‘Our Great National Parks’ highlights our breathtaking natural world with narrator Obama 

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Barack Obama narrates the newest breathtaking nature documentary in the five-part series “Our Great National Parks,” which hit Netflix screens on April 13. 

Obama sets his goals for the series right off the bat: He hopes to remind people of the phenomenal natural wonders national parks house. He hopes to spark the fire needed to fight against climate change and save the parks — for the wildlife, for us and for future generations. 

“[National parks are] a place to escape the burdens of everyday life, and an inspiration for our children.” Obama continues, “They’re a haven for endangered species, and a hotbed for scientific research. Not only do they nurture the greatest array of life on Earth … they regulate our climate, clean our air, purify our water.”  

Obama sets the scene in the roots of his hometown “backyard,” the Hanauma Bay in Hawaii, where he first fell in love with the natural world. One of the great things about national parks, Obama says, is that they belong to all of us.  

“Join me in this celebration of our planet’s greatest national parks and wilderness —  a journey through the natural wonders of our shared birthright,” Obama welcomes. 

Although we need to be cognizant of future goals, Obama recognizes how far we have come already. The world has made large improvements in protecting the natural world since the first national park, Yellowstone, was recognized in 1972, with over 4,000 recognized national parks worldwide today.  

The series reminds us that hope often hides in places you least expect: Take one lazy sloth that houses a microkingdom within his fur. Amazingly, researching this peculiar creature will help scientists fight against cancer, malaria and antibiotic-resistant superbugs. 

“This sleepy sloth might just save us all,” Obama inspires. 

The first episode, “A World of Wonder,” takes us from Africa to Japan and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, revealing wildlife secrets and never-before-seen species along the way. 

In the National Park in Gabon on the west coast of Africa, we see one of the last places on the planet where the Congo and the Atlantic Ocean collide. Hippos here get the chance to experience something none other of their species can — a surfing break. Typically, they bathe in freshwater lagoons, but these hippos jump at the opportunity for a nighttime swim, grateful for the waves that wash away parasites and calm irritated scrapes. 

Next, the documentary shifts to the remote Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in Madagascar. The remote park hosts the native and endangered Decken’s sifaka lemurs. These picturesque creatures, who have a striking resemblance to Zoboomafoo, look like they came straight from a Build-A-Bear Workshop. They are decked out in beautiful black and white fur, and gaze with striking orange eyes. 

After just eight weeks of life, these extraordinary climbers start to explore the world, jumping from tree to tree, adorably clumsy at first. Soon, though, they will reach a jaw-dropping 30 feet in just one leap. With a reliance on leaves for nutrition, combined with a lack of resources left in the rainforest, these lemurs must seek out small sanctuaries of green wherever they can find them, even when immense danger stands in the way. 

The mother lemur makes the first move, her baby on her back, and sets off on this necessary, treacherous mission — talk about girl power. With dad following close behind, the family comes across a landscape of deathly sharp spires, with nothing but a dark abyss below. The tense music intensifies the journey as a flying predator intimidatingly circles the family. At last, the lemurs reveal their knowledge of a secret route — one their baby will do all on its own one day. But for now, they happily munch in the gloriously green sanctuary. 

Without an established reputation in the nature documentary world like the iconic David Attenborough, Obama did a great job of setting the tone and guiding the audience through the parks and their natural wonders. Obama’s calm voice accompanied the (mostly) tranquil music, complementing the spectacular animals and landscapes. While showing the audience the incredible biodiversity that exists in national parks, the series simultaneously reminds us why we need to fight for it and protect it. 

Remote, protected national parks across the world serve as a sanctuary for exotic animals and allow biodiversity to expand in all its beauty. The natural world will continue to surprise and amaze us — as long as we allow it the space to thrive. 

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