Dynasties - Meerkat; A tale of the Makgadikgadi Pans

By Ryan Blumton

Narrated by the revered broadcaster and natural historian, Sir David Attenborough, Dynasties follows the tales of endangered animals that against tough odds form enduring populations. The second installment opens with the tale of the meerkat, filmed in the Makgadikgadi pans.

Echo Travel speaks to BBC Natural History Unit Producer Emma Napper to uncover the filmmaking journey and what made filming in Botswana and the Makgadikgadi pans unique.

This BBC Studios series initially covered the lion, the chimpanzee, the tiger, emperor penguin and the African Wild Dog.

Producer, Emma Napper says that filming the meerkat episode took around 9 months beginning in September of 2019.

“The Dynasties brand follows the true story of animals as they struggle to leave behind a dynasty to survive them. We thought that a meerkat queen might be perfect as leaving a dynasty behind is particularly challenging for meerkats. For a queen to succeed she must not only survive in a tough environment but master predators, rivals and internal politics.” Napper said regarding the decision to select the meerkat as a focal point.

Napper said that they felt that this might make for an interesting story adding that at that time she did not know exactly what that story would be, adding that when she arrived in Botswana in 2019 after having taken a look at meerkats in other countries. She met the group that would be featured in the episode led by a matriarch named “Maghogho” and felt that the struggle could be interesting as at that time the meerkat was pregnant and so was Maghogho’s second in command, Pretty – a sign that this group and Maghogho’s leadership were not yet established.

“Often meerkat stories are told with established groups... but what would happen here? I did not know!”

She further said that the Makgadikgadi Pans are an amazing place as the most extreme place that meerkats can survive adding, “I believe that Maghogho probably had the toughest job of any meerkat in the world.”

The pans were a stunning environment and that she has never been to a place she would want to return to more, stating that the beauty and harshness of the dry season and the transformation to wet is magical.

“The weather is powerful and makes you feel so small. If I were out there in the pans for two days I would die, yet these meerkats can survive. It is humbling,” Napper said.

The crew camped in a concession in the Makgadikgadi. “Of course, Botswana is famous for her incredible preservation of wildlife trying to keep the impact of tourists to a minimum while preserving the environment. It is wild and pristine. It might look in the dry season like ‘the great nothing’ but the variety of animals when you start to look is amazing. We would drive back to camp after seeing lions, wild cat and bat eared foxes... how amazing is that!”

According to Napper, the guides who assisted filming are some of the most knowledgeable in the world and that they guide you to see the Makgadikgadi through their eyes adding, “It was an honor to meet them.”

“We try and use the latest kit and best camera talent in the world to film, sometimes in 8k definition!”

Every Dynasties episode features a segment at the end that begins towards the end called Dynasties on Location about the film process and Napper says that the segment as important, stating, “For me after the tension and drama of the film it’s nice to see what goes into it and experience the location from a human point of view. Sometimes it shows the challenges, and everyone likes a bit of a laugh when other people have surprising problems as we often had the meerkats interrupt our filming as they decided our cameras were the perfect shade.”

Dynasties Meerkat was released in the UK and China as a Christmas special in December 2020 though a full worldwide release is scheduled along with the rest of the series in 2022.

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