A six-part docuseries narrated by Bear Grylls sheds light on how resilient animals survive in Earth’s most extreme habitats.
The gripping series, titled Hostile Planet, begins airing on National Geographic this weekend, with each week focusing on a different hostile environment – namely Mountains, Oceans, Grasslands, Jungles, Deserts and Polar.
To create one episode, a brave cameraman spent three weeks on a crumbling mountain ledge, where he was battered by wind, ice and giant mosquitos, all in the name of capturing footage of barnacle geese.
Watch a clip of the incredible footage below:
The birds were forced to rush their migration after an early spring, and the programme sees them arrive in Jameson Land, Greenland.
To increase their chances of survival and stop predators from devouring the chicks, the geese build their nests on vertiginous snowy clifftops.
By the time the chicks hatched, 25 days later, the female goose had lost 30 per cent of her bodyweight. But narrator Bear explains ‘the greatest challenge is still to come’, as the chicks will starve to death in the hostile environment if they don’t eat a meal within 36 hours.
But unfortunately, as the show is all about surviving in treacherous environments, the meal doesn’t come easy. The grass they feed on is located one mile away, and the birds must navigate a 400 foot drop before they reach the food.
Although the day-old chicks have tiny, fluffy wings, they aren’t able to fly for another month. I don’t think I have to tell you that the combination of flightless birds and a high cliff ends in heartbreak.
On the show, three chicks face the deathly leap, and it’s safe to say the odds are not good. Just 50 per cent of the chicks born on the cliff tops survive the first month of life.
Cinematographer Mateo Willis, who filmed the footage by using a camera mounted on a crane, revealed he risked his life to capture the heart-stopping moment while experiencing both snow storms and brilliant sunshine.
The problem with those cliff sides is they’re incredibly broken. Over many years the ice has fractured the rocks and it’s like standing on top of a pile of bricks.
If you were about to remove one of those pieces of rock the whole pile would come tumbling down. It’s like very bad Jenga.
I was perched on this unstable platform not much bigger than a bath tub and on this unstable ground I had probably about 200 kilos of cranes, weights and a very expensive camera.
I watched that nest sitting on a little ledge for three weeks.
While Mateo was balanced at the top of the mountain waiting for the baby geese to hatch and take their leap of faith, two more cameramen waited at the bottom, hoping to capture footage of the falling birds.
The camerman admitted the crew couldn’t help becoming emotionally invested in the barnacle geese family, all the while knowing heartbreak was ahead.
Apart from a satellite phone link for a conversation once a week these chicks become your entire world, your whole focal point. You have nothing else to focus on and you want every one of those chicks to make it and when they don’t it is heart rendering.
You really feel for the effort they’ve gone to.
The cameraman went on:
You sit there with the parents for so long and then they lose one chick, then lose a second chick and you’re thinking, ‘Come on guys, you can do this!’
Even if one chick gets through, that feels like a bitter sweet victory. Okay you’ve lost two but one chick making it through is not bad odds and as a survival strategy it works.
It works just enough that they are continuing as a species.
Episode one of Hostile Planet reveals the extraordinary lengths animals such as snow leopards, golden eagles, mountain goats and gelada monkeys go to in order to survive the hostilities of life in Earth’s highest mountains.
Only the toughest creatures can endure the extreme weather, scarce food supplies and limited oxygen on the peaks.
The show will likely be a harrowing, yet eye-opening, watch!
Hostile Planet premiers on Sunday, April 28, at 9pm on National Geographic.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.