China – Roof of the World

In Southwestern China immense geological forces have uplifted the highest ecosystems on Earth. Only a special breed of survivors can live up here, on the Roof of the World.

Produced by NHNZ

China’s high-altitude environments contain some of our world’s most isolated and pristine mountain wilderness. From the towering Himalaya in the west to the edge of the Gobi desert in the north. Vast Tibetan grasslands flanked by alpine forests.

They may be beautiful, but life is tough and unforgiving in the world’s highest ecosystems…

Brutal weather, thin air and intense solar radiation mean every animal living on the Roof of the World must evolve unique ways to survive.

To the north of the Himalaya a huge slab of the Earth’s crust has been forced upwards to form the Tibetan Plateau – the world’s largest and highest area of flat land.

Only a special breed of mutants can live up here, four miles above sea level where the air is thin and UV radiation deadly. The Wild Yak is the world’s toughest cow – it thrives on the highest reaches of the Plateau, thanks to a host of specialized adaptations. Its heart and lungs are twice the size of other cows, and its blood chemistry unique. Wild yaks are one of nature’s great survivors.

On lower areas of the Plateau vast herds of Tibetan antelope make a mysterious yearly migration which is one of Asia’s great wildlife spectacles. Fluffy pika, relatives of the rabbit, live fast and die young and are hunted by deadly Tibetan bears.

The Hengduan Mountains are not part of the Himalaya, but they were created as a kind of side-effect of the mighty clash of continents. The parallel mountain ranges are so steep that animals cannot cross from one valley to another. Biologists call these areas “sky islands” and they are ideal places for new species to evolve.

A spectacular example of this are the bizarre snub-nosed monkeys. Marooned on their “sky islands”, groups of snub-nosed monkeys quickly evolved into separate species – each with their own bizarre quirks.

The unique monkeys share their mountain forest with China’s truly iconic animal… the world’s rarest and most primitive bear.

Giant Panda belong to a family of carnivores including grizzly and polar bears, but they have taken a very different evolutionary path – one that has led them to depend on a kind of woody grass to survive – bamboo.

For decades scientists have puzzled over the Giant Panda’s strange diet. Finally, we may have the answer…could a mutant gene explain their addiction to bamboo?

A titanic collision between India and Asia created the tallest mountain range on earth and forced up the vast Tibetan plateau. Only those creatures that could adapt to the harsh, high-altitude conditions survived on the Roof of the World.

Mutation and evolution combined to create a cast of rugged mountaineers with unique anatomy and behaviour that enables them to thrive at the very limits of life on our planet.

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