Since we know more than anyone else about one of the most misunderstood animals around, we feel it's our responsibility to help educate people about hyenas. So when Animal Planet came to us with a project, we jumped at the chance. I spent the last week with a TV crew filming a whole hyena episode for a new show called “Night,” which documents the bizarre lives of nocturnal animals. I was called in as kind of a human-hyena liaison, working to help find hyenas and explain their behavior. But I had NO idea what to expect.
Here in the Mara we have enough trouble watching our hyenas on a day-to-day basis due to rough terrain, bad weather, and their somewhat unpredictable behavior, so I didn't know how a TV crew could get much decent footage. Plus, this whole show had to be shot at night, which made everything way more complicated! We went out every evening at dusk, spent all night out filming, and rolled back into camp for a few hours of sleep just as the sun came up.
In order to actually capture nocturnal behavior on film, the crew had all sorts of fantastic gadgets like infrared lights, night vision, and heat-sensing cameras. Since this kind of equipment is really expensive (the thermal video camera alone cost more than $50,000) and is usually reserved for military purposes, I was really lucky to be able to play with it all for a week! I also had the crew teach me all about cameras, sound equipment, and the process of directing a TV show. Here’s a photo of me playing sound technician for a day (the host, Brandon, is in the background hamming it up for the camera).
I thought I’d just be bringing some hyena knowledge to the table, but they wanted me to have a lot more on-camera time than I had anticipated. The host and I were constantly being filmed on this “quest” to uncover the truth about hyenas. I’m definitely no actress, and I think these 15 minutes of fame were enough for me! It’s nearly impossible trying to say anything serious on camera with 6 crazy guys standing on the sidelines trying to crack you up. I’m totally prone to giggling attacks, and I ruined more than a few takes that way. On the other hand, it turns out practical jokes are WAY funnier when you’ve got a director and camera crew in on them.
The focus of the entire episode was to dispel the myth that hyenas are merely cowardly scavengers, so our goal was to film an entire hunting sequence from beginning to end. Of course, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded. We found hyenas every night, but we were foiled by rain three times, lions twice, and darkness once. I think we were all feeling the pressure on the last night, but we finally captured some great footage. But I won’t spoil it…you’ll just have to watch the show to see what happens!