Africa Like You’ve Never Seen It Before
By: Jason Robey
01/08/2013Tonight, the next landmark natural history series from Discovery and the BBC, Africa, premieres on
Discovery Channel starting at 10/9c. From the makers of Frozen Planet, Life and Planet Earth, Africa is a surprising look at a seemingly familiar continent that still holds many secrets.
Yesterday I spoke with Felicity Egerton, researcher and assistant producer for the BBC, about her experiences on the series and what makes Africa like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
“One of the things we wanted above all else was to find stories that hadn’t been filmed before in Africa, because it is such a well-trodden land in terms of filmmaking,” said Felicity. “We spent a long time getting in touch with universities and location-based field researchers to see what they had been noticing and what research they were doing, including studies that weren’t yet published.”
Tonight’s episode, “Kalahari,” includes several television firsts — the results of extensive research by Felicity and her team.
At Hoanib River, Namibia, two rival male giraffes use their necks and heads as weapons, exchanging blows and inflicting wounds in what has been called the most intense giraffe fight ever filmed. (Visit the Africa site after the premiere tonight for a behind-the-scenes look at this sequence.)
VIDEO: Go Behind the Giraffe Fight
In a secret location in southwest Africa, crews captured what is believed to be the last, great gathering place of black rhinoceroses on Earth. To capture these images at night, a special camera system was developed to harness the light of the stars to capture the images.
“With every big series, there are advancements in technology by the time filming comes around,” Felicity told me. For Africa, “we were lucky enough to have some new cameras to play with. A good example of that is the Starlight Camera that the rhinos were filmed with at night. That was one of the first trips that camera was taken on, and it revealed something really new and exciting.”
Felicity was part of the first film crew to record Dragon’s Breath Cave in Namibia for television. This recently discovered cave system contains the largest underground lake in the world.
“It was a fascinating shoot to be involved with and nothing liked I’d ever been involved with before,” said Felicity. “I’m not a caver by hobby or anything. It was my first experience with caving and it was quite a baptism by fire.
“It took us about five days of solid rigging just to get all the ropes in place and all the equipment in,” said Felicity.
And actually descending into the cave? “It was mad. I was terrified, I really was. It was this big black void underneath us. The rope expert, Tim Fogg, said ‘lean out and grab that rope and just descend 100 feet.’ I was like ‘oh, OK, it sounds so easy,’ but actually persuading myself to do it was a different story.”
It took about two hours every morning for Felicity and the team to reach the water’s surface at the bottom of the cave, a journey that involved negotiating very narrow rock walls with bulky camera equipment and a long abseil down to the water’s surface.