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Planet Earth III: Human (BBC One Sunday 3 December 2023)

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Natural History

Planet Earth III: Human airs Sunday 3 December 2023 on BBC One

What can we expect from this episode

Everywhere you look, the human world is present, from the cities to the fields. It is now up to wildlife to adjust to a drastically changed environment… and engage in head-on conflict with us.

Some creatures are taking this problem directly and are even thriving as a result. The local long-tailed macaques in Bali have figured out how to steal valuables from tourists and use them as currency to buy food from temple workers. The older guys will keep demanding payment until they get their hands on your phone.

Many of the creatures that share our planet with us would rather remain unseen. Cats kept as pets in Melbourne, Australia, prey on tawny frogmouths because of their exceptional camouflage skills. But frogmouths are thriving in this city, thanks to the streetlights that help them locate their food. In fact, you can find them in greater numbers in many areas of the city than in the countryside outside.

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Not all animals are stealthy; some are just plain daring. To get to the other side of town, where there is food, rhinos in Sauraha, Nepal, must walk the streets. When hungry, black bears in Lake Tahoe, USA, will make a beeline for the town centre. Putting on as much weight as you can before hibernation is absolutely necessary. Because of the abundance of high-quality food in city dumpsters, urban bears can gain up to 50% more weight than their rural counterparts. Another group of ambitious people has taken it a notch higher. A room full of food can be theirs with the simple push of a door, they’ve figured out. It was quite unexpected for someone who just wanted to grab a snack from the store.

Keeping up with humans is a challenge for wildlife. Pavement ants outnumber native New Yorkers by a factor of 1,000, making them the city’s most prevalent ant species. Their digestive system has evolved to adapt to the ever-shifting human diet, which is the key to their success. They now get 90% of their nutrition from human sources. They consume the annual equivalent of sixty thousand hotdogs just on Broadway Avenue.

When people hate or harass an animal, it makes life difficult for that animal. Venomous cobras are spotted hunting inside people’s houses in one Indian village, despite the fact that snakebites kill an estimated 60,000 people annually in the country. Amazingly, experts think the snakes’ behaviour has changed as a result of living with humans. When startled, they move more slowly and show less aggression.

But problems arise when animals invade human territory in search of food and shelter. After dark in Kenya, male African elephants will rummage through tomato fields. Farmers risk their lives every day to keep the world’s largest land animals at arm’s length.

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There isn’t necessarily going to be conflict when animals and people share the same food source. In the overfished seas off the coast of Vancouver Island, you can see humpback whales. Astoundingly, it is believed that the exact reverse is occurring, despite expectations that their presence would further deplete fish stocks. The iron in whale poop is the culprit. Here it feeds the phytoplankton, the building blocks of the food web, and fertilises the ocean. Even though whales eat them, the phytoplankton population is expected to grow because fish feed on them.

Whaling is a double-edged sword: whales help restore ecosystems and fight climate change. Like trees, phytoplankton remove carbon from the air through photosynthesis. The impact of one great whale is equivalent to planting thirty thousand trees, because their numbers increase so dramatically due to their waste.

Although there are a few species that have adapted well to human life, the majority of wildlife is under extreme stress due to human activities. Our destinies, though, are intricately bound together. It might be disastrous for everyone if nature is not preserved. Finding ways to preserve all life on Earth will require us to rethink our current way of life.

Combining the awe and wonder of the original Planet Earth, the new science and discoveries of Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II, and the immersive character-led storytelling of Dynasties, Planet Earth III will take the experience to new heights.

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Season 1 Episode 7

When can we see the episode

Planet Earth III: Human airs Sunday 3 December 2023 at 18:20 on BBC One

Featured image credit: BBC One

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Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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