by Bethan Evans, Researcher, Arctic and Mountains team
I’ve recently returned from my last Arctic filming trip for Human Planet. My amazing year and a bit in the North culminated with an encounter with a majestic animal known as the King of the Arctic.
The shoot was in the town of Churchill which is also known as the “Polar bear capital of the World”. The town is built near to an ancient polar bear migration route. Each autumn polar bears gather nearby, waiting hungrily for the sea ice to reform so they can get back out to their hunting ground. Forced onto land during summer due to the melting ice the bears have not eaten anything substantial for months. So who can blame them when they wander into the town enticed by the lovely food smells that are produced by restaurants or even the bins and rubbish dump!
We were there to film how people carry on their daily lives, when for several weeks of the year, there is a real possibility of coming face to face with the only land animal that is known to actively predate on humans! Luckily there is a specialist protection team set up in Churchill called the Polar Bear Alert. These guys work tirelessly, in the most unique way, to ensure that the both bears and people are safe and unharmed – watch the full story in Human Planet: Arctic programme in 2011!
The Polar Bear is an icon – a majestic animal that’s revered but also feared, a symbol of a lost wilderness. I felt so privileged to have the opportunity to see these incredible animals. So it was a shock when it finally dawned on me that my first chance to see a Polar Bear in the wild might also be my last. I’m so used to seeing images of the Polar Bear whether it be in Hollywood films, marketing campaigns for soft drinks or even Christmas cards. They somehow make these Arctic dwellers seem abundant but of course the sad fact is they’re not.
Climate change is causing a vast reduction in sea ice and therefore a loss of natural habitat for the polar bears which, in time, will lead to their demise in the wild. With this realisation I began to think of all the different Arctic people I have met on my Human Planet journey. If climate change continues at its current rate what will happen to them? How will Amos the Greenlandic fisherman make a living from fishing at winter ice holes when the ice isn’t thick enough to support him? How will Lukasi and Mary go under the ice to collect mussels when they can no longer predict how the ice will behave?
The Arctic people I have met are incredibly adaptive – their way of life has changed drastically in the space of one generation. Many people have the ability to take the best from western technology and adapt it to work with traditional knowledge. However, Arctic peoples are inextricably connected to the landscape – a change in their environment impacts on every aspect of their lives. This isn’t something that is going to happen in the future, it is happening right now.
The good news is that it’s not too late to slow down or prevent the negative impacts of climate change not only for Arctic Peoples and animals, but for all of us. Small measures from you and me can make all the difference. Take a look at these two BBC sites for more information http://www.bbc.co.uk/climate/ and http://www.bbc.co.uk/bloom/
Making this series has really raised my awareness of the incredible variety of cultures and wildlife that the Earth sustains. I hope that if I can change my ways the first time I see a polar bear won’t be my last and the environmental impact on Arctic peoples lives will be minimal.
by Dale Templar, Series Producer
I have just submitted my copy for the “Human Planet” series book which will be published in 2011 to accompany the series. I was tasked with writing the opening chapter, which tracks the journey of Homo Sapiens across all the eight landscapes that we go to in the series. While the series is not looking at the ascent of man, this chapter gave me the chance to go back in time and really look at all the key factors that led to our unstoppable march across the whole planet.
The series looks at man’s relationship with the natural world and it was not until I got stuck into the research for this chapter that it really dawned on me just how big a part climate change has played in our phenomenal success as a species.
Just this morning on the news there was a report of an incredible archaeological find, another missing link in the chain that follows the evolutionary journey from Ape to Homo Sapiens. The main find is of a female, nicknamed “Ardi”. Just like the famous “Lucy”, this new skeleton was also found in Ethiopia, this time not in the southern Omo valley but in the far northern Afar region. This new animal is called Ardipithecus ramidus and is thought to be some 4.4 million years old and possibly a direct common ancestor of humans.
This brings me back to climate change. The American scientists who have been working at this site believe that when “Ardi” was romping around Afar she was living in a woodland area. Just like chimps today, she would have nested in the trees but she was far more bipedal than even the bonobo. Today the Afar is well known for being one of the hottest places on earth. A dry, largely barren, hostile desert, where only the hardiest of humans eke out an existence.
As the climate changed and rainforest contracted, the walking apes moved further and further into the expanding grasslands. With that, the skeletons of the early hominids evolved to cope with a land-based life. That set of circumstances also allowed our brains to develop and increase in size.
Finally modern humans evolved, some 200 thousand years ago. Here was an ape with such a big brain that it could use its intelligence to adapt and survive in every environment on earth without having to evolve into a new species (well, not so far anyway!). Antarctica is the only place that humans have not yet claimed as an official human habitat.
Every month the teams come back with incredible stories of human ingenuity, adaptation and skill from all over the Human Planet. I know we were the Ape that just got lucky, but what an incredible ape we are!
For more info on “Ardi” go to the BBC News web site http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8285180.stm