♪ ♪ ♪ Even if overnight, miraculously, we took all of our energy use and changed it into completely green, renewable energy, we will still be in great trouble.
And that is because basically every model that we have that predicts how quickly the planet will warm is based on one simple premise, and that is nature is left intact.
Our impact on land and, to some extent, oceans, how we manage it and how we, frankly, abuse it, really puts out about 12 1/2 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every single year.
That's about a quarter of global emissions on this planet.
If we're going to rebalance our planet's carbon equation, we have to find ways of restoring and protecting our natural places.
Because cutting emissions by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels just isn't enough on its own.
Plus, we're running out of time.
But I want to show you how there is a way through this.
In the second year of this ambitious project, I am joined by journalist Ade Adepitan and biologist Ella Al-Shamahi as we revisit some of our planet's most vulnerable ecosystems... documenting the progress made in the last 12 months.
From California to the Arctic... Brazil to the Maldives... Ho-ho!
Narrator: East Africa... Adepitan: I'm back in Kenya to find out how wildlife is being affected by the ongoing drought.
Narrator: to Southeast Asia.
Al-Shamahi: I'm back in Cambodia meeting locals and scientists who are saving a living fossil from the brink of extinction.
Narrator: And I'm traveling to Australia, a country on the front lines of both climate impacts and solutions.
I've come to the Southern Hemisphere to continue learning directly from indigenous communities about their profound connection to nature.
But I'm also in Australia because of its historically bad record on climate action.
Per person, this country emits twice as much carbon as China and even beats the U.S. in the global emitters league table.
If we want to see what the future's gonna look like for the rest of us, Australia is in some ways the place to watch.
But there is something else about Australia that is, I think, quite special, and that is a large amount of Australia is still in the custodianship and the stewardship or the ownership of indigenous communities, and how they have been managing land in some ways might give me some clues as to how we could treat land everywhere.
1/3 of all recent mammal extinctions have been in Australia.
It is now the extinction capital of the world.
But I'm traveling to a unique community that is having spectacular success in preserving a vast and vital ecosystem that, despite appearances, is just teeming with life.
The Gibson Desert of Western Australia.
Nearly half of Australia is part-held or managed by indigenous groups.
I'm here to find out how traditional knowledge can bring us back from the edge of disaster.
This small mail plane connects Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to the Kiwirrkurra community of the Pintupi people 400 miles away.
Even when I've gone to really remote communities, you can see other things along the way.
You can see roads, you can see sort of human habitation or signs of human activity.
Here, it's just empty desert, and then a speck of a community that just appears out of nowhere.
It's just easy to see why this is considered to be the most remote community in all of Australia.
Non-Aboriginal people need a permit just to pass through this reserve.
So, for me, it's a rare opportunity to be even allowed to visit.
Scarcely 160 Pintupi people live in this one tiny community, and they're responsible for over 16,500 square miles of wilderness.
My introduction comes from ecologist Dr. Rachel Paltridge.
For more than 20 years, she and the Kiwirrkurra people have built a successful two-way science project where academic research is combined with an unbroken nomadic tradition dating back 60,000 years.
Are there people in this community who would've, as young people, been truly nomadic?
Yes, there are.
The Pintupi Nine were the last people to come out of the bush, a family of 9 people still living, no, totally nomadically, living naked in the bush, hunting for all their food until 1984.
So, the two of the-- the main women that we'll be working with who are the rangers Yukurrltji and Yalti, they were part of the family group.
They're about the same age as me, born in about 1970, growing up at the same time, just such different lives.
Where were you growing up?
I was growing up in South Australia on a sheep farm, so.
And they were actually nomadic hunter-gatherers.
And they had no idea about White people and we had no idea that there were still people left out in the bush.
Sanjayan, voice-over: One of that last nomadic family group is Nolia Ward, who works alongside her daughter Jodie in a team of rangers looking after the land.
They see few outsiders, so, I know I'm gonna have to earn their trust.
Paltridge: These senior women are expert trackers.
They're some of the best trackers in the world.
They've grown up hunting for their food OK. by tracking the animals down.
Sanjayan, voice-over: In recognition of their unique skill, in 2014, the community secured an agreement that turned their traditional land into an Indigenous Protected Area, or IPA.
There are currently 70 IPAs protecting 160 million acres of Australian biodiversity, making this the largest protected zone of arid land on Earth.
Here in Australia, as in many of our vulnerable habitats, invasive animals, such as feral cats, foxes, even camels pose a cataclysmic threat to biodiversity... and the women have a key role to play.
Paltridge: They're quite famous for their cat hunting.
People love to eat cats in Kiwirrkurra, feral cats.
They're a terrible problem in Australia.
They've caused the extinction of many, many mammals.
There's still animals living around here that have persisted because of the cat hunting.
Sanjayan, voice-over: Feral cats are responsible for the death of over a billion animals a year, and are driving native animals to extinction.
Funding a ranger program in this tiny community extends their influence beyond their local hunting grounds to conserve an area twice the size of Vermont.
And there is evidence that they are succeeding.
This continuous, gentle management of the land over thousands of years has created a habitat that is more resilient to climate change.
It's a lesson we've long forgotten closer to home.
California's forests have been cleared, its rivers dammed, and wetlands drained, leaving it vulnerable as it now experiences the driest two decades in more than 1,000 years.
Woman: Every river is changed, every stream is changed.
We're sucking all of the groundwater right out of the earth and using it up and the whole state is drying.
And then you layer climate change on top of that and it's hotter, it's drier, it's windier.
The snow is turning into rain so it doesn't stay on the landscape longer.
And you put it all together and we've just got a hot, dry landscape that is full of fuel.
That's when you have entire forests that just go up like a tinderbox, and you just get this incredibly severe burning.
Sanjayan, voice-over: Experts predicted that within 30 years, climate change would result in wildfires that are twice as destructive than the historical average.
But California's fires of 2020 brought this prediction earlier by decades.
So, I'm excited when I hear about natural solutions for forest regeneration, such as this one.
Greater resilience to wildfire is being provided by the reintroduction of North America's largest rodent--the beaver.
A creature many people regard as a pest but is, in fact, a native keystone species.
A fact the Tule River tribe have known for centuries as they prepare to reintroduce it to their waterways.
Man, voice-over: Beavers once thrived throughout the reservation.
We have the historical rock paintings to show that, which go back 500 to 1,000 years.
By bringing the beaver back to our main river, our creeks and tributaries, the beaver will do what they do naturally to hold the water back.
Sanjayan, voice-over: And beaver dams have a significant effect during wildfires.
Ecohydrologist Dr. Emily Fairfax is studying the impact beavers have in burnt landscapes.
Fairfax: So, this is a patch in the landscape that didn't burn at all, and the reason it didn't burn is because beavers have engineered this to be extremely wet and soggy.
[Drone whirring] So, here is the beavers' dam, and along this crest of the dam, there's a lot of really fresh mud, and this mud was probably packed on by the beavers last night.
In fact, in this one, I think I can actually see some little paw prints.
If you look at that side of the dam, it's starting to grow plants on it.
Every time they bite it, like, 5 new shoots come out.
Sanjayan, voice-over: A single family of beavers can maintain several acres of wetlands as well as engineering the landscape to better resist fire.
Fairfax: The beavers can actually change the way that fire moves through the landscape.
Instead of just blasting through and burning everything and leaving nothing but ash in its wake, like we're seeing now, the fires would just hit speed bump after speed bump after speed bump.
Sanjayan, voice-over: It's amazing to me how the reintroduction of one species can promote biodiversity and slow the spread of mega-fires.
Which is also an acute problem in Australia, where I'm learning that climate change has increased the likelihood of wildfires fourfold... culminating in the black summer of 2019-2020, when 1/5 of all its forest, around 22,000 square miles, was destroyed and 33 people killed.
Australia has lost dozens and dozens of species, all in relatively recent times.
It's got a massive invasive species problem.
So much of its land has been converted into agriculture and other uses.
So, this is a continent very much on the--in the crosshairs, if you will, of both the extinction crisis and the climate change crisis.
Here in Australia, it's with mixed feelings that I'm witnessing firsthand how rangers are faced with having to eradicate a feral species.
Invasive species are changing the natural world everywhere and they're making it less resilient to the impact of climate change.
It's a herd of feral camels.
Camels were introduced to Australia.
They were introduced before the trains were here and people used them to move across this desert.
And the real problem is, of course, that the numbers have just exploded.
There's more camels here today than there are, really, in the Middle East living wild.
The rangers want to show me the effect this camel invasion is having on one of their ancestral waterholes.
There really is no natural solution to the camel crisis, and I'm starting to understand why the impact is so damaging.
This is the first time I've seen water outside of my tap, and seeing it on the surface like this, available to wildlife and people, you realize how special, and it took us over an hour to drive to this one place, but you know, it's clear that humans couldn't use this anymore because of the camels.
Sanjayan, voice-over: A single camel can drink up to 30 gallons of water in 10 minutes.
So, a herd of thirsty camels can drain a small waterhole dry as well as fouling up the water.
State-sanctioned culling of feral camels was first introduced nearly 15 years ago, and it's plain to me how urgent it continues to be to get rid of camels before they damage the environment beyond repair.
[Indistinct chatter] Man: Just got a camel over here that RO is hot on the trails of with his rifle.
[Gunshot] Let's get it.
Man: We generally cut these camels up and we can feed the whole community for one night, probably a community of 150 people, for free, from one camel, and there's tons of them out in country.
So, one big fella like this, he's probably-- he seems like a younger fellow, eh, Raymond?
Yeah, so, he'll go off and make a big mob of camels, and so, by killing this big one, we can ensure that there's less reproduction happening, and that's the real aim.
Sanjayan, voice-over: I'm seeing firsthand how human-animal conflict over scarce resources can escalate under climate change.
In Kenya, Ade is meeting up with the group Save the Elephants.
Now, this is a country which really relies on agriculture and farmland, and climate change is affecting all of that.
Adepitan, voice-over: Dr. Lucy King, head of the Human-Elephant Coexistence Program, is acutely aware of the need to help people living in close proximity to our biggest land mammal.
King: When I first came here in 2009, the conflict was there but it wasn't catastrophic.
Now we're just seeing such a increased level of conflict that's becoming lethal.
If it's this bad now, what happens if it doesn't rain for another year or another 10 years?
When you say lethal and catastrophic, I mean, they're big words, you know, what do you mean?
Can you drill into that a little bit more?
I'm really meaning lethal for both sides.
Traditionally, you had a level of tolerance in the communities and certainly a cultural respect for elephants, which is very strong in Kenya.
That starts to erode very fast when kids are killed.
One lady, um, who we knew just came out of her house one morning and just got picked up by an elephant and slammed against the house Oh!
and her neck was broken.
So, really lethal, and we've also had elephants killed in the farms and not for tusks.
You know, not for poaching.
That's not the issue.
The issue is people don't want elephants in their farms.
So, conflict is now the greatest threat to elephants in Kenya.
Adepitan, voice-over: As climate change conflict escalates, Lucy knows we need to protect people to save elephants.
Man: In 2017, that's when we started having big numbers.
There was a day I counted 200 elephants in one herd.
Yeah, coming here.
Onto your land.
Yeah, onto my land.
2018, 400 at a go.
Yeah, so, they're just increasing in number.
Adepitan, voice-over: Using elephant biology and behavioral science, Lucy creates tools for repelling elephants and reducing conflict.
King: People need real solutions but they also have to be affordable.
So, it's all very well saying, "Let's put up an electric fence around every farm."
It's just not practical and it's not realistic, it's too expensive.
And it'll use up a lot of energy as well.
And it uses up a lot of energy.
So, I'm much more interested in holistic approaches to this challenge.
Adepitan, voice-over: Lucy and the team get creative in their search for solutions.
King: We need multiple tools, multiple solutions, and often they need to be rotated throughout the year, and we call that the toolbox.
Adepitan, voice-over: The toolbox is a practical how-to guide, currently being distributed to communities across Africa and Asia.
The solutions are based in science.
They're affordable, they're adaptable, they're non-invasive to the elephants, and they work.
Yeah, Jones, this is the toolbox.
Human Elephant Coexistence toolbox.
I thought it was a metal tool with tools inside.
Ah, no, no, no.
So, we have one that we call the buzz box.
OK. Have you ever seen this one?
No, but, er, I'm ready to learn.
Adepitan, voice-over: Without bees, the beehive fences Jones installed are failing.
The toolbox provides fresh ideas, including how to create fake bees.
So, this is what we call a buzz box.
It has a solar panel on the roof, which charges the whole unit, and it sits on top of the post, and it has an infrared signal that comes out here, and whatever goes in front of it, up to about 30 foot, will trigger sounds to come out of it.
And you can have any sounds on there, er, but the one we're using is bees.
[Recording of bees buzzing playing] Sanjayan, voice-over: Modern technology can provide ingenious new solutions to work alongside traditional knowledge.
The Pintupi use land management techniques that are beneficial to modern Australia.
Paltridge: By doing little fires through the year, um, it stops the big, hot wildfires that might happen in the summertime.
Sanjayan, voice-over: Spinifex grass covers about 1/4 of Australia.
This iconic spiky plant provides shelter for native species as well as tools and food for indigenous Australians.
It relies on fire for regrowth.
They set fire to dried sticks or bunches of highly resinous spinifex.
Sanjayan: Fire stick, more different-- Yeah, to re--regrow plant for animal.
OK. Bush plant.
Sanjayan: And you do this all the time?
For animal and for people, too.
Sanjayan, voice-over: The Kiwirrkurra actually dribble fire onto patches of grass as they walk.
Jodie Ward: Easy for them to carry.
Walk along and when it's run out, they'll burn it again.
Sanjayan: OK. OK. Shall we--shall we go do this?
Vu, vu, vu, vu, vuh.
Sanjayan, voice-over: I'm starting to think the women are warming to me when they invite me to give it a try.
Yeah, it is very hot.
Where do I do it?
[Fire crackling] [Blowing] It's funny how quickly she was doing it and I can't get a fire going.
Sanjayan, voice-over: Australia has evolved to burn, but the ferocity of its modern wildfires is hellish.
These small managed burns protect against mega-fires by creating natural breaks and removing highly flammable growth.
In California last year, I met with the Yurok tribe, proudly stewarding their land using similar indigenous practices.
And they're far from alone.
Indigenous peoples protect 80% of Earth's biodiversity while comprising less than 5% of the world's population.
Devastating fire seasons in 2020 and 2021 destroyed several million acres of California wild lands... including 1/5 of the largest and oldest trees on Earth-- giant sequoia.
Yet the Tule River tribe, living on the only Indian reservation left with sequoias, saw much less damage occur in their forests, which are already beginning to recover.
It's largely down to their use of good fire to prevent bad fire.
[Chainsaw whirring] Ron Goode is an elder from the Tules' sister tribe, the North Fork Mono.
As fire expert, he's leading a traditional cultural burn.
Goode: Going to sing a renewal song today because we're restoring the meadow and we're restoring the watershed and the land.
We got a lot of old spirits out here.
I hear 'em.
[Singing in native language] Sanjayan, voice-over: California's long-held no-fire policy has restricted controlled burns like these for many years, until now.
Goode: What you've been doing for two centuries, when do you expect it to work?
Sanjayan, voice-over: Just like Ron, I'm convinced that there's an urgency to use nature-based solutions that, combined with the indigenous management of the land, can be our strongest allies against climate change.
We are already seeing how they help us prevent mega-fires from taking hold.
Fighting fire with fire is really making a difference, if you can get one started.
They gave me a bum one.
[Laughs] When the fire runs out, they do this, like [Puff] blow it and make more fire and they keep going with the journey.
Sanjayan: All right, she's got a better one.
OK, see how-- can I get that?
Jodie Ward: Yeah, that.
This one's good.
My God, I've always wanted to do this, I gotta admit.
She's just gone in there, right after the fire's gone, and she's obviously hunting for something.
Aren't you afraid-- aren't you afraid of the fire?
She just waits for the fire-- I mean, this thing is still-- that's still warm.
It's smoldering all around me and she's right in there digging out these gigantic grubs, which...which are soft to the touch, and I guess they're edible.
There's just no fear.
They know exactly what to do.
There's not a lot of coordination.
They just get out there and start these little fires and then they're in there, and she's hunting already.
So, it's just constant sort of fire, food, habitat management, all wrapped in an afternoon out in the country.
Sanjayan, voice-over: The Kiwirrkurra rangers, along with 14 other desert ranger teams, combine their instinctive understanding of fire with modern methods as part of the Right Way Desert Fire Project.
Guided by satellite mapping and using drip-torches or incendiaries dropped from aircraft, they can really scale up their impact, making this the world's largest indigenous fire management program.
Sanjayan: So, it's not just indigenous knowledge.
I mean, it's a mix of the two, right?
Yeah, it's a real two-way science, but it's so ingrained in the traditional knowledge that these guys just take up the modern methods like that and we can just do it over a wider area now, um-- Using helicopters?
Using helicopters and even using fixed-wing planes as well.
You've been doing it for a long time?
Yeah, even when I was a kid.
As a kid?
You were going out with your dad or family?
With families going hunting.
I mean, in most places, it's something that has just been lost, and now people are trying to bring it back.
Yeah, and, like, like, even before the settlement Kiwirrkurra was founded, you can see, like, there was this whole satellite footage of around here in Kiwirrkurra, Yeah.
and you can see a lot of fire scars... from all the old people who were doing a lot of burning on the country.
Hunting and all that.
You know, Scott, last year, I was with a indigenous community in California called the Yurok, and they had to petition the government for rights to start fires, because that knowledge for this community, this indigenous community, had been lost, and they had to essentially fight with the government to get the right back.
It's a lot easier for us to, you know, go burn out in country but the government trusts us.
Sanjayan: Pretty remarkable.
What looks like, to me, completely sort of untouched land is actually land that's been managed for a long, long, long time, and there's something very special about that.
♪ Sanjayan, voice-over: The two-way science project also informs community behavior.
Rachel's research reveals that the great desert skink, a threatened species, builds its burrows beneath the large spinifex bushes.
Wildfire taking the ground cover would expose the skink to predators.
So, the women burn firebreaks to protect the burrows.
[Speaking native language] Sanjayan: They can see the tjalapa, which is the great desert skink tracks, but they're so faint because it's windy.
I mean, for me, it just looks like dimples in the sand, but it's clear as day to them.
Sanjayan, voice-over: Jodie finds a burrow where she spotted some animal droppings, or scat.
Track went in.
There's the scat for the-- Oh, yeah, yeah.
Jodie Ward: Scat.
And he went in there?
Yeah, inside there.
So, we're gonna dig this one?
[Laughter] [Woman speaking native language] Sanjayan, voice-over: Great desert skink is an indicator species for the health of the Kiwirrkurra IPA as a whole.
[Speaking native language] [Woman laughing] [Laughter] Paltridge: By monitoring their numbers, it tells us if we're-- how well we're going with our cat management and our fire management, because skinks and bilbies are threatened by the same things as many other species.
Sanjayan: A baby?
[Women talking at once] Another.
So, that is a great desert skink but a baby great desert skink.
Yeah, it's a baby one.
[Women speaking native language] Sanjayan, voice-over: It's a large burrowing lizard, measuring more than 17 inches long when fully grown.
They dig burrows in the spinifex with tunnels running up to 30 feet.
And how endangered are these in Australia now?
Um, so, they're classified as vulnerable to extinction.
Um, we know of about 20 populations across the desert.
We don't know exactly how many, but we're estimating it may be about 6,000 or 7,000 left in the wild.
Just to put this in perspective, it's like the population of black rhinos.
But once upon a time, they were across the desert?
They were right across the desert, so, you know, there's a lot of places we can go to where the old people remember seeing them when they were young, but they can no longer find them.
But here at Kiwirrkurra, they've persisted, where people have continued to do the fire management and the cat control.
Sanjayan, voice-over: As a vulnerable indicator species, the health of the great desert skink may be hugely significant here.
But elsewhere, its loss most likely would hardly even be noticed.
And yet globally, we are looking at the loss of mega-herbivores whose absence would feel like a tsunami.
When I was in Kenya last year, I saw for myself how unsustainable development, drought, and poaching, all exacerbated by climate change, are threatening its iconic wildlife.
Sadly, the news this year is no better.
Ade is finding how it's not just the animals in Tsavo National Park that are badly affected by the drought.
Plants rely on the free movement of elephants foraging across the landscape, and they suffer when the elephants stay too close to their waterholes.
King: It's inconceivable to imagine Tsavo without elephants.
I think the park and the ecosystem would collapse.
Would the elephants wander all around here, then?
Oh, yeah, for sure.
So, they're critical for re-germinating this area?
Without this mega-herbivore moving the food around, we could lose a whole load of tree species and grass species.
Elephants have been part of Tsavo for millennia, and they are critical for distributing seeds around the park in their dung.
So, we have to do everything we can to protect these mega-fauna species so that all the other species on the planet can be protected.
If they die, it's probably our fault as humans.
Sanjayan, voice-over: Here in the Outback, the rangers are keeping alive their unbroken connection between humans and animals.
[Indistinct chatter] Sanjayan: The excitement is building.
They've spotted a tail of a big one.
I mean, that hole is properly deep.
Do you see it?
You see it?
[Woman cheers] Sanjayan: Oh, my goodness.
[Indistinct chatter] Sanjayan: Good job.
I mean, that is a big skink.
Like, that big.
Sanjayan, voice-over: In the past, they hunted the great desert skink for food, but since it's endangered, tracking them is now encouraged more as an engagement activity.
Paltridge: They are occasionally hunted, but we actually monitor how many are dug up each year, and we think it's worth losing a small number to people eating them because it maintains that strong connection with country.
So, that's the baby and that's the adult, and it's amazing how big the adult is.
That's the biggest skink I've--I've ever seen.
And found here because of indigenous management.
Sanjayan, voice-over: The endangered desert skink can now be returned to the safety of its deep burrow.
[Laughter] Sanjayan: Good night.
[Indistinct chatter] Yalti: Good night, tjalapa.
Sanjayan: Like, seriously impressed.
[Indistinct chatter] Sanjayan: Tracked it, found it in this middle of a huge desert and then caught them.
So, yeah, good day.
[Singing in native language] [Laughter] [Napangarti continues singing in native language] [Continues singing in native language] Sanjayan, voice-over: As we're seeing here, active intervention in an ecosystem isn't always a bad thing.
Brazil is another place where we can see nature is dangerously out of balance.
The rainforest has been so badly degraded that parts of it now emit more carbon than it stores.
But it still remains a vital habitat for its wildlife.
Last year, I started following a story in a part of the country with the highest density of jaguars in the world.
Here in the Pantanal, a progressive conservation initiative is focusing on ranchers who own 95% of the land and believe the big cats are a real threat to their livelihood, but are now beginning to see the benefit that jaguars bring to eco-tourism.
Every summer, the Oncafari team collar as many jaguars as they can, and they've been just alerted to a new sighting perilously close to a ranch.
They want to sedate it for closer inspection.
In the intense heat, these big cats need to find shade, and in this case, it's provided by a drainage pipe at the edge of a field, giving a clear line of sight to fire a tranquilizer dart.
♪ [Gunshot] [Bird chirping] [Indistinct chatter] Sanjayan, voice-over: Once the sedative has taken effect, the team can safely approach what they now see is an unexpectedly large cat.
Woman: This a young male, and we have this small window, it's about one hour, to do all the things that we do.
So, we measure it, we weigh it, set a collar as well, try to do as fast as we can.
Vet is also doing his study.
So, that's the time that I'm doing the ECG, that electrocardiograpic evaluation, but, like, these, we have all the biological sample, like urine, fecal samples, and blood.
Rampin, voice-over: As a young male that is insisting on staying in this area, you got scratch marks all over the body.
You've also got some open wounds.
That's how you... Sanjayan, voice-over: The male has a few deep puncture wounds from fighting.
These are the perfect places for maggots to thrive.
[Indistinct chatter] Rampin: You can see that there are maggots for, of several stages, and they're gonna analyze that as well.
Sanjayan, voice-over: This one seems in good health despite his battle scars, likely from an encounter with Tupa, the dominant male whose territory this is and who we observed last year.
Rampin, voice-over: This male is carrying a huge responsibility on his back because he's 2 1/2 years old, he was born here, and he decided to stay in this place, which is weird.
We were hoping that he was-- he'll be gone, because we have big animals here, like Tupa, for instance, but he decided to stay.
So, we just talked as a team and we decided to fit a GPS collar on him, 'cause we really want to understand the way that he moves, that way that he spreads all over the place, you know, the way that he guarantee his own territory.
Sanjayan, voice-over: By reducing this human-animal conflict, Oncafari are contributing to the future survival of the jaguar.
♪ [Women speaking native language] Sanjayan, voice-over: The women of Kiwirrkurra, on the trail of something much smaller than the jaguar, but no less significant for this habitat.
[Women speaking native language] Sanjayan, voice-over: A diminutive marsupial, vulnerable to extinction, with rabbit-like ears.
Paltridge: Yeah, that-- can see that really clearly.
I can't see it very clearly, so, show me.
Sanjayan, voice-over: The rangers have followed tracks to a bilby burrow.
Sanjayan: Oh, so, this is the opening?
This is that.
Sanjayan, voice-over: These adorable desert creatures are ecosystem engineers.
As well as tilling the soil, their burrows are precious shelter for other animals.
The bilby is now under terrible threat from predators.
They need this kind of mix of habitats where there's unburnt spinifex for the cover so that foxes and cats can't see very far.
But then they need these little fresh gardens of food coming up.
So, the Aboriginal burning, which produces this patchwork of habitat, is really what the bilbies really key in on.
And these big, catastrophic fires, they're bad for them, too, right?
They're terrible for them, yeah.
Sanjayan, voice-over: The bilby survives where in the last 200 years, 10% of mammal species in Australia have become extinct.
♪ Australia's flora evolved alongside bushfire, but its natural resilience is no longer enough when faced with the repeated ferocity of modern mega-fires.
The itacate seed that the bilbies eat and that Aboriginal people use to make flour only flourishes after a small managed burn.
Jodie Ward: They burn it.
Little bit of fire on the side.
Jodie Ward: They burn this side and regrow the plant... Paltridge: Yup.
and leave that other side.
Lot more shrubs, right, and different grasses?
Paltridge: Different grasses... Sanjayan, voice-over: And it sprouts straight after the fire.
Paltridge: ...that comes up after the fire.
Sanjayan, voice-over: Ants feed on the shoots, but they conveniently leave the seeds in a neat pile.
Sanjayan: What makes it a little pile?
You know, the ants.
Sanjayan: The ants gather the seeds.
Jodie Ward: Yeah, it's what they're doing.
Sanjayan: The ants mining for you.
And when you create the fires, you're creating more sort of habitat for the ants that then collect the seeds that then we use.
It's a real synergy, yeah.
Sanjayan, voice-over: A deep awareness of the natural world like this can be a lifesaver in times of great need.
Ade is seeing firsthand how Kenya continues to suffer from the longest and most severe drought on record, because the seasonal rains have still not come.
Mwakima: We had to look for ways through which we could get something to feed the cows.
I discovered that, er, elephants were uprooting these tubers.
Adepitan, voice-over: Maduwiyay are thirst-quenching and fiber-rich.
Elephants dig them up when other food runs out.
Mwakima: Elephants are my neighbors, so, we have to learn from our neighbor.
So, I realized they are surviving out of this.
I realize I can also save, er, the few remaining cows by feeding them with these tubers.
So, this one now is saving our cattle.
Initially, I had 22.
I'm only remaining with 5 now, which I'm trying very hard to, er, to save them.
Currently, everyone in the village is digging them.
I've been encouraging farmers not to uproot everything so that at least the tree can survive, because if you uproot everything, then it will dry.
So, we are just harvesting.
I think most people would crumble if they had to deal with just half of the things that Jones has to deal with.
But what's so impressive about him is the courage that he's showing and the ingenuity, you know, to fight back.
Adepitan, voice-over: As Jones has discovered, if you know where to look, nature can often provide.
The presence of elephants in the savannah has been shown to improve soil carbon stocks by 2.5 tons per acre.
Sanjayan, voice-over: So, what I find so appealing about the way the Pintupi move through the landscape is the way, like the elephants, they understand this balance.
They just take what they need, when they need it.
Deserts and arid areas cover about 47% of Earth's land mass and can store significant carbon in their plant roots and soil if they're carefully maintained.
With their managed burns, the women have revealed a small larder of fresh food, including a fruit they call bush tomato, a staple food of central Australia for thousands of years.
Yeah, we clean it and eat it.
What's it taste like?
It tastes like, almost like a watermelon Paltridge: Mm.
Sanjayan: taste to it.
It's not a tomato taste.
More of a rock watermelon.
But it tastes pretty good, hmm?
Paltridge: Yeah, a bit like a honeydew melon?
It's like a honeydew melon.
Like mild and a little bitter.
Because it looks like a vicious, little plant, huh?
But this only comes up after fire, huh?
It's kind of amazing that you drive across sort of miles and miles and miles of sort of monotonous spinifex and quite literally just drove by, wow, there's a little burn, get out, and instantly you're finding different plants, different, um, different foods, and it's--even for me, it's not that hard to find, and you can see how valuable this sort of mosaic patchwork of habitat would be for, for indigenous communities, but also for wildlife.
It's not bad, eh?
[Laughter] Paltridge: Got the lingo.
[Laughs] Sanjayan, voice-over: Making our way across the landscape, the rangers bring me to a site significant to their community's origin story.
And it's not far from here that Nolia, Yalti, and the rest of the Pintupi Nine first reappeared, to join a community of their long-lost cousins.
The last family of nomads to roam this country.
♪ ♪ [Women speaking native language] Sanjayan: Wow.
Jodie Ward: Woman one.
Sanjayan, voice-over: Feasting on bush food, sitting under a blanket of stars, Nolia begins to tell me how one afternoon, 40 years ago, she, her mother, her sister Yalti, and 7 others walked away from their nomadic life and into an alien world.
The last truly nomadic hunter-gatherers in Australia had finally settled down.
Jodie interprets for me her mother's symbolic images in the sand.
Sanjayan, voice-over: Depicting wild dingoes sleeping by her side, keeping the family warm.
Paltridge: Did the dingoes keep you warm?
Nolia Ward: Dingoes always warm.
Sanjayan, voice-over: And how they were tamed to recognize the family scent.
[Speaking native language] Sanjayan: So, the dingo gets to know your scent?
[Speaking native language] Sanjayan, voice-over: And the first time she was brought to the community in a truck.
Paltridge: The trees were moving.
Sanjayan: Yes, yes, of course.
It looked like from inside the car, it looked like everything else was leaving her.
Nolia Ward: Yeah.
Sanjayan: Yeah, it's amazing.
It's unbelievable to hear this story...
and to hear it from a person, first-hand experience, is just something else.
It's a privilege, isn't it?
Yeah, er, it's beyond, you know?
Sanjayan, voice-over: Sleeping out in the bush, in my swag, under this vast sky, I felt total peace and closer to country as Yalti and Nolia may have known it before they came into our world.
The thing about this community that to me is so special is that they clearly have modern conveniences.
They drive in cars and they have refrigerators in their homes but that cultural knowledge, their way of living with the land and interpreting the land, that's not just stories, it's not just memories, it's living, and they practice it all the time.
And being with them for a few days, last night they came alive.
They really came alive because they were telling their own stories.
Then it was in that moment that I could see, in many ways, what all of us have lost... and what we need to restore if we're going to stabilize our climate.
♪ Changing Planet Season 2 is available on Amazon Prime Video.
♪ ♪ ♪