Wildlife expert Nick Baker

When Nick Baker isn’t tiptoeing around Britain with his binoculars, the Springwatch presenter absconds abroad to do the same there. He tells Gavin Haines about sleeping with penguins, why bats were nearly the death of him and where you should go for the best wildlife.

I was in Namibia recently filming for Discovery. It was the first time we had filmed with an on-the-shoulder 3D camera and we wanted to test it somewhere with a nice diversity of landscapes. So I suggested the Namib Desert, which is one of the driest, dustiest places on earth. This was bad for the camera but great for me because I saw desert elephants, dung beetles and a spotted rubber frog – one of only six that have ever been seen. 

The only time my life flashed before me was in Costa Rica, when we were filming vampire bats in a flooded, disused railway tunnel. We were wading through the water, tripping over sleepers, when I felt the rails vibrating under my feet. I said to the bat expert: "Are you sure this is disused?", then we saw this light coming towards us – it was a train. So we ran for our lives through all this water and guano, and as we exited the tunnel this train chugged out behind us. The driver was laughing. He was a farmer and was secretly using the railway to transport machinery.

I once camped on an Antarctic island populated entirely by penguins. The captain of HMS Endurance had dropped me off, but he couldn’t make the original ETA to pick me back up because the icebergs had drifted, so I had to wait. It was beautiful but also quite scary – just me sleeping on a beach full of penguins. While I was waiting for my ship, another vessel docked and who should walk off but my wildlife hero, Tony Soper, who was leading a tour. Turns out Tony (a TV naturalist) lives near me in Devon, but the first time I met him was in Antarctica.

Costa Rica is one of my favourite places on Earth – life is literally dripping off the trees there. It has a stunning array of birds but there also are amphibians and reptiles, and the butterflies are second to none. There are mammals everywhere too. The problem with Costa Rica, though, is that it exhausts me; I get biodiversity paralysis because there is so much to see. That’s when I have to go and sit in one of the local bars.

I really want to go to Mongolia to see the long-eared jerboa, which is a nocturnal rodent with extraordinarily large ears. I also want to go to China to see the giant salamander which is the largest newt on earth. Unfortunately, like most wildlife in China, it is in trouble. 

Nick Baker will be leading a wildlife excursion in Costa Rica this November on behalf of Reef and Rainforest Tours.

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