Our Planet season 1 review: A deteriorating circle of life

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Red Fox . The fall out zone around Chernobyl has become a refuge for wildlife in the absence of humans, despite high levels of radiation . Ukraine – Photo Credit: Netflix

Episode 8: Forests

Forests are a place of mystery where life thrives in all its glory. It supports unique species and sustains many complex cycles of existence. Among the many types of forests explored, are the boreal, redwood, Western Ghats (India), the Miombo (Africa) and forests.

The Boreal forest in the far north extends thousands of kilometers and contains 40% of the carbon dioxide on earth. The short days and little sunlight here means that growth is slow, and it comes to a complete standstill in the winter. Though it is eerily quiet, the forest still teems with life. It’s the home of the borderline mythical Siberian tiger, which roams territories of nearly 2000 kilometers, and survived a near extinction, only beginning to recover again in the 1980s. The rivers flowing in this forest have the most nutrition, and therefore, are depended on by many of the forest creatures. The Alaskan bear and the bald eagle rely on the nutrition laden river for food, i.e, fish. Pine nuts are also an important source of energy for the creatures in this forest

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Further south, the redwood forest, that once dotted the coasts of the Pacific Northwest, stands tall and strong, but only 5%of what once was, remains. Rough-skinned newts are among the creatures that are shown to live here. These forests, however resilient, are susceptible to massive forest fires caused due to the sun-baked dryness, which increases temperatures to nearly 700-degree Celsius. But the forest fire, that burns acres and acres of vegetation, is vital to the growth of this forest as it kickstarts germination of new life from the dormant seeds in the forest soil. The canopy of forest, now burned away, allows sunlight to fall to the earth and therefore, allow the growth of new life. The forests recover in a matter of months.

But most forests cannot recover on their own and need animals to help them survive. This dependence is best illustrated in the forests of the Western Ghats, India, which contains a third of all animal species of the country. This forest thrives thanks to the eating habits of the Great Indian Hornbill as well as the monkeys, both of which play a significant role in the dispersion of seeds.

Africa’s largest forest, the Miombo, named after the trees that are predominant here, it stretches for thousands of miles across the continent. Elephants roam these forests, depending on the Miombo leaves for food while the Miombo tree caterpillars, hatching in millions and simultaneously, feed on the leaves of these trees and within months, strip the forest bare. This induces a second growth of leaves in the trees, which attracts elephants. The hunting dogs are among the top predators here, experts in co-ordinated hunts as they move in packs and take care of their young as a community; they’re among the endangered species now.

The Madagascar forest, filled with baobabs, supports some of the oldest life forms owing to its isolation of nearly over 80 million years. This makes it one of the most precious forests on the planet because there is quite a lot to conserve and preserve. Here, dwell 40 different kinds of lemurs, all endangered and crucial to the forest. Madagascar’s top predator, the fossa, also live here and are seldom seen in the wild as they only assemble for breeding and live solitarily for most of their life. The nights in this forest also see a burst of activity from certain species, namely the immature leaf bug, a white featherlike insect indigenous to Madagascar, which feeds on tree sap. They secrete a substance known as honeydew, which is food for a small (and really cute) particular species of lemur, they grey mouse lemur, only 15 cm in length. Distressingly, Attenborough concludes with the information that since the footage in the episode was taken, only 3% of the forest remains.

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IMPORTANT TAKEAWAY: Forests, despite their rapid depletion, are persistent and can recover quite quickly if given the chance. It is still not too late to regain all that we have so recklessly destroyed. It is of utmost importance we do so because they’re our best bet in the fight against climate change and can play an important role in reversing the damage we have caused.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Possibly my favorite in the entire series, this episode gives us a glimpse into the radioactive site of Chernobyl, deemed uninhabitable for 20 years, but now teeming with life. It looks like concept art, with abandoned buildings in the middle of a dense forest, greenery seeping out of their cracks. Some of these buildings are inhabited by animals, and in the streets of the city without humans, animals roam freely.