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NATURE: Andes: The Dragon’s Back

Airs Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Pictured: Torres del Paine, Chile. When this great spine-like mountain range ...

Credit: ©Laurie Campbell 2004

Above: Pictured: Torres del Paine, Chile. When this great spine-like mountain range rose from the sea, it created a new continent and a bridge that joined North and South America. Today, the Andes continue to grow and evolve.

With glaciers marking its tip, active volcanoes running along its spine, snow-capped peaks rising high above its range, both wet and dry tropical rainforests within its interior, and desert, lowland savanna and alpine tundra in between, the Andes is an extraordinary world of diverse terrain, extreme temperatures and multifarious wildlife. Rising out of the Pacific Coast, this high mountain range is 5,000 miles long, extending over seven countries between Tierra del Fuego in the extreme south to the Caribbean coast in the north.

Once the realm of the ancient Incan Empire, this place of myth and legend also has a rich, intriguing natural history going back to the Jurassic period, marked by an event of monumental portion—the formation of the Central American land bridge 3 million years ago.

"Andes: The Dragon's Back" explores how the creatures of the Andes set this land apart from all other places on earth. The Andes are home to the zorro, a “false fox” with adaptations that make it a successful inhabitant of the Andes. The flamingo, too, has developed utterly unique and specialized adaptations in order to thrive in an environment that doesn’t even seem livable—a salt pan.

Only a mountain range of extremes could harbor such a rich and diverse variety of life forms. Here you will find some of the highest, saltiest, wettest and driest terrains on the planet. Penguins, opossums, hummingbirds, llamas, pumas, foxes, condors, spectacled bears and many more have all managed to carve out an existence somewhere in one of the many worlds that we call the Andes.

Video Excerpt: Nature: Andes: The Dragon's Back

This video clip is from "Andes: The Dragon's Back." The highly synchronized mating dance of the flamingo, just one of many surprising animals hidden among the Andes. Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham narrates the program, which reveals a wonderland of exotic creatures and extreme climates within the world's longest mountain chain.

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