Music Played6 items
The aye aye is probably Madagascar's strangest-looking lemur – it emerges only at night, and taps branches with its elongated middle finger, looking for insects to eat.Wildlife Finder: more clips from the crazy world of the aye-aye
Written by Ian Gray (Producer)Wildlife Finder: watch ring-tailed lemurs in action
Ring-tailed lemurs are creatures of the warm southern lowlands of Madagascar, so we were intrigued to hear rumours about several troops living at high altitude in the decidedly lemur unfriendly Andringitra Mountains. Treeless and windswept, these bare granite peaks rise to nearly three thousand metres above the surrounding plains and experience the most extreme climate on the island, with night-time temperatures often dropping below zero. Trying to film them was an opportunity too good to turn down.
But it's a major undertaking working in these mountains; we had to be entirely self-sufficient, trekking for miles to a remote camp on the plateau supported by a posse of porters. To add to the difficulties, the lemurs have never been studied so we were dependent on our local guides to scout for these elusive creatures.
After several days fruitless searching, the scouts reported hearing lemur calls in one of the high boulder fields over three hours trek from our advanced base camp.
For days we left before dawn in freezing temperatures to hike up to the location, then spent each following day being roasted by a ferocious sun as we searched in vain for any sign.
Finally one morning as I headed off to answer a call of nature, I scrambled over a ravine and there they were; a troop of five ring-tailed lemurs happily feeding on the tough, drought-resistant cacti and aloe that grow here.
I radioed back to cameraman John Brown who crept up to my hiding place. We were lucky enough to spend several hours in their company as they foraged across this barren moonscape before we finally lost them in a maze of boulders and gullies.
Over the next days we returned to the same spot but never saw them again. But happily that one glorious day had allowed us a unique glimpse into the life of these tough little animals.
David Attenborough's Madagascar
Fifty years ago, Sir David went to Madagascar to film early wildlife TV series Zoo Quest. With several return visits over the intervening years, the country and its wildlife has continued to capture his imagination.Watch the best of David Attenborough's Madagascar films
Written by Ian Gray (Producer)
Filming trips can go wrong for all kinds of reasons; broken gear, uncooperative animals, misleading information… but one we hadn’t really anticipated was being thwarted by a cyclone.
Cameraman John brown and I had spent two days trekking into the Andringitra mountains to film the orchid meadows that flourish beneath the 2658-metre high Pic d’Imarivolanitra, one of the highest peaks on the island. As our rag-tag column of porters, guides and cooks clambered over the last escarpment, we were confronted by an amazing sight - kilometre after kilometre of upland prairie, covered in thousand upon thousand of orchids - whites, pinks, oranges and purples, spread like fallen confetti as far as the eye could see. After all the difficulties of just getting here, it felt like nothing could stop us now. Little did we know that Tropical Cyclone Hubert had other plans for us.
That night, I was woken by the staccato rhythm of rain hammering down on my tent. By morning, the wind was pummelling the tent so powerfully it was like being on the inside of a punch-bag. Reluctantly, I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag to be confronted by a scene of utter devastation. This tropical grassland now looked like a Scottish moor.
The wind was screaming across the plateau, driving the rain in horizontal waves before it and flattening everything in its path. Our tents were being shredded, there was gear strewn about the place, sitting in puddles, hanging in trees or being whisked off towards the horizon. But worse than that, the swathes of delicate orchids we had come all this way to film had been completely obliterated.
We took refuge in the cattle byre that doubled as our kitchen, but half the hut's thatched roof had already blown away, leaving 30 people and our remaining gear squeezed into this ever-diminishing sanctuary. Yet despite the chaos, the cold and the discomfort, someone was playing a guitar, accompanying some much-needed community singing and mugs of the local 'rocket-fuel' rum to keep out the cold.
With nothing left to film, there seemed little point in prolonging everyone's agony. We had other sequences to film down on the coast, so we packed up what was left of the camp and headed back down the mountain, our tails firmly between our legs.
Cyclone Hubert 1 : BBC Madagascar Team 0.
Tadpoles for Tea
Article written by Ian Gray (Producer)
Of all the things one can imagine wasps eating, tadpoles are perhaps not the first thing that springs to mind. But while researching for the Madagascar series, this is exactly the story we stumbled upon.
Obviously wasps can't hunt underwater, but these particular insects hunt tadpoles that have hatched from frog spawn left on the leaves of stream-side plants. Under normal circumstances, the tadpoles mature over several days then wriggle free from their jelly and drop into the water beneath. These aerial nurseries spare the tadpoles the attention of predatory fish, but leaves them open to attack from other hunters such as wasps.
So, as the frog breeding season reached its climax, cameraman Barrie Britton was dispatched to a small pond deep in the rainforests of Andasibe to try and get to the bottom of this remarkable story. We were sceptical about his chances, since this phenomenon had only been seen once before.
On arrival, he found several plants around the pond already laden with the right kind of frog spawn – great globular masses containing hundreds of eggs and wriggling tadpoles - but not a single predatory wasp in sight.
While Barrie kept vigil at the pond through the daily torrential downpours, teams of spawn-hunters were enlisted from the local villages to search the forest for any sign of wasp action. Finally word came back of a distant pond where something interesting might be happening.
As Barrie emerged from the forest, he found his 'spotter' pointing excitedly at a nearby palm. On its leaves were several clumps of eggs and amazingly not one but two large wasps playing havoc with the tadpoles. Landing on the leaf, they repeatedly chewed their way through the jelly to reach the wriggling tadpoles within. Often their entire head and upper body would disappear as they struggled to snatch their helpless prey. Then they would chew up their prey and fly off to feed it to their own larvae in a nearby nest.
In two hours the whole shooting-match was over. The wasps had clearly eaten their fill, at least for that day. No doubt the wasps would return tomorrow to continue the carnage, and we had a remarkable and unique sequence in the can.
- Series Producer
- Mary Summerill
- David Attenborough
- Ian Gray
- Executive Producer
- Michael Gunton
Available on: DVD or Blu-ray
From suppliers including: Amazon, BBC Shop