BBC Primates: Episode 1

25 April, 2020

Over the past two years I’ve been working as the series cameraman on a three-part BBC series called Primates about monkeys, apes, and prosimians. The ambitious team planned to film species that had never been filmed before, behaviours that had never been captured, and use some highly innovative technology.

For the first episode, The Secrets of Survival, I travelled to Brazil to film bearded capuchins for the opening sequence. When I started working in wildlife documentaries I worked as a camera assistant filming this species in the same region for a Nat Geo series on Brazil, so I was excited to be back to see them and to film some new behaviours. We were working in Serra da Capivara National Park in the North East of the country where the sandstone outcrops dominate the arid landscape.

The alien landscape of Serra da Capivara. Very difficult to keep up with the capuchins if they decide to head up the outcrops.

We spent each day following a large group up through the spiny arid landscape, over the massif, and when we lost them went searching for them with our drone.

Bearded capuchins learn tool use by watching others.

One day I bumped into João Leite, a ranger who had helped us back in 2012. He told us that since working with us a ranger had been killed by poachers and during the attack has been shot himself. The hunters came in looking for animals like the armadillo (tatu-bola) and met the rangers unexpectedly. The lack of funding meant the 300,000 acre park was patrolled by only a handful of unarmed rangers. He continues his work as a ranger and has become a spokesperson for justice and protection of the park.

The young capuchins were very inquisitive and loved exploring the dolly.

The second sequence I worked was filming bushbabies breaking in to Pretoria Zoo in South Africa. These little guys were sneaking in to the zoo over the barbed wire fence at night to eat from the fruiting trees within the grounds.

As night fell over Pretoria Zoo the bushbabies made their entrance.

With Luke Barnett on long lens and director Vicki Buckley spotting I spent my time trying to sneak cameras in close to the little furballs where I thought they would travel through or banana flowers I hoped they might visit. They were tiny and bounced around the trees at top speed, very difficult to film, especially at night!

The bushbabies massive ears allow them to find insects in the dark.

The third sequence I filmed is the finale of this episode: rhesus macaques in Swayambhunath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal. The macaques made the temple their home and lived alongside the monks and the worshippers. I spent a month with Abi Brown following them round, half the time spent with a stabilised camera gimbal mounted on an Easyrig and the other half at their favourite swimming pool with a high speed Phantom camera.

Having a stabilised camera attached to your back meant I could follow the monkeys while they got up to all sorts of mischief.

It was fun to show the macaques living alongside the worshippers at the temple and good to see everyone’s (mostly) positive reaction to them. The jumping and diving would bring big crowds when they decided to perform.

School groups loved seeing the slow motion replays of the jumps! (Photo: Abi Brown)

The episode is on Sunday 26 April on BBC1 at 8.15pm and on iPlayer afterwards.