Updated: Oct 19, 2020
The Madre de Dios region of Peru is known for it’s diverse wildlife and rainforests. Close to the Tambopata River, Mark Fernley (‘Untamed Photography’ coordinator) and myself, Wouter van Kootwijk (intern), were doing a night walk in search of different reptile species. After only a few minutes, we encountered one of the rarest snakes in the lowland Peruvian amazon.
A Western two-striped palm forest pit viper (Bothriopsis bilineata) was curled up in a tree at about 5 meters off the ground. Normally, this snake lives high up in the canopies to hunt for small birds. The reason we found this viper relatively low in the tree is that a ‘Friaje’ (occasional cold front) was active at the time. After we carefully took the viper down with a long stick, Mark grabbed it by the head and placed it in a pillowcase to bring back to camp.
The next day we ‘white boxed’ the snake to use the photographs in a herpetological species guide. We decided to film its behaviour in the next couple of days and make it into a documentary. In the days that followed, the snake was recorded from different angles and showing different behaviours to make the documentary as interesting as possible. We started off with filming the snake slithering through small vines and branches and searching for a good place to curl up.
Filming the viper curling up was difficult because its natural instinct is curling up high in the canopies. Therefore we had to find a small tree without any surrounding trees, in order to make sure he was going to curl up in the place we wanted him to.
We proceeded with a shot of the snake slithering towards the lens by placing it on a low bent branch. This required focus and caution because we wanted the snake to slither up until around 20 cm from the lens. Fortunately, this individual was calm and not aggressive. Our attention was also needed when doing macro head shots, as that involved getting as close as possible without being bitten. Here, the risk was even greater because we filmed its head up close when it was curled up, not moving, but in striking position.
After we decided we had enough parts of video to compose the documentary, we continued with the narration. For the introduction, Mark filmed me standing behind the snake and giving some general information. Thereafter, we recorded myself narrating about the characteristics of the snake and its habitat. Once the beautiful animal had had its day as a model, it was released back into the wild.
Written by Wouter van Kootwijk
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