Filming in Bhutan


When I mention Bhutan it solicits one of two responses. There is the “Oh, wow!” and then there is the “Oh, where?” The mention of filming tigers, however, solicits a combination of the two – “Oh wow, where?” Searching for tigers in a remote Himalayan kingdom is as awesome as it sounds.

By trade I am a wildlife cameraman, and often, when I’m not behind the camera, I jig about and say stuff in front of it.

Presenter is an uncomfortable word for me to call myself, but I suppose that is what I have become. My role was simply to capture images of tigers by any means possible.

Bengal Tiger caught on camera trap/BBC

I love my job, and almost everything that comes with it, but the opportunity to visit a place that is on many people’s top 10 list, to look for arguably the world’s most charismatic animal has been a career highlight.

Back at the start of the noughties I was making Tigers Of The Emerald Forest, a film about an isolated tiger population of about 30 individuals (a healthy breeding population) living in a little known national park in north central India.

The film was about the success story of those tigers and how, despite the pressures they faced, they were doing really well.

Within two years of my departure, all of them, every last one had been wiped out by illegal poaching. The news of that tragedy threw into sharp focus the realisation that the very worst was true – that we faced a future where tigers could no longer survive in the wild.

I think that being involved in the Lost Land/Expedition series has helped me feel less guilty about my dream job. Each expedition has targeted vulnerable rainforest areas and raised awareness of the problems and hopefully gone some way to helping.

In Bhutan we decided to highlight a single species: the tiger. At the start I really was resigned to a future without tigers roaming free in the world. To be honest, half way through the expedition, I still thought the same.

I knew almost immediately that the only chance we had of filming tigers was with camera traps. Unmanned and strapped to a tree these clever little cameras click into action the moment anything passes in front.

They never get tired, they never get hungry and they don’t suffer from heat exhaustion, frost bite or flatulence. Effectively they put me out of a job.

We slept in tents in the tropical heat of the forest and the minus 15 freezing conditions in the mountains.

Food was basic, sleep was scarce and exhaustion of working in the danger zone at an altitude of 5,000 metres was one of the toughest things I have ever done. Blood, sweat and tears pretty much sums up much of the expedition. (Also read Egg on face for BBC over tigers in Bhutan – by the Hindustan Times on the BBC story)

The candle of the tiger flickers vulnerably at the end of a very long dark tunnel, but in Bhutan, in the foothills of the most impressive mountain range on earth, the tiger’s future burns most brightly. We found them.

When I saw the first images of the tigers on the camera traps from the mountains (a place and altitude where tigers aren’t suppose to live) I was completely overwhelmed. It was very emotional.

In an instant I realised that tigers had hope and that the entire teams efforts were being fully rewarded by this briefest glimpse of an animal that didn’t know that its kind has been wiped out elsewhere in the world.

So we found them. OK, not roaming through every mountain pass, or roaring from every patch of forest, but our findings show that there is still hope.

Even (as is quite likely) if every isolated population is wiped out, all is not lost. If we care enough and can create a corridor spanning the Himalayas from Nepal to Thailand, tigers still have a chance. That is what I tell my children.

(Gordon Buchanan is the cameraman and presenter on Lost Land Of The Tiger in the BBC One. The write-up is taken from the BBC’s website.)