James J Aldred
Meet the man whose day job takes him up the tallest trees in the densest jungles.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a wildlife cameraman specialising in filming at height in remote locations, particularly in the rainforest.
Did trees feature in your childhood?
Yes – I grew up in the New Forest. When I was 13, I scaled an ancient oak pollard to escape a herd of stampeding horses. It was then that I discovered trees as platforms from which to view the world.
What have been your hairiest experiences?
There are many! I was once attacked by a female harpy eagle in Venezuela while installing a nestcam at 150m. She hit me hard several times, then dug her talons into my neck and knocked me off the branch. Another time, I was high in a tree in the Congo when a lightning storm struck. As I abseiled down, I got caught between two bull elephants knocking the hell out of each other in the pitch dark forest beneath, which was terrifying. I’ve also been attacked by swarms of honey bees – I got stung about 40 times in my mouth, throat and eyes.
And the good times?
One lovely memory is when I was filming at 25m in a remote area of the Congo. A female chimp started to make a nest with her baby right beside my hide. She’d clearly never seen a human before and her curiosity overcame any fear she had.
What’s been your most challenging endeavour?
I was contracted to design and build a huge treehouse for a film project in Gabon. I spent a month climbing flat out from dawn to dusk, with very little food, chigger bites and a parasitic infection on my face.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen?
I once saw a silverback clambering among branches thinner than my wrist. He must have weighed 200kg and was 75m high in the canopy. I thought he was going to kill himself.
Why do you find trees so alluring?
For me, trees embody the very essence of nature, providing a living connection to our planet. I feel I’m being offered a glimpse of a half-remembered ancestral world when I climb into them. They are ambassadors from the past.
A HARPY EAGLE HIT ME HARD, THEN DUG HER TALONS INTO MY NECK.”