From lion cubs and penguins to humpback whales and wild boar, David Attenborough’s new six-part show Life Story (9pm, Thursdays on BBC1) follows animals looking for home in exotics parts of the globe. Producer Rupert Barrington reveals where to get up close to fascinating creatures in the wild.
1. MASAI MARA, KENYA
You can’t do better than the Mara – it’s the best place to see African wildlife. We were extremely focused on filming lion cubs, but even so we couldn’t help but see masses of animals. There are all levels of safari camps to choose from, lots of good guides with expert knowledge of where to take you, and I would highly recommend it. There is so much to see: elephants, hyenas, rhino, leopards, zebras, wildebeest and lions. A lot of the guides are in regular contact and they’ll tip each other off. If I were to give one piece of advice it would be to try to be ahead of the game. Some guides will sit at base and wait for the call but by the time they get going there could be 15 to 20 cars in one spot. You want a guide who is good at predicting where the wildlife will be. It’s just using that little bit of strategy to get the best experience.
We were there to stake out male fur seals on a beach. They try to take over patches and set themselves up to win a mate. They fight over land and females – it’s pretty harsh and it’s what their lives are about. South Georgia is one of the most biodiverse areas of the planet. It’s an assault on the senses – masses of seabirds, penguins and seals set against a backdrop of huge mountains amidst atmospheric weather. We took four days to get there on a small yacht from the Falklands, but you can take a cruise ship and get off the boat. Shackleton’s grave is there, and there’s a museum in an old whaling station that tells his history. It’s probably one of the most interesting and remote tourist destinations in the world.
Between January and March, two-thirds of the Alaskan population of humpback whales migrate 3,000 miles to Hawaii for the breeding season. It’s one of the great whale-watching locations in the world, because it’s very accessible. There are lots of boats that you can hire to take you out to sea. There is a restriction that means you need to stay 100m away from the whales, but as they weigh 45 tons you’re still close enough! We had been filming a female and her calf, which had lost part of its fin in a shark attack. She was pushing it up to the surface, but we knew she would probably abandon it. Parents haven’t fed since they left Alaska and the mother had a choice: would she have enough energy to make the journey home if she continued to help the calf ? She disappeared and we thought that was it, but then reappeared with a male, which held back the shark. There is no doubt that some animals have the capacity to make choices.
Lembeh is one of the world’s top locations for muck diving – exploring the sediment on the sea bottom – and you are guaranteed to see weird stuff. It’s a diver’s dream. We were there to film the veined octopus. Many octopi have evolved ways to protect them- selves from predators – for example a mimic octopus can change its shape and colour to resemble a flat fish; and a wanderpus can flatten its legs to look like seaweed – but a veined octopus looks the same all the time. So what he does for protection is hide in empty shells. He has learnt to pick up discarded coconut shells and carry them around with him. When danger approaches he seals himself inside to become impenetrable. This is the only known example of tool use in octopi.
Tigers are secretive creatures, but in this 270 square mile area in central India there are 20-plus tigers, which is an extremely high density. It’s a brilliant place to spot one. Unlike the Masai Mara, you can’t go off-road, so you have to be prepared for possible congestion. But you won’t be disappointed: as well as tigers there are spotted deer, jackals, wild boar and the sarus crane – the tallest of all cranes. The tigers are accustomed to cars so they behave naturally. They don’t see people in cars as human – they see you as part of the vehicle, so you can get really close. If you get out of the car the story changes and you become relevant – ie lunch. There is huge territorial rivalry in tiger society. Males will kill other cubs unless they have their father’s protection. We filmed a one-eyed tiger and her three cubs, first when they were a few months old and a year later when they were becoming independent. Their father had gone by our second visit and that was very bad news for the cubs. One of them ventured out alone and was killed by a rival male. In nature it’s the more cautious that survive.
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