Friday, 14 November 2014

Giant Shrew Vs Monster Pitcher Plant - How we filmed it! #EarthOnLocation

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For episode 4 of Wonders of The Monsoon we wanted to film the peculiar relationship between a giant mountain shrew and one of the worlds biggest pitcher plants on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, Borneo.

It was once believed that the sweet nectar on the pitcher plants lid was part of a trap that enticed the shrew onto the slippery rim from which it would fall and drown in the pitchers cup of digestive juices. However, the truth is even more bizarre.

The only time this behaviour has been filmed before involved sitting in a hide for many days watching one of these plants in the hope that a shrew would turn up. This was also my plan. But shrews are incredibly nervous animals and so this technique is very limited for filming the different angles usually needed for a wildlife sequence - one rustle and the shrew would be gone.

Cameraman Richard Kirby and I were filming a number of stories on Mount Kinabalu. Whilst climbing on a section of trail used daily by climbers we stopped for a break. I sat down opened a piece a chocolate and took a minute to admire the view. That’s when a shrew jumped up beside me, grabbed my chocolate and ran off. It wasn’t long before he was back for more. We realised that unlike shrews elsewhere here, close to the trails on Mount Kinabalu these small mammals are incredibly habituated, used to seeing climbers and being able to get food. 

Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Borneo

A few days later and close to our camp we found some giant Kinabalu pitcher plants. The local guides assured us that if we waited we would see shrews coming to feed on them. Sure enough it wasn’t long before one turned up, and it wasn’t alone, we saw several shrews in the area hopping back and forth between pitchers and licking the pitcher lids for their sweet nectar. This was an incredible opportunity and I decided to drop our plans to use a hide and instead we were able to film the natural behaviour of wild shrews at close quarters - allowing shots to be filmed that just wouldn’t be possible with shrews elsewhere. We filmed the shrew cautiously hopping on the pitchers rim and licking the nectar from the lid.

But there was one final shot that I hoped to film in order to reveal the whole story. I had special permission to insert a camera inside one of the pitchers. I had hoped that this pitcher-cam would reveal what the shrew gives the plant in return for its nectar? Sure enough, the shrew completely ignored the camera. He jumped on, licked the lid and... 

...pood straight into the cup, and on to my lens. Revealing that in return for sweet nectar the shrew feeds the plant by pooing into its cup - a dose of concentrated nitrogen rich fertiliser. It’s one of the strangest relationships in nature, and this is just one of the stories that we filmed which reveals how a lack of nutrients on the rainwashed slopes of mount Kinabalu has driven species to adapt and evolve strategies to get what they need to survive.

The sequence

How we filmed it...

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