The most challenging animal to film in the wild in Singapore for the ‘hidden wild’ team was the Sunda Pangolin.
During the research stage we got in contact with a PhD student at NUS who was just starting on a survey. She was very helpful and keen to help us film one in the wild and raise the profile of this amazing critically endangered animal. For the next 6 months she kept in touch with us letting us know whenever she heard of a sighting and we would race out to set up trigger cameras.
But it was really a ‘needle in a haystack’ situation…There’s only thought to be around 100 wild pangolins in Singapore and the chances of one walking past our camera at night in the forest was very slim.
After 5 months of not one shot on the trigger cameras (but lots of macaque monkey selfies!) we were starting to think we were never going to get any footage of one in the wild.
Then our researcher heard that pangolins were sometimes being sighted at Nanyang Technological University campus by students on Saturday night after coming home at around 3am – maybe after a night out!
There is forest growing right next to parts of the campus so it seemed like it could be possible that the pangolins could be coming out of the forest and walking around.
We had a specialist thermal image camera brought over from the UK for our final month of filming and it was our last shot to try and find and film a pangolin in the wild.
The tactic for the team was simple. We would spend from 10pm -6am every night for a week walking or driving (at walking pace) around the big campus with the thermal camera pointed looking for any sign of a heat …which would mean a animal.
On the 5th night we spotted something walking along the jogging track… It was a Sunda pangolin! To see what happened next watch the programme!
Being around the macaques was always interesting, as over the 6 months that we spent with them we gradually came to recognise the individuals of the group, predict their activities and get to know their personalities – and also watch them get used to us and allow us closer. A very heartening shoot happened when we were filming the troop feeding on fallen durian. One of the fruits was very had and proving extremely difficult for the macaques to open. One by one, each of the monkeys had their try – some biting holes in the skin, others trying to pull it apart with their bare hands. After watching this succession of failures for about an hour, the troop finally just gave up, and moved on.
That is, everyone except out resident underdog, Katarina. Katarina had proved to be calmer and more collected than many of her fellow macaques. Her left paw had been crippled, presumably in an altercation with a car, and left her with a pronounced limp and a reject status within the troop. Watching her gingerly pad over to the durian and size it up, we thought we would end up filming a tragic scene about the loneliest monkey. Instead it was a triumph of the downtrodden. She sized up the tough fruit, turning it this way and that, when suddenly, perhaps because of her unique grip, the entire durian split open down the middle. Watching her calmly munch down on the fruit, almost as if she was posing for the camera, it was a special moment for us.
One technique that allowed us to get shots we would never have been able to get otherwise the use of camera traps to get shots of palm civets. The civets that live in Siglap are quite fond of making their home in peoples’ attics and roof cavities, but there was no way we could film them conventionally without spooking them as they went about their nocturnal activities. Our camera traps – remote cameras that are triggered when an infrared beam is crossed – were left in strategic location inside one house’s attic. We picked the spots we thought were best, positioned the cameras and crossed our fingers as we left them for the night. There’s always a nervous feeling when you come back for the cameras, like opening a Christmas present. You hit the playback button and just hope. This time, it was a goldmine – a civet n full view of the camera, not just once, but six times! We had filmed something no-one else had ever got on film. Not a bad night overall!