MASTER OF WILDLIFE

Wildlife programmes have been popular on television for decades. It is one subject that has endured as each generation discovers its fascination with a world that is not accessible to them. In fact, it’s fair to say that Sir David Attenborough’s gentle face is one of the best known to ever appear on television. I’ve actually worked with this remarkable wildlife authority when he was in New Zealand’s Waitutu Forest. On that occasion, I was amazed at his passion for, and knowledge of nature. His enthusiasm in the manner he discussed the trees around him, was astounding.

Sir David Attenborough

UNDERSTANDING THE NATURAL WORLD

Many of the world’s largest television networks have their own wildlife department. Japan, USA, Britain, Canada and even New Zealand, have all made internationally popular wildlife programmes. “Planet Earth” “Blue Planet” “Nature” “Nature’s Great Events” are epic series that have brought wildlife issues into the homes of millions of television viewers. With the use of slow motion, drone cameras, helmet cams, night lenses and advanced editing techniques, the previously unknown lives of countless creatures from reptiles to fish, birds and insects, have been exposed and explored making wildlife one of the most popular subjects on television.

To witness the rituals and amazing behaviour of the planet’s creatures is to glimpse the magic of life. It also forces us to ponder the reason why all the life forms we share our planet with exist in the first place.

FILMING WILDLIFE

I have been a wildlife cameraman for a TV series and can honestly say, it is not a task easily accomplished. I discovered I needed the patience of a saint to actually capture any useable wildlife activity. I can remember having to spend the best part of a day hidden in a large hedge as I tried to capture a family of birds coming and going from their nest. The slightest movement, such as moving my arm, could spook them and they would disappear for hours. If I had to move, I had to do it slowly, very slowly. Apart from endless patience, a wildlife photographer also needs an understanding of animal behaviour. I had no idea just how sensitive creatures in the wild actually are. They have acute senses of smell, sight and hearing. A wildlife photographer is definitely a special type of person.

Dunedin based Robert Brown is regarded as one of the world’s top wildlife photographers. I worked with Robert as a fellow cameraman at New Zealand Television before we both upgraded to the BBC. Although I had to move to London, Robert managed to work for them while still living on Otago Peninsula. He was so highly regarded as a wildlife cameraman, that the BBC accepted his terms. During his time with them, he travelled to many remote locations around the planet. His stories would make a great book as some of his experiences in the isolated, dangerous and remote locations he’s filmed in over the years have been truly amazing. Robert has lived through more unusual experiences and has had more wild adventures than possibly anyone else in New Zealand (or anywhere, for that matter)

Robert Brown

When I last visited Robert and his wife Christine, I was intrigued by the extraordinary artefacts he had collected while on wildlife filming assignments in the remotest parts of the world. These unusual objects were carefully placed around the house to organically merge with the décor, reinforcing the casual, relaxed feel of their home.

AMAZING ARTIFACTS

Robert showed me a tusk from a pre historic Woolly Mammoth he found in the Arctic Circle, and lightly rubbed a beautiful ventifact, a type of moon rock, he collected from a valley in Antarctica. Hair and clothing remnants from a mummy of the Mochicas people dating back to 400 BC, are presented in 3 small frames on one wall.

In his office, he shook a South American rain stick to demonstrate the sound it makes and proudly showed me a twisted breech block from a rifle he stumbled on while filming in the Falklands. Then there’s the handmade wooden sign for an airport in Peru they found discarded on the side of a road. Robert is especially fond of a small weaving frame for Peruvian children to learn weaving. There’s a very old papoose—a backpack for babies used by Andean mothers— hanging on another wall. Everything they have is genuine, no replicas or tourist shop souvenirs. Robert and Christine cringe at the very thought of replicas! Two exquisite little shoes, twisted by years of lying mysteriously in a heap in the Atakana Desert, sit on a 300 year old wooden cabinet. Asking about other interesting ‘things’ scattered about, invites stories that books are made of.—-an Amazonian medicine man’s healing beads, a voodoo doll, a war mask from New Guinea, wooden heads from Indian temples, to name just a few. “These things are living reminders of the cultures we’ve sheared time with on our filming trips.” Robert told me.

A typical wildlife filming assignment could be as long as 4 months and eating what the locals eat is a challenge in itself. I had to wince when Robert told me he survived on reindeer testicles for four months while working near the Arctic Circle with nomadic Eskimos.

Although life is tough, and at times very dangerous, Robert, along with other dedicated wildlife photographers, wouldn’t swap their work for anything. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing they are capturing animal behaviour that can be crucial in helping certain species from extinction. That has to be a great reason for putting up with the discomfort the job entails. As for me, I decided one attempt at wildlife filming was enough. I just didn’t have the patience.

Whenever I watch a wildlife programme I am aware of the hardship the crew endured so I could sit in comfort and gaze in awe at the amazing footage they had managed to capture for my information and entertainment.

Auckland based photographer Tony Smith is also attracted to wildlife images and has captured some beautiful photos of native New Zealand birds. Check out this link to see them for yourself.

http://tonysmithphotography.co.nz/galleries/birds/

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Ceidrik Heward

Comments

  1. Angela Stevenson says:

    That was a very interesting blog, mind you I love anything to do with wildlife. Loved it thanks.

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