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04/04/2011
A journey to South Africa

We have just returned from South Africa and Mozambique, where we produced the first three episodes of Missione Natura.

 

These are areas I know well, because I used to work there before I started in television: I spent years in the Kruger Park savannas studying African parrots. The South African summertime (our winter) is a period of plenty: there is water everywhere, and the grass is green. It is the season when the animals give birth to their young. But I had never seen the savannah looking so lush and green.

 

This year the rains were plentiful, and the rivers are swollen with water. This caused us some difficulties in our search for the animals, but at the same time it also gave us the opportunity to film unusual and unexpected creatures. A reptile and amphibian expert from Hoedspruit, a small town at the foot of the Klein Drakensberg range, advised us of a black mamba nest not far from the town. That was an opportunity not to be missed, so we set ourselves up there, with two cameras pointing at the nest, where the “little ones” had begun to hatch, with just their heads emerging from their eggs. We waited for two days for them to come out, and at the end of the second day, just when we were about to give up, one of the little guys finally made his mind up and came out of his shell ... very beautiful, and very poisonous.

 

I can't give away too much about the wonderful things we saw, but we did also manage to document the birth of a hippopotamus: the mother and calf were exhausted, and resting in a quiet meander in the Olifants River. The balloon trip was another extraordinary experience.

 

The wind that drove us gently over the savannah gave us some unique views. One of the three episodes focused on sharks, and particularly on the white shark and the fearsome Zambesi shark. Weather conditions were not on our side; the ocean was rough, and because of the heavy rains, the water was colder and cloudier than usual. I had planned to meet the great white without a cage, but that is too dangerous when visibility underwater is less than a metre, so I stayed safe and sound in my steel sanctuary, while the great predators roamed around me. Whereas I got to see the Zambesi shark close up, in the warm, clear waters of Mozambique.

At Ponta Do Ouro there is a pinnacle that rises from the ocean bed to a depth of 40 metres. We stationed ourselves there, and it was not long before the sharks appeared. At first they were cautious, but soon their curiosity got the better of them, and they came closer. On the sea floor, while we were waiting for the sharks, a huge grouper fish, almost as long as I am tall, began hectoring me. It was not best pleased to find me in its territory. It stared me straight in the eyes, and every now and then, it butted me. After a brief skirmish, it eventually accepted us, staying near me while the Zambesi sharks swam around us. It was a wonderful experience, but there is no time to rest; my suitcase is already prepared. In a few days I'll be setting off again, this time for Costa Rica.

Vincenzo Venuto