Mark OShea is a remarkable man, driven to
find and capture reptiles to further his scientific knowledge. Travelling
with him is always eventful. In the past three years I have been
lucky enough (if you call it lucky) to be less than four feet from
Mark when he decided to bring a seven-foot alligator into the boat
we were on to protect some turtles we were studying. Ive also
flown a plane across the Amazon, caught and cooked wild piranha
fish and caught some of the biggest snakes I have ever seen.
From these line drawing of living pythons
head scales it is possible to see how the subocular (under-eye)
scale of the Burmese python separates the supralabial (upper-lip)
scales from the eye. This is not the case in the Indian python.
Our trip to India in search of Indian and Burmese
rock pythons was no exception to the rule that when Mark is around
something interesting always happens. After riding elephants through
10 foot high grass to find Indian rhino and Gaur (Indian bison)
in a national park where they roam free, I found myself watching
Mark handle a rather feisty 10 foot Burmese rock python. As Mark
showed the camera some of the interesting features of the snake
my local contact, Northern West Bengals expert snake catcher
Mr Minto Choudhri tapped my arm and motioned for me to look down
into the marsh at my feet. At first I was concerned that he wanted
to talk and thought of asking him to wait until Mark had finished
speaking. Then I looked down. I was standing on the coils of a massive
snake. Minto and I called Mark across to see it and the rest is
history (you can see the capture in the film). It is the closest
I have found myself to such a large snake (4.75metres) before it
has been captured, but after youve worked with Mark for a
while I trust his snake capturing and handling skills completely
moments like that are exciting rather than terrifying. Ive
only ever seen one larger snake in the wild. If you want to see
that one then look at the film Amazon Anaconda from
the first series of OSheas Big Adventure.
Mark and his Brazillian helpers carrying the snake through the forest
is one of the most bizarre and incredible things I have ever been
involved with filming.
One might imagine that capturing a huge Burmese python would be
the highlight of the trip. It could have been. The people we met
in Bengal, Raj basu, Mr Debnath, Minto and the rest were wonderful
company and very knowledgeable about their forests. My highlight
though was filming in Chhattisgarhh. I have been to India many times
before making films but I can safely say that I thought Chhattisgarh
was a magical place. The people and the landscape were a source
of joy to all of us involved with the filming.
But filming sloth bears at night was, professionally, as tough as
anything we have attempted before on the programme. I have become
used to boat to boat and even elephant to elephant filming with
Mark but directing a team of seven people (including two Forestry
Department guards for our protection) silently in pitch darkness
to film a creature that no-one could actually see was a real challenge.
Needless to say Mark saw the bears first, with the aid of his night
sight. However, Mark Stokes the cameraman had to operate a mini-cam
through another night scope and view the resulting image on a floor-mounted
monitor all the image intensifiers for our normal cameras
were on hire to crews filming the war in Afghanistan. How he managed
to get such great images when he couldnt even look where he
was pointing the camera I will never know, but Im grateful.
It is difficult to describe the feeling of being silently caged
with Mark while a three hundred pound bear wanders around just a
few feet from you, so I wont try. Ill let you imagine
And I never got round to telling you about the bandits on the Chambal
river, youll have to wait for Mark to write a book! Our adventures
would make a good one.
Large Burmese pythons are heavy. This large female is 16ft long
and weighs almost as much as OShea himself.
A close-up of an Indian python head. Note the fading arrow-marking
on the snout and the 6th supralabial in contact with the eye.
Leopard cub, sharp teeth, ouch ! ouch ! OUCH !!
The shaggy sloth bear is far from cuddly. Short-sighted, prone to
panic and inclined to raiding village fruit trees, it is more of
a threat to rural Indians than the tiger. It has long, recurved
claws that inflict terrible injuries.
The crew (l. to r.): OShea; Pradip Acharya (location manager);
Hugo Smith (director); Terry Meadowcroft (sound recordist); Mark
Stokes (camerman); M.Asif Ali (doctor); Thomas Viner (producer)
and Minto Choudhri (local guide, W.Bengal).