James J Al­dred

Meet the man whose day job takes him up the tallest trees in the dens­est jun­gles.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Reviews Books -

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.


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