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24 September 2014
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Life In Cold Blood

Behind the scenes: programme five

Gopher tortoise and toy truck cam


Gopher tortoises dig extraordinary long burrows, and use these to escape from bush fires and shelter from the intense Florida sun. But the film crew had no such cool retreats away from the heat. Temperatures of more than 100 degrees, and almost 100% humidity, made it one of the most uncomfortable working environments.


The crew used state of the art remote industrial inspection cameras, and drove a tiny crawler vehicle down the burrows. The result was a full colour picture of inside the burrow – a unique view of a hidden world. And it wasn't just tortoises they found down the burrows – creepy crawlies, spiders, armadillos and even rattlesnakes share the tortoise's homes.


A salt water crocodile feeding frenzy


Cameraman David Wright discovered that in a remote part of northern Australia saltwater crocodiles would gather to feast on mullet migrating along the Mary River during high-spring tides.


This only happens a few times each year, and yet somehow the crocodiles knew exactly when it was about to happen and they congregated in huge numbers, ready to feast on the fish.


But filming this spectacle was a challenge in itself as it mainly happened at night. Another cameraman, Mark Lamble, took up the task. Preparation for filming each night took hours.


Crocodiles are sensitive to light and disturbance, so, in order to film, they had to use infrared cameras. Four separate infrared lamps had to be set up, each with a generator, all the camera gear had to be in place several hours before nightfall and then everyone had to be incredibly still.


The infrared camera revealed an extraordinary wildlife spectacle, huge crocodiles gorging on fish, while herds of wallabies looked on curiously. But, to our eyes, the scene was shrouded in darkness. It was very unnerving for David and the crew to be sitting a few metres away from 40 very large, hungry crocodiles when they couldn't even see them.


Bush fire stops spectacled caiman filming


The filming of the spectacled caiman was going so well. After much searching the producer, Adam White, had located a shrinking pool with a mother and a huge crèche of babies. The perfect place for cameraman Mark MacEwen to catch the behaviour they were after – the mother moving her babies from the drying muddy pool across the parched vegetation to a new and life saving deeper pool of water.


Mark set up his hide next to the pool to film the young and catch the very moment that the mother decided to abandon it and take her babies on the long walk to a new and better one. His view was limited by the hide so he could not see the smoke beginning to rise on the horizon. Adam however had spotted it. A huge bush fire was raging and the wind was blowing it towards the filming hide.


Quickly he alerted Mark and they both decided that it was far away enough not to cause concern. Meanwhile the babies were home alone; the mother had taken a walk. Would she be cut off by the fire? Soon it became apparent that the fire was coming towards the hide very fast so Adam rushed in and the reluctant Mark and his equipment were moved to safety.


On returning in the morning the scorch marks from the fire had reached the very edge of the pool but thankfully the mother and young were all still safe in the water.







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