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Only one creature has carved a life for itself
in every habitat on Earth.
That creature is us.
All over the world we still use
our ingenuity to survive in the wild places,
far from the city lights, face to face with raw nature.
This is the Human Planet.
The jungle is nature
at its most vigorous, complex and mysterious.
It may appear bountiful,
but for humans, this is a surprisingly hostile environment.
Though, through history, great civilisations have arisen here,
none have stood the test of time.
The jungle refuses to be tamed
and it punishes those who don't live by its laws.
Yet even today, there are some who guard the secrets
of surviving in this wild world.
These are the remarkable stories
of the people who call the rainforest home.
Tropical rainforests cover just 2% of the planet's surface,
but they're home to half of all species on Earth.
The problem is, much of this life is in the tree-tops,
a world way out of our reach.
Exploiting the canopy's riches from the forest floor is so challenging,
getting enough protein is a daily struggle.
The Matis of Brazil are highly skilled hunters
but for the past week there's been barely enough meat to go round.
Benin is hungry and he's determined
today's hunt will be more successful.
Administering tree-frog toxin into his bloodstream purges his body,
preparing it for action.
The Matis also drop a noxious plant juice into their eyes
to sharpen their senses and focus their minds on the hunt.
Benin and the others summon the power of the animal spirits.
Hunting canopy animals from the ground
requires formidable fire power,
a four-metre long blowpipe,
precision-made to a design honed over thousands of years.
Spotting animals in the dense vegetation is so hard,
the Matis rely on hearing to locate prey
and use mimicry to lure them into range.
They can imitate all ten species of monkey found in these forests.
HE IMITATES MONKEY CALL
MONKEY CRIES OUT
A howler monkey responds.
30 metres up, monkeys are feeding in a fig tree.
Scoring the darts with piranha teeth
ensures the poisoned tip breaks off in the victim's body.
Unlike guns, blowpipes are near silent
and can be fired without spooking the monkeys.
Benin makes the first hit, and now the monkeys scatter.
Once shot, the monkeys must be tracked
as the curare-vine poison takes effect.
This monkey's already weak, but it's hiding, and must be flushed out.
They shoot again.
It's stuck in a vine now, and there is no choice but to go and get it.
One down, but it's just the beginning.
As one of the swiftest hunters,
it's Benin's job to pick off any escaping monkeys.
He shoots another, but misses.
Benin fires again, this time on target.
The monkey finally stops
and Benin takes aim one last time.
Eight monkeys. It's been a good day.
But all too often they return empty-handed.
Hunting in the canopy is so difficult,
people must find most of their food closer to the ground.
But scratching a living on the forest floor is hardly any easier.
The complex nature of this mysterious world is so hard to master,
the lessons have to start early.
Orlando's from the Piaroa tribe of Venezuela.
He's like any other kid,
only life in the jungle has already forced him to fend for himself.
But this childhood adventure
takes them deep into the jungle underworld.
As only 2% of sunlight reaches the forest floor,
surprisingly few plants grow and this means few animals.
There's less protein here than in the desert
and much that is here is poisonous.
Distinguishing dinner from danger is an essential life skill.
Few creatures have a more sinister reputation than the one they seek.
The goliath tarantula, the size of a dinner plate,
the largest spider in the world.
It's hard to imagine a less appetising meal,
but picky eaters don't last long in the jungle.
Besides, Orlando says they're delicious,
and handling dangerous animals comes with the territory.
From about five years old,
Piaroa children know exactly where to hunt for spiders
and in a couple of hours can catch enough for a decent meal.
But they have to be careful of both the huge fangs
and of the hairs they kick towards any attacker.
If they contact the skin or are inhaled, they cause a nasty reaction.
Orlando's come off worst.
But growing up in the jungle, he's used to a little discomfort.
Tarantulas are best served toasted, like marshmallows.
All the hairs must be singed off so they don't catch in the throat.
And when they start squeaking,
which is just air escaping from the joints, they're almost done.
Tarantulas taste a bit like crab
and, with a little seasoning, they go down a treat.
Orlando's and his friends' survival
depends upon embracing every opportunity in the forest.
Jungle people rely so heavily on their surroundings,
they become a natural part of the forest
and form extraordinary bonds with nature.
Very few people live more intimately with animals than the Awa Guaja
of the eastern Amazon.
Nurturing a wide range of creatures from the forest,
the Awa are obsessive pet keepers.
And there are some animals they cherish above any others.
Like the Matis, hunting monkeys is vital to the Awa's survival,
providing nearly half their protein.
But this relationship provides far more than food.
Emwi not only eats monkeys, she loves them.
Almost all Awa families keep a number of monkey pets.
There are eight different species in the village.
The Awa show extraordinary tenderness for the little monkeys,
believing they're more human than animal.
Emwi is a devoted mother, both to her children and her monkeys.
For Emwi and the other Awa,
breastfeeding monkeys is simply a natural way
to help an orphan in need.
Caring so intimately for an animal they regularly kill
may appear contradictory,
but the Awa believe for everything they take from the forest,
they have to give back.
When our lives are so deeply entwined with animals and plants,
they inevitably become a great source of inspiration.
Perhaps the most spectacular case of culture imitating nature
is found amongst the people of Papua New Guinea.
Deep in the forest,
a male superb bird of paradise struts his stuff for a rather drab female
but she isn't the only one watching.
Geling is a bird of paradise hunter,
and it's the highly prized feathers he's after.
These coveted plumes are passed down through generations
but occasionally damaged ones need replacing.
Birds of paradise are so hard to hunt, however,
that Geling's enlisted help.
Peke is after the long tail feathers of the Princess Astrapia,
and he's using fruit to lure them in.
Tomorrow is a big day for Geling.
His clan will be performing at a Sing Sing,
where his reputation and the honour of his village
will be judged on the quality of his feather collection.
Sing Sing events are all about competing
to see who's the best-dressed,
and Geling knows not a plume can be out of place.
In both birds and humans,
it's the most eye-catching who gets the most attention,
though Geling might be overstating his conquests.
The Mount Hagen Sing Sing
is the world's largest jungle-themed fancy-dress party.
Attended by hundreds of tribes,
it's one of New Guinea's biggest national events.
Amidst the mayhem, Geling's putting the finishing touches to his outfit.
In New Guinea, male vanity is something to flaunt.
Though each clan has its own style,
almost all wear bird of paradise feathers as their crowning glory.
In their looks, and even their courtship dances,
the parallels between man and animal are unmistakable.
They're birds of a feather.
Both use these precious plumes to display fitness and beauty.
Taking centre stage, it's Geling's turn to show off.
This deep connection with birds of paradise began 40,000 years ago
and it shows few signs of fading.
Geling's getting on a bit,
and his female admirers aren't quite as plentiful as they used to be,
but he's not going to let that ruffle his feathers.
The diverse nature of the rainforest influences the people who live here
in endless ways
and it often leads to breathtaking results.
For the Bayaka tribe of Africa's Congo basin,
it's the sounds of the jungle that most inspire them.
Whether using a river as a drum kit,
or incorporating animal calls into their work songs,
the Bayaka consider music to be their greatest gift from the forest.
But there's something else found here the Bayaka prize just as highly.
So highly they're prepared to risk their lives for it.
Tete and Mongonje are on the hunt,
but it's not meat they're after.
Honey is liquid gold to the Bayaka,
and they go to extraordinary lengths to gather it.
Using a special vine,
Tete makes a harness to help him
get to grips with this 40-metre tree.
Climbing like this requires skill, strength and stamina,
especially in the tropical heat.
While Tete climbs, Mongonje prepares a bundle of smoking leaves
to help pacify the bees.
An hour's passed and Tete's making impressive progress.
But he's still got a way to go.
News that honey's been found has spread quickly,
and Tete's wife and kids come to watch.
Tete's finally made it to the crown of the tree
but to go any further he'll have to leave the security of his vine.
Tete's fully aware how dangerous honey gathering is,
but the Bayaka believe it's bravery that makes the man,
and sugar is so scarce in these forests
that honey is the best nutrition Tete can provide for his family.
40 metres up, and unattached, Tete can't put a foot wrong.
And now the bees are beginning to attack.
He's made it to the hive,
but he's got to get at the honey before being overcome by bees.
The smoke helps, but Tete's still being stung.
Finally, Tete strikes gold.
The first basket goes down to Tete's family
and even thousands of angry bees can't stop the feast.
Tete takes time to savour his success.
He's done enough to keep his wife sweet, treat his children
and earn respect from his tribe.
For forest people, simple things can hold extraordinary value,
but it's the trees themselves that are most in demand around the world.
Logging is one of the greatest threats
facing the world's rainforests.
Yet there are a few places
where its effects are far less destructive.
The jungles bordering India and Burma are harvested
using one of the most forest-friendly methods of all.
And it involves harnessing the raw power
of the mightiest creature in the jungle.
This is Ramprasad - five-and-a-half tonnes of bull Asian elephant.
And this is Sumir, his mahout.
Before nightfall, they have to drag a two-tonne log
three kilometres out of the forest.
Ramprasad is the mightiest elephant in the camp,
but it's still a mammoth test of brute strength and communication.
Sumir steers Ramprasad with over 100 different commands.
He can be operated in Hindi, Assamese
and he even understands a little English.
And Sumir's pretty fluent in elephant too.
Unbelievably strong and surprisingly nimble,
elephants are far superior to logging machines in this tangled terrain.
Most importantly, the forest doesn't have to be completely cleared
just to access a few selected trees.
There's no need for expensive spare parts,
and elephants run on 100% green fuel.
But, unlike a machine, Ramprasad has a mind of his own
and must be treated with respect.
It's essential to break elephants in before they're put to work,
but they're still wild at heart,
and keeping control of such raw might is a fine balancing act
of command and compassion.
Sumir and Ramprasad make it to the collection site in good time
and help load the trucks.
Transporting logs to the sawmill
is the only mechanised part of the entire process.
But they're not out of the woods yet.
Once again, under jungle conditions, elephants out-perform engines.
Job done, time for a well-earned wash.
The jungles of East India and Burma
form the largest area of rainforest left in Asia
and provide sanctuary for the last healthy population
of Asian elephants.
Ramprasad and these other elephants have lost their freedom,
but this way of logging helps secure the future of their species
and their home.
It's through partnerships with nature
that people manage to live within the jungle without destroying it.
But in most areas of tropical rainforest,
the picture is not so harmonious.
In just 50 years, half the planet's tropical forest has been cleared.
As many as 100 rainforest species go extinct every day,
often before they've even been discovered.
And it's not just animals and plants.
We're also losing human cultures that we know almost nothing about.
Even in the 21st century,
there are still people who exist in isolation from the rest of humanity,
and virtually all live in jungles.
These vast, unexplored forests are the only places left on Earth
where entire communities can live undetected.
Brazil is thought to be home to around 70 isolated tribes,
around two-thirds of the world total.
Jose Carlos Meirelles works for FUNAI,
a government agency that protects Brazil's indigenous people.
Today, he's hoping to encounter one of these uncontacted tribes.
He needs to get to them before others do.
Logging and mining are encroaching on these forests
and there are some who want to deny
that uncontacted tribes live here at all.
Meirelles needs evidence.
The fight to protect these people
depends upon proving and publicising their existence.
This is the very first aerial footage of an uncontacted community.
Very little is known about their way of life or even their language,
and Meirelles would rather it stays that way.
He's dedicated 40 years to protecting
isolated tribes from the outside world,
but this isn't as simple as just leaving them alone.
Using a stabilised zoom lens,
it was possible to film from a kilometre away,
Meirelles believes the more people are aware these tribes are here,
the more effective the fight to preserve their way of life.
Humans have survived here by becoming part of the forest,
but it's this specialisation
that leaves them so vulnerable in these changing times.
These people are the guardians of a wealth of knowledge and skill
that enable humans to forge a life within the natural world.
And there are very few whose existence remains
as intimately connected with the rainforest
as the remote tribes of West Papua.
The Korowai are so adapted to life in the jungle,
they've taken to the trees.
This clan is building a new house...
...but it will be no ordinary one.
All materials must be sourced on site,
and much of the cutting is still done using Stone-Age tools.
It's an ambitious project.
The plan is to build their new home in a tree 35 metres up.
Just as well they've chosen an ironwood,
the strongest tree in the forest.
The first step is to build a ladder to its crown.
These are the only tribes in the world who live in tree houses
and they do so for a number of reasons.
It's an escape from the floods
and the biting insects on the forest floor.
It offers protection from enemy attack,
but most of all, it's a display of their jungle prowess.
For the Korowai, the higher the house, the greater the prestige.
The Korowai's skills may be exceptional,
but builders are the same the world over.
As one of the clan's strongest climbers,
Wayo is the foreman overseeing the most dangerous jobs.
Thinning the branches keeps the house from shaking apart in the wind.
A fall would mean certain death,
but teetering in tree-tops is second nature to the Korowai.
As the house goes up, more trees come down.
But they have to fall in the right direction.
Activity on the building site is intense.
The rainy season is fast approaching and the roof still needs to go on.
Everyone's pulling their weight to complete on schedule.
The roof is tiled with sago-palm leaves
and rolls of tree bark make the floor and walls.
In two weeks, with 42 workers, countless felled trees,
30 bundles of palm leaves, 16 rolls of bark and 5 kilometres of twine,
the new home is complete.
It's time to move in.
As always, modesty dictates a strict entrance policy.
Everything must be carried up, even family pets
and it's a long way back down if you forget something.
The first fire is ceremonially lit,
an interesting way to bless a wooden tree house,
but health and safety regulations have yet to reach these parts.
Parents are surprisingly relaxed
as their children explore their limits in the new home.
Through knowledge, skill and ingenuity
rainforest people have mastered their environment.
They live in tune with their surroundings
and show it a respect that's being lost elsewhere.
Their remarkable lives remind us that we are nothing without nature.
Documenting the Papuan tree house build
was the most challenging shoot for the Jungles team.
They came prepared for two weeks filming in the tree-tops,
but when things went wrong, it was the Korowai who saved the day.
This shoot took cameraman Gavin Thurston, researcher Rachael Kinley
and producer Tom Hugh-Jones
to some of the least explored jungles in the world.
We're about five days into the trip,
we had a safe flight in, we had a very good welcome committee,
and I believe it's about a three-day walk from here.
No going back now.
Though local porters help lighten the load,
trekking through the swampy jungle proves tougher than expected.
I thought, if he's going in, we've got to show willing, haven't we?
I was going to come and help, but I've just fallen in.
But with only two weeks' filming, they have to push on.
The crew eventually arrive at Lahayu's village to a warm welcome,
This is Ninkana, we are beginning the five minutes of handshake
that seems to be necessary when you meet someone.
Then it's time to talk business.
Gavin's already spotted some local wildlife in unusual places.
This is Nasai, if I've got his name right.
He's got these amazing, um,
apart from an amazing hornbill
he's got these feathers on the side here.
Yakob. I think that's the sulphur-crested cockatoo.
-HE IMITATES COCKATOO
-Noisy, yeah? What else?
Mambro. HE IMITATES PIGEON
And the hornbill?
There we are, so that's today's nature lesson!
The crew go to inspect the ironwood tree the Korowai have chosen.
Well, the Korowai have found a really good tree.
It's probably about 70 feet up to where they plan
to build the tree house. It's looking good.
A line is fired into a nearby tree to rig a camera position
but the rope gets caught.
One of these guys has just shinned right up there.
It's unbelievable climbing.
All I can say is, if that was anybody else up there,
my heart would be in my throat, but he just looks so at ease.
Problem solved, thanks to the Korowai.
Now the ropes are up, it's Gavin's turn to impress.
I think these guys are fascinated
by how much paraphernalia we need to get up a tree.
Especially when I can't do it properly.
The Korowai begin building at an astonishing rate,
leaving Gavin struggling to keep up.
Just as he gets into the swing of things, rain stops play.
It's been raining for 17 hours solid, I can't believe it.
When it's this wet it's not safe for them to climb,
the logs are really slippery.
The water table has risen so much now
we've got standing water everywhere,
and the other detail you probably don't want to know
is that the long drop too is completely full.
With work at a standstill, the crew are invited for a social visit.
'It's a childhood dream.
'It's one of my first memories - when I was about six or seven,
'building a tree house about four foot off the ground
'in an apple tree in the garden
'and here I am coming to film the world experts.'
All Korowai houses are split into gender zones
and, on the women's side, Rachael's attracting a lot of attention.
They seem to be wanting to get me to dress a bit like them.
Before long she's going native.
A little more than expected.
We've had two hours of bonding with these people.
It's just been really nice to sit down and get to know the tribe
and to share some jokes with them, let them laugh at us
and see a bit of their life.
When the rain stops, the Korowai get going
but Gavin's being encumbered by all his gear.
I wonder if anybody's ever filmed a heart attack on a rope before.
Once at the top of the tree, Gavin's kit comes into its own.
This is quite a clever device, called a tree pod.
It's got a couple of spikes
and when you strap it to the tree you get a really good solid base.
The camera goes on top of there.
The tree they've chosen to put the tree house in,
turns out it's the tallest tree for a good few hundred metres.
And one thing we wanted to do is be able to see the tree house
in its environment, in the canopy, and give a sense of height.
It must be getting on for ten storeys high
and just made out of sticks and rattan.
It's quite an incredible bit of engineering.
The whole time they've been building this tree house,
there have just been really scary moments.
Right now there's quite a large tree they're trying to fell
but they're worried it might fall towards the tree house
and take out the ladder. So instead of everybody getting out,
there's three guys with long poles just pushing it out the way
and they've got two more down here with a bit of rattan
pulling it, in the hope that it will go away from the platform,
but if it goes the wrong way, those three guys are going to die!
Another tree falls. This time it's a little too close for comfort.
Luckily, they judged that one right and it didn't come our way.
The building's near completion,
but Gavin still has to shoot the big reveal.
We've set up a line from the tree the tree house is in
across to where I was filming from the tree pod.
We're going to put the cable dolly on and get a really nice pull back
to reveal the tree house right up in the canopy.
It won't go anywhere.
What has happened? BEEPING
For the first time ever.
Yet again, the Korowai come to the rescue.
Traditional Korowai craftsmanship,
a stick with another little bit of stick tied on the end.
Come on, baby!
Gavin retrieves the camera dolly in time for supper.
Food supplies are running low so the Korowai serve up a local delicacy.
They're basically giant beetle grubs that live inside the sago palms.
And they are a delicacy.
The crunch at the end when you chew their teeth perhaps isn't the best.
But other than that they are all right.
You kept saying you wanted protein.
I think they taste like caviar. It's got that pop in your mouth.
-Do you like them?
-You can have the rest, then.
-Ah! Thanks. Some more!
The verdict on the sago grubs is, they are edible
but they are actually pretty disgusting!
I'm still chewing!
It's the final day and Gavin's last chance to shoot the grand finale.
Today, it's all come together. The sun's shining,
the guys are being helpful and the cable dolly is behaving itself
and hopefully, this is the end shot for the sequence and the programme.
It's just been incredible seeing the whole process
of how they build the house this high up in the canopy.
They seem to have settled in very well. Most of them are asleep now.
I'm knackered as well, actually.
Spending time with the Korowai
has given Gavin a different perspective on life.
I judge my own inadequacies against their expertise and knowledge.
You come here and you've got boots on in case of snake bites,
you've got sun cream on because of the sun,
you've got twin safety ropes to make sure, if one fails,
you are caught on the other one.
And these guys, OK, maybe they have a higher mortality rate,
but they're much freer in their lifestyle.
You know, they're shinning up and down these trees.
I'd much rather live a shorter, fuller life, like they do out here.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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