Wild Burma: Nature's Lost Kingdom

Series Producer

Filming in the jungle is always tricky. As the series producer, getting to the location in the first place, setting up power supplies when we are there, transporting enough food and water to feed a large team are just some of the logistical hurdles I have to think about.

For Wild Burma: Nature’s Lost Kingdom, I was part of the first team of wildlife filmmakers to be granted access to some of the least studied forests in the world in a country just emerging from a 50-year military dictatorship.

A jungle alive with sound: A light trap in the treetops to catalogue the insects in the canopy

This was a challenge on a different scale from anything I had done before.

The only reason we succeeded in Burma (also known as Myanmar) was that no matter what strange request I came up with, our fixer Tony Htin Hla and his assistant Tin Tun always came up with the answer. We relied on them entirely.

One of our biggest problems was how to transport two tonnes of camera kit around the country.

Our second location was in the heart of the Rakhine Yoma mountains in western Burma and, without roads or helicopters, our only option was to walk.

My original plan had been to use boats – 20 of them – so we could transport the kit as far upriver as possible. We would then use domestic elephants to help carry the kit the rest of the way.

However, when we arrived the river was much lower than anticipated and the elephants had not materialised because they were busy transporting logs elsewhere.

We reverted to plan B – ox carts. The heaviest kit was loaded up and taken to the last village along the river.

Change of plans: The ox carts move off

From here the track ran out completely and we would have to continue on foot.

We overnighted at the local monastery, the oldest in the region – made from entire tree trunks over 15 metres in length, it towered into the sky.

The head monk was not in residence, which, in retrospect, was a good thing – I suspect he would have been horrified at the sight of thirty dishevelled crew sleeping on the floor of his beautiful monastery.

The girls had the best deal as we slept outside on the balcony. I woke up the next morning to, what was for me, one of the most memorable scenes of the trip.

The village headman had hired over 100 people from the surrounding area to come and help us carry all of our equipment to basecamp.

Local Rakhine villagers also acted as guides to help the team reach the forests of Salu

Camera kit, food, solar panels, generators, fuel and cooking pots were all tied to bamboo poles until a long line of us, stretching over 100 metres, were ready to set off.

We waded through rivers, across rice paddies, clambered over rocks and trekked into the heart of the mountain range. The whole journey took two days.

Once in the jungle, the first things to do, in this order, are: dig the loos, build the kitchen, create a washing area upriver from both, find a clean stream for drinking water and clear the area of leaves to make sure you aren’t going to step on an unsuspecting snake.

Burma has the highest death rate from snakebites in the world but, with no mains power and two days walk from the road, keeping anti-venom refrigerated is a problem.

Our only option was to leave a store of anti-venom in the nearest hospital over two days walk from basecamp – too far.

Unbroken forest for 1000 miles

Usually on a remote location shoot, we would have medical helicopter evacuation planned, but Burma does not yet have any commercial helicopters that we could call on in case of emergency.

After a lot of head scratching, we decided to speak to the Burmese military. They immediately agreed that, should we need their assistance, they would send their helicopter to pick us up.

Having a hotline to the head of the Burmese Army is certainly one of the stranger evacuation scenarios I’ve come across.

Luckily, the expedition went without major incidents and I did not need to make the call.

Susanna Handslip is the series producer for Wild Burma: Nature's Lost Kingdom.

Wild Burma: Nature's Lost Kingdom continues on Friday, 6 December at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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