The Real Stars of Planet Earth 2 - and How You Can See Them

by Sarah Marshall, The Daily Telegraph, November 4, 2016

A decade since Sir David Attenborough’s ground breaking Planet Earth first aired, the hotly anticipated follow-up promises even more remarkable stories and closer wildlife encounters. Advances in technology have opened up all sorts of exciting new possibilities – from capturing astonishingly intimate footage of elusive snow leopards, to following golden eagles in flight with cameras strapped to paragliders.

tozawatakashi/Getty Images/Getty Images

“I can’t think of anything I’d wish to be able to do which I can’t do now,” says Attenborough.

Shooting in 117 locations across 40 countries, the BBC’s intrepid film crew racked up an epic 2089 days on the road – all distilled into six hour-long episodes with a global view.

Replicate a snapshot of their adventures with these recommended wildlife and nature tours.

Antarctica’s islands

Episode 1, Islands

It took a year of paperwork and seven days’ sailing from the Falklands to reach inhospitable, storm-lashed Zavodovski Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. 

But the prize of seeing the world’s largest penguin colony - 1.5 million chinstraps waddling in the shadow of an active volcano - was too great to ignore. 

“I would never in a million years have thought it was possible to get across,” claims Attenborough, who visited the island on an icebreaker in 1980. “These huge seas rise for 20feet. I thought Liz White [episode producer] was potty!”

An accessible alternative to off-limits Zavodovski is Deception Island, a caldera on the Antarctic Peninsula and popular stop for expedition ships, where danger-seeking chinstraps also nest. January is the best time to see parents feeding chicks.

One Ocean Expeditions (0351 962 721 836; ) operate an 11-day Antarctic Peninsula Adventure from December 2016, to March 2017, from £4,875. Excludes flights.

Fernandina Island, Galapagos

Episode 1, Islands

One of the most terrifying sequences in the series features writhing racer snakes exploding from solidified black lava flows and descending on naïve marine iguana hatchlings as they sprint for the sea.

“You can’t predict where the babies will emerge,” explains episode producer Liz White, who had special permission to film for three weeks at Cape Douglas, a popular dive site. 

“It was a case of getting to the beaches at daybreak and patrolling with binoculars. Some days you’d have half a dozen hatchlings and some days you’d have none.”

Marine iguanas can be found year-round on Fernandina, but visit in May/June to see newborns. 

The Ultimate Travel Company (020 3051 8098; ) combine a two-night stay in Quito with a seven-night Galapagos cruise on MV Origin from £7,315 throughout 2017. Includes meals, flights and transfers.

Ladakh, India

Episode 2, Mountains

A cat that’s eluded Attenborough for 60 years is the deserving star of Planet Earth II. Astounding footage of solitary snow leopards marking, mating and fighting against a backdrop of snowy Himalayan peaks, was captured using remote camera traps set over the course of three years.

“We have a sequence of this most beautiful, rare animal,” says Attenborough. “Once a year they deliberately encounter one another. And what do they do? Have a row.

“If somebody else had done the commentary I would have been livid!”

If you can brave hiking at 3,400m elevations and camping in -28C temperatures, it is possible to search for snow leopards in Ladakh’s Hemis National Park. 

Exodus Travels (0203 811 3155; ) offers the 15-day In Search of Snow Leopards trip from £2,249 on February 20 and March 3, 2017, including accommodation, most meals, transfers and flights.

Rocky Mountains, Alberta, Canada 

Episode 2, Mountains

Rubbing their winter coats against coarse tree trunks, Canada’s 'pole dancing' grizzlies add a comedy element to the series. 

From July until August, the team set up remote cameras in front of well-known rub trees. Scientists from Alberta Parks, who’ve been studying the bears’ amusing behaviour for several years, were able to pinpoint the best locations.

A grizzly in CanadaCredit: © Rolf Kopfle /Rolf Kopfle

Although lots of bears do gather in the Rockies, tracking them across such as large area is challenging. 

“For guaranteed sightings you need to head to places where bears congregate,” says Justin Anderson, episode producer.

Telegraph Tours and Audley Travel (03332 340325) offer a 15-day Telegraph Ultimate Western Canada tour from £3,950 from April to October 2017, including accommodation car hire and flights.

Andasibe, Madagascar

Episode 3, Jungles

Jungles are one of the most competitive eco-systems on Earth - especially when they’re disappearing at an alarming rate.

The enigmatic Indri lemurs defend their patches of forest through haunting, whooping song. 

“The way they move through the canopy is really beautiful,” says episode producer Emma Napper. Using handheld cameras to follow the primates, her team put the viewer “almost in the eyes of the animals”.

The Indri families monitored by community-based initiative Association Mitsinjo have been well studied and are used to people, making close encounters more likely. 

Stay at locally run eco-camps to support the economy and deter Madagascans from logging.

Explore (01252 883 728; ) offer an escorted 15-day The Lost Continent tour throughout 2017 from £2,495 including accommodation, guides, transfers and flights.

Pantanal, Brazil

Episode 3, Jungles

Possessing jaws strong enough to crack a caiman’s skull, jaguars are impressive predators. The riverbanks around Porto Jofre, in Brazil’s vast wetlands, have an extremely high density of the cats, now accustomed to hearing boat engines. 

The BBC team visited in August, peak season, when the waterways are crowded with tourists. “Watch from a distance and keep still if you want to see anything interesting,” advises episode producer Emma Napper, who spent hours sitting with sleeping cats in the hope they might hunt. 

“The male we eventually filmed came out of the forest and jumped into the river, pulling out a caiman his size!”

Wildlife Worldwide (01962 302 086; ) offers a 15-day Pantanal trip from £5,795 from June to October 2017, including some meals, accommodation, guides, transfers and flights.

Nevada, USA

Episode 4, Deserts

Local guides are an indispensible boon for spotting wildlife, and the BBC team relied heavily on photographer Mark Terrell to help them film a band of wild mustang horses in Nevada’s hilly high desert.

“We wanted males fighting in the heat of summer over water,” explains episode producer Ed Charles, who visited in July and August. 

“Finding the horses can be quite a challenge as they roam huge areas. Mark knows the dynamics of the bands and their routine.”

USA most epic

The largest number of mustangs in North America can be found here and many are relatively relaxed.

“You can get within metres of them.” 

Book day tours with Mark Terrell from £327 ( ).

Virgin Holidays (0344 557 9275; ) tailor-make a five-night trip to Reno from £776 in 2017, including accommodation, car hire and flights.

Arizona, USA

Episode 4, Deserts

Not all characters in Planet Earth II have a pulse. Carved by sand and gravel carried by floods, Arizona’s millennia-old slot canyons form a dark labyrinth illuminated briefly by tunnels of sunlight.

Episode producer Ed Charles enjoyed three weeks visiting locations including Antelope Canyon, where light beams are best witnessed during July and August. 

“But there are canyons on Navajo land which almost no-one visits,” he says, recommending Secret canyon in particular. “We travelled with a local guide who would play a traditional wind instrument. 

“When you’re alone in this eerily silent canyon and hauntingly beautiful music starts piping up, it’s very special.”

Audley Travel (01993 838 755; ) tailor-make a 19-day tour Cultures & Canyons of Western USA tour from £2,995 in 2017, including accommodation, car hire and flights.

Kaziranga National Park, India

Episode 5, Grasslands

The 13ft-high grass in northeast India is some of the tallest in the world and provides coverage for one of Attenborough’s most cherished species.

“Elephants are a category of creation that’s quite extraordinary,” he says. “They are so sensitive, so intelligent. 

“Rhinos and elephants are mega-animals that have survived from pre-history and the world would be a poorer, poorer place if they disappeared.”

A rhino in India's Kaziranga's National Park

Both species thrive in Assam’s protected 430 square kilometre park, visited by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge earlier this year.

“They call it the Serengeti of Asia,” explains episode producer Chadden Hunter, who filmed in October after the summer monsoon. “From one watchtower, I counted 25 rhinos with my binoculars. I don’t know anywhere in Africa where you can do that.”

Steppes Travel (0843 778 9926; ) offer a 13-day trip from £4,550 departing 2 April 2017, including meals, transfers, flights, guides and a donation of £400 to the Durrell Conservation Trust.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Episode 5, Grasslands

Adaptation is key to survival, clearly demonstrated by prides of lions that have learned to swim and hunt in Botswana’s central floodplains.

The film crew travelled to Chief’s Island between June and August, to film these swamp cats do bloody battle with a 900kg bull buffalo. 

“The Okavango is unlike anywhere else on Earth,” says episode producer Chadden Hunter. “It’s remarkably undeveloped and pristine. You can travel for days and not see another sign of humans.”  

Immerse yourself in the action at Sanctuary Retreats’ Chief’s Camp, on Chief’s Island, and Great Plains Conservation’s Duba Expedition Camp, home to the muscular, buffalo-hunting Duba pride.

The Ultimate Travel Company (020 3051 8098; ) tailor-make a combined 6-night stay through 2017 from £7,730 including all meals, drinks, activities, transfers and flights.

“The Okavango is unlike anywhere else on Earth”Credit: Photograph by Chadden Hunter Copyright BBC NHU 2016/Chadden Hunter New York, USA

Episode 6, Cities

Concrete, metal and neon lights present an unlikely environment for wildlife, yet peregrine falcons have learned to thrive in busy cities. 

“The most dense population is in New York,” marvels Attenborough. “Skyscrapers have become their cliffs, providing an updraft for flight, and they’ve got plenty of pigeons to live on.”

Many pairs were introduced during America’s 1970s DDT crisis, although there’s evidence to suggest they’ve been present for more than 100 years. Now they’re flourishing in Manhattan, while numbers are declining in their natural habitat. 

But craning your neck to watch the world’s fastest animal isn’t easy. 

“It’s best to view from the waterways,” suggests episode producer Fredi Devas. “You can see the peregrines leave their perches in the city and hunt over the water. It’s very dramatic.”

Naturetrek (01962 733051; ) offers an escorted eight-day Spring Birding in New York City trip departing 3 May from £2,595 including accommodation, guides, transfers and flights.

Jodhpur, India

Episode 6, Cities

“You don’t want the whole of creation coming into a city, but there are certain things you can welcome, which is a joy for them and for you,” reflects Attenborough on the merits of urban wildlife. 

Nowhere is this truer than in shimmering blue city Jodhpur, where langur monkey are revered for their association with Hindu god Hanuman.

Year-round, troops gather in temple complexes such as Mandore Gardens, where residents feed them bags of peanuts, chickpeas, fruits and carrots.

Year-round, troops gather in temple complexesCredit: © Serge Kozak / Alamy Stock Photo/Serge Kozak / Alamy Stock Photo

“They have such immaculate manners,” says episode producer Fredi Devas, recalling the primates’ surprisingly genteel eating habits. “They’re so regal.”

A consequence of the rich food supply, females are giving birth twice as often as their forest counterparts.

Devas recommends finding an elevated viewpoint to watch monkeys bound across rooftops. “It’s an example of how good a place the city can be.”

Exodus (0203 811 3155; ) offers an escorted 16-day Classic Rajasthan tour from £2,349 from November 2016 to April 2017, including accommodation, some meals, guide, transfers and flights.

The first episode of Planet Earth II is on BBC1 at 8pm on November 6


This article was written by Sarah Marshall from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.