The Living Spy Cameras of BBC’s ‘Spy in the Wild’

Curators’ Corner

The Living Spy Cameras of BBC’s ‘Spy in the Wild’

The idea of a spy camera is typically more disturbing than awe-inspiring, but a new show from BBC is giving the topic a new angle. If you have ever marveled over Planet Earth and the miraculous shots of wildlife that the show’s relentless documentarians and photographers capture, then Spy in the Wild is so for you.

Using cameras disguised as eerily lifelike animatronic robots, the show is able to deploy these “animals” on covert operations to document the lives of their wild comrades. Never before has such intimate footage been captured of creatures in their natural habitats. The spies are able to collect intelligence on complex, human-like relationships and behaviors that were previously unknown to the scientific world.

In one episode shot in India, Spy Baby Langur Monkey was stealthy placed amongst 120 of its peers before being accidently dropped onto a stone street below by an adolescent overly excited to play. One of the show’s producers, Matthew Gordon, recalls the experience:

“It was one of those moments where something totally unexpected happens right in front of you and you can scarcely believe your eyes. The langur monkeys had all been making a lot of noise, and then suddenly they just went completely silent. As they hugged each other, all of a sudden a gust of wind blew past me and ruffled the fur of the langurs. That was the moment I was looking through the viewfinder and thinking, ‘We’re capturing something truly remarkable here.’ And when the scientist comes over and he is just as excited as you are, you know you’re onto something special.”

In order to gain acceptance into groups, the spy creatures needed to learn how to copy sounds and behaviors of their live counterparts. “Spy Wild Dog Pup mimicked the body language of the African savannah’s wild dog pack with submissive postures, tail wagging and play bows to win them over. Likewise, Spy Prairie Dog was designed to perform a jump yip, a leap on two legs, which is visual signal to unite the prairie dog colony in Colorado,” Creative Planet Network noted.

The show aired on Wednesdays from February 1 – March 1, but you can still catch re-runs on PBS.org.