BBC Earth

Emma Napper

Location Stories

Emma Napper

The jungle is the most amazing place on the entire planet! The variety of insects, plants and animals is breathtaking, but for many of these species very little is known about them and even less have been filmed successfully.

The jungle has the perfect conditions for life, there is year-round rain, and at the top of the trees there is sunshine. But at ground level it is dark and damp. Hard conditions to work in and even harder to film. You can’t use most of our equipment if it’s raining, and rain can last for days on end!

The rainstorms can be more than just an inconvenience. On one shoot in the Brazilian flooded forest, we were travelling down river looking for a new species of river dolphin and suddenly out of nowhere this incredibly hard rainstorm came. It was hail, which the local people had never seen before and it completely stopped us in our tracks. It immediately broke the electric motor on the boat, which meant we couldn’t go anywhere and we were in danger of being pushed downstream without any way to stop ourselves. We pushed ourselves over to a sandy riverbank and the trees just started falling around us. We were lucky that no trees hit us and the storm calmed down and we survived, but there was about an hour of being stuck in the storm, not knowing how to get back to camp or where the rest of our team had gone. We were in the middle of nowhere, there was no medical care. It was scary!

The other challenge of filming in the jungle is that the undergrowth is really dense, which means it can be hard to see and follow the animals for long enough to film them. When filming jaguars in Brazil the forest is really thick and is crossed by rivers where the jaguars like to come down to hunt. We spent six weeks on these rivers using specially developed stabilised camera rigs (based on the Steadicam you see people using on the touchlines of football games). This meant we could film everything from the boats, no matter how fast and choppy the water got!

We wanted to film the unusual way that some jaguars here have learned how to hunt. After four weeks, we saw a large male jaguar, clearly on the lookout for food. We followed him on our camera boats but couldn't see what he was hunting for. Then he suddenly pounced into the water and after a few seconds re-emerged wrestling with a caiman almost his size and with jaws that could kill a person in seconds! He is one of the jaguars who has learned to take on this deadly prey, looking for an angle where he can, in one move, pin down the caiman and sink his teeth through the back of its skull. It was a pretty brutal scene, but an honour to see this beautiful and powerful jaguar at work.

There is of course one other major problem of filming in the jungle, that is sharing your accommodation with an impressive array of bugs and other animals. At one of the places we filmed in Brazil, the crew shared a single room with each other and a plague of spiders! Every time we picked up clothes there were spiders in them, they even got inside the mosquito nets. And there were rats, which I don’t mind, but they did eat through my underwear, so that was fun!

The indri is the largest lemur in Madagascar and one that is becoming increasingly rare. We filmed at a reserve called Mitsinjo in the centre of Madagascar, because here there is a family of indri here that have been followed by scientists for over 10 years. This close relationship between the indri family and the scientists meant that we knew approximately where the indri would be every day. Most of the time they move and sit about 20 metres above our heads, difficult to see and impossible to film, but every so often they would come down a little and then treat us to a good look at their elegant bouncing through the jungle. Just long enough for us to run after them with the stabilised cameras and capture their journeys on film. One of the youngsters is named David after Sir David Attenborough (although, confusingly, the indri David is a female).