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Planet in Peril

Aired April 24, 2010 - 20:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Everyone, I'm Don Lemon. It is the top of the hour.

Again, I want to tell you we're following this deadly storm system in the Southern States right now. Emergency officials say seven people are dead in Mississippi alone, two of them children, and you need to be on alert this hour if you're in Alabama, Kentucky or Tennessee. Already, there are dozens of unconfirmed reports of tornadoes from Northern Missouri through Mississippi.

And, perhaps, the most destructive one hit in Yazoo City, Mississippi, before the storm cell traveled across the state and then into Alabama. A tornado that blasted through there was almost a mile wide.

Yazoo City fire chief says 20 to 30 homes are destroyed and he believes some people were inside of those homes. Search and rescue efforts are now under way at this hour. Overall, 12 counties are reporting injuries, and that's according to Mississippi's Emergency Management Agency.

Let's get to our expert here, Jacqui Jeras -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: What an amazing day it's been, Don. This is a high-risk tornado day as we call it, and you'll only get a handful of days like this a year and exactly what happened in Mississippi, as why we've been telling you about this for days. The threat of tornadoes ongoing this evening and even into tomorrow, so we still have quite a ways to go with this severe weather threat in this event.

We have watches in effect extending from Missouri and Illinois, stretching all the way down into the panhandle of Florida. I kind of tried to spell this out for you more specifically to let you know when these warning times expire, from 8:00 all the way to 3:00 in the morning for this most recent watch from Ohio, stretching down into eastern parts of Tennessee.

Now, we do have some tornado warnings in effect as we speak, Sangamon and Christianson counties in Illinois. This is just east of the Springfield area. This storm has a history of producing some wind damage. The a Doppler radar indicated tornado right now, but one could touch down at any given time.

The other cell that we've been watching is in northern parts of Alabama. This is for Coleman County, Doppler radar indicating tornado here stretching up to the north and the east. So these storms are moving very quickly, around 55 miles per hour. So when those warnings go off, you need to seek -- seek shelter immediately because they are coming very, very quickly.

There's also a line, a very nasty weather just to the west of Nashville. Not much in terms of warnings on this, but you're going to see a lot of lightning, heavy downpours, and gusty winds that can cause some damage, so be aware. There you can see those live lightning strikes right through the Nashville area as we speak.

Now, we were talking about the E.F. scales and what kind of damage these tornadoes can cause. We don't have official word yet from the National Weather Service out of Jackson, Mississippi of how strong this tornado was, but based on some of the pictures I've been seeing, Don, I would say at least an E.F. 3 tornado, which would be considered a severe tornado, and winds around 165 miles per hour.

I've also seen a couple of pictures where some of these homes have been wiped clean off of the slates. And, if that is case -- and these were well-constructed homes, we could easily maybe see this be upgraded to an E.F. 4 or more. So we'll watch that. And, of course, as we get word from them tomorrow, we'll bring that along to you.

So this threat continues overnight with that high risk, Don, especially Mississippi, Alabama, on up into western Kentucky, and tomorrow this moves towards the eastern seaboard though tomorrow, while we're expecting severe weather, we don't anticipate as many strong violent tornadoes.

LEMON: Yes, don't anticipate. We never know (AUDIO GAP) believable.

Jacqui Jeras, thank you. Jacqui's watching it for us. We're going to continue to watch this for you right here on CNN so make sure you stay tuned. If it warrants it, we're going to cut into our next program.

I am Don Lemon. I'll see you back here at 10:00 P.M. Eastern. Make sure you stay tuned to this channel for updates on that tornado, that storm system.

So stay tuned right now for "PLANET IN PERIL."

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We begin our journey here in Central Africa, where rising food prices and a rapidly growing population are pushing people deeper and deeper into previously untouched forests.

They're just trying to make a living, of course, clearing land, hunting for food. The problem is, not only are they threatening fragile habitats and wiping out animal populations at an alarming rate, they're also exposing themselves to potentially deadly viruses. Viruses which once unleashed in humans can quickly spread around the world.

These forests may seem remote, but what's happening here now affects us all. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): January, 2008. Rising food prices touch off riots around the world. In Haiti, 10 people died. In Cameroon, 20 are killed.

Unable to afford basic supplies, people increasingly turn to the forests for food.

June, 2008, deep in a remote region of Cameroon, two hunters stalk their prey. Their names are Patrice and Patie (ph). They're searching for bush meat, forest animals they can kill to feed their families.

COOPER (on camera): Patrice and Patie (ph) set out most days to go out hunting in the forests around their homes. They have a series of traps, of snares that they've set up, you know, catch wild pigs, snakes, monkeys, rodents -- anything they can, really.

COOPER (voice-over): Patrice and Patie (ph) have been out for hours but found nothing. The animals are simply gone.

Not too far away, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with another hunter. But he, too, is finding his traps empty.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It really gives you an idea of just how hard it is to actually get even a little bit of food.

Diddy (ph), who's trying to provide enough food for nine people tonight, doesn't really care what he gets at this point as long as he gets something.

I can tell you, we still got a long ways to go. It is hot. It is humid. It is a lot of work.

COOPER (voice-over): Hunters have to keep going deeper into the forest, but that is where hidden danger lurks. Forest animals are a reservoir of viruses, microscopic pathogens living in the animals' blood. Some are harmless, but some are potentially deadly when passed to humans.

DR. NATHAN WOLFE, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, GLOBAL VIRAL FORECASTING INITIATIVE: Individuals have been infected with these viruses forever. What's changed, though, is in the past you had smaller human populations. Viruses would infect them and possibly go extinct. Viruses actually need population density as fuel.

COOPER: Dr. Nathan Wolfe is a world renowned epidemiologist, a virus hunter. He works in these forests tracking what are called zoonotic viruses, ones that can jump from animals to humans. It's the zoonotic viruses that scientists think could trigger the next pandemic.

WOLFE: When I look around in this forest, part of -- part of what I'm thinking is, what's the diversity of viruses out there? COOPER: It may sound far-fetched, but it's already happened. HIV is the deadliest example.

COOPER (on camera): It was in a forest not too far from here in Southern Cameroon that scientists now believe HIV was born. They say it started with a chimpanzee, infected by several strains of viruses from eating smaller monkeys. An infected chimp's blood then must have then come in contact with the blood of a human being. Most likely, say scientists, a hunter or someone cutting up the chimp for cooking.

That simple, seemingly insignificant transmission set off a global epidemic, a pandemic that so far has killed tens of millions of people.

COOPER (voice-over): Scientists now believe HIV crossed into humans in the early 1900s. But it wasn't until air travel increased that it spread and became a global epidemic in the 1980s.

COOPER (on camera): Is it inevitable that there will be another pandemic of some virus like HIV?

WOLFE: Yes. The human population is -- is going to have pandemics. That's just the nature of how we operate now. We are so profoundly interconnected that it will be the case that things will enter into the human population and they'll spread globally.

COOPER (voice-over): HIV may be the most well-known virus to cross over from an animal to a human, but there are many others, and many we don't even know about.

That's why Wolfe has created what he calls a Global Viral Forecasting Initiative, a kind of early warning system in virus hot spots around the world to track the transmission of viruses. He's worked in Cameroon for nearly a decade, monitoring hunters and those who butcher bush meat, both activities where human and animal blood are constantly in contact.

Dr. Wolfe likens his work to the way an intelligence service tracks threats made by potential terrorists. If he can track what viruses are crossing into humans, what he calls the viral chatter, he hopes to stop the next virus before it spreads.

WOLFE: Each one of those species of animals has their own sort of repertoire of different organisms -- viruses, parasites, bacteria. And anytime that humans are in contact with those animals, there's going to be the possibility for the jump overs, and that's where we're kind of considering this sort of chatter. This pinging, if you will, of viruses from these animals into the human population, and most of the times, the ping just bounces back. But, every once in a while, it sticks.

COOPER: It's sticking more often. The National Academy of Sciences says 75 percent of the world's emerging diseases jump over from animals.

The SARS virus crossed from civet cats in Asia to infect thousands and kill more than 700 people in more than 20 countries. Avian flu jumped over from birds around 2003 and killed more than 200 people.

The origins of many other zoonotic viruses are still unknown. Ebola has killed hundreds over the past decade, but its exact origins remain a mystery. If scientists don't know where a disease starts, it usually means it can't be stopped.

COOPER: It's been hours in the forest for both our teams, chasing prey that seems to vanish.

We stop for a drink of water. Then there's a rustle in the brush. A group of hunters approach --



COOPER: -- their packs loaded with wild game.

COOPER (on camera): There's at least three viruses that you know about which are in this particular monkey.

WOLFE: This species, yes. And there's many, many more pathogens that are present in these animals.




COOPER (voice-over): In the forests of Cameroon, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and I have split up. We're both following men hunting for animals or bush meat.



COOPER (on camera): Patrice and Patie (ph), the two hunters we've been with for the last couple of hours, haven't been able to find any game today. They've been unlucky.

But we did come across this group of hunters who have several packs full of animals that they've caught.


WOLFE: This monkey potentially is infected with retroviruses.

COOPER (voice-over): But virus hunter Dr. Nathan Wolfe is concerned about what unknown viruses that these animals might carry, viruses that could make their way into the human population, touching off a pandemic.

COOPER (on camera): There's at least three viruses that you know about which are in this particular monkey?

WOLFE: This species, yes. Yes. I mean, there's many -- many, many more pathogens that are present in these animals.

These individuals are at specific risk, particularly, you know, depending on the level of contact. If there's blood contact, they're at risk for transmission and possibly infection with novel viruses.

COOPER (voice-over): As the hunters display their kills, something surprising happens. They show us filter paper they've used to collect the animals' blood.

The blood will be tested for zoonotic viruses, part of a program Dr. Wolfe has spent years setting up.

COOPER (on camera): Does it surprise you that -- I mean, we run into two groups of hunters out here and they're all carrying the filter paper that you have been teaching them about?

WOLFE: Yes. No, I mean, from our perspective, that's -- it's a good indication of the coverage we have.

So this is from this animal right here, greater spot-nosed guenon.

These individuals, every person who has one of those filter papers, has had, at least at a minimum, been through our basic health education about the risks associated with these activities, which, presumably, from our perspective, gives them the ability to decrease their own risk and then obviously the risk to their families, village, the country and -- and the world.

COOPER (voice-over): Once bush meat is taken out of the forest, you can find it for sale everywhere.

On the side of the road, there's pangolin for sale, snakes, monkeys, and markets selling bush meats are packed with people.

GUPTA (on camera): Would you check the blood of these -- these monkeys at all?

WOLFE: Absolutely, we would --

COOPER: Dr. Wolfe estimates 4.5 million tons of bush meat are taken from Central Africa's forests every year.

A task force of leading conservation groups says the bush meat trade is the single biggest threat to Africa's animal species, and that's making it more of a threat to humans.

WOLFE: Contact with some animal in this remote village that previously might have led to the jump of a virus into that community that would have maybe infected a few people, maybe infected one person, probably would have died out.

Now, all of a sudden, that remote village is immediately connected to the major city and through air transportation and ships, through the rest of the world. So it's something that's in the middle of nowhere -- here, for example, can potentially, you know, be in New York in the course of 48 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Health officials aren't sure how many animals or humans --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- jumped to more than 30 humans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There may be other individuals with ill animals.

COOPER: In 2003, Americans were shocked when a rare zoonotic disease called monkeypox infected dozens of people in the Midwest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Officials say the disease has spread to Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.


COOPER: Turns out it was caused by African rodents imported into America as pets. That outbreak was quickly contained.

But, in Central Africa, monkeypox continues to kill.

Dr. Wolfe takes Sanjay and me on a long journey from Cameroon to the Democratic Republic of Congo where 20 people have just died from a monkeypox outbreak. We fly to a remote town called Loja, where, in a walled compound we find Coy (ph), alone in a small hut.

GUPTA (on camera): Now, we're standing out here and she's inside there. Why -- why is that?

NABEEL KISALOO (ph), SCIENTIST WORKING WITH DR. WOLFE: So the first thing you need to do is to isolate the patient.

COOPER: Nabeel Kisaloo (ph) is a local scientist working with Dr. Wolfe's team.

GUPTA: Are we at risk? I mean, how contagious is this?

KISALOO (ph): Just looking at the patient, you have no risk. But when you are in contact -- direct contact with the patient, at that time you -- you are in danger.

COOPER: Coy (ph) is the latest victim.

All of these people are slowly recovering and are still quarantined in this makeshift clinic. Painful sores cover their bodies and they say they feel tired all the time.

GUPTA: If she hadn't made it to you, to this place, what would happen to her?

KISALOO (ph): Some patients recover, but other die. COOPER: Coy (ph) probably got monkeypox through contact with bush meat, which she says she handled over the past few weeks, or she came in contact with an infected person. Its exact origins are still unknown.

It's unlikely monkeypox could become a pandemic because it loses strength as it passes from person to person, unlike HIV.

Coy (ph) will have to stay quarantined for weeks. There's little the medical team can do for her aside from hoping the monkeypox runs its course and she survives.

For Dr. Wolfe, Coy's (ph) case is both a warning and a sign of things to come.

WOLFE: We're just tapping the surface. We've got the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our knowledge of the different viruses that are out there. And, by documenting them, potentially to get in a space where we can prevent pandemics instead of waiting for AIDS to happen and spread globally, to actually catch it earlier, which could potentially save millions of lives.


COOPER: Great white sharks are the most feared animals on the planet, but there's a lot we still that don't know about them. In order to understand them better, some people believe you need to study them up close, actually get in the water with them, but it's a controversial idea.

Critics say that actually encourages sharks to attack humans and makes them more dangerous. We decided to get in the water for ourselves and find out.


COOPER (voice-over): When great white sharks start to circle your boat, the feeling is unsettling. Fifteen feet long, thousands of pounds, these are the animals of so many nightmares.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a famous shark, Ely (ph).

COOPER: We've come to dive with these great whites to get an up- close look at them, and the battle that's being waged around them.

MIKE RUTZEN, THE SHARKMAN: Please do not go down unless we tell you to.

COOPER: Mike Rutzen takes tourists cage diving with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa.

RUTZEN: And then you can lean back and just hold on and be comfortable.

COOPER: It's become a big business, but it's also, he says, a conservation effort. He thinks if people can see these endangered animals under water, they'll learn to appreciate them and want to help protect them.

Cage diving, however, is highly controversial. We'll tell you why in a second, but right now, the water is filled with blood and fish parts called chum and the great whites have arrived.

COOPER (on camera): Is there any recommendations for what to do?

RUTZEN: Well, basically, don't scare the sharks. You're going to the water --

COOPER: I'm not worried about scaring the sharks. It's usually the other way around, I think.

COOPER (voice-over): After we get used to being in the water with the sharks inside a cage, we have the chance to do something that few others ever have -- we'll go swimming with great white sharks without a cage.

COOPER (on camera): I'm going down (ph).




COOPER: Climbing into a shark cage is scary. The sea is chummed with blood and fish parts and underwater visibility is low.

At first, all you see is a vague shape moving fast. Then, all of a sudden, you find yourself face-to-face with a great white shark, its mouth open, its eyes rolling back into its head.

COOPER (on camera): It's one thing to see a great white shark from above, but to actually be down in the water and be, you know, six, seven feet away from one, it's -- it's an extraordinary experience.

COOPER (voice-over): This experience has become a major draw for tourists. Each one of these people paid $150 to visit this reef off the coast of South Africa known as Shark Alley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the great white shark.

COOPER: It's one of the best places in the world to see great whites and shark tourists bring in more than $30 million every year to South Africa. But is this really good for sharks?


COOPER: The battle lines are drawn. At issue is how the sharks are brought to the boat, chumming, mashed up fish parts and blood are thrown into the water and the scent attracts the great whites.

Once the sharks arrive, a tuna head attached to a rope is used as bait to lure the sharks to the surface and get them to lunge at the cage.

RUTZEN: The bite's just a visual reference to the smell. So, all we're doing is we don't really take the bait, we're just pulling it -- trying to pull the bait a little bit closer that the animal can truly (ph) come a little bit closer to the cage that the people can see a little bit better.

COOPER (on camera): But it does sometimes get the bait?

RUTZEN: It does sometimes get the bait. Yes. That's unfortunate.

COOPER (voice-over): Critics say it's more than unfortunate, they say it's dangerous. When the sharks get the bait, it teaches them to associate food with humans in the water, and that, some locals believe, is encouraging great whites to try to eat swimmers and surfers.

Craig Bovim thinks cage diving could be why a great white almost killed him.

Bovim was diving for lobster on this beach near Cape Town in 2005 when he was attacked.

CRAIG BOVIM, MARINE ENGINEER WHO SURVIVED A SHARK ATTACK: And it just clamped on on both of my arms.

When I came out of that impact, I was still inside his mouth and he was slowly swimming with me.

COOPER: The shark was dragging him out to sea. After he overcame the shock of what was happening to him, he began to fight back.

BOVIM: So I started putting my knees into his belly and I saw that that was having some effect on him, and I head-butted him with my mask on his nose and carried on this tussle for quite a while. Eventually (ph) --

COOPER (on camera): Essentially, you're wrestling with a shark under water?

BOVIM: Yes. And I realized I wasn't actually getting out, so I just pulled on my right hand. I thought I was going to leave my hand inside, and I pulled and pulled, and eventually my arm came free.

COOPER: So this bite here, here --

BOVIM: That's it. Yes.

COOPER (voice-over): Both of Bovim's hands were mangled and his right one is permanently damaged.

Today, he still surfs and dives in the same water where he was attacked but he's become one of cage diving and chumming's most vocal critics. BOVIM: You cannot find a single example of people feeding and attracting and baiting animals that has been successful. It's a no- no.

COOPER (on camera): With no other animal doing -- do people bait or chum. I mean, to go see the lion, you don't throw out food.

BOVIM: They used to. Nobody would even think about doing that anymore.

COOPER (voice-over): Shark tour operators can't do it anymore in Florida and Hawaii. After a series of vicious shark attacks, chumming was banned in both states.

But shark tour operators in South Africa point out that even though shark tourism has risen dramatically in the past decade, shark attacks have not. On average, there are around five attacks on humans every year in South Africa.

But Craig Bovim and others insist the behavior of sharks is changing. Normally, if a shark bites a human, they release them. But the shark that attacked Bovim did not. And in the last four years, there have been at least two deadly attacks in which sharks ate their victims whole. So who's right? Unfortunately, the science to support either position isn't easy to come by.

For all our fear and fascination with great whites, they remain a mystery. There's so much we simply don't know about their behavior. They've never been seen mating or giving birth, for example. And though they're classified as an endangered species, we don't even know how many of them there are. Alison Cox (ph) is a marine biologist studying the effects of cage diving on the feeding habits of great whites. Cox is tagging great whites with darts attached to transmitters. She can then track the sharks' movements around these waters for months.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we go, here we go. Keep it there, keep it there. Tagged.

COOPER: She's tagged over 70 sharks so far. The data she's collected led to the only peer-reviewed study on the effects of cage diving on shark behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The study that we did showed a surprising result in that the sharks, most of them, stopped responding over time to the boats.

COOPER: So you don't see any connection between increased shark attacks in this area and shark tourism?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, not at all. All the evidence that we have at the moment finds no links between chumming and shark attacks. We are definitely not on the shark's menu.

COOPER: Mike Ruddson's (ph) so sure we're not on the shark's menu, he stakes his life on it. He's one of the few people in the world willing to swim with great white sharks without a cage. He's been doing it now for 10 years. He believes to understand the true nature of great whites, you have to do it without a cage. You have to meet the animal on its own terms. So we decided to join Ruddson under water so we, too, can come face to face with this most feared predator of the sea without a cage. It gets your heart beating.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Don Lemon here at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

Breaking news, the death toll in Mississippi now stands at nine. It is rising and it could rise after a deadly storm system tore right through the southeast. Two of the victims, we're told, are children. And you need to be on alert this hour if you're in Alabama, Kentucky or Tennessee, or anywhere in the path of this storm system.

Already there are 43 unconfirmed reports of tornadoes from northern Missouri, right through Mississippi. Perhaps the most destructive one hit Yazoo City. That's in Mississippi, before the storm cell traveled across the state and into Alabama. The tornado that blasted through there was almost a whole mile wide. The Yazoo City fire chief says 20 to 30 homes are destroyed. And he believes some people were inside of them when that tornado came through. Search-and-rescue efforts are under way at this hour.

Overall, 12 counties are reporting injuries according to the Mississippi emergency management agency. Let's go over now to our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras who's been tracking this all for you, throughout the evening. Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Don, the threat remains widespread at this hour from parts of Missouri, stretching wall way down into the panhandle of Florida. Our most recent watch issued here to cover parts of Alabama again but it also includes northwest Georgia, including the Atlanta metro area until 2:00 in the morning. So this is a good indication that these storms are going to be holding together and continuing through the overnight hours. So make sure you have your NOAA weather radio on and working before you go to bed.

We've been tracking a possible tornado just being reported by local law enforcement about six miles east of Coleman, Alabama. This continues to move quickly up to the north and the east and to put it into perspective for you, here's Huntsville up here and Birmingham, just on down to the south, so kind of sandwiched about halfway in between the two of those.

We also have a very intense line west and north of Nashville. Just new tornado warning issued here. Doppler radar indicated near the state line, moving over towards Kentucky and we have seen this continuing throughout much of central Kentucky at this hour. Now, we have a high risk of these tornadoes continuing, these large, violent tornadoes that stay on the ground for a very long period of time and so it's this big purple area, mostly where we have the watches now where we think that greatest threat will continue. This will move eastward through the overnight and through the day tomorrow, we'll have that risk of severe weather, say, from parts of Pennsylvania in the mid-Atlantic states down through the Carolinas and even into parts of Florida. However, tomorrow, the threat not quite as strong in terms of getting rotating storms as what we've been seeing tonight.

Don, this has been a really rare event of what's been taking place. This happens only a couple of times a year. It's been an unusually quiet severe weather season so far. I mean, this is late April and this is really the first big outbreak that we've seen and this could be one of the strongest, easily that we'll see throughout the year. We'll continue to track these storms and let you know, Nashville, we're a little concerned about it at this hour. Nothing severe to your west but heavy downpours and you could see some pretty strong winds associated with them as well.

LEMON: All right, Jacqui Jeras watching it all from the CNN severe weather center. Jacqui, thank you very much. When last we spoke we saw you live on the air. It was seven, now we're being told nine people dead and just moments ago I spoke with CNN's Ed Lavandera who just arrived in Yazoo City, Mississippi.


LEMON: Ed what have you noticed since you've gotten there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, we just arrived at Yazoo City and our first glimpse of what we saw as you see just along the highway 49 the main road that brings you into the city, you see about a half-mile wide swath off of that highway where this storm's essentially ripped apart many of the businesses, restaurants, they were right there on that stretch of highway and then back in -- into -- off of the road you see where the storm cut through and essentially just clipped hundreds of trees in half. We just arrived and we're told that the damage really kind of begins where we're at and stretches back a mile and a half off of this highway. So we're in the process of trying to get a sense and get back in there as best we can so we can do our best to assess the damage.

LEMON: And, Ed, I imagine people are devastated. Have you had a chance to speak to any residents, anyone who witnessed this or is affected by it?

LAVANDERA: Yeah, actually one of the first people that I met here when we got out of the car was a couple by the name of Rob and Ashley Saxon (ph) and they just told me this horrifying story of how essentially they were caught in the middle of this tornado as they were driving to their father's restaurant. They were in their car trying to race over to the restaurant so that they could hide in the freezer of the restaurant. But they couldn't make it in time. The car windows exploded. The car was picked off the ground, they say, and tossed several feet. And they told me in their words they thought they were about to die.

LEMON: Ed Lavandera, stay safe. Ed, thank you.


LEMON: And this is a story we're going to be following throughout the evening here. I'll see you back here live in just a few minutes with updates on this breaking news story. Meantime, Don Lemon, back to "PLANET IN PERIL" right after this.


COOPER: Preparing to swim with great white sharks without a cage produces two reactions. The first is, well, fear. It's hard to believe you're about to actually do this. The second reaction is a surge of adrenaline. It definitely gets your heart beating. Mike Ruddson knows that better than anyone. He's dived with great whites without a cage hundreds of times. He once even caught a ride on a great white's dorsal fin. He insists these animals might be top predators but they're not the man-eating machines so often portrayed in movies. We decided to take him up on his offer to dive with sharks without a cage to see the great whites in their natural state. What do I need to know before going down?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever you do, don't make fast movements. What we are is the same as a jackal at a lion feed. As long as the jackal behaves it doesn't get killed.

COOPER: We're like a jackal in a lion feed. The great whites are the lions and we're the jackals.


COOPER: They'll let us be there as long as we don't interfere with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't try to grab a bite and run away.

COOPER: The water is filled with chum, fish parts and blood. A number of sharks are already circling the boat. So it's time to go. To get to the bottom, I climb into a cage which is lowered about 20 feet to the ocean floor. Mike's already there scouting for any sharks. Then he signals for me to swim out. Almost immediately, my weight belt falls off. Struggling with that is the last thing you want to be doing around great whites. The current is really strong and Mike has me hold on to a rock to stay in place. Visibility is low. But then, suddenly the sharks come into view. It's clear they see us, but they're keeping their distance, gliding by slowly, gracefully. It's remarkable to see them like this, to be so exposed to an animal that's so feared.

Mike warned me they don't like the sound of air bubbles and told me to hold my breath when they got near. Truth is, my heart's pounding so fast, holding my breath is almost impossible. At one point, there were four different sharks swimming around us. It's important to stay alert. But after a while, I'm also able to appreciate the beauty, the power of these animals. Widely hunted, universally despised, capable of such destruction and, yet, when you see them like this, not lunging after bait, but simply gliding through the water, you see them in a different way. You understand there is more to them than we know. We stay down for more than 30 minutes until our oxygen nearly runs out.

Seeing it so close is -- never seen anything like it. It's amazing.


COOPER: That was great, thank you. It's pretty amazing. You can get a totally different sense of them seeing them like that versus seeing them from a cage where they're attacking a piece of bait.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're just trying to be sharks.

COOPER: They're just trying to be sharks. But the truth is, we really don't know enough about what that means. As long as our knowledge of sharks and the role they play in our oceans is dwarfed by our fear and our hatred of them, the fight over their future will go on.

We've been hiking already for nearly two hours. We're not sure how much farther up the gorillas are.


COOPER: Deep in Rwanda's volcanoes national park, we're hiking into the mountains to see an animal threatened by conflict on the brink of extinction. We've been hiking already for nearly two hours. We're not sure how much further up the gorillas are. We're heading to a group of mountain gorillas that have not been visited before by tourists. They're not habituated in the same way. They've only been studied by scientists. Before we enter the park, Veronica, the wildlife biologist was telling us that there's a lot of aggression in this group of gorillas that we're going to visit. So that should be interesting.

Gorillas are always on the move searching for food and a place to rest. Trackers have gone up ahead of us to locate the family and radio us the coordinates. But even with the extra help, finding them isn't easy. Nearly three hours into the hike, there are signs we're finally getting close.

We finally find them in a large clearing and come face to face with one of the family's black backs (ph), a young male. Our trackers grunt, signaling we're not a threat, and he lets us go by. It's an amazing sight, 43 gorillas in this single spot in the forest, about 20 percent of Rwanda's entire gorilla population. This family is called a Pablo group, named after the male silverback who used to be in charge. Pablo is still around, but another silverback, Kansbey (ph), is now the boss. That's the silverback. That's the adult male? An adult male can weigh about 400 pounds and eats up to 60 pounds of vegetation a day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She transferred for one of the (INAUDIBLE) groups.

COOPER: A biologist and director of data and research for the Diane Fossey Foundation, Veronica Vaselio (ph) studies Rwanda's three research groups. What's the value of having a group that's not a tourist group that's just a research group?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Continuing the research in gorillas is very important. It's always give a lot of information in terms of population dynamics.

COOPER: Population dynamics are important especially since there's only about 720 mountain gorillas left in the wild. And they're smack-dab in one of the world's worst conflict zones, even the gorillas seem to know it. You're here in the Congo border and there's obviously so much instability in Congo, how does that impact the gorillas?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gorilla, they're pretty much obliged to stay in Rwanda. They try several time to move her and to cross the border. And after a few hours, they run away. Literally, they run away and they come back here to Rwanda.

COOPER: We've been here for about an hour and Kansbey and the others don't seem to mind our presence. Frankly, they seem a little bored with us. We've been warned that these mountain gorillas might be aggressive towards us because there's so many adult males in the group and because they're not used to having so many visitors. Veronica is telling us that it's been raining a lot at night and it's been particularly cold so a lot of these mountain gorillas are just exhausted and they're just kind of sleeping through the day.

Because gorillas can catch human diseases, scientists limit the time they spend with them. So after only an hour and a half, it's time for us to go. What we're doing is kind of looking, going around the world, looking at places that man is in conflict with nature and with natural resources in animals. It seems like Rwanda is a success story in many ways.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, yeah. Definitely it is. There's still a lot of conflict but there's a lot of Rwanda that they really care of the protection of gorillas. And this is I think the biggest success of conservation of mountain gorillas (INAUDIBLE) for local people to take care of their own natural resources.

COOPER: This is a species still teetering on the brink. But Rwanda's protection of these mountain gorillas is a lesson that conservation is possible even on the battle lines.

Over the next 40 years the human population is expected to rise by 50 percent. Already many of our natural resources are dwindling. Recently, the U.S. director of national intelligence said that over roughly the next decade, competition for those resources will likely lead to increased global conflict. The question governments around the world have to answer now is how best to preserve the resources we have left through conservation and innovation and technology. If you want more information go to I'm Anderson Cooper, thanks for watching earth day special of "PLANET IN PERIL."