the desire to explore life through the stories he chases. He currently works as a content editor at Nature inFocus, India’s leading platform for nature and wildlife. When not lost in cinema, contemporary literature or his earphones — there is a genuine attempt at ‘giving chase’, and it is beautiful.