If you want to see big cats, you head to the African savannah or the jungles of Asia, right? Wrong! India’s leopards have developed a taste for fast food, and are now a regular sight in Mumbai, one of the busiest cities on Earth. Urban leopards do occasionally prey on humans, but mostly they are content with taking wild, feral and domestic animals. Producer Fredi Devas used new thermal imaging cameras to capture these secretive big cats at night in a city of around 20 million people.
2. Chased down by snakes
A hands-over-the eyes scene from the opening Islands episode that will have everyone talking. Rarely has wildlife filming delivered a sequence so utterly terrifying as that of racer snakes chasing down and devouring baby marine iguanas on the Galapagos islands. The snakes lie in wait as baby iguanas hatch at the top of the beach. As soon as one baby iguana spots the snakes, it panics and runs. The movement-sensoring snakes catch it in a writhing ball before devouring the unfortunate lizard alive.
3. The chinstrap Glastonbury
It’s home to more than a million chinstrap penguins, but Zavodovski Island in the Southern Ocean is also one of the most remote places on the planet. Landing crew and equipment was hazardous enough — and leaving as a storm was about to break, even more nerve-jangling. But the camera team were awestruck: “It was just like Glastonbury, but with penguins instead of people,” says cameraman Pete McCowen.
4. Sound of a swarm
When you have a cast of billions, filming should be easy. But for producer Ed Charles, capturing the sheer spectacle of a gigantic swarm of locusts in the wilds of Madagascar was the greatest challenge he had ever faced. Using a helicopter belonging to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, whose scientists were trying to pinpoint the location of the locusts, they were able to film the swarm from both air and ground. What struck Charles most was the sound: “The metallic clatter of individual wing beats — a deep, roaring noise almost on the edge of hearing, created by billions of wings beating in unison.”
5. The great saiga die-off
The Planet Earth team on the Grasslands programme faced a dilemma — the animals they had come to film were dying before their very eyes. Producer Chadden Hunter and cameraman Martyn Colbeck had arrived on the remote grasslands of Kazakhstan to film the synchronised breeding of the saiga antelope, in which more than 100,000 females give birth to their calves within just a few days — a strategy to minimise the risk of predation. But the animals were dying in droves. “It was like Armageddon — there were tens of thousands of saiga bodies lying all the way to the horizon,” says Hunter. As they left — after smuggling footage out of the country past military authorities who wanted to impound it — they witnessed the saiga being buried in mass graves. They later discovered that almost three-quarters of the world population of saiga had perished — most likely, scientists think, as the result of bacterial infection.