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Byline: By Brian McIver

TREKKING through the rainforest, several days further up river than virtually any Europeans have ever ventured, the small band of explorers watched as the reason for their exhausting journey swooped down and wrapped its talons around a monkey's skull.

At that point, the only things in the Guyanese jungle wider than the wingspan of the enormous Harpy Eagle were the amazed smiles of the two Scots there to witness it.

Cameraman Gordon Buchanan and zoologist Dr George McGavin were nearing the end of their month-long expedition into the heart of unexplored Guyana.

They were part of the team of wildlife experts who immersed themselves deep in the rainforest for breathtaking BBC1 documentary Lost Land Of The Jaguar.

It charts the wildernesses in the country sandwiched between Venezuela and Brazil in the northeastern tip of South America.

And the Scots were key members of the group, which also included British naturalist, writer and TV presenter Steve Backshall, who not only found the very rare Harpy, but got extremely precious footage of all kinds of unusual creatures.

During the trip last year, Gordon, 36, from Mull, who also works on BBC's Springwatch, captured incredible footage of jaguars and anacondas for the three-part series.

And Glaswegian George, 55, a world-renowned zoologist based in Oxford and an expert on jungle life, survived a scorpion bite to make incredible findings.

Gordon said: "It is the last untouched rainforest on the planet. It was just like a lost world.

"Anywhere else in the world, it'd take months of tracking to find the animals we saw, but here they just walked in front of the camera.

"We were in a remote part of the rainforest. We flew into the capital, Georgetown, then took a light aircraft further into the country. It was then a few hours up the river by boat to get to our camp.

"If you were scared of insects, you would have had a nightmare.

"Occasionally in the morning you have to shake a scorpion out of your boot before you put it on.

"And at night you pull back the covers before you go to bed to make sure there's not a snake in it.

"But you don't do this job if you're squeamish, and it was a fantastic place to work. We saw things few people will have seen before."

Despite the dangers of the job, George said he loved every minute.

"We made an amazing find of the Theraphosa Blondi, the Goliath Bird Eating Spider - the largest spider in the world. It's the size of both your hands put together and has teeth half an inch long," he said.

"I managed to find it by putting a stick gently down into the hole it was living in, and then it grabbed on and I pulled it out. But it is covered in lots of tiny hairs which it fires if it feels threatened, so I ended up covered in them. They were in my eyes and I was sneezing.

"But the worst moment was when I was bitten by a scorpion. I broke the golden rule of this kind of work, which is never put your hand into one of the holes, and, of course I was bitten. I was lucky, because it was a small one, which are usually the most poisonous, but I only felt ill. I just had to lie down for a while."

For Gordon, the highlight was catching an elusive jaguar big cat on his camera. He said: "I'd tried for months to film jaguars in Brazil, and we only saw something like a 60 second glimpse in three years, so that was top of my list for Guyana, but the chances were slim.

"One night, I set out infrared cameras for giant otters and the next day I sat going through it. When I got to the end, I saw something moving, then, parading in front of the camera, comes this jaguar.

"We got a few minutes of incredible footage."

After spending a month in the rainforest, George and Gordon also led a splinter expedition, which ventured four days up the river Rewa, to a stretch of the jungle that even most locals haven't seen. The river is full of rapids and waterfalls, which has deterred the local guides, but the Scots took a novel approach, and took their boat out of the water to carry it and their gear up the bank past the falls.

George said: "It was exhausting work, but it was worth it."

Gordon added: "One of the first things we saw was a 17ft anaconda, which was incredible.

"The amount of Europeans who had ever seen that place could fit around a table. We felt very lucky.

"It was all topped off when we spotted a Harpy eagle, the most powerful bird of prey on the planet.

"We knew they lived in the rainforest but they are so hard to spot they weren't even on our lists."

'Anywhere else in the world, it would have taken months of tracking to find the animals that we saw, but here they were just walking in front of the camera'

Lost Land Of The Jaguar is on BBC1, Wednesday, July 30, 8pm.


WEB FEAT: George's giant spider; TIME OUT: Gordon takes a break on his amazing trip; SHARP END: Steve with a sabretooth characin; WEB CAST: The whipspider is a rare sight but the Scots got close up; SCALE NEW HEIGHTS: An Amazon forest dragon; ON THE UP: The boat is dragged up Kaieteur Falls; SMALL WORLD: Crazy caterpillar, Harpy Eagle, antwren chicks and horned frog; PICTURES: BBC
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 18, 2008
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