It may come as a surprise that Australia doesn’t just have flat plains and searing deserts. It actually has snow-capped mountains of its own. The peaks of the Australian Alps are over 600 million years old. Mt. Kosciuszko is the highest mountain on the continent and its slopes harbor rare and unusual species, adapted to the harsh conditions. See how the wombat survives in these cold temperatures and how wild horses thrive.
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From: Australia’s Wild Places S1 E1
australia the oldest most extreme continent on earth nowhere else do you find snakes more venomous wildlife more bizarre over tens of thousands of years.
People have adapted to this untamed land they have endured its extremes and gradually learned to love it from the rich jungle to the red desert to the snowy mountains but in this vast island of wild beauty the crowning jewels are australia's national parks.
it's winter in the australian alps and the cold fronts roll in from the great southern ocean to spread a soft blanket of white over an old snow gum this knulled and twisted veteran has survived more than 300 alpine winters it's the hardest of all eucalypts.
And it thrives in icy conditions at high altitude they grow slowly and never much over 30 meters but they carry a heavy burden which they shed by bending their branches to dump the freezing load it's one of a few evergreen trees that survives in the snow and ice of the.
Australian alps near mount kosciuszko australia's highest mountain the winter temperature can fall to minus 20 degrees celsius with a savage wind chill it's a harsh endurance test for both plants and animals.
while some animals go into semi-hibernation the marsupial wombat is active throughout the winter this usually nocturnal animal is foraging during the day because of the shortage of food the relentless winter evenings can be.
Just a little too cold deep snow cover makes it hard for him to find food but today is perfect winter wombat weather sun shining on his thick fur snow blanketing his underground burrow and a thor that exposes bare patches.
And running water wombats are strong animals they dig tunnels with their sharp claws which make excellent crampons and can scrape away the icy crust to find food the snowy mountains as they are called are the highest part of the great dividing range which stretches 3005.
Kilometers along the entire east coast of the continent from tropical north queensland to victoria it is the third longest mountain range in the world only this one small section however has high mountains and winter snow.
these ancient craggy peaks are a big attraction for skiers it's not as steep as the european alps but it's wide and perfect for cross-country skiing in the wilderness once much more high and mighty ice and time have ground these ancient.
Mountains down the snowy mountains are home to thousands of wild horses originally brought here by european farmer settlers in the australian alps they're affectionately known as brumbies it was this high country that gave birth.
To the legend of the man from snowy river the rugged mountain men and the wild horses that they chased inspired banjo patterson's iconic bush ballad generations of australians have since been raised on this tale of outback.
Courage it's part of the national folklore so clancy road to wheel them he was racing on the wing where the best and boldest riders take their place and he raced his stock horse past them and he made the rangers ring with the stock.
Whip as he met them face to face then he halted for a moment while he swung the dreaded lash but they saw their well-loved mountain full in view and they charged beneath the stock whip with a sharp and southern dash and off into the mountain scrub they flew.
the stockman's history on these mountains is merely a blink in time for the alps their geological history goes back more than 600 million years making them far older than the european.
Alps and the himalayas by the end of september the snow melts and the rivers flow providing water for the first green shoots of spring the echidna comes out of his winter torpor for animals and farmers alike.
Grazing begins in earnest a number of people around the national park still earn their living with the brumbies glenn simmons is the classic aussie bushman like the snowy mountains where he lives.
He's open tough and weathered glenn nicknamed simo loves the brumbies that's just what they're used to coming to you know when they're not in sight they come when they hear that noise yeah but these the three over the two over the back are brumbies right genuine untouched.
I mean how beautiful is it to see brumbies at your doorstep you know it doesn't get much better than that does it simo's property is adjacent to the park he used to catch wild horses on behalf.
Of the national park service he'd be on the road for weeks at a time building traps and luring the horses with salt licks he brought many of the brumbies home to break in and sell simmo and his wife julie still have to make a living.
So now they've worked out a way to persuade the brumbies to come to them life in the bush is not always easy especially in winter but their isolation has proved how much they rely on each other julie actually you know even with the.
Fresh brumbies because she feeds them on the bike all the time they get used to the noise of the bike they get used to julie's voice and they come around quite quick really i think it's the female thing the horses seem to.
Love the female attention they really do and as far as that little mare's concerned julie just feeds her and brushes her and plays with her and she thinks oh this is all right but whereas when glenn comes there's a bit more action you know simo thrives on domesticating the.
Legendary horses of the kosciuszko national park the rugged terrain and its challenging climate means only the fittest and strongest animals survive in simo's opinion a lame wild horse needs no doctoring.
Just regular running exercise will soon see it right i like them because of their temperament you know their temperament is always so gentle and you know they might act like they're wild first up but once they're really.
Caught and broke in they become very quiet sumo and julie run a website where people can find brumbies for sale some of these hearty specimens are especially suitable for children to write he hasn't done too bad you know he's done great he hadn't done anything wrong.
Not yet she's the type that we break in for kids but you know that takes 18 months two years to get them guaranteed quite enough for kids as much as they become friendly quick you know it's teaching them all the things that kids will do.
Walk up behind them want to give them carrots and bread and really sort of teach them just to be kid-friendly i just want to adjust that down so it's not too tight in his mouth to start with it's way too tight tell him how good a horse he is oh you're a good horse.
Little champion i'd call you toffee sweet as toffee good boy he and julie live simply in the bush they have a generator for electricity bottle gas and a water pond right at the front door.
In remote rural australia most people live like this got a coffee made yeah love one they've raised their three children here and two of them have families of their own now thank you you're welcome i'm sure they'll take it that'd be good well that that's a brumby that just.
Comes into the salt he's just wandering around on his own he's just a young brumby stallion hasn't got a mob so he's just a bachelor at the moment he'll um eventually get older and get a few mares get his own family.
The australian alps national parks are made up of 11 nature reserves that cover the only high alpine habitat on this vast continent but the endemic plants have not evolved to cope with the hard hooves of introduced grazing animals such as horses and cattle the brumby population in the alpine.
National parks is said to be unsustainable at well over fifteen thousand and growing at twenty percent a year grumpy's hooves damage the sensitive mountain terrain the results are severe erosion and the destruction of rare plant habitats the treeless slopes of mount kosciuszko.
Are particularly vulnerable with only a thin and fragile soil cover in 2003 the parks administration was forced to intervene brumbies were shot from helicopters but public protest soon put a stop to this drastic form of population control rangers now trap 300 wild horses a year they erect temporary pens.
And bait them with salt licks hay and molasses when the horses enter the pen to tuck on the straw bales the latch trips shutting the gate behind them when the alpine pastures are free of ice and snow again the eastern grey kangaroos return to.
Graze they can grow to be almost two meters tall and live in large mobs in the most inaccessible parts of the park they raised their joeys in the pouch for nine months the big males can weigh up to 90 kilos.
These magnificent animals can jump up to six meters in a single bound and travel at more than 50 kilometers an hour and they have enough endurance to travel for hours amphibians also emerge in spring found only in the alps the rare.
Corroboree frog is named for its markings which resemble aboriginal body painting but unlike most frogs it doesn't jump and it doesn't swim sadly the exceptional corroboree frog is on australia's most endangered list the blossoms on the snow gums are sought.
After for their nectar many birds also return to the mountain forest when spring arrives to feed on the bush flowers and insects the sulfur crested cockatoo is a large and versatile parrot common throughout eastern australia the beautiful gangang cockatoo however is not so adaptable.
Its numbers are in drastic decline new holland honeyeaters arrive for the spring flower nectar it gets noisy in the bush when the liar bird does his spring mating dance this almost flightless bird is one of the most remarkable creatures in southeastern australia he not only has his meter long tail.
Feathers to impress the ladies but also his extraordinary voice lyrebirds can mimic just about any other bird in the bush they can pass this mimicry down through the generations in modern times liar birds have been known to impersonate car alarms chainsaws and even mobile phones.
these high alpine boulder fields snow covered in winter are the habitat of the extremely rare mountain pygmy possum linda broome has studied these shy animals for nearly 40 years until a few decades ago they were thought to be extinct.
But two small populations were then found surviving in the alps and recently linda found a third one she noticed that this rock formation was similar to their other known habitats she also noted the presence of bogong moths the tiny marsupials favorite food linda and her assistant put out traps.
Padded with soft material and baited with walnuts possums like to be in under the shelter of rocks and where the bogong mots are the bogon moths accumulate in these areas so we put the traps in a little space where the possums are running through the boulders at night and they come up on the trap and the walnuts.
Actually taste and smell a bit like bogong moths which is why we use walnuts so we put those in the traps and put the little trap down a hole where the possibles might be running looking for mops and we hope they go into the trap the probability of discovering even more of the rare marsupials in this location.
Increased when she also finds their favorite food plant this is mountain plum pine it grows on the rocks it's actually a pine tree and it has a little it has little green seeds so what the possum does is hold the seed in the corner of its mouth and cut the seed across the middle.
But a bush rat will hold the seed in both hands on each side of its mouth and use its front teeth to cut the seed across wise lengthwise so you can tell if you pick up the seed husks from the ground whether a possum's eating it or a bushrat seat in it bagong moths are attracted to lights at night.
Linda installs a trap to try and find the size of the moth population in this spot linda is one of only a few scientists who have closely studied this rare marsupial possum her work has had one or two surprising turns i used to tell my students and.
Volunteers they taste like walnuts and i said how do you know and i hadn't actually tried them so then i had to to live up to my words and and taste them we did a cook up that night we made a stir fry of bogong moths and um they do taste like water that's very.
Oily but i pulled the wings off i couldn't eat the wings some friends of linders have a farm and horses near the park linda takes every opportunity she can to get out into the countryside.
She always learns something that helps with her scientific observations it is lovely to see wild horses galloping across the mountains you see a brumby a feral horse rearing up a little stallion and being very proud and striking at the air and it does tug at the heart strings so.
In a way there's a small place for it but we do need to keep it in areas that are not going to be damaged there are areas in the sub-alpine and there's also areas outside the park that we can have horses in as well and some of the state forests so there is a place for it but it needs to be controlled very carefully so that we're.
Not damaging the native environment with these horses during the brief alpine summer these montane grasslands become a glorious carpet of rare wildflowers many of these delicate species grown nowhere else on earth.
so the summer heat also produces violent thunderstorms in the mountains flash floods cause streams to rise quickly.
Remote areas can be cut off for days from the outside world the four-wheel drive is an essential vehicle in the wilderness where biologist ken greene does his all-weather explorations of the park this is more like the weather i'd expect in april uh but having said that i've.
Been uh doing this now regularly for the past 15 years and i think this would have to be the wettest wettest february that i've ever done it for so usually i'm complaining because it's too hot too dry there's too many snakes too dusty the animals are getting stressed in the.
Traps because of the heat whereas today it's yeah you get that on big jobs ken set his traps in the bush two days ago the animal he's looking for is a marsupial rat this one's a broad tooth rat i've just checked it it's an adult by the looks of.
It and so i'm just going to get it into the bag being a rodent they can they can give you a a bit of a bite and come on meaty no no go the other way damn's not behaving due to ken's work the broad-tooth rat is one of the most.
Closely studied rodents in australia fossil evidence indicates that this animal originally lived throughout the whole eastern half of the continent although it prefers cold winters and wet summers this suggests that the climate in this notoriously hot country was once very different.
And i've now got the animal in a grip where it can't actually bite me and this is a female now she's behaving herself quite nicely with the drying and the warming of the the continent uh these animals have.
Become restricted to basically fairly you know the cold wet sites so this is the ideal conditions for them and uh they're slow fairly gentle animals they get eaten by foxes and things are getting warmer and drier so they're definitely under threat now she wants to go and she's off.
Ken's yield is unusually poor it seems that the weather is too wet even for the broad tooth rats but he still has to check his 40 traps every two days the animals can't survive in them any longer than that he finds a surprise guest.
A female marsupial mouse the males by this time have all died of exhaustion after the riggers of the mating season with this weather there's probably not as many as i would have expected with the rain and the wind they probably all stayed in bed overnight which is probably what i should have done as well.
Yeah the australian alps date back to the time of the breakup of the supercontinent gondwana it divided into australia south america india africa and antarctica an enormous volcanic magma bubble raised.
The earth's crust to form a giant plateau which then collapsed in the middle one part sank into the sea but one edge of the escarpment was preserved as the east coast of australia after breakup the gondwana continental landmasses then ground together causing further violent uplift.
But that jagged new mountain chain has since been sculpted by wind water and ice over a geological age the aborigines inhabited the valleys along the riverbeds every summer the tribes met on the high peaks to feast on the bogong moths they drove the insects from the caves.
With smoke then turn them into protein-rich flat breads that sustain them for months among the rounded granite boulders of the mountains this miniature kangaroo feels right at home yellow foot rock wallabies can jump up to four meters.
And were once hunted for their beautiful fur today they are at the mercy of introduced foxes and feral cats in the australian alpine region they live in small scattered groups of up to 20 animals the strongest males vie for mating rights.
They are notable for spectacular aerial combat which alternates between play and deadly earnest but if you lose there's plenty of time to contemplate a new strategy a warm early summer evening but at night it's still cold.
in the pure mountain air the stars blaze with a special intensity the melting snow brings plenty of water to the meadows the lush wild grasses provide a feast for wombats.
These are the most serene of all marsupials they would seem an easy target for predators their rear is protected by thick hide and fur but their claws are deadly for frontal attack the alpine pastures are good grazing for.
Horses too but few wild brumbies are lucky enough to fall into simmo's gentle hands he's just finished training a new bunch of horses and now it's time to find them homes a mother brings an eager young rider to meet his new pony.
How are you good good glenn carol and jaden hi how you going jaden how are you this is goliath hey goliath a nice little painting he reading you could ride him yep you could we better put a saddle on him well and.
See if he can nine-year-old jaden is already a keen horseman now he's about to ride his very own kosciuszko brumby for the first time i'll get you on and then i'll get on that other little mare but she's only been road a couple of times so you'll just have to watch.
Her a bit yep ready go sit there all right you just have a little ride around on him so you get along with him and i'll get my one ready all right you feel good yeah.
take your time with him do you get the feel oh yeah you ready to go yep these are the moments sibo lives for he loves to pass on his philosophy of life to the next generation.
All right his passion for mutual coexistence between man and nature in this big wild land is embodied for him in a relationship with the brumby the pygmy possum is the only marsupial.
That stores food for the winter although these tiny animals were once widespread they are now restricted to a few high alpine locations yet another casualty of habitat destruction and feral foxes and cats.
linda broome and her colleague set their traps two days ago she's hoping to find some today in a new location it's number 15. looks like a bigger one too this tiny marsupial looks at first sight like a rodent.
It's the only mammal to live all year round above 1400 meters altitude it's kind of it's an icon of the alps because it's the only animal that's restricted to above the snow line in australia it's very specialized it feeds on the bogong moths which migrate here during the summertime and leave for the winter.
And also the mountain plum pines that we can see growing around us are also restricted to these rocky areas so it's like a unique little ecosystem that's the possum and the bogong moths and the plum pines the pygmy possum's life is adapted to the short alpine summer the female produces a litter of six.
They leave their mother's pouch after two months then the offspring are on their own with only a few more weeks before the start of winter well the biggest problem of course is climate change and what's happening with the declining snow cover because these animals need the snow there when the.
Possums hibernate they drop their body temperature from 37 degrees down to two degrees when they're hibernating and the environment under the snow stays at about two degrees as long as you've got about a meter of snow but when you start losing that snow it can get to temperatures here at.
Charlotte passed down to minus 20. thank you linda notes that the animals are getting thinner year by year slightly lighter that's 45 so it'll be 26 grams pygmy possums no longer have enough to eat when they wake up hungry from their winter semi-hibernation.
With less snow and shorter winters the snow melts before the bogons reach the mountains so the possums are dying of malnutrition could be described as the most important species of the entire alpine region the fat protein-rich insects migrate every spring.
From the hot lowlands to the mountains for their cool summer refuge the birds and the animals of the alps and the local aboriginal people all sort out their hiding places for a guaranteed source of nutritious food park biologist ken green spends both.
Summers and winters in the mountains he knows the whole region better than anyone well basically once once you come out of the himalayas coming south there's really not much until you get to new zealand in terms of mountains that support snow so i think that's the main thing about these mountains is so.
Suddenly in the lowest flattest driest continent on earth you have plants and animals that have to be able to adapt to snow ken climbs a steep hill above dead horse gap he never knows what treasures he might find up here with many rocky crevices.
This is typical habitat for bogong moths a striking arrangement of jagged rocks catches his attention he discovers a hole just big enough for him to crawl through i just have this thing when i tend to crawl into holes if i see a hole in rocks i tend to crawl in and see what's there so.
This was just one of those many cases there were bogong moth remains outside so that was a good hint that there was something inside so it's a bit of a squeeze but um queen took a look and there was probably a hundred thousand or so moths lined up in front of me yeah bogong moths generally shun daylight.
They spend their days resting under large cool rocks before swarming outside at night but what ken discovers in this cave surpasses all his expectations moths cover every inch of the cave.
Interior they have obviously been migrating to this cool secret place for centuries why they come to particular caves we don't really know obviously they they come back or at least some moths come back to the same caves because on the floor of the cave.
Here where i'm lying there are a number of parasites which remain in the cave so they're dependent on the moths coming each year so certainly some moths come back in each year whether they're moths from the same areas or whether they're uh just generally moths from all over.
Moss down there um we don't know and this is a particularly good one the bagong moths are enormously important to the ecological balance of the entire alpine region the basic is when do they arrive that's that's the key to a lot of what's.
Happening in here in the mountains and so each year i record the earliest date of arrival and then i come up here to the to look at them just to see roughly what sort of numbers we've got it's very hard to be exact because these are the easily accessible ones which means they're the ones that are first eaten by the foxes.
Or the ravens a significant problem is that the moths bring farming pesticides from the lowlands in their bodies as the most concentrated source of protein in the alps the moths spread these poisons to almost every level of the food chain ken green has been tracking this.
Disturbing development for years the australian alps national parks protect the only high alpine habitat on the continent the many large rocks offer good hiding places and protection from the cold for animals and insects.
Bush fires in the more remote regions turn evergreen forests into desolate fields of grey sticks fire has been one of nature's cyclic events in this habitat for millions of years in contrast the wild brumby herds have only been here for less than 200 years.
for many australians these horses have a significant cultural heritage value the brumby is related to the 136 000 horses that were sent to the great war on behalf of australia only one of those horses came back those horses that went to war never came.
Back but the horses that were left in reserve in australia were set free and some became the brumbies some people argue that brumbies deserve the same level of recognition and protection that native marsupials birds and insects.
Receive the wild horses therefore have become a political issue the trapping program may be more acceptable to the general public than mass shootings from helicopters but an annual reduction of only 300.
Brumbies whether they become pets or pet food is only a fraction of the yearly increase in the size of the overall population but for simo alpine brumbies are the best horses in the world.
With time and patience they become docile riding animals simmo could not be happier with his life and why would you not want to live on the edge of a national park and it's got so much to offer especially cosy i mean it's such beautiful mountains beautiful.
Terrain you know all the rivers i've thought about it but i don't want to be anywhere else why would i want to be you know i'd no i don't want to be anywhere else i travel a bit and i see a lot but no my little part of the world's pretty unique in this little corner.
So yeah i've got it pretty good from now on the nights will grow steadily cooler and then the first frosts and snow will come in the only part of australia that can really be called alpine the problem of the brumbies however will.
Keep the national park authorities busy for a long time to come most people doubt that it can ever really be solved you
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