The Living Edens Madagascar-A World Apart Notes from the Field

In 1996, producers Andrew Young and Susan Todd kept a journal during their filming of "The Living Edens: Madagascar." Through the exerpts below, re-live their incredible exploration.

Producer filming lemurFebruary 4, 1996, Nosy Mangabe
After days spent hiking all over this steep, rain-soaked island, looking for the perfect Ravenala tree, we finally find one in a good position that is in flower. Andy rigs a hunter’s tree stand that he ordered from one of the dozens of equipment catalogues we rely on for this type of work. Slowly he shimmies himself 50 feet up a neighboring tree. The trunk is slippery and a couple times he almost dumps. Finally, perched in a good filming position, we hoist up the camera and tripod with climbing ropes. Now the wait begins. Andy sits on his cramped perch through almost continuous rain. His legs keep falling asleep. After six miserable hours in the treetops the effort pays off. A rare black and white ruffed lemur leaps into the Ravenala tree and begins feeding on the nectar, oblivious to the camouflaged filmmaker just 20 feet away. As the ruffed lemur moves from flower to flower, pollen is transferred on his forehead. It’s the first time this ancient co-evolved ritual has ever been filmed. Andy is jubilant, but it takes him a few hours to straighten out his legs...

notes5.gif (39018 bytes)June 23, 1996, Lac Alaotra
With my camera mounted to the front of a teetering canoe, Richard and Andy paddle deep into the vast marsh that skirts Madagascar’s largest lake, Lac Alaotra. We’ve come with the hopes of filming the Bandro -- one of Madagascar’s least known lemurs. This marsh once teemed with exotic wildlife, but the growth of human activity in the area has taken a great toll. For the moment, all is quiet, except for the cloud of mosquitoes that hover around our heads. Richard, a resident of a nearby village and field worker on a Bandro conservation project, thinks he knows where to find them. We push on deeper into the marsh and the bird life begins to pick up. White-Throated Rails, Cuckoo-Rollers and Madagascar Pochards all make an appearance. Suddenly, an agitated clucking sound erupts from the thicket just ahead. The animal we came to see has spotted us first. "Bandro!" exclaims Richard with a big smile. A Bandro emerges from the vegetation, looking like a cross between a teddy bear and an overfed squirrel . Swaying over the water on a papyrus stalk, she cocks her head and tries to make sense of us. Holding his breath, Andy swings the camera into position. With a leap across a channel, she disappears, but others emerge and follow her -- six in all including a baby. It was the only shot we got all day, but the first ever of wild Bandros. Good enough for me!

Producer filming at limestone pinnaclesOctober 31, 1996 (Halloween), Tsingy de Bemaraha
We start out on a day-long trek into one of the most inaccessible parts of Madagascar, the Tsingy de Bemaraha. Formed by eons of erosion, the Tsingy is a labyrinth of razor-sharp limestone pinnacles that stretch as far as the eye can see -- without a doubt one of the most foreboding landscapes on Earth. We've been advised to carry two liters of water per person. With that weight, we can barely manage the rest of our equipment.

By 9 AM the heat is beastly. The prickly rock reminds us of those volcanic rocks in a gas grill -- and it seems to reach the same temperature!

Andy and Homer, our camera assistant, carefully balance the jib arm on the tips of the Tsingy to get some dramatic perspectives of the erosion. Finally we leave the scorching surface and climb down into a narrow canyon. Ahhh, the air is at least 20 degrees cooler here. At least if we're dying on the surface, we can escape to a little air conditioning... Later that afternoon, we spot a chameleon walking along the blade-like crest of the Tsingy. We start filming its journey with the probe lens. Though Andy is only inches away, the chameleon is unfazed -- he's more concerned with finding some shade. Who wouldn't be!

November 14, 1996, Kirindy
Today was the first day that rain has fallen on the Kirindy forest in eight months. Within hours of the downpour, this quiet dry forest is exploding with life. We hike down to the water hole and discover thousands of bright yellow frogs where yesterday there were none. More emerge from the wet earth to join in the intense mating ritual. Their croaking is so loud it sounds more like the pulsing beat of a rock concert than any natural phenomenon. We film the mating and egg laying as quick as we can, for we suspect it may be short lived. Indeed, the next day all is quiet again. The mass of eggs and the occasional corpse of an
unlucky frog are the only evidence of what took place. All the others have returned to the soil after a frenzied mating season that literally came and went overnight.

November 18, 1996, Kirindy

Producer recording chameleon soundAt the end of a long, hot day, while loading equipment into the Landrover, we spot an iguana digging a hole in the softened dirt near the rear wheel. We can't figure out why exactly the iguana is digging here -- but the animal looks purposeful and so Andy starts filming. The iguana is totally unafraid of us and Andy is getting great close-ups. Suddenly the iguana turns around, flexes her whole body, and out drops a huge egg into her carefully dug hole. Our curiosity pays off. She lays two more, then carefully covers up the hole. Unfortunately her eggs were discovered and eaten by a Madagascar hog nose snake just a few hours later.

January 8, 1997, Ranomafana
Ranomafana means "hot water" in Malagasy, for the hot springs that made this region so appealing to French colonials. We, however, are spending the day in a frigid mountain stream in the rain, trying to rig a "ropecam" shot. The goal is to get a shot in which the camera is literally floating down stream, just inches over the water. We have stretched a rope between two trees over the stream and Andy is standing in water up to his thighs, shivering, making adjustments to the rope tension. The idea is to send the camera down the rope on pulleys. On the first practice shot, the camera barely misses a Producer siting next to cameralarge rock. An inch lower would have been a disaster. On the second, the brake fails and the camera nearly slams into a tree. I'm on a nearby trail, filming the "making of" when I suddenly feel something crawling up my sleeve. Leeches! They're small but they're everywhere; three on my ankle, one on my wrist and another one is sucking the blood out of my ear. Oh well, at least they're painless and don't make you itch. Now if we can just get that shot...

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