Last night’s episode of Human Planet is guaranteed to have been a talking point in many workplaces today; conversations that will no doubt inspire anyone who missed ‘Life in Thin Air’ to catch-up on BBCiplayer this weekend.
The fifth episode in the BBC’s eight-part series documented the lives of those who live in some of the most brutal mountain environments on earth. From the practice of ancient ancestral traditions, to the introduction of modern science and economic demands, stunning camera-work and well-paced narration will have left many jaws gapping for the full duration of the 50 minute documentary. If you can’t wait till tonight to watch Human Planet on iplayer, read on…
Beginning in Mongolia’s Altai Mountains, we meet 16 year old Berick who trains a baby eagle for five months, to become his loyal hunting partner. Essential companions for Kasak hunters, Berick would stand little chance of successful tracking in this remote wilderness, where elusive creatures, such as the Mongolian fox, are essential sources of food and clothing.
Forty degrees south, we meet the children of Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains, whose essential job it is to protect their community’s harvest from 600-strong troops of Gelada monkeys, who can strip a field of grain in minutes. With their skeletal faces, scarlet markings, broken fangs and glowing eyes, these sinister-looking creatures threaten the daily lives and livelihoods of those who share their habitats.
Closer to the equator, Indonesian miners risk their lungs and life-expectancies to extract sulphur crystals from the heart of active volcanoes. A 90kilo load of the sweetcorn-yellow element rewards each miner with a payment of $5. “They say working here can shorten your life” explains one miner, “I do it to feed my wife and kids”, “No other job pays this well”.
A reminder of how more traditional methods of resource exploitation sustain human life, communities in the mountains of New Guinea turn to the ways of their ancestors when protein has become scarce. After cutting a corridor in the forest, they rig a huge net, to catch giant bats which fly through the forests at night. After successfully trapping 15 fox-like bats in a single night, they return home with enough protein to feed their families for two weeks.
A glimpse at how modernity can benefit mountain communities across the globe takes us to high altitudes in the Himalayas and Swiss Alps. In Nepal, modern medicine is helping to cure blindness caused by strong UV rays, and in Switzerland, avalanche control has become an essential component of longevity for both residents and tourists.
Finally, a consideration of the practicalities of death and disposal at altitude, where decomposition is slow. At 4000 metres, with no trees to burn for cremation, sky burials have been practiced for centuries. Allowing vultures to consume the corpses of their dead, Buddhists see these burials as sacred acts, essential to sustain the life of another by avoiding the spread of disease.
You’ve got two months left to watch Mountains – Life in Thin Air. Click here to view in BBCiplayer, where you can also see the previous four, equally mind-blowing, episodes of Human Planet. Don’t miss next week’s episode, ‘Grasslands’, the sixth in the series.
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Ths blog was also posted on Responsible Travel News