THE ENEMY IS NOT AT THE GATES, HE’S IN THE HOUSE !!
He is a man that anyone who has ever taken an interest in wild Patagonian Pumas, has most certainly heard of and certainly will have seen his remarkable footage featured in various documentaries like the BBC’S Wild Patagonia, National Geographic offerings an various other channels around the globe.
His Name is Christian Munoz Donoso, a Chilean wildlife cameraman and biologist of some repute, and I had the great pleasure of meeting the maestro when our paths crossed in the Torres del Paine National Park just 2 days ago, when the park had received a coating of snow, turning the 250,000 hectares into a winter wonderland, thereby making our search for the regions apex predator, somewhat easier to spot.
I had returned to the park just for the day to take advantage of the snowfall and hopefully film my first footage of the cats in a winter landscape, I was not to be disappointed. Until that point I was holed up in town for a few days uploading footage to dropbox, or at least attempting too, as it is painfully slow from the parks main hub Puerto Natales, but an early morning shout from Rodrigo and his wife, as I lay blissfully in my bed, alerted me to the fact that the world outside my window was white, and like it or not, we were off to enjoy the park for the day.
On arriving we stopped at my house at the parks southern entrance near Lake Sarmiento, to pick up my camera and boots for trekking, and headed down the road to look for Pumas. Now I hate to brag, but I am a very lucky person in some respects and I seem to have an uncanny knack of locating them rather quickly at times, and on this particular wintery morning, I spotted one after 2.5 minutes of driving, what a start to the day !!, but little did I know that driving towards me in his Toyota Forerunner loaded with camera gear that made me salivate upon getting to play with it a little later, was Mr Munoz Donoso, and he had spotted the Puma too.
It turned out, that while I was in the town uploading footgae, he had been following the Female I had spotted, who had 2 cubs in tow, and they were currently walking through the snow a few dozen mtrs to the right of the road from where I was marching in the stunning early morning light.
I shot off a few snaps and recorded some footage of the female and the cubs and then I went off to join Rodrigo who had gone to introduce himself to Christian and the other occupants of his car.
It was not until we were 5 minutes into the chat, that I mentioned that the producer I was hoping to raise funding for my film with, Nick Gates, currently working for Icon Films in Bristol, had not long ago had dinner with a certain female editor / producer from the BBC, who had been editing the footage of a certain Chilean Cameraman that had spent many years filming these cats not just in Torres del Paine but other more remote and less touristy locations, the grin on his face soon brought me to the conclusion that this was the great man himself, just before he informed me it was in fact his work the BBC editor, and Nick’s dinner companion, had had the incredible pleasure of seeing and helping to edit. I
It was at this point that I realised I was about to get a lesson in filmmaking ……… and boy do I need it.
I was most flattered when he informed me that he had met up with the CONAF bosses, all of whom I have known for many years since my first visit in 1998, and that they had spoken highly of me, and like most people I like my ego being stroked every once in a while, so I was very happy to hear this, as my arrangement with CONAF is one that I am very grateful for, and I have no doubt will continue long into the future. Christian and his team will be in the park for the next couple of months, and our paths will inevitably cross, and I was delighted when he accepted my invitation to him and his crew to pass by my humble rangers house, that the CONAF bosses Rodrigo Rodriguez, Carlos Barria and others, have very Kindly allow me to live in for the 4 month duration that I have permission to film, they have made my life a whole lot easier, and comfortable, and I will be eternally grateful to them for their kindness and generosity.
I am but a one man band, Christian and his crew of assistants, include a cat specialist from Santiago, his son, also an accomplished cameraman, and heaven knows who else and god only know’s how much equipment, I would die to have access to at this moment of heightened Puma activity. But alas I am armed with a Nikon DSLR and a 80-200mm zoom, and a GoPro 6, at least that 4K, but there is absolutely nothing I can do at this moment in time to increase the size of my camera arsenal, but it truly made my eyes water when on returning to the road to introduce myself, he was in the process of mounting his RED Dragon onto a hefty Sachtler tripod and then connecting a high powered Canon ENG lens to the front via an adaptor, it was difficult to hide the saliva trickling from the corners of my half open mouth, and the normal shade of blue that my eyes normally display, were, I am almost certain, glowing molten green with envy, but I think I got away without out him noticing, YER RIGHT !!!!
As always in the high tech times we live in, it was not long before an i phone appeared from the depths of the down jackets, and I was shown a clip of a Puma stalking and attacking a Guanaco who incredibly survived the Puma attacking it, not once but twice, and on both occasions the cat was astride the adult Guanacos back and attempting to clamp those big canines into the Guanacos throat, but miraculously the victim, enacting the violent moves one would see a rodeo bull or wild horse perform when ridden, the Guanaco threw the cat off twice and made the luckiest of escapes, leaving a very bewildered and somewhat hungry Puma, no better off than when it started hunting. The footage was, to put it mildly, stunning and as much as I would love to have captured it, I was thrilled to be shown it by the man who actually shot it. To film these cats you have to have a few vital ingredients, one is time, another is patience, but most important is integrity, and some very serious camera kit does help somewhat, I have the first 3 by the boat load, so hopefully with a little luck, Nick Gates the producer / editor in Bristol can whip the material I have shot to date on my now defunct P2 camera with it’s wonderful built in 22x lens ( equivalent to 600mm in DSLR language ) and the Nikon and Go Pro 6 I am soldiering on with until my time runs out on this particular trip, and raise the funding to get the film in production,
Until then I shall continue to salivate at every given opportunity at the RED Dragon and Canon Zoom I shall no doubt be seeing on my travels while Christian and his crew are filming here….