I had the great fortune of travelling to South Africa, to be an intern at Africa Media. Africa Media has been running for the past 5-6 years, and they provide month long courses, these include Photography Journalism and Wildlife Filmmaking. They work in association with Ocean Campus, and interns can go and research the oceans.
Whilst being on this wonderful trip, I went great white shark cage diving, walked next to two African elephants, and witnessed seals porpoising next to me while I was swimming in the Indian Ocean. I also saw a group of southern right whales mating and a lone whale breaching in the background, what a stunning experience.
Nonetheless, the best experience of the whole trip was when we travelled from Mossel Bay to Schotia private game reserve, where we spent 10 days filming the wildlife. Here, I developed an idea of what sort of documentary I wanted to make. I knew from the start that I wanted to be the protagonist and drive the story. But after watching David Attenborough all my life, I wanted to create a blue-chip film. But as I thought about this, I began to change my mind. I know that modern documentaries use drones, Cub Cams and GoPro’s to get some really cool footage. With this thought in mind, I wanted to put a GoPro in dung and see what animals walk past, I could then talk about them. But I spoke with Ryan Johnson, a wildlife film maker who has studied great white sharks and produced films for National Geographic and Discovery, and we both thought it would be a great idea to send the cub cam into the lions and see how they would react.
We immediately grabbed the Cub Cam and we set off in the jeep. We went on a search for lions and within about half an hour we found some. This was the first time I had ever driven the little Cub Cam and within 5 minutes it got stuck, typically just a couple of feet from the lions.
Suddenly instead of the lions just watching or sniffing it, the younger male grabbed the Cub Cam and ran off with it. We didn’t know what to do, we began to follow them in the Jeep, but they just kept on running. Luckily, we spotted the lions in the bush and noticed that they left without the Cub Cam. I then got out the car with Ryan and we filmed me going into the bush to find it. I was fortunate to find it after about 10 minutes of searching. With lions only just around the corner there was a fair bit of pressure. Luckily, the Cub Cam and footage was all intact.
Then, a new idea came to us, crocodiles. It would be great to capture their secret behaviour, especially if we could get them chewing on a bone, and to try and show the immense power of their jaws. We placed some chicken on an old bone and tied some string to it so we could slowly pull it back and get the crocodiles out of the water. This was working great until I realised the Cub Cam was very close to the waterside. In a flash, the Crocodile climbed onto the grass verge and came towards us and the Cub Cam. By then it was too late, the Crocodile snapped it up and took it straight into the water.
I honestly thought we’d lost it forever, I was so close to tears because I had no idea how I would pay for a new GoPro and another Cub Cam Car. Suddenly, to my surprise the crocodile brought the Cub Cam back up, because my ranger was still throwing the bone into the water and they thought there was more food. Thankfully I was able to run in and grab it and the GoPro was still attached (just) and we ended up with some great footage.
What made it even better was once back at HQ, Ryan Johnson cleaned up the Cub Cam and began putting it back together. Sadly, it didn’t work, but hopefully one day soon, with some new batteries and some new wires the Cub Cam will ride again.
These two events were so unexpected and not planned, I was so lucky to get this footage, and to think I was originally just going to put a GoPro in dung. It was the best experience of my life and I recommend anyone to go study with Africa Media. If you decide to go please get in contact with me, I’ve got plenty of great tips.
(Header image created by Erick Probeck)