5 lessons from Obama’s national parks show on Netflix | Entertainment

“Our Great National Parks” on Netflix opens with former President Barack Obama walking on the beach in Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, where he says he spent time as a child. His mother would watch waves wash over coral on the beach when she was pregnant with him, he said.

“She used to joke it’s the reason I’m so calm,” Obama says.

Later, he narrates as hippos ride the ocean swell up the coast in Gabon’s Loango National Park. While the sun sets, the surfing hippos float until they reach their preferred grazing ground.

“It just goes to show, the natural world can continue to surprise us, as long as we give it space to thrive,” says Obama, who also executive produced the docuseries that premiered Wednesday.

The series showcases not only America’s national parks but also wonders found in protected areas across five continents – and could inspire wanderlust in anyone. Here’s what we learned from the series.

Former industrial spaces are now wildlife hangouts

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary features beaches, estuaries and one of North America’s largest underwater canyons. There is also wide-ranging wildlife, from sea lions to blue whales, right along the heavily populated California coast. The show details how harbors there were once used for commercial fleets that badly impacted ocean-dwelling species. The protected marine area was designated in 1992, and animals now hang out in those same harbors, including a southern sea otter with her newborn baby sunbathing on a dock in Moss Landing, an old whaling port.

Different species form alliances to survive

Wildlife in the parks face a unique set of challenges. But some animals forge seemingly unlikely partnerships to find food and stay safe. In Japan’s Yakushima National Park, a sika deer patiently waits beneath trees for Japanese macaques to start feeding on the fruit above. The messy eaters drop food to the ground for the deer to devour.

Elsewhere, dwarf mongooses in Tsavo National Park in Kenya lead a hungry hornbill to food. As they scurry about and stir up bugs in the undergrowth, the bird snaps up the leftovers. In exchange, the hornbill acts as a lookout, calling out when potential predators are near and sending the mongooses running. “Foraging together works for everyone, especially when the landscape dries up and there’s a lack of cover,” Obama says.

When given the chance, nature can bounce back

With national parks facing threats including growing pollution, weather extremes and loss of biodiversity, the series highlights places where nature has been given the chance to thrive. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, for instance, has seen endangered mountain gorilla numbers rebound. The area was once rife with poaching and habitat destruction, but in recent years, the country has prioritized conservation, providing a means for people to “live sustainability with nature,” as Obama puts it.

Similarly, Chilean Patagonia – home to 24 national parks – is seeing large areas rewilded, and ecotourism is predicted to bring large sums of money to the local economy in the coming years, Obama notes. The region helps protect animal populations, and the land and vegetation absorb carbon dioxide. “Give nature a chance and it will return,” he says.

A years-long bloom brings rainforest life together

The titan arum plant in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park can take up to a decade to bloom and lasts just a day or two. The massive plant can grow up to 10 feet tall, and it gives off a rancid odor like rotting meat that helps attract insects it needs for pollination. The insects come, getting coated in pollen that they will carry to other arums. And if they’ve been to any others already, they pollinate the plant in the process, in a display of connectedness.

We’re in this together

The health of these parks is tied directly to the rest of the world. Take the three-fingered sloth in Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park whose fur hosts myriad species, including sloth moths. Fungus in its coat produces chemicals with the potential to fight diseases such as malaria and cancer. “He’s like a tiny pharmaceutical factory,” Obama says.

Kelp in California’s Monterey Bay helps absorb carbon dioxide – even more than forests on land – and Sumatran slow lorises on Leuser’s southern border aid farmers by eating and pollinating calliandra, the show demonstrations. As Obama, who protects more natural habitat than any other US president puts it: “What happens inside our parks affects us all.”


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