Wildlife camerman-turned-TV presenter, Gordon Buchanan
Interview Words : Lara Brunt | 28 March

Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan: Part 2

The second part of our interview with wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan: Gordon talks about his favourite places to see wildlife and his two new TV projects

Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan has spent 20 years trying to capture elusive wild animals on film. More recently, he has stepped in front of the camera to present a number of popular wildlife series including Lost Land of the Tiger and Springwatch.

Wanderlust caught up with the adventurous Scot to find out what he's got planned next.

You've been to some very remote places in search of wild animals, but where are some of your favourite places to see wildlife that are accessible to travellers?

The UK has some of the most accessible wildlife on the planet. Scotland in particular has lots of stuff that you can go out and see really easily and I think people in the UK forget that. It only strikes me when I go to somewhere and I have to work so hard to see animals.

I grew up on Mull and it never ceases to amaze me, especially if I go back with a film crew and they’re just bowled over by how easily you can see something. I was up there a couple of weeks ago and I got off the ferry and within two minutes we saw an otter. I’ve spent weeks looking for otters in different countries in the world and Mull is, by a long way, the easiest place to do it.

So you get as excited by Springwatch as you do by Lost Land of the Tiger?

Filming somewhere like Orkney or Shetland to me feels just as exciting as sitting up a mountain in Bhutan. I think the main thing is not to be complacent.

What are you up to at the moment?

I’ve just got back from the States where I’ve been living in a snowy tent in north Washington state for the last month for a two-part BBC series documenting the return of the wolf. In a world where so many species are in the decline, one animal doing really well is the wolf.

Basically, wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone in Idaho and are doing really well there, but this pack in Washington state was the first wolf pack that’s come back of their own accord. So it was really to find out as much as we can about them – where they’re coming from, whether there’s a healthy source population and whether they’re going to keep on coming.

What are the main reasons that the wolf is thriving?

I think it’s just a change of attitude towards wild animals and wild places. North America is the best example of why wolves disappeared in the first place. When people went over there it was all about taming the landscape and getting rid of anything they saw as competition – if you saw a wolf you got rid of it, and it subsequently completely eradicated them across the range.

Do you think there’s a greater willingness to live alongside predators like the wolf?

I think the introduction to Yellowstone is a perfect example of why there’s a change of attitude. Yellowstone was the first national park in the world but they still exterminated wolves there.

Wolves are top of the food chain and they perform a vital role; if you take out the top predator, everything begins to suffer. They’ve seen all sorts of interesting things in Yellowstone with the reintroduction of the wolves – the beavers returned because the herbivores weren’t browsing on the willows and, with beavers creating more dams, there’s more place for fish and other invertebrates.

How easy is it to film them?

We did this trip in the winter time because with lots of snow around it’s easier to track them. I was there for a month and I didn’t a see a wolf with my own eyes; we got images on camera traps but there were just lots of days spent watching the mountains.

How did you know where to place the camera traps? 

There are lots of little subtle signs that are easily overlooked – I found a wolf hair on a tree which gave us a good idea that there were wolves in the area using the tree as a rubbing post, so we put a camera trap in there.

When can we expect to see the series on our screens?

It will be on BBC1 towards the end of this year. It’s the same production team as the ‘Lost Land of’ series and it’s a similar adventure-meets-wildlife programme, so it will have that expedition kind of feel.

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

I’m doing a series for National Geographic called Maneaters. People always ask me ‘is it dangerous what you do?’ There’s no danger from the animals themselves because for most animals, human beings aren’t on the menu. But for the Maneaters series, we’re looking at outbreaks of man-eating and investigating why it happened. So I’m more ‘wildlife investigator’ than cameraman.

What countries will you be visiting to investigate these outbreaks of man-eating?

We’ve shot two programmes already; one was lions in Tanzania and one was leopards in Mumbai city forest, and the explanations for these outbreaks can always be tied back to human activities.

We’re also going to Nepal in April; there had been an outbreak of man-eating tigers around Chitwan so I’m going to try and find out why.

And we’re doing wolves in Alaska, which has slightly spoiled our BBC programme!

Surely wolves aren't dangerous to humans?

There hadn’t been a record of anyone being eaten by wolves in North America in the last 100 years, until last year when somebody was killed in Alaska. Some people say it wasn’t the wolves – she died and the wolves just fed on her, but we’ll hopefully find out.

But even if she was attacked and killed, there will have been something that happened in that landscape that caused the wolves to switch their prey.

So there’s a kind of mystery that needs to be solved?

Yes, it’s quite different to anything that I’ve done before because I am filming on it but you don’t really see me in a cameraman role. It’s very much like an extended news report.

You seem to be moving more in front of the camera these days.

Yes, it’s something that I kind of fell into over the years and then it got to the point that all the most interesting jobs were in front of the camera.

For a few years it was fine, because I could split my year and be in front of the camera for one half and then be a straight wildlife cameraman for the other, but it’s gone a little bit too far towards being in front of the camera. I’d like to be able to do at least a couple of big trips a year where I don’t have to worry that I’ve got a bogey hanging out my nose!

Check out Part 1 of our interview with Gordon Buchanan here.