Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Planet In Peril
Aired October 23, 2007 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: We're going to be breaking in with bulletins on the fire over the next two hours. As we do, we'll be showing you literally the global view, the big picture -- fire, drought, deforestation. It is all connected.
"Planet In Peril" documents it all -- the product of a year's work. Sanjay Gupta, Jeff Corwin, producers, photographers, editors and I -- shot in high definition around the world.
"Planet In Peril" starts now.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
COOPER (voice-over): For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It's one of the fundamental laws of physics -- of nature. Nothing occurs in a vacuum in the natural world. There are ripple effects and that is putting our planet in peril.
This journey around the globe is an investigation into the reasons our planet is changing. It's about the front lines -- the places where threats aren't just forecast for the future, but are happening now -- where forests are lost.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're destroying nature's natural regulator.
COOPER: Where islands are discovered.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This island exists because of global warming.
COOPER: Where water is poisoned.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people live around here and are dependent on this water.
COOPER: Where endangered animals are bought and sold and killed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of animals right here that range the gamut of critical status.
COOPER: Where people are dying.
GUPTA: We're hearing that people are getting cancer from drinking water.
COOPER: This is a planet under assault. This is a planet in peril. (on camera): This documentary is the result of a year long investigation. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin, and I, travel to some 13 countries on four continents to examine climate change, overpopulation, deforestation and species loss -- problems, which, as you'll see tonight are all interconnected.
The U.N. now estimates were losing species at 1,000 times the natural rate of extinction. That is a staggering figure. Species are disappearing, in part, because of the black market trade of wildlife.
And that's where our investigation begins tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This (INAUDIBLE) strip (INAUDIBLE) to the glass windows. (INAUDIBLE).
COOPER (voice-over): Behind a closed door in a cramped and sweltering room in a police station, an informant maps out the secret she's seen in Bangkok's infamous JJ Market.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a glass tank of small stone tortoises.
COOPER (on camera): Right.
(voice-over): For her own safety, we can't show her face. This is a dangerous and tricky job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is where the marmosets are, in the back.
COOPER: The police hope to catch dealers selling rare and endangered animals. First, they need a plan on how to enter the market without anyone suspecting them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think if you got in from a different entrance, do you think you can find the place?
COOPER: JJ Market, officially called Jatujak, is a sprawling weekend market that attracts buyers from around the world. At first glance, it's not much different from many Thai markets. But behind the bustle, there are dark secrets. This is one of the main hubs for illegal wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asia. Some of the animals are taken from Thailand's forests and waters, but many are stolen from places as far away as Africa and South America.
Wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin is helping us investigate this illegal trade. Our team puts on undercover cameras, posing as tourists, checking out the market on a typical Saturday afternoon.
The stalls are packed, not only with people -- but with animals for sale. Many of the animals look as though they're dead, or close to it, due to the stifling heat. It's inhumane, perhaps, but selling all these animals is perfectly legal. But as we move deeper into the market, we begin to find endangered animals. These are endangered tortoises from Madagascar, selling for about $500 U.S. each.
(on camera): Why are they so expensive?
(voice-over): The dealer proudly tells us it's because they're rare. There aren't many left in the world, he says. They're also illegal to sell.
Our cameras are not welcome in the animal market. Everywhere we find signs like this one -- "no photo." Dealers here know they have to be careful because there's an international treaty called CITES that's supposed to protect endangered species, like the two small primates called slow lorises we discover just left of the sign in the front window. But as we'll soon find out, in Thailand there are real problems enforcing international treaties.
Inside this store, we find even more threatened species -- two South American marmosets, going for almost $2,700 U.S. each. The shop owners are suspicious, making it difficult for our cameras to get close to the other animals. Not wanting to cause a stir, our team leaves.
The Thai police planning to raid these stores are from the Natural Environmental Crimes Division.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is the middleman?
COOPER: They're working with conservationist Steve Galster. Galster is the co-founder of Wildlife Alliance, a conservation organization that helps train local law enforcement to recognize and protect their native species. Galster has worked as a conservationist for more than 20 years. It is risky work. He's gone under cover in Russia, Afghanistan and throughout Africa. In each place, he stopped wildlife trading rackets. This undercover video he shot helped convict this Russian police officer, who was illegally selling tiger skins.
The United Nations Environmental Programs says we are now losing anywhere between 18,000 and 50,000 species of plants and animals every year. As we said earlier, that's up to 1,000 times the natural rate of extinction. Endangered animals like tigers are killed and sold for meat, medicine and trophies. Bear paws are cut off, dried and sold as ashtrays. Sharks are pulled from the ocean, their fins cut off for soup.
Where do all of these animals and their parts end up?
Galster says the top two importers of illegal wildlife are China and America. And it's big business. The trade is estimated at between $10 billion and $20 billion a year.
Galster believes up to one million animals are shipped through Thailand every year. Many of them make their way through Bangkok's Jatujak Market.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When she gets to that shop, she is going to slow down and switch the purse to her left shoulder. It's going to be very obvious.
COOPER: Back inside the police station, the mood is tense. The police believe the wildlife traders have their own scouts looking for any signs of a coming raid.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they could stay behind about 20 meters, that would be good.
COOPER: They finally agree on a plan. The informant will take an unmarked car to the market and, through a series of signals, guide the police to the illegal sellers. The officers receive their final orders and break into teams. It's about four miles to the JJ Market. And with the informant already there, there's no way to tell if the illegal traders have already been tipped off.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper in San Diego.
More "Planet In Peril" after this quick update on tonight's breaking news -- the Southern California fires.
Here's what we know.
The United States Forest Service has announced a second civilian death as a result of the fires. The flames have consumed nearly 360,000 acres -- an area larger than the City of New York.
New fires keep breaking out. This is one of the latest near Acton, which is due north of Los Angeles. Early reports say several structures are threatened in the residential area and the winds are fanning the flames.
Throughout Southern California, more than half a million people have been ordered out of their homes. More than 12,000 are here at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and federal emergency management officials have been surveying the damage by air. President Bush will be in California on Thursday.
I'll be updating you on the fires every 15 minutes or so.
Now, back to "Planet In Peril".
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
COOPER (voice-over): It's rush hour in Bangkok. We're riding with heavily armed Thai police and Wildlife Alliance's Steve Galster, heading toward the Jatujak, or JJ Market.
We've split into two teams. Wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin is just ahead of us. An informant and our team took these pictures just yesterday with an undercover camera -- endangered animals being bought and sold. The informant is now in the market, hoping to guide police to the illegal dealers.
(on camera): Obviously, these dealers are very sensitive to anyone coming.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very sensitive. This is why you just saw the police take so much preparation. It just takes one leak or one person sensing there's an undercover cop and word goes all around the market and they padlock their doors, close down and they can't get anything.
COOPER (voice-over): We drive into the market and the police start their work on foot. JJ is like a labyrinth. We leave through the small aisles. It's clear word of our arrival is spreading. Animal dealers are closing their shops. They know there's a provision in Thai law that makes it all but impossible for police to enter a closed store.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This store right here was just opened. So was this one. It's most curious that as we enter this market with these police officers, doors start to close.
COOPER: The police keep moving toward the back of the market, where they make a discovery.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an illegal warehouse right now where some of the people who are selling birds in this market, they'll store them here over the weekend.
COOPER: Authorities shut this warehouse down less than a month ago. Already, it's reopened -- stocked with birds plucked from Thailand's forests. It's illegal to sell native species.
(on camera): Some of these are already dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. So you see the conditions they're kept in here. If you walk in here, you're going to burn up really fast. You can see how hot I am standing outside. Upstairs here, they've got an attic, too. There's no cooling system. They're not keeping them fed. These are dead already.
COOPER (voice-over): And that is all too common. U.S. Customs estimates 90 percent of the animals smuggled into America die before reaching their final destinations. Most of the animals smuggled into the U.S. are birds and reptiles sold as exotic pets.
The police keep moving and find the store that just yesterday was selling these animals -- including the endangered slow lorises. Now it's locked. The police will break into the store only if they can confirm the two slow lorises are still here. That's because they're native to Thailand and only that fact makes their sale illegal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The light is on, you know, but the animals won't come over to the side, so we can't see them.
COOPER: Even if police identify animals protected under an international treaty called CITES, Thai law stipulates that only protected animals native to Thailand are illegal to sell. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got the -- the little marmosets in the back.
COOPER (on camera): And is that Thai?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
COOPER: So there's definitely threatened animals, perhaps endangered?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of animals right here that range the gamut of critical status.
COOPER (voice-over): But the officers' hands are tied by their own law.
(on camera): So only if they can identify a species that is from Thailand and being illegally traded can they actually break in?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. And with regard to species from other countries, they actually have to prove that that person smuggled it in. Otherwise, the traders here -- that's why Jatujak Market is so ripe with illegal trade. COOPER: So, for now, they're just going to walk away?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have to.
COOPER (voice-over): The Thai government does recognize it has a problem. Aligned with Wildlife Alliance, they launched a campaign aimed at educating people about the need to preserve rare and endangered species. They've also created a regional wildlife law enforcement with neighboring countries.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've got the regulations. They're signators to all the major international treaties. But in some ways, it's like a paper tiger, because it's hard for them to actually engage the necessary enforcement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little leopard cat.
COOPER: Enforcement of international laws protecting wildlife is a problem around the world. Contradictory local laws, corruption and the low priority most governments give to protecting endangered species means the global trade of wildlife continues to thrive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi.
How are you?
COOPER: Before leaving the market, we make another stop -- at one of the stalls where we saw the endangered radiated tortoises from Madagascar.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These aren't Madagascar tortoises. COOPER: By now -- no surprise -- they're gone. The rare tortoises replaced with a far more common variety. Two endangered turtles from Madagascar now hidden somewhere behind these walls. Two endangered turtles pulled from their wild habitat thousands of miles away.
Why does that matter?
What's the world without two more turtles from Madagascar?
The fact is, for some endangered species, every animal counts. And in a place like Madagascar, every species lost can have a major impact on the ecosystem.
(on camera): Madagascar is an island off the southeast coast of Africa. It's incredibly rich in terms of biodiversity and there's a real battle going on there right now to protect the species on that island. It's so important, we've asked Jeff to go there to the front lines.
JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST (voice-over): This is a place where 90 percent of the wildlife can be found nowhere else on Earth.
(on camera): There he goes.
(voice-over): This is place where only 10 percent of the natural habitat remains. This is Madagascar. It is one of the world's largest islands, isolated from mainland Africa for more than 160 million years. The small pockets of the rainforest explode with life, but you have to look closely.
(on camera) If you let your eyes just sort of drift down the trunk of this tree, you'll see spots of lichen and moss and little bumps along the bark.
What's so amazing is that there is a lizard here. It's hard to see. The camouflage is that good. It is a Uroplatus gecko. It just moved.
Isn't that amazing?
It also perfectly illustrates how many of the animals here survive. They survive by being specialists. This creature is so specific to this tree, to this habitat, it cannot survive anywhere else.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: . OK.
CORWIN (voice-over): . And that is why Conservation International's Russ Mittermeier is here.
RUSS MITTERMEIER, CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL: . This is an (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) -- and this is an area that we really want to protect.
CORWIN: . His group is working to protect what are called biodiversity hot spots -- regions that are both unique and threatened. MITTERMEIER: . If you're going to try to avert an extinction crisis -- which we're facing right now -- you've got to focus a lot of attention on hot spots like Madagascar.
CORWIN: . Of all of the animals here, the most well known is the island's primate, the lemur.
(on camera) Where did you see them?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: . Oh, let's go this way.
CORWIN: . This way?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: . Yes.
CORWIN: . Oh, look at this.
(voice-over): When we come back, our journey to Eastern Madagascar to come face-to-face with an animal on the brink of extinction -- the world's largest lemur, the Indri -- and to track down one of Madagascar's most mysterious animals, one that's eluded cameras for decades.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see it?
CORWIN: I see it. I see. There's the Indri right there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I see. There.
CORWIN: Oh, my goodness. Look at this! Look at this!
(END VIDEO TAPE)
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
CORWIN (voice-over): Trail blazing through the Indossi Bay Forest (ph) in Eastern Madagascar...
(on camera): Oh, I see it!
(voice-over): We are searching for one of Madagascar's flagship species of lemurs -- one on the brink of extinction.
(on camera): Oh, look at the way he leapt like that!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're what you call vertical clingers and leapers. Rather than moving quadrepedally, they bounce from vertical support to vertical support. They can go 30 feet at a single jump.
CORWIN: Look at this guy right there! Look at him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's very close. Oh, this is fabulous. This is a great view.
CORWIN: There he goes! Oh, did you see the way he hops like that?
(voice-over): Out of the 100 plus species of lemurs living in Madagascar, the Indri is the largest and can weigh as much as 20 pounds.
(SOUND OF ANIMAL CALLING)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's very -- yes, that's very eerie, very melancholy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when they start in the morning, you can hear them calling all over the forest.
(SOUND OF ANIMAL CALLING)
CORWIN: But it is only here, in these remote rainforests in Eastern Madagascar, that the Indri exists. They will not breed in captivity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no backup. There's no safety valve in terms of a captive colony. You've got to protect them in the wild.
CORWIN: And if they disappear here, they are lost forever?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're gone forever.
CORWIN (voice-over): Lost forever due to hunting and massive habitat destruction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the worst erosion you'll see anywhere on the planet. I've never seen anything like this.
CORWIN: Forests are not only essential to the survival of wildlife, they also provide stability for the landscape. Without them, the soil literally collapses.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, Madagascar is disappearing. Today, in the 21st century, less than 10 percent of the original pristine habitat remains to support all this life.
CORWIN: So the threat to Madagascar's animals doesn't just come from illegal wildlife traffickers like the ones we saw in Bangkok. It's also from the loss of habitat. Conservation International says every year, roughly 350 square miles of forest are destroyed.
One of the poorest countries in the world, the World Bank estimates 70 percent of the people here live on less than $1 a day. So people will do anything to make money. And it's usually the forest that pays the price -- through livestock grazing, charcoal production, rice paddies -- anything and everything.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amazing thing is that in a country that's lost 90 percent of its original natural vegetation, where all that remain is active to an area about twice the size of the State of New Jersey, and yet every time one of our Rapid Assessment Program expeditions goes out, we find literally dozens of new species -- everything from insects all the way up to new species of primates.
CORWIN: A RAP, or Rapid Assessment Program, is a novel way scientists are trying to save what forest remains here. If you discover new species, the thinking goes that government will protect the land where it was discovered. Previous RAPs have discovered over 550 new species. And that led to the protection of more than 8.6 million acres of land.
We wanted to go on a RAP, so we traveled north to the Adorfimina Forest (ph).
(on camera): So this is your field station over here?
MITTERMEIER: Yes. The camp is over here and the forest is over there.
CORWIN (voice-over): Russ Mittermeier was one of the early adopters of RAPs. As a field biologist with a Ph.D., Mittermeier has spent more than 30 years in the field. In the past 10 years alone, he has discovered two species of primates here in Madagascar, both of which have been named after him.
(on camera): Tracking through this tense jungle gives you just a quick sense of the challenges these biologists face every day as they enter this forest. They can come out here and discover a new species or they can spend 15 hours in this jungle and get absolutely skunked. It's like finding a needle in a haystack. But will he let me tell you, when you make that discovery, it's worth the effort.
And this, my friends, is the payoff -- a glimpse at a very unusual, very mysterious and rare species of lemur -- the black sifaka.
(voice-over): You are looking at one of the first videos ever taken of the black sifakas, one of the rarest lemurs in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is -- this is very, very exciting.
CORWIN: On the forest floor, we sit and watch as the mysterious creatures leap from tree to tree.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just five or six years ago, we didn't even know for sure whether there were black sifakas in this forest, and it's not a protected forest.
During the RAP expedition and many other efforts that are under way will hopefully get this set aside as a protected area in the next few years.
CORWIN: Only then will the critically endangered black sifaka have a chance of surviving. As night falls in the forest and Madagascar's nocturnal creatures come to life, we begin to make our way back to camp. Our encounter with the black sifaka, one of the most endangered primates in the world, is just a reminder of just how extraordinary Madagascar's dwindling forests really are. It's entirely possible that when we go out tomorrow, we may even discover a new species.
(on camera): Ah, dagnabit (ph), I had him. He slipped right through my fingers.
This creature is quite the mystery, isn't it? We don't know who this is.
COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper live from San Diego with breaking news on the firestorm raging across Southern California. Here's the latest. At this hour 13 major wildfires are burning out of control across seven counties. The death toll stands at two. Dozens of others have been injured, however, some with severe burns. Together the fires destroyed more than 1,000 homes over 360,000 acres.
In San Diego County alone, more than half a million residents have received mandatory evacuation orders. Firefighters are battling around the clock to try to contain the blazes. Rick Sanchez has been on the front lines of the Harris fire all day. He joins me now.
Rick, what are you seeing?
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: a lot of soot and ash, Anderson, all over the place. And the reason for it is right there. Look at the size of that thing now. This is what you and I were talking about an hour ago when we were on the air. This is the 70 acres -- or the southern edge of the 70 acres of the Harris fire and it's right on the top of the crest of that hill now, right to the ridge.
They are watching to see if it would get to the ridge. It's at the ridge. The concern now is, will it go over to the other side of the ridge, where there are some homes? You might be able to see -- you see that palm tree right there, you see the shadow of it. That's the backyard of somebody's home. They are monitoring that as well.
But the good news is, it's hard to tell, but we are still seeing the smoke essentially going straight up and down. That's a good thing. The problem is, a lot of these fires sometimes can make their own wind and that could be a problem as well. We are watching it for you, Anderson. Take it back to you now.
COOPER: We have full live coverage at 11:00 p.m. after "Planet in Peril." That is the latest at this hour. We are going to have much more on the fast-moving story on our special edition at 11:00. "Planet in Peril" continues in just a moment.
CORWIN (voice-over): It is early morning, and we're on the outskirts of the Andrafiamena Forest in northern Madagascar. Conservation International's Russ Mittermeier and his team of scientists gear up for what they hope is a day of discovery.
This was the scene from yesterday. Video of the black sifaka, one of the fist times this critically endangered animal has ever been caught on tape. The scientists here are conducting what they call a Rapid Assessment Program, or RAP. It is a fast-paced inventory of threatened habitat, and it is not uncommon to discover new animal species on RAPs.
We team up with Bertan (ph), a herbatologist, as he heads out to inventory the forest wildlife.
The whole point of a RAP is to move efficiently and quickly. And that can be tough in this dense forest. But sometimes it does pay off.
(on camera): This is why you have to truly focus in through the branches, through the chaos of vegetation. When you do, look at the most incredible gecko. That right there is the day gecko.
(voice-over): The day gecko, an incredibly beautiful but previously identified species. Part of the RAP is to catch the animals you find for study. But that's easier said than done when it comes to lizards.
(on camera): I have got a lot of pressure riding on him here. I want to capture him without hurting him. I don't want to let him get away.
I'm being outsmarted by a vertebrate with a brain about as big as a hangnail. There we go. Ah, look at this gorgeous, gorgeous lizard. I mean, he is as emerald and as green as the foliage which basically swallows him up.
(voice-over): But while I'm tracking down the day gecko, Bertan finds two others and one of them doesn't look familiar. This may be a new animal species.
(on camera): One in the bag.
(voice-over): We rush back to camp, where research on this mystery lizard starts quickly.
(on camera): It's not large, I mean, it's actually tiny. The adult animal, only an inch in length. Its coloration is rather drab. It's not nearly as brilliant in color as that day gecko. But this creature is quite the mystery, isn't it? We don't know who this is.
You have to be so gentle, don't you, because his head is so fragile, to take a measurement like that, my goodness. The other thing that's cool about it is that this adult lizard has a spine, a three-chambered heart, a set of lungs, but almost microscopic in design.
(voice-over): If it is indeed new, the discovery would stand in stark contrast to current trends of species lost. Scientists think we are right now in what they call "the sixth great spasm of extinction in Earth's history."
In the past, ice ages, comets, natural events led to the extinction of species. This time, though, man is solely to blame. Russ Mittermeier says that's dangerous territory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to be careful not to think that we can dominate everything and control everything and fix everything by technology, because we can't. The environmental underpinnings have to be solid. We have to protect the nature upon which we ultimately depend upon for our own survival.
CORWIN: It will take months of intensive lab research to learn if this gecko is indeed a new discovery. But the chances are very good. More new species of animals are found in this dwindling habitat than just about any other place on the planet. And those discoveries might be the only thing that can save Madagascar's animals from disappearing forever.
(on camera): There's no disputing it. Today our planet is losing species at an unprecedented rate. The great question is, what is the value of a species lost? One way to look at this is to actually turn the situation upside down. Instead of looking at species lost, look at species recovery.
And to better understand this, Anderson has made his way to Yellowstone National Park, where he's exploring the recovery of one of North America's most charismatic and controversial carnivores.
COOPER (voice-over): Yellowstone National Park, crown jewel of America's park system. Its beauty is otherworldly, a fully intact ecosystem. Scientists say this is the natural world as it should be. But it hasn't always been this way.
(on camera): Sometimes it's hard to see the impact the loss of one species can have on an entire ecosystem. In order to demonstrate it, you sometimes have to look at the reverse, what happens when one species is reintroduced to an ecosystem. We have come here to Yellowstone Park because in 1995, gray wolves were brought back to this park. A total of 41 wolves were brought back here over two years. And since then their numbers increased steadily and they have had a major impact on this entire area.
(voice-over): To get a sense of that impact, we wanted to see the animal for ourselves. Late afternoon in the park and the light is fading fast. It's not easy to find the wolves. They are elusive and very sensitive to the presence of humans. There's a lot of running, ducking and hiding.
(on camera): There's a bison which died several hundred yards from here along a little river. At night the wolves are going to come and feed on it. They were out here last night. There's a good chance they will be back tonight. So we are trying to get as close as possible. We don't want to scare the wolves off by getting too close.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a wolf right there.
COOPER: He's standing on a rock.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
COOPER: I see him.
COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper. "Planet in Peril" continues in a moment. We are live tonight from San Diego with the latest on the wildfires raging across Southern California. More than half a million people have been ordered out of their homes and about a third of the residents in San Diego County alone have fled. In just three days the blazes have destroyed more than 360,000 acres and more than 1,000 homes. The weather fuelled the firestorm. Here's how the governor put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: You have three things come together, very dry areas, very hot weather, and a lot of wind. And so this makes the perfect storm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in seven counties. And today President Bush cleared the way for federal disaster relief. He is expected to visit the region on Thursday. That's the latest. Now back to "Planet in Peril."
COOPER (voice-over): We're losing light in Yellowstone National Park, trying to get in to position to see an animal that has captured people's imagination and changed nearly the entire ecosystem of the park.
(on camera): There's a bison which died several hundred yards from here, along a little river At night the wolves are going to come and feed on it.
Do they always feed at this time?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. This is about the time they come out.
COOPER (voice-over): Doug Smith (ph) is the wildlife biologist in charge of the wolf reintroduction project. We hunkered down in the sage brush for about 30 more minutes, then spot movement in the distance.
(on camera): Yes, yes, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, great. You're officially a wolf-watcher now. And is that your first wolf?
COOPER: Yes, it is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, great.
COOPER (voice-over): That we are actually seeing wolves here is something that just 15 years ago seemed impossible. Viewed as both pests and vicious predators, wolves were the target of a government- sponsored extermination campaign in the beginning of the 20th Century. Along the way, they were completely eliminated from the park.
But public perception and biological appreciation for the wolf began to change in the 1980s. Bison and elk populations exploded because there were no natural predator like the wolf to keep their numbers down.
In 1995, after a pitched battle with a nearby ranching community who were afraid wolves would kill their livestock, Doug Smith transplanted the first wolves back into Yellowstone. The reintroduction is now considered one of the greatest conservation success stories in the past few decades.
(on camera): What do you think it is about wolves that surprise people, surprised everyone here, just how adaptive they are?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I think so. They just fell right back into their old role, even though they had been missing for 70 years.
COOPER (voice-over): And that role, the role of just one single species, has profoundly altered Yellowstone's entire ecosystem. It's what scientists call a trophic cascade, when one animal, usually a top predator, has a cascading top-down effect on different levels of the food chain.
It's almost a paint-by-numbers illustration of how a healthy ecosystem should work. It starts with the wolf's favorite prey, elk.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I was circling four wolves...
COOPER: From his observation plane earlier in the week, Doug saw wolves surround and kill a bull elk. He takes us into the shallow draw where he thinks we will find the carcass.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There he is. There's virtually nothing left. And so he probably died right here. So these bones all around here, there's leg bones here, there's leg bones up there, were done by wolves, bears, coyotes, what we call the scavenger community.
I have not seen that beetle...
COOPER: But it doesn't stop for the big animals. A single wolf kill means even a little ones eat too.
(on camera): Even things like these little beetles, these little bugs here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We have actually documented a team of researchers that work with us. Hundred of different species of beetles that use wolf kills. We estimate, just a ballpark figure, 2,000 elk are hitting the ground a year in this part of Yellowstone due to about seven wolf packs. So you add all of that up for the vertebrate scavengers, the invertebrate scavengers, these bugs, that becomes a really direct effect of wolf killing in terms of the big picture of ecosystems that wasn't taking place before wolves got here.
COOPER: That trophic cascade because of the wolf's presence here doesn't stop with what it kills. There's also a ripple effect through the plant life.
(on camera): This is a stand of willows?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is. And this stand has grown up in the last 10 years since wolves were reintroduced.
COOPER: So before when there were no wolves here, what would this look like?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This stand was much shorter. I can't remember exactly, but it certainly wasn't over my head like this.
COOPER: So before there were wolves here, the elk had no one attacking them, no one hunting them, so they had a lot of time to just chew on willow bushes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's true, and there were a lot of more elk. So the combination of behavioral changes in the elk, getting inside of their head, worrying about wolves and fewer elk, we think have conspired to produce a flush in growth on these willows.
COOPER (voice-over): And that flush in willow growth is now providing a rare and critical habitat for songbirds, cover for birds and food for beavers. Remember, all of this is because of just one animal.
(on camera): How has this affected the beaver population?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, they have taken advantage of it, too. Willow is a key food for them. They build dams and lodges with it. So they have responded as well.
COOPER: I'm going to try to find some.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can look.
COOPER: So that's a beaver lodge?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, the beavers put that lodge in here a few years ago and they dammed the creek to create this pond.
COOPER (voice-over): Before the wolves, there were around six beavers in this part of the park. There are now more than 90.
(on camera): What impact do beavers have? What other species do they impact?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, beavers are great creators of watery habitat. So anything that uses water is going to benefit.
This is really good habitat for fish, birds, amphibians, small mammals, moose, mink, otter. This was just a meadow and now it's a pond and that creates a lot of opportunity for life.
COOPER: We came here really because we have been traveling around the world, looking at how the removal of one species can have an impact. This is sort of the reverse of how the insertion of a species can have a ripple effect.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. This is an important kind of lesson for the rest of the world, because carnivores across the globe have been targets of human persecution. And so we are trying to study and understand these carnivore effects on how they structure ecosystems.
COOPER (voice-over): Back at the wolf kill, as the sun is setting, more of the Lamar Valley pack comes in to eat. And then there's a report of a fight in the distance between a bear and a wolf.
(on camera): This is exactly what you had hoped for all along with the reintroduction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
COOPER: It would be this kind of active natural cycle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely, wolves fighting with black bears is natural. And eating bison carcasses is natural. And it restores Yellowstone to what it used to be.
COOPER: Doug mentioned how predator species around the world are under threat. There's no better example of that than what's happening right now in Cambodia. Jeff Corwin and I are headed there next in order to go on patrol with some rangers trying to save the last of Cambodia's endangered tigers.
They are just giving hand signals until we get down. They have seen several people in the forest. They are not sure if they are poachers or I they are people just drinking in the forest.
COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper. "Planet in Peril" continues in a moment. First, the latest on the inferno now engulfing Southern California. Tonight 13 major wildfires are still raging out of control across seven counties. They have claimed two lives, more than 360,000 acres and more than 1,000 homes. More than half a million people in San Diego County alone have been ordered to evacuate.
Here's how one man described it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE TUTUNJIAN, FIRE EVACUEE: I have been in two wars, and in leaving our house, it was like being in a war zone. Fires were engulfing all over around us. Houses that I have looked at for 10 years have been engulfed, engulfed in flames.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Earlier today President Bush issued an emergency declaration clearing the way for federal disaster relief. He's expected to visit the region on Thursday. Now tonight there is a speck of good news concerning the weather conditions. More on that now from CNN's Chad Myers in Atlanta.
Chad, what can you tell us?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: All of the high-wind warnings, Anderson, now have been cancelled. They are all just either red flag warnings or wind advisories. And though you think, what's the big deal? Well, it is a big deal because the threshold of the wind is now down to about 25 miles per hour, and that is a big deal.
Choking smoke all across the L.A. Basin, all the way down to San Diego today. Here's how the Santa Ana winds really work. Think about in the daytime the air heats up and rises from the sky, rises from the ground and then it sinks as it cools. Well, as it sinks, it goes out.
So during the day, it's hot and the wind doesn't blow as much but during the nighttime it blows more. We have one more day of that, one more night of that as well. The night tonight will be probably the windiest night of the two. Typically we can see a lot of smoke on the radar. Not seeing so much tonight.
That's some good news because the winds are down. The wind speeds are down. Only about 7 miles per hour down in Irving. And we get up to about 20 miles an hour and down in Banning and Twentynine Palms, but that's it. No wind speeds over 25 at this point.
Anderson, that's good news.
COOPER: Good news indeed, Chad, thanks. That is the latest. We are going to have another update in 15 minutes. "Planet in Peril" continues right after this.
COOPER (voice-over): The back allies of Thailand's animal black market, where endangered species stolen from Madagascar's dwindling forests are sold, a place where new species are still discovered, but top predators are still under threat. The question is, where are they going? What are we doing to our natural world?
GUPTA: We're hearing that people are getting cancer from drinking water.
COOPER: What are we doing to ourselves?
(on camera): Let me ask you, have you ever had anyone pass out from giving so much blood?
(voice-over): Cambodia's Bokor National Park, a protected forest under threat, its green mountains surrounded by miles of clear-cut countryside. The park has an eerie quality. Its highest point is dominated by the shell of a once-lavish British-run resort.
We have come to see how poachers capture wild animals. And, in these forests, there's one predator both poachers and protectors are searching for.
STEVE GALSTER, CONSERVATIONIST: You think the tiger is still alive?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I think so. If a person catch a tiger from Bokor or from where we -- it be heard.
GALSTER: You will know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
GALSTER: Yes. Because you have a good informant network.
COOPER (voice-over): Concerned this park was unprotected, conservationist Steve Galster came here in 2001 with Wildlife Alliance.
It was then, using cameras hidden in the forest, they caught a glimpse of the park's most illusive inhabitant and what might be the last wild tiger in all of Bokor.
Every wild tiger in the world is critically important. Like the wolf in Yellowstone, its presence alters the behavior of an entire ecosystem. The World Wildlife Fund says there are only about 5,000 wild tigers left in the world.
Bokor's tiger appears to be injured, its front right paw wounded, most likely from a poacher's snare. Tigers are hunted for trophies, as well as for their body parts, prized in traditional medicine.
(on camera): Bokor National Park is about 800 square miles. It's a lot of territories for these rangers to cover. There's only about 55 of them. They work in teams. There's usually at least three teams out on patrol at any one time. And they can be gone for as long as five days at a time.
(voice-over): The rangers are paid only $30 a month by Cambodia's government. Wildlife Alliance supplements that and has armed them with guns and GPS systems. They are all that stand between the poachers and the park's wildlife.
(on camera): They have just given the hand signals to get down. They have seen several people in the forest. They are not sure if they are poachers or if they're people just drinking in the forest.
(voice-over): Crouched down in the field, we wait as the rangers survey the situation. But the forest is dense, and it's difficult for them to see which direction the potential poachers fled.
We wait for the OK signal, and push further into the thick brush.
(on camera): In the jungle, you really get a sense of just how difficult the job is for the rangers. It's very hard to move around, very -- the progress is very slow. The jungle is very dense. They follow these trails, which are essentially trails that would -- a poacher would follow.
(voice-over): The rangers are constantly searching for clues, picking up cigarette boxes, belt straps, anything to help track the poachers.
GALSTER: What's that, chief?
Oh, yes, look at that. Can you see it? Very nicely disguised. That is a trap.
COOPER: Since 2001, they have rescued 31,000 wild animals and confiscated more than four tons of slaughtered animals, called bush meat.
A couple miles more into the forest, we find what we are looking for.
GALSTER: This is a whole camp. They would sleep here. They would eat here. And you see they have gone along the water here. That's so that they can bathe, wash their dishes and drink.
COOPER: No sign of people, but it's obvious the camp has been occupied recently. Scattered around, rangers find garbage, snares, even primitive religious artifacts.
(on camera): In their camp, the poachers make religious offerings, trying to ensure that they have a good hunt. They used this coconut to put some incense sticks in. There's also this sort of a mini-spear with two pieces of what looks like doll's clothing. It's a mixture of animist and Buddhist beliefs.
(voice-over): The rangers have destroyed this very same camp before, but the poachers keep coming back.
(on camera): Where does this fit into the big picture? This is a tiny little camp. Does it really make any kind of a difference if you eliminate this camp?
CORWIN: Well, this camp, which maybe sustained four to eight poachers, has had an incredibly negative impact on this ecosystem. There's no species of animal that these individuals would not hunt.
COOPER (voice-over): The poacher's preferred tool is the snare. The rangers confiscate roughly 7,000 of them every year.
GALSTER: Since they have been out patrolling, the animals have come back. And we have been monitoring it, taking camera trap photos in the forest, so we can see and hear the animals returning. COOPER: However, they are not seeing the number of poacher snares decline.
GALSTER: This is a freshly laid snare.
COOPER (on camera): It's right there?
GALSTER: This is it. It is tied up to this twig here, so, if an animal comes in here, it's going to pull it, snag it. It's not going to kill it. And, so, it could sit there for a day. It could sit there for a week.
COOPER (voice-over): Snares are easy to make and hard for the untrained eye to see.
(on camera): In this one area of forest, the rangers have so far found seven snares. There's one actually right behind me, but you probably can't see it, because it's so well camouflaged. Here it is. It is attached to this rather thick branch here. You can see the rope goes down. This is where the trap is. I'm going to brush away its -- as I said, it's very well camouflaged.
This is where the tricker mechanism is. You can see the rope. Now I will show you how it works.
COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper in San Diego.
"Planet in Peril" continues in a moment.
First, we want to give you another update on tonight's breaking news, the Southern California fires. Here what we know. Even as the U.S. military prepares to join the firefighting effort, more than 4,000 military personnel have been forced from their California homes.
That includes about 3,000 Marines from Camp Pendleton. A major fire is burning just east of their base. In all, the fires have chased more than a half-million people from their homes. A new round of mandatory evacuations has been ordered around Lake Arrowhead, east of Los Angeles, because of the continuing danger in the San Bernardino mountains, but not everyone wants to go.
This woman lives near San Diego.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's my mom. We prayed on the phone. And they started making their drops and the fire went down. And they are still making drops, and so it's keeping it at bay, you know? If it gets real bad or if they come down here with a sheriff and order me out, then I will have to leave, you know?
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: I will have a full hour on the fires starting at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.
Now back to "Planet in Peril."
COOPER (voice-over): On the hunt for snares with a team of rangers deep inside the jungle of Cambodia's Bokor National Park.
We are told they are probably all around us, but finding them isn't easy. You have to know what to look for.
(on camera): It's very well camouflaged. This is where the tricker mechanism is. You can see the rope. Now I will show you how it works. This is where the trigger mechanism is. Now I will show you how it works. It's very simple, but it's very effective.
(voice-over): We never find this last tiger of Bokor, injured by a poacher's snare. The rangers can't even be sure if it's still alive. If it is, from what we have seen, it had better watch its step. In the roughly one hour we spend in this patch of jungle, we find more than a dozen snares.
CORWIN: Despite the power and strength of a tiger, or even a young elephants, the more it pulls, the more it resists, the more strength it uses, the tighter the knot gets.
COOPER (on camera): So, they will actually tug at it enough...
CORWIN: They will work and tug, in some cases, actually chew on their wrist to try to free themselves. Thousands and thousands of animals every year in this forest and other habitats throughout Cambodia and Southeast Asia fall prey to this terrible, terrible fate.
COOPER (voice-over): Some of the victims of that terrible fate can be found here, at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center in central Cambodia.
(on camera): This is Chhouk, a 1-and-a-half-year-old Asian elephant, fighting for his life, after a snare like the ones we saw in Bokor, ripped off part of his front foot.
(on camera): In order to treat this young elephant, veterinarians have to be able to sedate it. They use this blowgun to shoot a dart into the elephant. They do this once a week. It's the only way they can safely treat the elephant's wound.
(voice-over): Once the sedatives take hold, the veterinarians quickly get to work.
(on camera): So, is he in pain, I mean, most of the time?
NICK MARX, RUNS RESCUE CENTER: Yes, yes. When we started, he was in great pain. He was worrying about his foot. You can see, he's rubbing it the whole time. There were maggots in the wound. We just recently now started integrating...
Nick Marx runs the rescue center for Wildlife Alliance.
(on camera): Can he learn to walk with three?
MARX: If the skin doesn't thicken, he can't walk properly, yes. We maybe try and form like an artificial foot, and to ease his walking, to enable him to walk on that foot. It's been done before.
COOPER: But he couldn't be released into the wild?
MARX: No. Actually, no.
COOPER (voice-over): Wildlife Alliance says there are only 200 to 300 Asian elephants left in the wild in Cambodia. Scientists call them a keystone species because their behavior, like the tigers' and wolves', impacts an entire ecosystem.
Holes they dig for drinking water become watering holes for hundreds of animals. Paths elephant herds make through forests become corridors for other species.
CORWIN: Hey, Anderson.
CORWIN: How is this for a treat?
CORWIN: So, what you do is just grab some water and throw it up and just rub it on.
COOPER: These animals are playful and powerful. Watch what happens to Jeff's left arm.
CORWIN: Ow! Ow!
So, anyways, where were we?
CORWIN: So, sometimes, Anderson, there is conflict between human beings and elephants.
COOPER: Aside from some serious bruising, Jeff is unharmed. But that conflict between human beings and every animal at Phnom Tamao is a theme that plays out over and over again here. All of the roughly 800 animals here were rescued from the black market trade, from Burmese pythons...
CORWIN: It's hunted for its flesh -- people love to eat snake in this part of the world -- and also for this beautiful hide. COOPER: ... to Asian sun bears.
(on camera): The face is so great.
CORWIN: Isn't that an amazing face?
COOPER: They are hunted for their organs?
CORWIN: They are hunted for their organs. These creatures are killed for their gallbladders.
MARX: Guno (ph), come on, boy.
COOPER (voice-over): These tigers were cubs when they were caught by a trafficker who tried to sell them on the black market.
CORWIN: With regard to enforcement, the guy, the poacher, the wildlife dealer who is peddling these tiger cubs, what sort of fines did he face? How is he punished?
MARX: Often, guys don't get punished. Some guys do get fined. A very serious crime, they will end up in prison if they can't buy their way out. But not everyone gets punished, I'm afraid. We are trying to ensure that penalties are served.
COOPER: Traffickers know, in Cambodia, they can often bribe authorities to ignore their crimes.
This is an illegal animal trader. We have agreed not to show his face or reveal his name. He shows us his snares. They are similar to the ones we have seen in the forest. He says he can sell a tiger for roughly $150 U.S. per kilogram. With the average male tiger weighing 170 kilos, that's more than $25,000.
He's not concerned about plundering the forest.
"Remember one thing," he tells us. "The less the supply, the higher the demand."
He sends most of the wildlife he kills or captures through Thailand to China. The Chinese, he tells us, eat everything.
The Chinese eat everything, that's probably an overstatement, but we do know this much. According to the Wildlife Alliance, China is the number-one destination in the world for illegal wildlife. Exactly why it's going there is rooted in centuries of tradition, something Dr. Sanjay Gupta went to investigate.
GUPTA (voice-over): It's one of the oldest civilizations in the world, traditions cultivated over thousands of years, some out in the open, others hidden from view. The Chinese like their exotic wildlife. It's used in traditional medicine. And it is served as a delicacy. Some of the animals are extremely rare and endangered. Others are more common. In either case, the appetite is enormous. A population of 1.3 billion people has made China a vacuum for the world's wildlife.
(on camera): I really wanted to get a sense of just what the demand was here, just how much consumption. Take a look. We're in this one back store here and these are all turtles. You're just looking at thousands of turtles. And this is, again, just one small store. It gives you the sense of the demand for this type of wildlife here in China.
(voice-over): The turtles are legal. And so is most of the wildlife we found in this market. Punishment is stiff in China if you're caught selling endangered species. But that doesn't stop it from happening.
(on camera): This is a storefront here. And I just want to show you something. This is actually deer antler inside that box. And over here is deer bone. These are both being sold. And over here is actually deer penis. All of that is being sold here.
And it's important to emphasize that none of that is actually illegal. But the concern, though, is what else might be getting sold at places like this. This is actually a restaurant called Strength in a Pot. We will go inside and take a look at the menu.
There's no public seating area inside. It's all private dining rooms. We are shown to one in the back.
(on camera): I'm sitting here with Mr. Chen (ph), who is not only the manager, but also a nutritionist. And he has suggested that we get one of the most popular dishes on the menu. So, we're going to give it a try.
(voice-over): After we order, a toast with Mr. Chen. The drink is a specialty here, deer antler and blood wine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think?
GUPTA (on camera): It's OK. It's a little bitter, but it's OK.
(voice-over): Mr. Chen leaves to check on the food, when we notice a second menu.
(on camera): The first page actually has a platter of dishes that cost about $1,500. What we saw here was Canadian seal. They have Australia lobster, but they also have tiger paw and tiger penis. This is something we're definitely going to ask Mr. Chen about when he gets back.
GUPTA (voice-over): In the back room of a Beijing restaurant, I'm getting a taste of China's -- well, let's call it eclectic culinary cuisine.
(on camera): Lots of food here.
Mr. Chen just told me that this is stud bull penis. This is deer penis. These are lamb testicles. This is Russian dog penis. And this is just deer meat, venison.
Exotic, maybe, but perfectly legal, so far.
(on camera): Now, Mr. Chen, if I wanted to order some tiger paw, tiger paw or tiger penis, can I order that here?
(voice-over): He tells me they do not have it, because the tiger is a protected species.
(on camera): Doesn't this say "tiger paw" here and "tiger penis"?
(voice-over): They use the name, Mr. Chen says, only to impress their clients.
(on camera): We see tiger paw and tiger penis on the menu. Mr. Chen, though, is adamant that they don't have it here, and that's just a name. They won't let us back in the kitchen to actually see for ourselves.
(voice-over): There is no way of knowing if indeed this restaurant serves tiger, but we do know it's happening throughout China.
According to Wildlife Alliance, China is the number-one destination for tiger and other endangered species. Fines are stiff, around $14,000 if you're caught trafficking. So, the practice has gone underground.
It's 5:30 in the morning in the southern city of Guangzhou, and business is booming at this illegal trading spot.
We are trying to stay out of sight, but our cameras pick up images of vendors selling from the back of their vans.
(on camera): I'm with Craig Kirkpatrick of the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. We decide to get out of the van for a closer look.
Our arrival isn't well-received. Dealers quickly disperse.
(on camera): Look over here. Hey, Craig, Craig.
(voice-over): But we are able to catch a glimpse of some of the illegal activity, the sale of ferret badgers and civet cats.
GUPTA (voice-over): Baby civets.
CRAIG KIRKPATRICK, TRAFFIC: Little baby civets here, and then the cat.
GUPTA (voice-over): The consumption of these animals is believed to be a source of the SARS outbreak in 2002, which killed at least 700 people around the world. Despite a crackdown by the Chinese government in 2003, the illegal consumption is growing again.
(on camera): So, they are buying it because they want to eat the meat?
GUPTA: They are buying it for medicine purposes as well?
KIRKPATRICK: Yes. It's more of a generalized health tonic, rather than a specific medicine prescribed for some particular ailment.
GUPTA (voice-over): Walking the legal markets in Guangzhou, it's easy to see why over-exploitation is the number-one threat to China's animals.
Thousands of turtles, poisonous scorpions, and snakes fill the stalls. Dried bags of seahorse, shark fin and deer tails pile up along the streets. There's even pillaging from other countries to satisfy the almost endless demand.
KIRKPATRICK: It truly is a global trade coming in from Southeast Asia or from the United States.
GUPTA: In this stall, endangered turtles from Madagascar for sale here illegally.
(on camera): This is illegal. Are the police going to come here and shut a place like this down?
KIRKPATRICK: There are so many other priorities that they have got going in this very large country that's expanding at a tremendous rate, wildlife trade just doesn't really register very high on their priority list.
GUPTA (voice-over): These animals are not just delicacies. Many of them are consumed as a form of medicine. Practiced for thousands of years, traditional Chinese medicine draws on at least 500 species of plants and animals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was brought up in Chinese medicine.
GUPTA: Dr. Paul Bud (ph) is a professor at a Chinese university in Hong Kong. He's been studying the use of wildlife in traditional Chinese medicine for over 30 years.
(on camera) This is bear bile?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bear bile. Yes, from bear farms. You can see. They got it direct from the live bears.
GUPTA (voice-over): In China, over 7,500 bears are kept in cages while their bile is extracted several times a day through a steel catheter. It's a process that critics call barbaric, but traditional Chinese medicine uses it to treat everything from heart disease to impotence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Chinese medicine, the bear bile has been used for over 12,000 years. And still is very good medicine.
GUPTA: Dr. Bud (ph) is not alone in his beliefs: 95 percent of hospitals in China offer traditional remedies. That, coupled with a growing Chinese population, causes concern that traditional Chinese medicine is driving species to extinction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really a dilemma, because we, too, wish to protect those endangered species. But at the same time, it would be difficult for us to decide whether we should simply save them or, in emergency occasions, ignore our child or our beloved ones lying sick in bed.
GUPTA (on camera): You're saying sometimes it's worth it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we have to find out.
GUPTA (voice-over): As a doctor, I can't say if these treatments work or not. Most are so obscure, they haven't been tested by western science.
But whether or not the western world thinks they work isn't going to stop the practice. In fact, it's only growing.
(on camera) The market for exotic and endangered species is simply a matter of supply and demand. But it's a problem made worse when the number of animal species continues to decline, and our own species, mankind, continues to grow at such a staggering pace.
In fact, our population has grown by more than 400 percent over the last 100 years, and that translates into a breathtaking consumption of just about every natural resource this planet has to offer.
(voice-over) And there are no signs of slowing down. According to a United Nations report, by the year 2050, there will be 9.1 billion human beings on earth. That's nearly 50 percent more than today.
It's not that there isn't enough physical space for that many people. There simply aren't enough natural resources on this planet to support everyone. Already, scientists say we're consuming 30 percent more each year than the natural world can regenerate. Thirty percent, and that's at current population and consumption levels.
Now consider China. As its economy has exploded by 1,000 percent over the past 30 years, so has its consumption of nearly everything. China now consumes more meat, grains, steel and cement than any other country. It extracts more coal from the ground than anywhere else. It builds roughly two coal firepower plants each week.
Scientists have long thought it would take decades for China to surpass the United States as the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxides. Those scientists were wrong. A new report just showed China is already, right now, the world's largest CO2 emitter.
But that kind of growth comes with a cost. Sixteen of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China. But the pollution is not just in the air.
More than half of all of the rivers here are severely polluted. According to Chinese media, 300 million people -- that's roughly the population of the United States -- do not have access to clean drinking water.
The central government does recognize it has a problem with pollution and is looking to better bounce economic growth with environmental protection. But that's easier said than done.
(on camera) We're told to see some of the worst pollution, it's actually outside the big cities, in some of the smaller villages, which is where we're traveling. In fact, there's a river called the Heilongjiang (ph). It's a very polluted river, and we're told water actually affects people's health there.
(voice-over) After a couple of hours in the car into the countryside of China, we arrive at the river.
(on camera) Well, this is it. And the first thing that struck me was just how awful this smells. This is the Heilongjiang (ph) River and just take a look at it. I mean, it's covered with this layer of black muck. It just looks dead to me.
The problem is a lot of people live around here. And in fairness you may find rivers like this in the United States, they actually use this water here to irrigate crops.
(voice-over) Outside the industrial city of Tialinjin (ph), brown, stinking water from local chemical factories was flowing into ditches near the river.
We learned quickly that pollution is a touchy subject in China. As we left the river, word of our presence started to get around. So it didn't take long for the police to find us.
COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper live from San Diego. More "Planet in Peril" in a moment. First here's the latest on the firestorm raging across Southern California.
New numbers released just moments ago: 7,000 firefighters battling walls of flames in seven counties. Thirteen major blazes have yet to be contained. Authorities now say only one person has died. Dozens have been injured, and more than 400,000 acres have been destroyed. Now throughout Southern California, nearly a million people have been ordered out of their homes. More than 12,000 are here at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.
California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and federal emergency management officials have been surveying the damage by air. President Bush will be in California on Thursday.
That's the latest. For now we're going to give you another update in about 15 minutes and more in-depth coverage on the top of the hour on 360.
"Planet in Peril" continues in just a moment.
GUPTA (voice-over): Many of China's polluted rivers are outside of the big cities, in the countryside. It's there where crops are irrigated by these rivers. And people are getting sick.
When we stopped to talk to farmers just beyond the banks of the Heilongjiang (ph) River, we got a quick introduction into how touchy the topic of pollution is around here.
We were almost immediately stopped by the police. They wanted to see our passports and to find out what we were doing. After ten minutes of tense questioning, they let us go.
(on camera) We're not too far away from where we just got stopped by the police and had to show our passports. We finally made our way into the field, trying to ask some people about their concerns regarding the dirty water and the irrigation of crops.
What we're hearing is pretty much the same thing: not much. What we're finding out: it's really tough to get answers.
(voice-over) We finally made our way into the fields and asked this man about the water here.
(on camera) The water here is so dirty. I mean, how do you irrigate all the crops?
But before he could answer, he got a phone call from a passenger in a car that had been following us. "There are some foreigners here asking about the water," he says. "How should I answer?"
It didn't take us long to find out. "We have been doing a lot of things to improve the environment here," he says. "So while the water might look scary, it's actually OK."
But in fact, the Heilongjiang (ph) has tested as one of the most polluted rivers in this region. And it's that kind of toxic water that's dangerous to people's health. The World Bank and China's own environmental agency, SEPA, estimates that polluted water causes roughly 60,000 premature deaths every year and is linked to rising cancer rates. The ministry of health reports that increased pollution has made cancer China's leading cause of death.
Those are the statistics. This is what they look like.
In a small village in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, Zhu Chun Yun doesn't have a husband anywhere. Her daughter, 12-year- old Shushon (ph), doesn't have a father. He died of colon cancer.
(on camera) Do you have any idea how he got it or why he got colon cancer?
(voice-over) "He got it because of the brown and red water," she says. "The brown and red water from the Hengshui River."
(on camera) So because of the water, because of the food that was irrigated by the water and because of the drinking of the water, you think your husband got cancer?
(voice-over) "The doctor in the hospital told us not to live here. He said, 'Don't eat the rice and don't drink the water'," she says.
(on camera) If the water is so dirty, so polluted, why do you drink it? Why do you use it to irrigate crops?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have no choice.
GUPTA: No other options?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No other options.
GUPTA (voice-over): While Zhu's husband was able to get medical treatment, many people living with cancer in rural China have little access to health care and virtually no screening for the disease.
(on camera) Do you have some pictures? Can you show me the pictures? Can you describe your husband? What kind of person was he?
(voice-over) "He liked driving, but after he got cancer, he couldn't do many things. He couldn't work. He didn't want to talk to me," she says.
(on camera) Was he a good father?
(voice-over) "He was a good father, for sure," she says. "He didn't want to go to the hospital, because he worried we didn't have enough money to bring up our daughter."
(on camera) Wow.
(voice-over) Hu Xiaoping was only 30 years old when he died. And Zhu's husband wasn't the first person here to succumb to cancer. Liangqiao, you see, is known as a cancer village. Village leaders say, out of 400 people, 28 have died here in the past 10 years. That's more than 50 times the average cancer rate in China.
(on camera) We're investigating, trying to figure out where all this pollution is coming from. People keep pointing us to the Dabaoshan mine. We actually just entered the ground of this particular mine. We're kind of surprised that we were even able to get into this particular area. Haven't had much luck in other places.
We're going to go to the mine. We're going to actually walk right up to the mine, knock on the front door and see what we find and ask people about the pollution and ask people why it's happening.
COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper in San Diego. "Planet in Peril" continues after this breaking news update on the California fires.
The latest numbers, more than 400,000 acres have been burned. That's an area about twice the size of New York City.
Some 50 people, including at least 18 firefighters, have been injured. There has been only one death. That's downgraded from what we thought to be two deaths before.
At least 1,000 homes have been destroyed. More than 10,000 homes are threatened by the flames at this hour.
Tired firefighters are hoping weather conditions will start to improve tomorrow. High-wind warnings have already been discontinued in the fire area. Nearly a million people have been evacuated. There are helicopters now going off to survey the local fires here.
About 12,000 are here at Qualcomm Stadium, where the San Diego Chargers usually play. There's supposed to be a game here Sunday, but the football team packed up, headed to Phoenix, Arizona, this evening to practice where the air isn't smoky.
I'll be back at the top of the hour with all the latest, a 360 special on the fire. Now back to "Planet in Peril".
GUPTA (voice-over): Why did 30-year-old Hu Xiaoping die? Why did 28 people out of 400 in the past 10 years die in this place now known as a cancer village? Why is the water from the mountain running red? Everyone points us up toward the Dabaoshan mine.
(on camera) We're going to go to the mine. We're going to actually walk right up to the mine, knock on the front door and see what we find. Ask people about the pollution and ask them why it's happening.
(voice-over) The roads on the way to the headquarters gave us a view of the sprawling operation. Dabaoshan is a state-run iron ore mine that goes on for miles. Mountaintops are ripped apart. The water color alternates only between dark red and brown.
After about 30 minutes, we arrive at the mine office. We locate the mine director's office.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.
GUPTA (on camera): We're with CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)
GUPTA: We're wondering if we can ask you a couple of questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)
GUPTA: Thank you.
(voice-over) The director of mine invited us into his office but at first refused to answer our questions. But we continued to ask about the pollution.
(on camera) We're very concerned about what we've seen here with the water and with the cancer deaths. And that's why we're here, sitting here talking to you. We want to get your point of view.
(voice-over) "It's a complicated issue," he says. "The government leaders do realize it's a problem, and there have been some environmental issues."
(on camera) Why is it still happening if they've known about it for so long?
(voice-over) "It's not something you can solve overnight," he also said. "Smaller, privately-owned mines share some of the blame."
When we asked him if he would eat the food irrigated by the water or even drink it, he said, "Of course not."
The state environmental agency in Beijing has oversight over issues like this, but they declined to comment.
That's not good enough for Jingjing Zhang.
(on camera) You're talking about suing the government of China.
JINGJING ZHANG, ENVIRONMENTAL LAWYER: Yes.
GUPTA: Can you even do that?
JINGJING: Yes, we can. We have an administration litigation law that give us the right to sue the government agency.
GUPTA (voice-over): Jingjing, environmental attorney, is suing the government on behalf of the villagers in Liangqiao. Jingjing grew up near a chemical factory where her parents worked and next to a heavily polluted river, like the Hengshui.
JINGJING: This is the reason I want to do this work as an environmental lawyer. I always have a dream to live in a place which there's a clean river I can swim in. It's my dream. And, you know, this dream seems very difficult to achieve in China now.
GUPTA: She tells me that the Dabaoshan mine has been polluting the Hengshui River for decades.
(on camera) She said to them, "Look, if you just build a water treatment plant, you can potentially save lives." What would they say to that?
JINGJING: They say they already take measures to clean up the water. This is what they told the villagers. They already meet all these environmental standards.
GUPTA (voice-over): But it seems they're not. Mining for iron ore exposes heavy metals like lead and cadmium. Past studies from Hunan (ph) Agricultural University concluded that the high levels of lead, cadmium and other heavy metals polluting the Hengshui River have made the water too toxic for human use.
And recent tests of the soil from scientists Jingjing hired revealed high levels of lead, much higher than Chinese environmental standards. High levels of lead have been linked to some forms of cancer.
While the people of Liangqiao are getting sick, the mine is profiting. The company's own Web site says they made $6 million in the first half of 2006 alone. The mine has given the village some compensation.
JINGJING: Guess how much they pay the whole village?
GUPTA (on camera): How much is it worth for a village to develop cancer?
JINGJING: They paid, the compensation is -- per year is 1,700 RMB for whole village.
GUPTA: How many dollars is that, about $200?
JINGJING: Two hundred.
GUPTA: Two hundred dollars for an entire village...
GUPTA: ... for a year?
GUPTA: For compensation.
JINGJING: Yes, for compensation. GUPTA (voice-over): That's just 50 cents per person.
Jingjing continues to build her case, trying to win compensation for medical testing, health care and damage to the village's rice crops. She hopes to go to trial next year.
As for Zhu, she never saw any of those $200 paid to the village. She tells me she doesn't have time to be sad. All she worries about is caring for her small plot of land and for her daughter, who has lost a father.
(on camera) Problems like this one here seem so far away from our lives back in the United States. But they're not. Chemical contaminants are showing up in people at alarming rates all across the United States. And, as Anderson found out, no one is sure exactly why. But they're pretty sure the situation is getting worse.
COOPER (voice-over): All of us are products of our environment: what we eat, what we drink, the air we breathe. All of it shows up inside us, and doctors don't like what they're finding in adults, and especially in kids.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's 18 months old. He's been on the planet for 18 months, and he's loaded with a chemical I have never even heard of.
COOPER: Discovering the chemicals inside you and me.
(on camera) I think we have about a gallon so far.
(voice-over) When we come back.
COOPER: I don't like going to the doctor, so this is no fun.
(on camera) Not a big fan of needles.
(voice-over) I'm here for what is called a body burden test. It's not the most pleasant of procedures. It will take 120 CC's of blood, almost a pint, for scientists to look at traces of 250 industrial chemicals in my body.
(on camera) Let me just ask you, is...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.
COOPER: ... does anyone ever pass out from giving so much blood?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't had anyone pass out. I've had people get nauseated a little bit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get you some orange juice just so you can...
COOPER (voice-over): Public health experts are only beginning to understand what harm, if any, low-level chemical exposure can cause. Dr. Leo Trasande worries most about children.
DR. LEO TRASANDE: We're currently in an epidemic of chronic disease among American children. Rates of asthma, childhood cancers, birth defects and developmental disabilities are all on the rise and increasingly are being attributed to chemicals that we are all exposed to on a day-to-day basis.
COOPER (on camera): You really -- you consider it an epidemic?
TRASANDE: I do consider it an epidemic.
COOPER (voice-over): Rowan and Mikala (ph) Holland are some of the first children to sound the alarm.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the beginning, I wasn't worried at all. I was fascinated.
COOPER: Three years ago when this video was taken, the entire Holland family decided to get body burden testing for a story in the "Oakland Tribune". Their son Rowan was just 18 months told. At the time he was the youngest child in America to ever be tested for chemical exposure. Mikala (ph) was just 5 years old.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought that would be really interesting. To see, you know, if Mom and Dad are high in something, would the kids be high in it too?
COOPER: Their chemical exposure levels were high; but then they got the kids' results, and they were shocked. Rowan and Mikala's (ph) levels of chemical exposure were two, three and four times that of their parents.
Pthalates, also called plasticizers (ph), found in plastic bottles, personal care products and medical devices. For PCBs -- they were used in electrical insulators and refrigerators and microwave ovens and banned in the late 1970s.
But one number stood out. Rowan's level of PBDEs, a class of flame retardants found in everything from foam cushions to rugs to mattresses to casings of electronics. They were nearly seven times the levels of his mom and dad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has two to three -- or at the time of testing -- had two to three times the level of flame retardant in his body that's been found to cause thyroid dysfunction in lab rats.
COOPER: PBDEs are neurotoxins. They throw off normal brain function in lab animals. So could they be doing the same to children or adults? The answer is we don't know. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The federal government had never even received any studies looking at the effects of this chemical on human health because the federal government does not require chemical manufacturers to submit this type of data before bringing the chemical to market.
COOPER (on camera): You heard right. The Environmental Protection Agency, which is responsible for chemical regulation, doesn't require manufacturers to test for the effects of new chemicals on human health before getting approved.
What's more, the approval process can take as little as 90 days. Compare that to the years it can take for pharmaceutical companies to get new drugs approved.
(voice-over): The EPA declined to do an interview with us, but told us in an e-mail, quote, "If during the new chemical review process, EPA determines that it may have concerns regarding risk or exposure, the EPA has the authority to require additional testing."
But of the 1,500 new chemicals submitted each year, their records show that only happens 10 percent of the time.
Back at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center, it's taken two months, but I'm finally about to learn the results of my body burden tests from Dr. Leo Trasande.
So how are the results?
TRASANDE: Well, as you recall, a couple months back we drew quite a lot of blood.
COOPER: I'm nervous here.
COOPER: You're not reassuring me.
TRASANDE: We tested you for 246 synthetic chemicals, and you tested positive for more than 100.
TRASANDE: Even a chemical way back to the 1970s, DDT.
TRASANDE: Which we detect in your body.
COOPER: So I have DDT in my body?
TRASANDE: You have DDT in your body. PCBs, another chemical that was banned in the 1970s...
COOPER: I got it.
TRASANDE: You've got it as well.
COOPER (voice-over): Doctors think I probably got the DDT from a trip to Africa. Some countries there still use it to kill mosquitoes.
As far as the PCBs, it has something to do with where I grew up, New York City.
(on camera): Growing up on the street, eating fish, those fish probably came from the Hudson River.
TRASANDE: Right. Back in the 1970s, there was a major dump of PCBs into the Hudson River. The PCBs were eaten up by fish.
COOPER (voice-over): Which were then, of course, eaten by me.
Next, my results for monobutal (ph) phthalates, the stuff found in cosmetics, like the makeup I put on before going in front of the cameras. I tested above the 95th percentile.
(on camera): So what does that mean?
TRASANDE: The most -- the alarming one is the potential for infertility.
COOPER (voice-over): We asked Jack Girard (ph), the president of the American Chemistry Council if phthalates could cause infertility.
JACK GIRARD (ph), AMERICAN CHEMISTRY COUNCIL: There's no risk to the human health. Just because we find chemicals in the body doesn't mean that it causes disease.
COOPER: But some scientists disagree, and they point to this. These slides may look like comets, but they're actually sperm. The sperm on the right was exposed to higher levels of phthalates. It has a longer comet-like tail, which indicates more general DNA damage.
TRASANDE: I suspect that the reason that you've got a very high level of phthalates is you probably put a lot of makeup on a lot of time.
COOPER (on camera): So this is a potential lawsuit against CNN right here. You can't say for certain what the effects are of these chemicals in somebody's system?
TRASANDE: What little we know is just the tip of the iceberg. And unfortunately I think that is enough to begin to act and proactively intercede and prevent chemical exposure.
COOPER (voice-over): Are the chemicals running through my bloodstream, through your bloodstream dangerous? The bottom line seems to be no one really knows. The question is, is that good enough?
(on camera): Is that good enough? That's a question each of us will have to answer for ourselves. It took us eight months to record what you've seen tonight, and I want to update you on some of the stories.
(voice-over): Toop (ph), the Asian baby elephant with the wounded foot has survived. He's eating a full elephant diet and is learning slowly to walk on three feet.
Scientists are still studying the lizard Jeff found in Madagascar to determine if it's a new species and expect to know in about a month.
Since we shot the body burden story, the state of California has banned phthalates in toys for children under 3 because of health concerns. Other states are considering similar measures.
(on camera): Tomorrow night, our journey continues. We'll take you to places no one has gone before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (on camera): No one's ever been here, really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We're the first ever to walk here.
COOPER (voice-over): We'll start on Greenland's massive and melting ice sheets. Go through deserts and dive under water, showing you how all these places are connected and how, in the end, it affects us all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I hope you join us tomorrow for the conclusion of "Planet in Peril."
Thanks for watching. Good night.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com