Wild Russia - Siberia   View more episodes

Aired at 07:00 PM on Tuesday, May 04, 2010 (5/4/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:01They keep movement to a minimum.
00:00:10Found only in russia, their experience is hard won over many centuries.
00:00:16This is one of the world's most ancient breeds of horses.
00:00:27Snow to uncover frozen grass.
00:00:35And now in march, many are eating for two, preparing to foal in may or june when warmer weather will bring some relief.
00:00:44This makes the search for nourishment even more critical.
00:00:50Over the millennia, yakutian horses developed thin skin and dense fur to shield them from temperatures well below -50 degrees below fahrenheit.
00:01:03Fat laid down last summer provides energy during the sparse winter months, but not all will make it.
00:01:18Further north, one of the rarest birds in the world clings to life.
00:01:24The critically endangered siberian white crane.
00:01:32About 3,500 remain worldwide, but only 10 of these magnificent cranes exist in all of western siberia.
00:01:42This extraordinarily rare footage is one of the rare times this cranes have been filmed in siberia.
00:01:54The cranes spend winter in china, where it is warmer, and then travel 3,000 miles to breed in the russian tundra.
00:02:17Even though the female lays two eggs, generally only one chick will survive to maturity.
00:02:38Elsewhere, another rare creature lurks in the shadowy forest.
00:02:59This remarkable animal, with a face like a kangaroo and the teeth a vampire, is a musk deer.
00:03:12But don't let the fangs fool you.
00:03:14Males grow them instead of antlers for show.
00:03:18The older the deer, the longer the fangs.
00:03:32These deer are famous for their musk, used to attract mates.
00:03:42But it's also irresistible to perfume-makers who pay exorbitant prices for their musk glands.
00:03:51Worth more than its weight in gold, two pounds of the brown, waxy substance can cost $45,000.
00:04:01Such a high bounty on their glands makes the musk deer a magnet for poachers.
00:04:07In the last 10 years, the population has declined by 50%, and it's now at endangered n levels.
00:04:22After feeding, musk deer regurgitate their meal, chewing it again to help digestion.
00:04:33Though relaxed, he is always on the alert.
00:04:39In a nearby clearing, a group of ravens known as an unkindness benefits from the death of one of the pregnant horses.
00:04:54Members of the crow family, ravens are among the most intelligent birds.
00:04:59They can make over 30 different sounds.
00:05:02[ Wolves howling ] but the battle cry of the wolves ..
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00:08:36>> Narrator: Siberia's vast wilderness covers more than three-quarters of russia's entire land mass.
00:08:42Its pristine forest is the largest on earth.
00:08:49Its inhabitants are savvy and tough.
00:08:52[ Wolf howling ] siberian wolves are consummate survivors, always on the prowl for their next meal.
00:09:03In the fall and winter, the pack becomes nomadic, moving its den from place to place.
00:09:13Guided by their sharp sense of smell, they'll hunt, steal, or scavenge, whatever it takes to fill their bellies.
00:09:31The hungry wolves attack the meat with such ferocity that they even intimidate each other.
00:09:41But for the birds, it's time for some fun.
00:09:49Aside from people, ravens are one of the few animals that act silly just for the sheer joy of it, and this is one of the few times this behavior has been caught on film.
00:10:07These birds can afford to have fun.
00:10:10Adult ravens seem to lack natural enemies.
00:10:25Time for a quick brush-down and they're all done.
00:10:29Well, almost.
00:10:47Siberia's northern coniferous fost, called the taiga, covers 5 million square miles, three times the size of alaska.
00:10:59It also plays a critical role in climate change, though it's not yet entirely understood.
00:11:06Researchers are investigating whether these vast forests will slow or quicken global warming in the future.
00:11:14The taiga's northeastern section, yakutia, the land of the horse people, brushes up against the arctic circle.
00:11:26In the hills of yakutia, a relentless army is on the march -- reindeer, a herd of a thousand strong.
00:11:38Built for subzero temperatures, reindeer have hollowed, tapered hair that traps heat next to their bodies.
00:11:49They haven't come here by chance.
00:11:53It's an annual round-up.
00:12:01The yakut people have co-existed with reindeer in siberia for millennia, and while most have become urbanized, 400,000 still live as traditional nomadic reindeer herders.
00:12:27The herdsmen must get the animals to new grazing before the snow melts and they're trapped by waterlogged land.
00:12:39With the end of winter nearing, they must move now.
00:12:53For over 3,000 years, these animals have provided humans with food, clothing, and leather.
00:13:04In the wild, reindeer can wander further than any other terrestrial mammal, about 3,000 miles a year, and they reach speeds of almost 50 miles per hour.
00:13:25For the yakuts, this little herd provides everything they need to exist in this arctic environment.
00:13:53On the rivers, spring brings relief from the bitter cold.
00:14:01Broken ice creates makeshift barges for lazy water fowl.
00:14:10Gaps in the ice also give goldeneyed ducks a chance to fish.
00:14:22Soon they're out in force.
00:14:31But these ducks aren't the only ones braving the cold waters.
00:14:37Dippers live up to their name, bobbing for small bugs and crustaceans.
00:14:48As the thaw continues, the birds flock to the ice-free waters.
00:15:02And the retreating ice unleashes a unique creature, perfectly adapted to the deep freeze.
00:15:14The siberian salamander.
00:15:20Antifreeze-like compounds in their blood enable these newts to endure temperatures of 50 below zero.
00:15:35They can stay frozen solid for years before thawing and reviving as good as new.
00:15:44Once resurrected, they'll mate and lay eggs before reentering their frozen limbo next season.
00:15:55The siberian salamander is one of the few species that can survive by freezing itself solid.
00:16:07900 Miles away are siberia's southern steps.
00:16:13Pine forests give way to arid plains.
00:16:21Here wild horses run free.
00:16:27They share the lands with small groups of camels and the strange goitered gazelle.
00:16:38These nomadic animals once roamed in the tens of thousands, but hunting and habitat laws have exacted a terrible toll on their numbers.
00:16:56Still, small herds can be seen meandering across the plains, eating grasses and shrubs.
00:17:04During mating season, the male goitered gazelle's larynx swells, giving it its name.
00:17:25A threatened gazelle can dart from its enemies at alst 40 miles per hour and can leap 7 feet high.
00:17:35This makes slipping through mongolian border fence easy.
00:17:46Heading southwest along the 2,000-mile border with mongolia, siberia's terrain turns mountainous.
00:17:54With peaks stretching 15,000 feet into the sky, the altai mountains are higher than the rockies.
00:18:07This arid, windswept land is the domain of the world's largest ..
00:18:14The argali.
00:18:16Unique to this part of the world, the argali are coveted by hunters for their size and massive horns.
00:18:23Today only 400 remain in russia.
00:18:28This isolated slope appears to have given this male some peace, but the life of an alpha male doesn't stay quiet for long.
00:18:38A challenger has arrived.
00:18:43A male's impressive horns can spiral to 6 feet long and weigh up to 44 pounds.
00:18:58But this challenger may have pushed this dominant male to the ..
00:19:06A potentially fatal decision when your opponent weighs in at 400 pounds.
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00:23:21>> Narrator: Russia's siberia is famous for its bone-chilling winters, but its southern region is an entirely different world.
00:23:36Here, the altai mountains tower above the central asian steps.
00:23:42This is the domain of the rare argali, and life on these slopes is a constant battle.
00:23:57This challenger has had enough and leaves the dominant male to his females, but there are other usurpers waiting in the wings.
00:24:10The competition starts to arrive.
00:24:19They try to sneak in while the ..
00:24:29...But their advances have caught his attention, and he'll make them pay for trespassing.
00:24:39Incredibly, these blows rarely result in serious injury.
00:24:45Argalis' thick necks work as shock absorbers, while their delicate brains are cushioned beneath the core of the hollow horns.
00:24:55Although the dominant male has successfully defended his claim, he decides it's best to relocate his harem.
00:25:07But one challenger won't give upch so easily.
00:25:17Their heads collide at nearly 60 miles an hour.
00:25:22One last crushing blow determines the final outcome.
00:25:34Spring wreaks havoc on the landscape.
00:25:40Waterways swell past their breaking points.
00:25:46For millennia, they've cut through solid rock and pine forests.
00:25:53In southeastern siberia, over 300 of these rivers and streams pour in to the deepest lake in the world, lake baikal.
00:26:03An astonishing one-quarter of the earth's fresh water is contained here, as much as all of the five great lakes combined.
00:26:14While familiar gulls patrol the rugged coastline, an odd form appears in the frigid waters below.
00:26:26Found only here, this is one of only three types of freshwater seals in the world.
00:26:32The baikal, or nerpa, seal.
00:26:36How they got to this landlocked body of water remains a mystery.
00:26:42They may be the descendants of ringed seals that swam here from the arctic ocean a few million years ago.
00:26:51Isolation, they've evolved into a separate species.
00:26:59In the middle of the world's most ancient lake is a perfect refuge -- ushkanyi islands.
00:27:07The deep water here pr protection from their only predator -- humans.
00:27:15Nocturnal hunters, they use the daytime hours to rest on the rocks.
00:27:25Although they are clumsy above water, they become hydrodynamic along at up to 15 miles per hour.
00:27:42The oldest and deepest lake in the world, more than a mile deep in places, originated more than tectonic plates drifted apart.
00:27:55They're still separating at about 3/4 of an inch per year.
00:28:02Down here, baikalian sponge occupies the niche normally filled by coral.
00:28:09It can even survive under complete ice cover.
00:28:1360% Of the creatures found here are unique to lake baikal, including numerous species of amphipods, snails, and flat worms.
00:28:23Some grow to extremes due to the oxygen-rich water.
00:28:29This amphipod is about four times larger than those found in other parts of the world.
00:28:37Deep in the lake, life and death quietly play out.
00:28:42Snails clean up a rotting fish.
00:28:45Others are busy mating in the cold waters.
00:28:59But the tranquility beneath the water's surface belies the astounding events above.
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00:32:10>> Narrator: In the heart of russia lies the vast wilderness of siberia.
00:32:16It's summer at lake baikal, the world's oldest, deepest, and largest lake.
00:32:25500 Stories up, on the surface, baikal prepares for an invasion.
00:32:34Caddis flies.
00:32:43After almost a year in shallows, the larvae transform into winged adults and take to the skies.
00:32:55The millions of tiny flies attract far bigger animals.
00:33:01The flies hold a mating frenzy along the banks of the lake.
00:33:05Brown bears come to feed on this fleeting feast of protein.
00:33:12Caddis flies only live for a week, so they rush to lay eggs on the water before dying.
00:33:19Day after day, the bears search them out, dead or alive.
00:33:27Piles of flies up to four inches deep can be found on the lake shore's rocks.
00:33:33It's a welcome change to the bears' diets.
00:33:36Most of the 90 pounds of food a day they consume is vegetation.
00:33:43But even with this abundance, a smaller bear must defer to a bigger one.
00:34:01A larger bear could kill him with a single swipe.
00:34:04[ Bear growls ] so running to avoid a fight is a smart move.
00:34:23But another species finds the warm season is causing more problems than good.
00:34:33A lack of natural predators has caused the baikal seal population to spiral out of control.
00:34:40100,000 Currently live on the lake, an unsustainable figure.
00:34:57Hundreds crowd on to the rocks on the lake.
00:35:03The lucky ones squeeze in, though that doesn't necessarily guarantee a warm reception.
00:35:14[ Seal grunting ] the agitation spreads.
00:36:03Those on the rocks constantly defend their territory.
00:36:08Desperate to claim any spot, the seals gang up on each other, even over the smallest space.
00:36:20With their numbers continuing to rise, this victory will be short-lived.
00:36:35Evening arrives, and with it, an eerie mist settles over the lake.
00:36:42The last of the egg-laying caddis flies get picked off by ducks and bears.
00:36:56Brown bears are crepuscular, preferring to venture out at dawn or dusk.
00:37:04Although their hearing and vision isn't well developed, they have an incredible sense of smell and can pick up the scent of a carcass two miles away.
00:37:16But they are not alone in that respect.
00:37:23Two predators are about to come face-to-face for the same prize.
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00:41:14>> Narrator: Siberia's lake baikal is the stage for a showdown between two top predators.
00:41:23A carcass has attracted the attentions of a 100-pound wolf and a 1,300-pound bear.
00:41:31Although a bear can break a wolf's back with one swipe, packs of wolves have been known to successfully defend kills against bears.
00:41:43This wolf is working alone, so he does the only thing he can -- steals a large leg bone.
00:42:13But he makes the mistake of stopping to watch his back.
00:42:23He got lucky this time.
00:42:26The bear's too focused on the kill to bother with the wolf.
00:42:34Tonight they both get a share of the spoils.
00:42:52It's late august, and as the brief summer slides into autumn, the land around lake baikal begins its transformation.
00:43:02It's the last great growth before the bitter cold sets in.
00:43:10The damp floor of the forest comes alive.
00:43:15Cowberries and blueberries fatten up.
00:43:19It's harvest time.
00:43:20[ Chipmunk chattering ] though siberian chipmunks live on the ground, they are utterly dependent on the siberian pines for food.
00:43:36While one stuffs his cheek pouches, another waits his chance.
00:43:55Competition is fierce ande outright thievery routine.
00:44:04To survive siberia's brutal winter, chipmunks hibernate for five months straight, but they only have two months to collect the seeds and nuts they'll need to survive the winter.
00:44:18Each will amass over five pounds of food in its den, carried there cheek load by cheek load.
00:44:27It's difficult work, especially with competitors watching every move.
00:44:58The clock is ticking for all the forest's inhabitants, and one small creature isn't taking any chances.
00:45:06The red ant.
00:45:09Numbering in the millions, they are the dominant ant in the northern hemisphere and can build nest mounds over three feet high.
00:45:21Workers form a never-ending conveyor belt of food.
00:45:28This ill-fated ladybug is one of more than 60,000 food items that a single colony carries into the depths of its anthill every day.
00:45:50When these ants are on the march, there's no escape.
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00:49:08>> Narrator: Winter is on the horizon in russia's most notorious region -- siberia.
00:49:15The creatures of its forests rush to prepare for the onslaught of cold.
00:49:23Ravenous red ants are on the prowl in an attempt to escape the carnage.
00:49:29This long-horned beetle has gone up the wrong tree.
00:49:36The slippery bark of this birch is his undoing.
00:49:44It will be a painful death.
00:49:50Once the beetle hits the ground, the mob rushes and overpowers him, dousing him with formic acid, which penetrates the bug's armor and subdues it.
00:50:05Next, the ants dismember the giant alive and carry it back to the nest piece by piece.
00:50:18November arrives, and the distance peaks regain their snowy cover.
00:50:24The icy grip of winter will soon spread.
00:50:27At high altitudes, the temperature is always punishing, but now, all across siberia, the big freeze returns, in some places dropping to 94 below zero, making it one of the coldest places on earth.
00:50:53Snow reclaims the mountains as well as the sweeping forests, but for those not hibernating, life must go on.
00:51:14The wild boar is the only pig that has evolved to inhabit such icy climates.
00:51:20Its coarse hair is a natural defense against the cold.
00:51:30These gregarious animals also have another weapon in their arsenal -- their snout.
00:51:38A tough disk of cartilage connected to muscle acts as a powerful plow that breaks snow and ice.
00:51:56Stuck deep in a winter forest with limited resources, wild boars' main survival technique is to have a highly indiscriminate diet.
00:52:06If they can find it, they will eat it.
00:52:11This time of year is hardest on the piglets.
00:52:14Without the benefit of the adults' bushy coats, they are very sensitive to the cold.
00:52:25Still, these youngsters have some energy to burn and use it to practice male boars' favorite pastime -- fighting.
00:52:34It will be five years until they are able to face adult combat.
00:52:44Until then, they continuously hone tir sparring skills.
00:53:16During the long winter chill, lake baikal transforms from a flat expanse into cut crystal.
00:53:33Adult baikal seals fend for themselves through the winter by staying mostly in the water, but come april, others will be dependent on them for survival.
00:53:45This pup, born in a snow hole four weeks ago, is the first of the season to emerge.
00:53:54Now that it has ventured out of the layer, its mother must disappear for long periods beneath the crust to feed.
00:54:11It's a vulnerable time, and danger is never far away.
00:54:15Humans, bears, and even crows can spell death for the little ones.
00:54:25Only its determination will save it.
00:54:39Siberia's chilling reputation is what has protected this incredible place from the destructive hand of man.
00:54:53With beauty as expansive as its borders and diversity to rival any place on earth, only time, will tell if this russian land of mountains and lakes, forests and plains, will remain not a prison but a true refuge for the wildlife that live here.
00:55:17Narrator: In this frozen world, life is unforgiving.
00:55:21Winter plunges the land into icy darkness for half the year.
00:55:26And summer brings little relief.
00:55:29Fierce winds rage year-round.
00:55:42...Where one wrong move spells the difference ..
00:55:48And death.
00:55:50This is the russian arctic.
00:55:53--Captions by VITA -&www.vitac.com Captions paid for bydiscovery communications russia -- the largest country on earth.
00:56:28And extraordinarily beautiful.
00:56:30[ Wind howling ] ..
00:56:40And thousands of miles of pristine forest.
00:56:47Russia's northernmost wilderness is one of the least visited areas on the planet.
00:56:53The 6 1/2 million square miles of russia's landmass are crowned by more than 2 million square miles of arctic territory.
00:57:03In the arctic winter, land and frozen sea blend into a single expanse of ice covering an area nearly twice the size of the united states.
00:57:11Un this bleak environment called tundra is home to remarkable creatures finely tuned to survive the brutal conditions here.
00:57:28One arctic resident has been honing his survival skills for millennia.
00:57:37The musk-ox survived the last ice age alongside humans some 20,000 years ago.
00:57:45Winter temperatures of 34 degrees below zero are easy to withstand for the musk-ox with his thick insulating layer of underwool called qiviut.
00:57:56Eight times warmer than sheep's wool ..
00:58:03...It's one of the rarest fibers in the world.
00:58:07But while the musk-ox is well-defended against even the brutal winter, others live a more fragile existence.
00:58:15Even spring, the time of renewal, can be brutally difficult here.
00:58:21On the ice floes, tens of thousands of harp seals gather to give birth.
00:58:30The arctic's newborns enter a hostile, frozen world.
00:58:34If they can make it through their first year, they're likely to survive to adulthood.
00:58:41[ Crying ] a pup's life is tough from the start.
00:58:52They only have 12 days with their mothers before they're left to fend for themselves.
00:59:02Though they weigh only about 25 pounds at birth, the high-fat content in their mother's milk helps them put on a remarkable five pounds a day.
00:59:19This easy life ends when the mothers abruptly abandon their pups, leaving them to fend for themselves.