Nature (Season 32) – Snow Monkeys

Air date: 04/23/2014

THIRTEEN’s Nature Presents the Complex Society of Snow Monkeys, airing Wednesday, April 23, 2014 on PBS


Narrated by Liam Neeson


In a place called Hell Valley, high in the Japanese Alps, a troop of snow monkeys clings together for warmth and support in the frigid mornings of early winter.  As descendants of an ancient tribe of macaques who journeyed farther north than any other primate except ourselves, they are well-adapted to the extremes of the seasons, but they are not impervious to the cold.  They get important help from the hot springs in the valley, fed by warm volcanic waters, but their survival is a communal effort in a complex society of rank and privilege where each knows their place.

Liam Neeson narrates this intimate look at the family life of macaques when Snow Monkeys airs Wednesday, April 23 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). After the broadcast, the episode will be available for online streaming at

Snow Monkeys focuses on the social ins and outs of individuals within a 160-member troop led by Kuro-san, a young male still new to the job and something of a solitary grouch. We meet mothers and babies, cousins and aunts, eccentrics and orphans, first lieutenants, juveniles learning their place in the group, and outsiders looking for mates.  They all have a role to play within the troop.  But the story centers on one very young and low-ranking snow monkey called Hiro who reaches out to the reticent and lonely leader, forming a bond with him that manages over time to warm his less than sunny disposition.  It is a rare gesture that alters both their lives.  Kuro-san finds new confidence as a leader; Hiro is allowed a position and perspective well above his birthright.

The cinematography in this Nature documentary follows the troop through all four seasons.  The film begins in early winter and follows the troop through the difficulties and dangers the cold and snow present.  Brutal winter storms can last for days, and the snow monkeys have learned that survival depends on keeping friends and family close.  Spring produces fresh growth in the forest and new babies to care for and keep safe as their curiosity leads them in all directions.  Summer brings rain and flowers in full bloom, while cooler water in the hot springs turns them into perfect Summer swimming holes for energetic youngsters.  With the changing colors of Fall, the mating seasons arrives.  Behavior is by turns edgy and aggressive or affectionate.  The entire troop forages, readying itself for the coming winter.  They will face it knowing that they can rely on each other, whatever comes their way.

Nature is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET.  For Nature, Fred Kaufman is executive producer. Snow Monkeys is a production of Pontecorvo Productions and THIRTEEN Productions LLC in association with National Geographic Channel, Sky Vision and WNET.

Nature pioneered a television genre that is now widely emulated in the broadcast industry.  Throughout its history, Nature has brought the natural world to millions of viewers.  The series has been consistently among the most-watched primetime series on public television.

Nature has won over 700 honors from the television industry, the international wildlife film communities and environmental organizations, including 11 Emmys and three Peabodys.  The series received two of wildlife film industry’s highest honors: the Christopher Parsons Outstanding Achievement Award given by the Wildscreen Festival and the Grand Teton Award given by the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Recently, the International Wildlife Film Festival honored Nature executive producer Fred Kaufman with its Lifetime Achievement Award for Media. is the award-winning web companion to Nature, featuring streaming episodes, filmmaker interviews, teacher’s guides and more.

Support for this Nature program was made possible in part by the Arnhold Family in memory of Clarisse Arnhold, the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, the Arlene and Milton D. Berkman Philanthropic Fund, the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by the nation’s public television stations.


About WNET
As New York’s flagship public media provider and the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJTV News with Mike Schneider and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. WNET is also a leader in connecting with viewers on emerging platforms, including the THIRTEEN Explore iPad App where users can stream PBS content for free.



About “Think Wednesday”

Snow Monkeys is part of PBS’ new “Think Wednesday” programming lineup of television’s best science, nature and technology programming that includes the acclaimed series NATURE and NOVA, the highest-rated nature and science series on television, coupled with new special programming at 10 p.m.  Wednesday nights on PBS offer new perspectives on life in the universe and keep viewers both curious and wanting more.

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Snow monkeys huddle over thermal vents to keep warm during the coldest of winter days. Most primates are found in the Earth’s tropical regions, but somehow this hearty population of monkeys has managed to eke out a living in the frigid mountains of Northern Japan. They are the northern most living primate – aside from humans. Jigokudani (Hell’s Valley), Japan. Photo Credit: Joseph Pontecorvo/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Families huddle tightly together in the trees. In the cold morning air, the troop will stay huddled together until they hear the whistle call from the park below. Jigokudani (Hell’s Valley), Japan. Photo Credit: Joseph Pontecorvo/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Bubbles relaxes with her eyes closed as another monkey gently grooms her in the hot spring. The snow monkeys of Jigokudani are world famous for spending the winter soaking up the warm waters of their own private hot spring. Jigokudani, Japan. Photo Credit: Joseph Pontecorvo/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

A young monkey’s acrobatic skills are put to the test as he jumps across a fast flowing river. Jigokudani, Japan. Photo Credit: Joseph Pontecorvo/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

During the winter months there is very little to eat. Monkeys spend much of their time eating the inner bark of trees. Jigokudani, Japan. Photo Credit: Joseph Pontecorvo/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Hiro stands on his hind legs to see over a snow drift. For a snow monkey, only a foot tall snow drifts are serious obstacles. Keeping an eye on your family is critical. Jigokudani, Japan. Photo Credit: Joseph Pontecorvo/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

A juvenile holds her 8 month old sister closely. The strongest bonds are between family members. Sisters are always eager to care for their younger siblings. Jigokudani, Japan. Photo Credit: Joseph Pontecorvo/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC

Hiro’s mom and her new baby sister. Jigokudani, Japan. Photo Credit: Nimmida Pontecorvo/©THIRTEEN Productions LLC