It was meant to be an adventure – but not quite such a big one. I’ve just returned from filming in the Amazon with Stephen Fry and, thanks to a rather nasty accident, it ended abruptly.
It was the first shoot for a new BBC series called Last Chance to See, based on a book about endangered species I wrote with the late Douglas Adams in the 1980s. Stephen and I are travelling to the original countries from the book, seeking out all the old stars – everything from kakapos (flightless parrots) in New Zealand to aye-ayes (nocturnal lemurs) in Madagascar – and looking for new ones that have inevitably joined the ever-expanding cast.
Our aim is to update the animals’ stories, explain their ecological conundrums and meet the amazing humans whose determination is all that has kept most (but not all) of the animals from going extinct.
We expected to face a catalogue of adventures. But little did we know what was about to happen, when filming kicked off in the heart of the Amazon on New Year’s Eve (in exactly the same place where Douglas and I had set out on our original world tour precisely 20 years before).
Early one wet morning less than three weeks later, while transferring in the dark from a small boat to a larger one, Stephen slipped and broke his arm badly. To cut a long story short (everything was filmed – so you’ll be able to see what happened), Stephen, the series producer (Tim Green) and I were evacuated by floatplane. Stephen and Tim eventually made it back to London while I caught up with the remnant crew to finish filming the sequence we had just begun.
Until that moment, filming had gone really well. We’d mingled with caiman at night, snorkelled with pink river dolphins by day, dived with captive Amazonian manatees in a research centre in the middle of Manaus and searched for wild ones in the middle of nowhere. We’d slept in hammocks, shared dank, smelly cabins and travelled many hundreds of miles by a motley collection of boats and planes – a perfect shoot in every way.
The good news is that Stephen is now on the road to recovery (after a four-hour operation and nine permanent pins holding his arm together). And, as he pointed out (between howls of pain) while being helped onto the floatplane: “At least now I don’t have to share another cabin with Mark!”
Mark Carwardine is a wildlife photographer, expert and broadcaster
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