Making Hotel Armadillo #3
Narration Recording with David Attenborough
We were thrilled that Sir David Attenborough was keen to narrate Hotel Armadillo. The Giant Armadillo was a species he had never filmed in this detail and he was keen to see the film and what we had captured.
He wrote back to us saying..
“Congratulations on your success with the Giant Armadillo – something which as you know eluded me when I tried to do something about it half a century ago.”
At the end of the recording Attenborough met Arnaud the scientist – it was a lovely moment!
Making Hotel Armadillo #2
In the field…. By Producer / cameraman Justin Purefoy
FILMING THE ARMADILLO BABY…..
Giant Armadillo’s are one of the most illusive creatures on earth, with scientist Arnaud Desbiez referring to them as a ghost species.
Deep in the remote wilderness these nocturnal animals spend up to three quarters of their lives underground, which makes filming them an almost impossible mission.
But the crew here at Maramedia were up to the task teaming up with Giant Armadillo specialist, Arnaud Desbiez. Working together we all had one goal, to be the first to film these incredible creatures and finally uncover their secrets.
It was a usual day in the office when I got a phone call that really changed everything. It was Arnaud and he announced that the Giant Armadillo, Isabelle, had had a baby.
We knew how rare it was for a giant armadillo to have a baby and no one in history has ever filmed the interaction of the mother and baby together in the wild. I knew exactly what I had to do, I dropped everything and rushed straight to Brazil.
After three days of travelling we finally made it back to the Pantanal, where we had originally been filming the Giant Armadillos. The transmitter in Isabelle had stopped working meaning we had to search the bush and tracks for signs of her again, but we stayed determined.
We walked for ten long hours in blistering 40 degrees heat. We searched high and low desperate for any sign of Isabelle.
I can admit, I was starting to believe we would never find her. Then suddenly, just when I thought all hope was lost, Arnaud appears around a bush excitedly gesturing he’d found the baby burrow.
The relief overwhelmed me as I realised this was it, we finally had a golden opportunity to film this very rare unique moment that we could have only dreamed of.
I set 4 remote camera traps up around the burrow and 3 infrared lights which were powered by 2 car batteries. Then all we could do was wait.
Then it happened. After 5 long days Isabelle brought her baby out of the burrow and into the world.
But to Arnaud and his team 5 days was nothing compared to the 2 years they had been waiting for this beautiful moment.
As I look back this was definitely the most memorable part of the entire experience. The team effort had paid off, and for the first time ever we had on camera images of a mother and baby giant armadillo interacting under the tropical night.
Lindsay McCrae, wildlife cameraman on Hotel Armadillo shares his experiences…
I remember very vividly my first encounter with the giant. The sight of the creature could only be described as a scene from an early 1900s monster movie.
To properly tell you about the experience let me begin from the start.
Filming in the Pananal had been a dream of mine for a long time so when Maramedia asked me to help them with their Armadillo documentary it was an opportunity I couldn't ignore.
The incredible bird life, the prospect of close encounters and the magical light it has to offer had me very excited. I just kept thinking as long as we are lucky with the weather things should run smoothly….
After the first night of success our problems began. Our batteries were enormous yet only lasted a few days, rodents seem to enjoy biting through our expensive cables and the ants realised that using the kit to climb across was much quicker than negotiating branches!
We travelled to Brazil with 30 cases & quite an array of camera kit to cover almost every scenario in the aim of capturing footage of this elusive animal. We relied heavily on camera traps which soon became our number one option to capture intimate behavior of the armadillo.
But luckily with the Armadillo Projects radio tracking programme we were able to pin point exactly where a couple of individuals were.
I could then set up and operate a camera from close by as it got dark with the hopes of filming individuals leaving their burrow.
One advantage was that, despite being nocturnal and living underground, Giant Armadillos have pretty poor eyesight.
So rigging a couple of bright lights to be able to film in colour gave us an even better chance of capturing unique footage.
I'd done a couple of filming stints on previous nights but with no luck, but on one night I knew it was going to happen.
As soon as the sun set I could hear the Armadillo underground thumping & scratching at the earth.
That’s when I saw it.
Approaching the burrow entrance, its footsteps became louder. Getting my first shot I remember shaking struggling to believe my eyes.
The animal was so prehistoric it didn't look real. It had huge front claws, bizarre back legs & gnome like ears, but the one thing that’s surprised me most was its sheer size.
In comparison I think a small sheep would be about the same. After maybe only five or six minutes of testing the air it disappeared out of view to begin its night feeding. It was a remarkable experience and fantastic to capture on film.
In the end the camera traps helped reveal the wealth of wildlife that would visit the armadillo burrows and even gave us our first images of a newly born armadillo baby, which is a broadcast first.
Fergus Gill , Camera Assistant on Hotel Armadillo
Getting to see a Giant Armadillo in the flesh is such an extraordinary privilege, as most people in the Pantanal have never had the chance to see one.
So when we got the chance to go try and film them for Maramedia’s new documentary it was an exciting task.
Towards the end of our first trip we went to check on one of our camera taps in dense woodland, as we approached the burrow we could see small feline paw prints in the sand, snaking their way through the trees, leading right to the burrow.
It was definitely the trail of an ocelot, they were so fresh, definitely from the last 24 hours. We excitedly went to check the trap hoping for a glimpse of this beautiful cat but found nothing, not one clip of anything, never mind the ocelot.
Exasperated we walked the length of our cable run, quickly finding the cause. As we’d seen at times with some of our other traps the rats had started nibbling the cables, and this time cutting through the wires causing the whole system to fail. But we didn’t give up.
The most exciting moment came in our final few days in the Pantanal. Justin and I were out checking footage from some of the camera traps - after the familiar rat visitors something else appeared in shot – a female southern tamandua with her baby. We watched as the female carried her large infant and left it down one of the old burrows. We were silent as we worked quickly to change over the truck batteries for the lighting rig and left before we caused any disturbance. A few days earlier we’d gambled by placing a two cameras in the burrow, one facing into the chamber and one looking up the tunnel towards the entrance. At that time we could only hope they’d captured some magical never before seen moments of the mother and her infant underground. It was almost a month later that we finally saw incredible the results.
Another great part was when we caught footage of a Giant Armadillo, called Tracey, in person.
She was undoubtedly our superstar not only coming out of her burrow at a reasonable hour but doing so when Lindsay was there to film her in person.
We would never have been able to do that with the other animals, she just had such a distinctive character that was so tolerate of new sights, smells and sounds.
Making Hotel Armadillo #1
The evolution of the film
Making “Hotel Armadillo” was very much a team effort involving so many people, passionate about the natural world and of course, Giant Armadillos!
However the most important collaboration for the film team here at Maramedia, was the special relationship we forged with RZSS scientist Arnaud Debiez and his team.
We had been chatting to Arnaud about his research for a few years but first met when he was visiting Edinburgh Zoo. He was performing a comedy routine about Armadillos to raise awareness (and funds!) for the incredible Giant Armadillo that lives in the Pantanal wetland of Brazil. Arnaud and his team at the Giant Armadillo Project had discovered that Giant Armadillos were far more important to the biodiversity of the Brazilian Pantanal than we could have ever imagined. With their super hero digging skills and immense strength, they create beautifully excavated burrows from the hard ground each night. These become ideal homes and refuges for a host of other species from tiny rodents to large silky anteaters. The earth mounds that they create also become an important food source – allowing animals to feed on newly excavated seeds and grubs.
So, in short the Giant Armadillo has a critical role to play in the stunning and biodiverse wetland of Brazil. It is what scientists call an “ecosystem engineer,” in that it modifies the landscape, supporting lots of other species inspiring the “Hotel Armadillo” theme for the film!
But Giant Armadillos like so much of the worlds wildlife are under threat, and we are only just realising how critical and intertwined with the habitat they really are. This makes it even more imperative that passionate scientists like Arnaud from RZSS, and his Armadillo team are able to study these incredible creatures through the generosity of so many supporters. Important conservation awards like the Whitley award have recognised his work and we, as film makers, are able make such a special film to share these stories and that passion with the world and make more people care about a very special creature – The Giant Armadillo.
We are very grateful to BBC Natural World and PBS Nature for commissioning us to make such a film.
'The Giant Armadillo Project' are eternally grateful to all those involved in making it as successful as it has been so far and would like to thank everyone involved .
Sometimes the most obvious stories are not told - this was certainly the case with this documentary. Executive Producer May Miller reveals some of the background to making such a film.
When first pitching this film, typing MENOPAUSE in the email subject line felt rather daring. I could sense commissioning executives up and down the UK collectively flinch. I had been warned that it would be impossible to get the film off the ground and if I did, no one would ever want to talk about it on camera. However, fortunately BBC Scotland recognised its potential and greenlit the project very quickly.
Assistant Producer Louise Arthur came on board and set about the very time consuming and sensitive task of finding women who were prepared to talk about their experiences. It was both heartening and very moving to find so many who, although apprehensive, were willing to share their stories to help others.
Producer Director Shiona McCubbin has considerable experience in human interest documentary. She worked hard to win the trust of the interviewees and made sure that they felt comfortable about relating often very difficult testimony. Shiona ensured that the filming environment was calm and unpressurised so that they knew they were in safe hands.
Our presenter Kirsty Wark shared her own personal menopause story in order to encourage others to do the same. Her exploration of what the menopause is, how we manage it and how we approach the years after the menopause is frank, often funny and highly intelligent. It is entertaining but also informative and the team at Maramedia hope that it will benefit all women, their family, colleagues and friends and encourage them to talk about this important life event.
We are extremely grateful to everyone who helped in the making of this documentary - they are many. In particular, thanks must go to Heather Currie, Chair of the British Menopause Society. For two years, she must have felt that she was being stalked by a deranged Walter Mitty type who imagined she was going to make a programme about the menopause. Well we got there in the end.
The Menopause is an important life event which affects every woman. It is an issue that needs to be discussed more openly - we are proud that the programme may help start that conversation.
Wellbeing of Women is a fantastic charity that funds medical research across the breadth of women’s reproductive health and childbirth to find cures, improve treatments and develop new diagnostic techniques. Many of the treatments and tests taken for granted today and used in everyday clinical practice both here in the UK and abroad benefitting millions of women came about thanks to research Wellbeing of Women funded over the last 50 years.