‘Monkey Planet’ Coming to BBC One

Last year I spent three weeks on a reserve in South Africa’s Western Cape filming a Baboon sequence for the BBC’s upcoming ‘Monkey Planet’ series. The Baboons we filmed are one of the most southerly troops in the world and often choose to shelter and sleep in a particular underground cave system. We wanted to film the Baboons as they entered the cave at dusk and record their interactions and behaviour through the night until they exited the following morning.

The only safe, non-obtrusive way to capture this was by installing several remote cameras underground that we could control and monitor from a distant hide. It was a complicated and potentially hazardous shoot that required lots of planning, organisation…..and cabling! The entrance to the cave was a circular hole about 1 metre wide that dropped down 8 metres vertically to the first cavern. An inconvenient bees nest in the entrance meant wearing a bee suit for every descent. We had to haul all our equipment down this entrance shaft and then drag it further into the cave whilst crawling on hands and knees. In places the ceiling was so low that it was only passable when lying down. Even after the rig, hauling the dozen car batteries which were powering the cameras and infrared lights was a daily, physically challenging routine. We had to work quickly during the day in order to remove, charge and then replace the batteries whilst still allowing time to exit and remove our ladder and kit before the Baboons were likely to arrive. On some evenings, they didn’t turn up which meant entering the cave again after dark to unplug equipment and preserve power for the following night. The Baboons’ curiosity also kept us busy with repairs and alterations! Swinging off the lights and cameras was a popular past time for the youngsters whereas others would prefer chewing through cables.

Outside the discomfort of working within the cave, it was a highly enjoyable shoot and very rewarding too. The baboons used the cave on several nights and we got plenty of footage. It was exciting to watch the live monitors every night from 50 metres away as the Baboons sheltered in the cave beneath us.