Passport
Full Episode
Santa's Wild Home

Get an intimate look at the wildlife of Lapland, a region in northern Finland, the fabled home of Santa Claus and actual home of reindeer, great gray owls, wolverines, eagles, wolves, musk oxen, brown bears and more.

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NARRATOR: In the cold north of Finland, the land lies deep in darkness... and yet... [ Woman singing in native language ] Through winter's starry nights, and summer's fleeting days, its skies shine with wondrous light.

But to thrive here takes special gifts... The gift of courage.

The gift of endurance.

You must have daring... ♪♪ Pluck... and the gift of infinite patience.

♪♪ This is Lapland, Santa's snowy home, where such gifts are a way of life.

Even Santa gets what he needs most -- reindeer!

Step inside the Arctic Circle, where magical light is always shining.

♪♪ ♪♪ NARRATOR: Far to the north, there's a winter wonderland, famous the world over.

A place of ancient myths and old legends.

Where lights dance in a star-filled sky.

Where the sun shines in the middle of the night.

And where strange shapes stand frozen in time.

Up here, the land is always changing, bringing both drama... and wonder... every day of the year.

♪♪ Lapland is so full of magic, it's even said to be the home of Santa Claus.

♪♪ But even far from the festive lights, life here is more enchanting than you ever thought possible.

♪♪ Welcome to Santa's Wild Home.

♪♪ ♪♪ In the bleak midwinter, temperatures fall to 50-below, and darkness reigns for weeks on end.

Life can get pretty tough.

But these musk oxen are right at home.

They're built for this.

They save energy by simply standing still, hardly moving or even feeding for days at a time.

There's a long wait ahead before the sun returns.

Winter may be harsh, but it's also a time of breathtaking beauty.

♪♪ The aurora -- the northern lights.

♪♪ Thought to be the trail of a mythical fire fox, dashing through the snow.

Catching one is said to bring great wealth.

♪♪ ♪♪ But winter's beauty is little comfort to those who rely on daylight.

♪♪ For some, the long night brings great challenges.

♪♪ ♪♪ The rules are simple -- winners live, losers die.

♪♪ ♪♪ A young golden eagle.

This is her first winter.

♪♪ She has just a few twilight hours to feed.

♪♪ Her kill, a red fox, could sustain her for days.

♪♪ But she doesn't have that long.

Scavengers betray her.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ It's a tough lesson for her first winter.

♪♪ She's taken a talon to the chest.

♪♪ It could prove fatal.

♪♪ ♪♪ If she doesn't feed, she won't survive the coming months.

♪♪ And now, even bigger eagles are arriving.

♪♪ ♪♪ With this powerful adult around, the youngster's chances are looking worse.

♪♪ ♪♪ But she has nothing left to lose.

♪♪ ♪♪ It's a desperate move.

♪♪ One that could cost her dearly.

♪♪ But she needs to eat.

♪♪ ♪♪ And, surprisingly, her risk has paid off.

♪♪ Perhaps the adult doesn't see her as threat.

It could even be one of her parents.

♪♪ Either way, surviving winter takes both bravery and good fortune.

For the first time in weeks, the sun is returning.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Legend tells of the rebirth of a sun goddess, victorious against the darkness.

A celebration, and reminder, of its life-giving power.

♪♪ The sun's warmth won't be felt for some time yet, but its light is growing every day.

♪♪ Its fragile return is the ancient root of winter festivals everywhere.

♪♪ And old myths from this white wilderness have also shaped our image of Santa Claus.

♪♪ Up here, silence rules and spirits roam.

The lynx.

Seldom seen, she appears and vanishes without warning.

She's known as the keeper of secrets, said to see through solid objects... Though few know the secrets of this land like the great gray owl.

♪♪ She is the nomad of the frozen forests.

♪♪ ♪♪ Her fate is to cover thousands of miles, searching for enough prey.

♪♪ ♪♪ Listening for a tiny heartbeat beneath the snow.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ And striking with deadly accuracy when she does.

♪♪ Food is so scarce she can't afford to miss.

♪♪ ♪♪ In winter, deep snow affects everyone here.

Even the trees themselves.

♪♪ Many harden as a defense against the freeze.

♪♪ But still they bend beneath the weight.

♪♪ ♪♪ A single tree can build up three tons of snow and ice.

♪♪ ♪♪ Unable to grow, they wait.

Frozen in time.

Strange, white sentinels of the far north.

♪♪ The sun's light now shines for hours each day.

♪♪ But for the trees, life remains on hold until its heat returns.

♪♪ For others, the cold makes little difference.

♪♪ Lichen.

This is a true survivor, still growing at temperatures below zero, extracting moisture from air trapped beneath the snow.

♪♪ And it's the favorite food of some very famous animals.

This wouldn't be Santa's home without reindeer.

And little wonder -- hundreds of thousands of them live up here.

They're an integral part of the landscape.

But they're not alone.

Their lives are deeply connected to the people who live alongside them.

Most reindeer belong to Sami herders.

The place outsiders call Lapland is their ancestral home.

♪♪ The Sami have herded here for centuries.

♪♪ Legend even has it that some Sami descend from the reindeer themselves.

♪♪ ♪♪ They tend to their herd all through the year, guiding the reindeer to the best feeding areas and protecting them from danger.

♪♪ Wolves.

♪♪ The most feared residents here.

♪♪ Old tales tell of their magical power to make reindeer herders sleepy.

♪♪ ♪♪ While the cold and snow weaken many, in winter, the pack is at its most powerful.

♪♪ But still, order must be maintained.

[ Barking ] ♪♪ Everyone needs to know their place.

For now, the wolves' dominance goes unchallenged.

[ Howling ] But great change is on its way.

After months of cold, the sun's warmth is finally reaching the land.

[ Howling continues ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ The days are growing longer... ♪♪ The sun ever stronger.

♪♪ Winter is giving way to spring.

♪♪ Black grouse.

With spring in the air, it's time to breed.

Well, almost.

The females won't show up for a while yet.

For now, this is a meeting of males only.

♪♪ ♪♪ They're here to until the females eventually turn up to pick a winner.

♪♪ Like any gathering, there's a fair share of posing... ♪♪ ...plenty of posturing... and some seriously fancy footwork.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ To start with, it's mostly just for show.

♪♪ ♪♪ A little sizing up, and a clean contest so far.

♪♪ But that's done it.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ This strange scene carries on every morning, every evening, and often through the day, for weeks on end.

♪♪ By the time the females arrive, whoever dominates the center ground will win the right to mate.

♪♪ Until then, anything goes.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ For the reindeer and Sami herders, excitement is in the air.

The snow will soon be gone, and they have their own spring ritual to perform.

♪♪ ♪♪ An epic journey is just beginning.

♪♪ ♪♪ The reindeer need to reach their feeding grounds by the coast before the snow gets too soft to run on.

♪♪ As they move north, the spring melt follows right behind them.

♪♪ ♪♪ Santa's home is changing.

♪♪ ♪♪ The melting snow can be heavy going, but there's no time to waste.

They keep on moving.

♪♪ Winter will soon be a distant memory.

♪♪ ♪♪ Their journey takes some two weeks.

♪♪ And as it nears its end, the melt finally catches up with them.

♪♪ The sun's warmth transforms this winter wonderland completely.

♪♪ The landscape becomes unrecognizable as spring takes hold at last.

♪♪ And the busiest time of year is just beginning.

♪♪ Deep in the forest, new life is already unfolding.

A tree broken by the winter freeze is the perfect place to raise a family.

♪♪ The great gray owl.

♪♪ Her nomadic wanderings are on hold.

♪♪ ♪♪ With three young mouths to feed, she's going to be busy for the next few months.

♪♪ ♪♪ Even in these milder times, prey can be unpredictable, so she still never misses a chance to hunt.

♪♪ And she's not the only one.

♪♪ Her mate is on hand to help raise the owlets too.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Between them, they can just about keep up with the needs of growing chicks.

♪♪ Each demands several large meals a day.

♪♪ It's constant work.

♪♪ The days are growing ever warmer, ever longer.

♪♪ And the owls aren't the only parents working around the clock.

♪♪ Brown bear cubs.

♪♪ Born beneath the snow in the depth of winter, they're starting to learn all about the world beyond the den.

♪♪ Mom stays close by as they get to grips with life in the forest.

♪♪ ♪♪ At first, they're a little clumsy and shy.

♪♪ ♪♪ But as the long days pass, they grow in confidence, becoming ever more curious.

♪♪ They need to learn how to survive by themselves, how to hunt,and how to fend off rival bears.

Playfighting helps develop those skills, as well as strengthening the bond between siblings.

♪♪ ♪♪ And under mom's watchful eye, they have every chance of reaching an independent life here.

♪♪ All around them, their world keeps on changing.

♪♪ ♪♪ Spring turns to summer and the days seem to last forever.

♪♪ Santa's home becomes the land of the midnight sun.

♪♪ ♪♪ It's said that now the divine forces stop their struggle for supremacy.

For a few weeks, peace reigns.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ There's no better time for a cooling swim.

♪♪ But it's not all easy going.

♪♪ The warmth brings one or two problems of its own.

♪♪ Everyone has to put up with all the mosquitoes that appear during summer.

♪♪ ♪♪ Young, old, big, or small, no one is spared their itchy bites.

♪♪ Perhaps it's a price worth paying for these milder times.

But summer is short, and life keeps on moving.

For the great gray owls, things are getting even busier.

♪♪ At only a few weeks old, he's already on the move.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ He's outgrown the nest and takento exploring the forest on foot.

♪♪ What's more, he's hungrier than ever.

♪♪ ♪♪ Still totally dependent on her, mom's job is getting tougher by the day.

♪♪ And it doesn't help when dinner ends up on the floor.

♪♪ Perhaps best to follow mom, see if she has anything more to eat.

♪♪ But where is she?

And what's taking her so long?

♪♪ Just another month or so to go before he can hunt for himself.

♪♪ Then she'll get some peace and quiet at long last.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ With chicks on the ground, finding enough food is far from the only thing to worry about.

Even in summer, the forest is a dangerous place.

Wolverines eat just about anything, hence their nickname, the glutton.

They seem permanently hungry.

And so too are the very biggest bears.

♪♪ The cubs need to be wary.

♪♪ ♪♪ Older male bears are the single greatest threat to youngsters.

♪♪ He could kill them with one swipe of his paw.

♪♪ Best get out of here as quickly as possible.

♪♪ And there's one trick that cubs have on their side.

They're still light enough to climb out of harm's way.

♪♪ He'll wait it out up here until the danger passes.

♪♪ ♪♪ The summer nights are already drawing in.

♪♪ Right now, male bears are putting on over 2 pounds of weight every single day.

That means eating 80 pounds of berries, roots, and meat.

♪♪ [ Cawing ] Most other animals know to stay well out of their way.

♪♪ Any potential meal draws them in from all over the forest.

♪♪ It makes for an uncomfortable time at the dinner table.

♪♪ Everyone needs to eat.

♪♪ ♪♪ No one wants to get hurt.

♪♪ Not always an easy balance to keep.

♪♪ And it's made worse when others have their own dinner plans.

♪♪ Wolves.

♪♪ ♪♪ Age old rivals.

The only ones who show no fear of the bears.

But they need to be careful.

Best to read the situation first.

♪♪ Slowly does it.

♪♪ Sneaking a bite won't harm anyone.

♪♪ But he's not welcome here.

♪♪ ♪♪ Time for plan B.

Attack!

♪♪ He's lighter, faster on his feet, and has a powerful bite.

♪♪ It's enough of a distraction.

Working together gives wolves the upper hand.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ All through summer, there's tension at the top table in Santa's home.

♪♪ But change is coming.

♪♪ Already, the sun is circling lower in the sky.

♪♪ ♪♪ Its heat is leaving the land.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ The long days of summer are slipping quickly away.

♪♪ For all bears, there's little time left to put on extra weight.

Young cubs, now bigger and bolder, have done well so far.

But their greatest test is yet to come.

They'll need to spend less time playing and more time fattening up if they're to hibernate successfully through the coming winter.

She's done all she can for them.

Autumn will soon be here.

A male musk ox.

He is in his prime.

He's spent the summer bulking up on the lush grasses.

And now there's serious business to attend to.

Female musk oxen will soon be ready to mate.

If he's to father young, he needs to protect a harem.

Best keep them close.

There are rivals out there.

He can sense when each female might be receptive to his advances.

Not quite yet.

He'll need to guard them a while longer.

It's time he doesn't have.

♪♪ Another large male, here for one thing only.

♪♪ ♪♪ For now, he keeps his distance, bides his time.

A challenge is coming.

♪♪ And autumn is here.

♪♪ The land transforms once more.

♪♪ Temperatures fall and the days grow ever shorter.

♪♪ ♪♪ All at once, trees prepare to drop their leaves.

♪♪ Santa's home puts on its own unique display.

♪♪ In places, it begins to look like something out of a fairy tale.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ The colors last for just a few days.

♪♪ And as autumn reaches its peak... the challenger makes his move.

♪♪ ♪♪ They strike head on at 25 miles per hour.

♪♪ The sound of bone clashing rings out across the landscape.

♪♪ As it does, the first frosts are already arriving.

♪♪ In a moment, autumn gives way to winter.

♪♪ ♪♪ The year is almost over, but there's still time for one more spectacle.

♪♪ The land may freeze over, but the sea doesn't.

Herring.

They come to wait out the winter months in huge numbers.

And hunters follow.

♪♪ Orca.

The wolves of the sea.

♪♪ ♪♪ Winter's return marks the start of a great feast.

♪♪ They follow the herring into shallow waters.

♪♪ And with so many fish around, picking them off is easy for a pod that knows how.

♪♪ Orcas here have a special way of catching herring.

♪♪ A quick turn of speed and their powerful tails send shock waves through the water, stunning the fish.

♪♪ Shoals this big make it hard to miss.

♪♪ ♪♪ It's not just orcas that take advantage of the feast.

♪♪ Humpback whales.

♪♪ They can swallow hundreds of fish in a single, giant mouthful.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ With billions of herring gathered here, this spectacle will last all through the long winter.

The sun's light is fading.

♪♪ The legendary sun goddess is dying, to be reborn many weeks from now.

♪♪ Santa's home is returning to cold and darkness.

♪♪ For some, great struggles lie ahead.

♪♪ ♪♪ For others, winter sees their dominion return.

♪♪ ♪♪ Another year is ending, as the owl returns to her nomadic ways.

♪♪ Alone for the long night ahead.

But it's a special time, when the thoughts of even the outside world turn once again to this winter wonderland.

♪♪ This remote and magical wilderness, far to the north.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪