A Crew and a Steadfast Determination

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With a migrant population of around 800 in the Gobi Desert expanse of about 1,295,000 square kilometers, it is simple to imagine the labor of catching the endangered Bactrian camel on film.  The crew for BBC’s Planet Earth desert feature experienced first-hand the drudgery of locating and capturing this species on film.

“Here is an animal nobody knew about,” said Huw Cordoy, producer of the Planet Earth series.  “Nobody could guarantee a chance of filming it, even over a long period of time.”

Mongolia is still largely a wild and unchartered country with merely 700 kilometers of paved road stretching out from the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.  Within hours, the BBC crew required GPS to navigate the barren land and even their off-road vehicles had trouble maneuvering over the untamed landscape.

The team hired a local guide to help track down the Bactrian camel, an animal the man had been following for 50 years.  For five days, the crew saw nothing.  By day 15, the crew had to overcome a debilitating snowstorm.  A competition was had to determine which could warm up faster before breakfast: a crewmember’s numb hands or a can of frozen sardines.

“The assistant cameraman had to sleep with all the batteries every night, otherwise they’d be unusable the following day,” Cordoy said of the relentless sub-zero temperatures. What’s more, the crew vehicles required a blowtorch in order to warm up the machinery every morning.

By day 23, crewmembers had walked hundreds of miles, cameras and tripods strapped to their backs, just to catch of few glimpses of these elusive animals made even more timid by a history of poaching.

“Camels one, film crew nil,” was the wearied remark of the assistant cameraman Tom Clarke at the end of day 32.  “They’re supreme long distance travelers, these animals; and we’re finding it difficult to keep up.”

The scale of the crew’s perseverance matched that of its task.  By day 36, the crew’s patience finally saw profit.

“We didn’t get much footage, but what we got [of the camels] made a very strong sequence,” Cordoy said.  “What I like about it is that we’ve actually given some publicity to a species that could disappear without anybody knowing it.”

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