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There are places on Earth that remain virtually pristine, each one home to a spellbinding variety of life.
Their remote location or extreme environment means these Edens are protected from the most damaging effects of human interference. In these lands, life exists fundamentally as nature intended; delicately balanced and species-rich, with unique ecosystems that succeed because of the complex interdependency of the animals and plants that live there.
So are you ready to discover these hidden paradises?
Journey to some of the world's most treasured lands with brand new series Eden: Untamed Planet. Find out more details and where to watch in your region here.
Borneo is a unique treasure trove of diverse species. Home to one of the planet’s oldest rainforests, there are sixty thousand species of plants and animals in Borneo – and over six thousand that are not found anywhere else on earth. Its ancient habitat has been woven together by millions of intricate relationships, both plant and animal. Surprisingly, the key to life in Borneo’s forest is not the productivity of the terrain, but rather the reverse; its biodiversity has been driven by a lack of nutrients. Borneo’s forest animals have had to survive and compete for food on very poor soil. Every animal must adapt to get the nutrients it needs.
As if that was not enough of a challenge, deforestation, industrial logging and the spread of plantations are potentially devasting threats to this area, particularly for orangutans. 80% of their habitat has been felled, which means thousands find themselves marooned in small pockets of rainforest, often cut-off from potential mates. Some areas are protected and there are calls to make them interconnected through wildlife corridors, to allow migration and also prevent inbreeding.
Catastrophic shipwrecks give Namibia’s Skeleton Coast its name – and Portuguese sailors once refer to it as “The Gates of Hell”, which adds to its sinister reputation.
Its geographical structure creates a landscape full of surprises. The Atlantic Ocean runs alongside its entire length and the coastline is incredibly fertile, with fauna rich water that attracts seals – extraordinary for a desert. It boasts an astonishing array of species from ants to desert elephants, including lions, ostriches, oryxes and frogs.
What’s its secret? At a possible 55 million years old, it is believed to be the oldest and most diverse desert in the world. In fact, it’s the only desert that sustains land giants such as elephants and lions, as well as an incredible variety of smaller creatures. The rich biodiversity of here can partly be explained by how each animal has evolved for success. Firstly, they’ve adapted to the heat – such as the oryx, whose white facial markings act as a cooling system. Blood is channelled from the black to the white areas, allowing it to keep a cool head. Also, animals that technically should not be able to survive in these conditions have adapted to cope with the minimal access to water. Ever-resourceful, they’ve made use of some surprising sources, such as frogs absorbing moisture through a patch of mist, and giraffes licking the dew off leaves.
The Luangwa River is responsible for the astonishing seasonal changes in the Luangwa Valley that create this particular Eden. It’s one of the longest remaining unaltered rivers in southern Africa and boasts a real plethora of animals, including impala, baboons, hippos, and crocodiles.
How are these animals sustained? The rains begin slowly and steadily in early November, before becoming incredibly heavy in December and January. As the river bursts its banks it floods the valley, depositing mineral-packed silt when the waters recede, which creates a rich, fertile soil.
Herbivores flourish, carnivores feed on the herbivores, and so the valley works as one harmonious eco-system. The threat comes from man-made interventions to the river, which would upset the delicate balance of the whole area’s ecology.
The Galapagos Islands are the extraordinary home to some of the most unusual creatures on earth. This wonderland of isolated Edens was left undiscovered for millions of years and holds creatures that have evolved in remarkable and unusual ways. Blood-sucking finches, Equatorial penguins, sea lions that hunt co-operatively, and the world's only seagoing lizards. And if that wasn’t enough, there are also huge tortoises living in a live volcano, and daisies that have grown into 20-metre-tall trees. These are just a few of the 2,000 species with adaptations only found on the Galapagos.
These islands are surrounded by some of the world’s richest waters, attracting the highest density of sharks in the world. Once you’ve managed to land your boat on an island successfully, you then have to negotiate the island’s razor-sharp black lava. The Galapagos Islands were formed due to the continuous movement of tectonic plates and volcanic activity at the earth’s mantle.1 The lava fields seen on these islands are lava flows from volcanic eruptions, which have cooled and solidified.2
The Andes – the longest mountain range on the planet – are the backbone of Patagonia. They greatly influence all life here, creating a challenging habitat at their summits, but also a richness of species across low lying fjords and forests. The high altitude requires some intensive survival strategies from Patagonia’s wildlife. Day old flamingo chicks, for example, can endure the high levels of ultraviolet radiation found at such an elevation – and they’re frequently blasted with wind and sea salt, too. And if any don’t make it, Andean condors swoop in to pick through the remains.
It is a savagely beautiful landscape, sadly at risk from farming. Almost 90% of the scrubland has been degraded, which has crashed the population of guanaco, Patagonia’s indigenous grazing animals. A guanaco’s biggest predator is the puma, so it is now having to hunt for alternative food sources. Even the fertile coastal waters are under threat – intensive fish farming and resultant pollution are the dangers here.
The vast forests in southeast Alaska are surrounded by huge, towering snow-capped mountain ranges, interspersed with glaciers and fjords. It’s a landscape that ebbs and flows with the seasons and feels distinctly ancient.
Survival is challenging for the inhabitants of this particular Eden, even in the plentiful months of summer. Consequently, they’ve evolved in appearance and altered their strategy to thrive in this ever-changing environment. For example, the world’s largest bald eagles are found here – and they stay on the sand flats until after dark, waiting for the bears to finish their salmon suppers so they can steal any leftovers.
Six different landscapes, six different eco-systems – all containing species that rely on one another for their Eden to function. In turn, these Edens also help us, by regulating our air and water, giving stability to the soil and providing us with food. These wondrous lands succeed because they work in harmony. Protecting each element of this fragile eco-system ensures they will remain an earthly paradise.