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Deadly Darts and Rotten Bamboo!

 by Charlotte Scott

Assistant Producer, Jungles/Oceans team

As one of a team of four working on the Jungles episode of  Human Planet, I said “yes” without any hesitation when asked if I’d like to take a colleague’s place at the last minute and go to  Colombia.   On this recce, a research only trip,  my task was to go and meet the Emberá tribe based deep in the jungles of Colombia.   The Emberá in this region are the last actively known group of people to still tip their blowpipe darts with poison frog venom.

 It was only after looking into the whole trip in detail that I realised how much of a challenge this recce could be.  The jungle is always a difficult place to work in and if I injured myself  I would at times be  seven hours away  from the nearest help.

It all started with a bang before I got anywhere near the jungle.   On my first night in Bogota I was uncomfortably close to a large car bomb that killed two people close to my hotel.   So I was only too happy to set off for the jungle the next morning.   Two days and a 4 ½ hour mule ride later we arrived at our village in the heart of the Chocó Mountains.

A muddy mule ride
A muddy mule ride

I then had to explain to all the men in the village that I was  interested in seeing the process of finding the frogs, making the darts and going on a hunt with them.   They were happy to help but first they told me of their malnutrition problems and the lack of electricity and trained health workers and asked if I could tell their story.  

The next morning after the first obligatory rain shower (this is one of the wettest places in the world… 13.3 metres p.a.), we set off into the jungle on foot.   Around 2 hours later ,after slipping and sliding along vertiginous and muddy paths, we stopped for a well earned rest at a dilapidated hut.   Whilst taking a breather, we heard calls from above to say that some of the hunters had found poison dart frogs.   They do this by calling to the frogs at certain times of the day until they call back, then they track them down in the undergrowth by following their calls.

I'm the tall one at the back, behind the fixer, Juan Pablo Morris and the amazingly skilled Embera hunters: Jorge, Elieser, Guillermo, Elias, Boutilio, Alfredo, Eduardo, and a few others
I’m the tall one at the back, along with the fixer, Juan Pablo Morris and the amazingly skilled Embera hunters: Jorge, Elieser, Guillermo, Elias, Boutilio, Alfredo, Eduardo, and a few others

 I proceeded to film how they transferred the poison from one black-legged poison frog to around 60 darts.   This process is only carried out by the hunters once every 6 months to a year as the poison is so potent that it lasts for over a year.

As I was filming the transfer of poison onto the darts, my foot found a bit of rotten bamboo and went straight through.   The vibration through the floor caused all the darts to dance in the air.   I held my breath, but luckily they all landed safely without scratching anyone…… Just one scratch from a tipped dart would have meant instant death.

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Narwhal Alert - Dale Templar,  Series Producer

It has been all systems go this week on the series.  We have had to go into over-drive to get an extremely difficult shoot off to the north of Greenland to film an extraordinary sequence involving Narwhal.   Bethan Evans,  the  ice queen of Human Planet, discovered that the sea ice has started to break up much sooner than expected.   Hunting Narwhal is extremely difficult and one of the key hunting times for a particular community in the far north-west ties  into the ice sheet melt.   Everyone is looking pale and there are boxes of kit everywhere.   The team is rallying around as ever and top Arctic camerman Doug Allan is falling off one frozen trip and straight on to another!

5 Responses to “Deadly Darts and Rotten Bamboo!”

  1. çeşme oteller says:

    Deadly Darts and Rotten Bamboo! – Human Planet. On location with this landmark BBC Earth production great article thank you.

  2. kurye says:

    Deadly Darts and Rotten Bamboo! – Human Planet. On location with this landmark BBC Earth production great article thank you.

  3. Pablo Mazuera says:

    Cool story, come back to Colombia some day………Bogota is not that bad as it seems to be. Sorry about the bomb episode, it’s not an every day thing. [email protected]

  4. Charly Morris says:

    You should go more ofen to Colombia….wonderfull stories down there…

  5. NR says:

    I’m curious — how did the hunters get the poison out of the frog? You said you filmed it, but you didn’t mention the process.

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