Full EpisodeFamily Matters | Primates

Family is everything for primates. They have the most complex social lives of any animal group on the planet. Meet devoted monkeys’ uncles, playmate apes and tender troops.

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♪♪ ♪♪ NARRATOR: One family... ...countless faces.

♪♪ Monkeys... [ Ape chattering ] ...apes... ...lemurs.

[ Lemurs chattering ] [ Indistinct conversations in distance ] They've conquered the world... working together.

♪♪ Every triumph is shared... and every drama, too.

♪♪ Family is everything... ♪♪ ...for the primates.

[ Primates chattering ] ♪♪ [ Animals chattering ] NARRATOR: The forests of Southeast Asia are home to world-class animal acrobats.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ These are lar gibbons.

[ Animals chattering ] Each small family defends a huge territory.

♪♪ They must cover big distances quickly.

So gibbons move like nothing else on Earth.

They brachiate... swinging from branch to branch, and it's this technique that gives them their speed.

Gibbons' arms are twice as long as their legs.

So their bodies act as a pendulum, with enough momentum to clear a gap of over 30 feet.

♪♪ But with a 100-foot drop below, every leap takes nerve.

Confidence like this must be learned.

This youngster is just 10 months old -- by gibbon standards, a toddler.

She was born with all the tools she needs for the high life... ...but learning how to use them takes practice.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Trial and error like this is risky.

Few gibbons escape without broken bones.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ But lessons are shared.

♪♪ Gibbons, like all primates, learn... ♪♪ ...from one another.

From family, friends... playmates.

[ Gibbons chattering ] ♪♪ Play is the best form of practice, and the more they play,the faster their skills develop.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Young primates stand the best chance in life in the security of a family.

[ Gibbons chattering ] Across the world, family power has been the key to primates' success.

♪♪ From snowcapped mountains... ♪♪ ... to dusty backstreets... ♪♪ ...uncharted jungles... ♪♪ ...and the open savanna... ♪♪ ...social living has been the making of primates.

[ Creatures chattering ] But it's not to say that family life is without its challenges.

Exhausting, even.

[ Monkeys snoring ] ♪♪ ♪♪ In Malaysia, these dozing dusky leaf monkeys are a close-knit family group.

One dominant male oversees eight females... and their young.

[ Monkeys chattering ] Lots of them.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Leaves rustling ] One female is keeping her distance.

But she's not hiding.

She's just given birth... ...to an infant that really stands out.

Mom must never lose sight of the baby, and that's why he's been born with a color she can't miss.

And there are others who find his bright orange fur equally eye-catching -- his aunts and cousins.

They all want to cuddle with the newborn.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Here, the babysitting becomes strangely competitive.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ It might seem a bit rough on the baby, but his mother is tolerant.

It all helps to establish the troop's bond with the newborn, making it all the more likely they'll protect him.

That's just as well, because in the jungle, you're never far from danger.

[ Monkey screeching ] An alarm call.

It's a python.

Mom quickly locates her orange infant... and he's soon safe in her arms.

♪♪ But the troop isn't finished.

[ Monkeys squawking ] ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Snake hisses ] [ Monkey squawks ] [ Snake hisses ] As long as the snake remains in their territory, it's a threat, especially to the youngest.

That's one snake that won't... stick around.

[ Birds chirping ] Putting up with your family takes patience... but you can rely on them when it really matters.

♪♪ Dawn in the Amazon basin.

[ Monkeys chattering ] These white-cheeked spider monkeys... are canopy specialists.

They almost never leave the treetops.

They have everything they need up here.

Almost everything.

♪♪ Families share their knowledge.

This female elder knows exactly where to go.

Only a spider monkey can reach every opportunity this jungle offers.

♪♪ And that's thanks to an extra limb.

♪♪ A tail.

It's as strong as an arm, but a lot more flexible.

Their many-limbed, spidery appearance gives them their name... ♪♪ ...and grants them access to the most unexpected places.

This tributary of the Amazon is in flood, bursting at the seams.

The currents are strong enough to uproot trees and wash away any who stray too close.

But they also bring opportunity.

Aquatic plants -- a feast quite unlike anything to be found in the canopy.

[ Monkeys chattering ] Now her tail is a safety rope.

It's flexible and can support all her weight.

It even seems to have a mind of its own.

And it has a pattern of grooves for grip, like the palm of a hand.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ It's thought the extra nutrients in these plants make it worth the risk.

♪♪ ♪♪ And this elder female has led the way.

Her troop has followed... ♪♪ ♪♪ ...to benefit from her experience and wisdom.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Soon, everyone is munching away.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Here, family knowledge is shared, remembered, and even passed on between the generations.

♪♪ ♪♪ Primate groups come in all shapes and sizes... ...and for all sorts of reasons.

♪♪ Here, on Ethiopia's open Highlands, geladas form herds -- the biggest groups of all -- because where there's nowhere to hide, there's safety in numbers.

♪♪ ♪♪ On the edgeof the world's largest desert... [ Baboons barking ] ...Hamadryas baboons band together to defend scant resources from rivals.

[ Baboons barking and shrieking ] ♪♪ When two groups clash, it pays to have numbers on your side.

♪♪ [ Birds chirping ] ♪♪ But in the dry Chaco forest of Argentina... ...a rarely seen primate does things differently.

Owl monkeys live with just their nuclear family -- parents and kids.

And uniquely, for a monkey,they're usually active at night.

♪♪ But on cold winter days, they adjust their schedule for some time in the sun... ♪♪ ♪♪ ...feasting on the blooms of the lapacho tree.

By primate standards, this is a peaceful existence.

♪♪ And that's because Mom and Dad are one of the most faithful pairs in nature.

They stick together because their rarest resource is each other.

And the kids stick around, too, on hand to assist their parents with raising the youngest.

Owl monkeys are unusual.

But even more rare is a primate who prefers to go it alone.

[ Birds chirping ] As night falls in Sri Lanka... a solitary, rarely seen creature is stirring.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ This pint-sized primate that would fit in the palm of your hand is a gray slender loris.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Active only at night, a loris is wide-eyed and stealthy... even when she's just hunting fruit.

♪♪ ♪♪ A solitary life should mean she doesn't have to share.

♪♪ But there are challenges, too.

This loris is a single mother.

She has twins who, unfortunately, are just too big to bring along.

So the youngsters are parked in dense vegetation, where they're expected to sit tight and wait for her return.

♪♪ But tonight one of the infants is not where she left him.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ This little loris has slipped from his roost, and now he's in trouble.

[ Loris chattering ] At only five weeks old, he's little bigger than a golf ball.

♪♪ But already, he's well-equipped.

♪♪ ♪♪ He's one of few primates with night vision, thanks to a special, reflective layer of cells, the tapetum, in his oversized eyes.

While most young primates take months, or even years, to fully find their feet, this baby loris already climbs with confidence.

♪♪ And he was born with a vise-like grip.

[ Loris chattering ] His Mother can hear him.

[ Loris chattering ] ♪♪ ♪♪ Reunited at last.

♪♪ A loris must grow up fast.

Its childhood is one of the shortest of any primate.

In less than four months' time, he and his twin will strike out alone.

But even then, Mom won't abandon them.

She will let them share her territory, ensuring they have what they need in the early days of independence.

In this cabruca forest of Brazil, towering trees crawl with small-scale life.

[ Birds chirping ] ♪♪ ♪♪ And this miniature world has its very own miniature, squirrel-sized monkey.

♪♪ A golden-headed lion tamarin.

He's a dad... with a small but demanding family.

♪♪ ♪♪ He's been tracked via a radio collar, so scientists know one thing for sure -- he is devoted.

♪♪ Despite that, today it seems... he's forgotten something.

[ Tamarins chattering ] His daughter.

♪♪ ♪♪ For a tiny tamarin mother, pregnancy and birth take a huge toll.

So the lion's share of childcare falls to her partner.

♪♪ He leads everyone to the day's first stop: breakfast.

♪♪ A tamarin day is a fast and furious and often rather destructive hunt for food.

♪♪ ♪♪ These bromeliads are full... of bite-size morsels.

[ Frog croaking ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ They'll stay just long enough for everyone to get their fill... ...because tamarins are bite-size, too, and it's dangerous to stay in one place for long.

Time to move.

♪♪ ♪♪ Everyone follows.

Well, almost everyone.

♪♪ [ Tamarin calls ] ♪♪ ♪♪ This is how a tamarin Dadis destined to spend his days... ...whether the family is eating... ♪♪ ...grooming... or just playing.

♪♪ It's he who shoulders the burden of responsibility.

[ Tamarin chattering ] ♪♪ In truth, his daughter is plenty big enough to keep up with the family... but she'd much rather hitch a ride from her long-suffering dad.

♪♪ ♪♪ Amongst the ring-tailed lemurs of Madagascar... females rule.

These leaders juggle childcare... [ Lemurs chattering ] ...with territorial warfare.

If they must, they'll go into battle with baby on board.

♪♪ In primate life, those at the top stand out.

Even in the deep shade of the West African jungle... the only thing more colorful than a dominant male mandrill's backside... is his face.

Mandrills' bright colors signify health and dominance.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Mandrills chattering ] From the extraordinary nose of Borneo's proboscis monkey... ...to the oversized canines of a drill... ...or the huge cheeks of a dominant male orangutan, these physical features mark out those at the top... ...but also expose them to politics and backstabbing.

[ Langurs grunting ] In India's desert state of Rajasthan... a single, battle-scarred male Hanuman langur... watches over his troop.

[ Langurs grunting ] 50 females and youngsters rely on him to keep the peace and keep rivals at bay.

♪♪ ♪♪ His offspring are growing upin the safety of his protection.

♪♪ ♪♪ But these bachelors have banded together in the hope of deposing him and taking the troop by force.

[ Langurs grunting ] [ Langur barks ] The large harem is an attractive target.

If they succeed, they will kill his infants.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Langurs grunting ] ♪♪ Teeth grinding is a display of defiance.

He's not going down without a fight.

♪♪ [ Langur grinding teeth ] Challenge accepted.

♪♪ [ Langurs chattering ] [ Male langur grunts ] Attack is the best form of defense.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Langur grunts ] He's seen off his rivals by intimidation.

[ Langur grunting ] [ Birds chirping ] And his offspring are safe -- for the time being, at least.

[ Langurs chattering ] A leader's dominance is under constant threat.

Eventually, everyone must step aside.

In Morocco's cedar forests, winter brings short days... ...for the world's most isolated monkey.

♪♪ ♪♪ Barbary macaques' morning commute is short... but steep.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Macaques chattering ] Playtime is not wasted.

These antics mask political jostling.

The playmates are testing one another, establishing status... ...and forging alliances -- that secret weapon in primate society.

♪♪ But one macaque watches from the sidelines.

♪♪ He's a male in his final years.

♪♪ Known here by researchers for his battle-scarred nose... and by the fact, he's usually alone.

♪♪ His status and importance has waned.

♪♪ But he was once second in command of this troop of 40.

To climb the ranks, he was ruthless.

In his youth, he, too, jostled for position... ...made allies, and enemies, too... ...to secure his role in the top ranks of this group.

♪♪ ♪♪ But those days are behind him now.

[ Wind whistling ] These Barbary macaques are marooned, six and a half thousand feet up, in Morocco's Atlas mountains... where they endure some of the biggest climatic extremes of any primate.

In just hours, the temperature can fall by nearly 90 degrees.

The lives of the young and the old are at risk.

[ Wind whistling ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Macaques chattering ] At dusk, the group starts to form huddles, teaming up to fend off the cold.

♪♪ ♪♪ They provide warmth to each other, helping them all to survive until morning.

The old male, however, is alone.

♪♪ [ Wind whistling ] Until he's joined by some unlikely friends.

He's found a new role in the group.

Caring for young, who are not his own.

And it's paid off.

♪♪ Male Barbary macaques lip-smack as a greeting, forming lasting, grandfather-like relationships with youngsters.

And now, together, they all stand a better chance of surviving the night.

They can endure the extremes of the mountain winter, thanks to cooperation.

Working together is at the heart of the success of this entire animal family.

[ Animals chattering ] A family whose story has a new chapter.

♪♪ In 1997, scientists embarked upon an expedition to a lost world -- a remote plateau in northern Sumatra.

♪♪ ♪♪ 3,000 feet above sea level... this is Batang Toru.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ After weeks of searching, they caught a glimpse... [ Leaves rustling ] ...of this.

♪♪ A new species of primate -- a great ape.

♪♪ ♪♪ A Tapanuli orangutan.

[ Orangutan grunting ] They are smaller, and have paler, thicker fur than their lowland cousins.

Scientists believe these are adaptations for living at altitude.

But like all orangutans, the bond between an infant and its mother is one of the strongest and longest in the natural world.

[ Orangutan grunting ] ♪♪ A mom is everything to her youngster... even a bridge when she needs one.

At this high elevation, it seems that these orangutans need a greater variety of plant foods to survive.

♪♪ All of which this infant has to learn.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ At three years old, she's just starting to explore the world beyond her mother's reach.

♪♪ ♪♪ It will take five years before she's ready to head off alone.

But her world is changing, and fast.

♪♪ When the Tapanuli orangutan was named in 2017, it became the newest, and in the same moment, most endangered great ape on Earth.

[ Orangutan chattering ] There are only 800 individuals.

♪♪ Their lost world is no longer a secret.

In fact, it's under immediate threat from logging, mining, and hydropower projects.

♪♪ ♪♪ The Tapanuli orangutan was isolated, hidden, for nearly 700,000 years.

It's now thought that within a generation, they could be gone.

♪♪ And across the world, this is becoming a familiar story.

95% of Madagascar's lemurs are endangered.

♪♪ The Barbary macaques' home is shrinking fast in the face of rapid climate change.

♪♪ India's lion-tailed macaques' forests are now adrift in a sea of agriculture.

♪♪ Today over half of all primate species are under threat.

♪♪ And the future of them all is in the hands of one primate -- us.

Next time... meet the people making ground-breaking discoveries.

CAT: Right there... MAN: Over. [ Beep ] NARRATOR: ...revealing the secret lives... RUSS: Wow.

NARRATOR: ...and safeguarding our closest relatives.

JO: It's very risky.

RUSS: Our number-one objective is zero extinctions.

NARRATOR: 'Nature's' landmark three-part series concludes.

MAN: We are launching in about 30 seconds.

NARRATOR: As successful as primates are... they are not invincible in our modern world.

And around the globe, individuals are dedicating their lives to protecting them, with new discoveries coming to light... CAT: I am in a race against time.

NARRATOR: ...it's clear the primates' future is in our hands.

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