Cables Vs Trees

We knew this wasn’t going to be easy - so we shouldn’t be surprised that our first attempt at getting the cables across the forest wasn’t entirely successful. The problem is simple; cables, string and forests don’t mix. But then if it was easy, everyone would be doing it (or so we keep telling ourselves).

After two weeks of struggling we had to leave the cabling unfinished because we had booked another trip to go and test some new cameras in the bioluminescent waters of the Caribbean (more about that project to come). A second crew is on it's way to Costa Rica to pick up where we left off, strengthening the cable platform and finish threading the cables - and then the forest can return to normal before the filming starts in March.



Costa Rica is well known for having a rich variety of venomous snakes. Among the most famous / infamous is the rattle-less rattlesnake, the cascavel

Apparently common in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, this much feared snake is hardly ever actually seen. To find a beautiful specimen next to the cable platform we are building was a pleasant surprise - er - but a bit of a worry for the night watchman.

Using a couple of long sticks, we gently tried to persuade the snake to move on. The snake was calm and at first reluctant to move. Eventually we escorted it 50 metres down the hill, during which time, it didn’t strike once.

The next morning, the night watchman told us that as soon as we had gone, the snake simply returned to where we had first found it. Interesting


Meet Kathy Lee

This is Kathy Lee: photo by Fernando Campos

20 years ago I made my first film in Santa Rosa, Costa Rica, it was about Coatis but while making this film with Joel Seanz of the University of Heredia, I also met some dedicated scientists studying the resident monkey population - the Monkey People. At that time they were Linda Fedigan, Katie Mackinnon and Lisa Rose. The Monkey People told me about their study of various groups of white-faced capuchins in Santa Rosa and described fascinating stories of the forest.

To help describe the different monkeys, they give them all names - one little female, born in 1989 was called Kathy Lee

Six years later I returned to make my second film here
, Lisa Rose was still there, trudging the forest trails and that's when I was introduced to Kathy Lee, just entering adulthood she was notable for her maleness and would often go squirrel-hunting with the boys. Her first attempts at sex play would result in her mounting a (confused) male.

Another two years went by and I was back to make my third film, this one about monkeys*, I was helped immeasurably by the Monkey People; Lisa Rose, Kathy Jack and Barbara Welker.

I was happy to see that Kathy Lee was now a mother.

Last week, I was back in Santa Rosa, the Monkey People have changed again, this time Claire Sheller and Mackenzie Bergstrom took me to meet the monkeys.

Guess who was the first monkey that I saw? Yup! it was Kathy Lee, now the alpha female and having a massive argument with the only mature male of the group, Cayenne.

Mackenzie had been the one watching the monkeys and had noticed that Cayenne had been having a bad day for a monkey: Firstly, at dawn, he failed to notice a puma under the sleeping tree. The puma followed the monkeys as they set off to forage.

If you're a male white-faced capuchin, your job is to look out for predators and warn the group. Cayenne failed badly. Perhaps that’s why Kathy Lee was so upset with him. He also later stole a grasshopper from her by biting her hand, and now Kathy Lee was really mad, gathering the whole group to threaten and shout at Cayenne. Not a proud moment in his career as an alpha male, but for me it was really nice to see Kathy Lee, now a grandmother - still feisty after all these years.

I suspect Cayenne’s tenure as alpha male is nearly over.

Martin Dohrn
*3 monkeys(BBC Natural World / Discovery)


Ticks and Vampires

Ticks. Yuck. Among the most unpleasant of all the bloodsuckers - they make mosquitos look like angels.

We are being plastered in ticks as we stumble through thick viney forest looking for the thin yellow lines left by the crossbow arrows. Eventually these lines will all be joined and we’ll be able to start the long process of pulling the big cable across the valley. If the ticks don’t suck all our blood before we can finish the job.

The presence of so many ticks isn’t as bad as it seems. It means there are plenty of animals around - which means that there will be predators such as the dry forest cats; jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays and jaguarundis - one of the crew even saw a puma yesterday.

On the other hand, the vampire bats are missing. In a place where a year ago we filmed vampires sneaking up on deer with the thermal camera, now there are none. An evening’s wait revealed no more than a mouse and two rabbits (which of course in their own way are just as interesting.)


How To Fling Something Far: Plan B

The Crossbow Method:
The crew have arrived and discovered most things ready to go. There is a slight problem in that the trees are still leafy. We expected the dry season to be well under way by now but we are hoping that by the time we start filming the leaves will have detached themselves to give the camera a clear view through the trees to the ground below ... if we can get the cable up...

Some time was spent on catapult-making but that idea didn't really work out.

Luckily, We also took some crossbows with us to Costa Rica, one of the crew had the idea that we could shoot thinnish line across the trees and use that to draw a heavier cable through - this method is showing promise.


Night of the Hunt showing in USA

If you haven't already caught it, Night of the Hunt is showing on the National Geographic Channel in the US at the moment - next airing on Sunday.

How To Fling Something Far: Plan A

We have been racking our brains on the subject of how to get a very long cable across the top of the forest.

Plan A involves putting a camera boy attached to one end of the cable in the flinging bit of a big catapult


Bracing Ourselves

Ammonite has been busy preparing for the next trip to Costa Rica where among other things we are hoping to film jaguars. We have discussed many cunning plans for this project, jaguars are notoriously good at hiding. One of our schemes is to thread an immensely long cable through the forest and hoist it up above the canopy between two points so that various bits of kit can be set up to glide above the trees (a sort of death-slide for cameras), giving us a monkey’s eye view of the action taking place on the forest floor.

How will we achieve this very difficult task?

We're not quite sure yet - but we have sketched out some ideas that we will be telling you about, meanwhile if you have any brainwaves please let us know.