|Caves and fauna in documentaries on films & TV
Over the years, several international documentaries for film and TV have been made, filmed in Malaysian caves, featuring cave fauna etc. Gomantong seems to be the most popular cave. Some of the programmes have been well researched, but some haven't. It is surprising how many inaccurate facts are given in some of these films. And in recent years, the newer programmes are made in a rather over dramatic and sensationalised style, showing the presenter running around jungles and caves looking for dangerous and often 'supersize' creatures. Some of these shows seem to focus more on the entertainment value than the educational aspect, with a catchphrase of "deadly, wacky, risky". Sadly this trend is continuing with more shows done in this style. It is such a pity that in an attempt to impress the general public, wrong info is given about a lot of the creatures.
Some presenters have been filmed killing wild animals to eat as part of the survival
scenes. This became quite controversial when Bear Grylls (see below - Man vs Wild
Bear Grylls : Borneo Jungle) killed a lot of bats in China. This was posted on several sites, e.g. here and here and a youtube clip 'by' the bats themselves. In 2012 he was fired by Discovery Channel "after a contract dispute".
Some presenters also give a bad image to caving, e.g. by doing reckless things, or even by just not wearing a helmet. One example is Bear Grylls, who never seems to wear a helmet when caving in the programmes that I have seen. In the latest, "Britain's biggest adventures", [ITV , Part 2, 2015, shown Sept 2015. Nutopia and BTV!] after abseiling at Malham Cove without a helmet, he goes into Long Churn Cave. We see him going through a section of cave alone, with a single torchlight and no helmet. Then he meets up with an experienced caver. As the cave begins to flood they have to go out. It seems to be that Bear Grylls often does reckless things, presumably for the TV audience. A few days later the local cave rescue organisation complained to the tv company "over 'horrifying' Bear Grylls TV programme", see more on grough. See more on my blog.
Here are some of the international documentaries filmed in Malaysia. For those made locally see local productions :
Cave of bats, 1964, (TV )
Cave of bats was shown on British TV in 1964, as part of an adventure series. Filmed by Jane Burton in Dark Cave at Batu Caves.
Chronicle series : The Great Caves of Niah , BBC2 , 1968 (TV series)
Filmed by Hugh Gibb for BBC2. Covers the archaeology with Tom Harrisson and the birds' nest collectors.
Shown Jan 1968.
The World About Us : Mulu , BBC 1978 (TV)
Phil Chapman's film of the RGS Mulu expedition. Shown on BBC Sept 1978.
Realm of Darkness : Hollow Mountains of Mulu, (TV series)
Filmed by Sid Perou for Channel Four, 1984. Shown on British TV
When British cave explorers Andy Eavis and Ben Lyon first set foot in the limestone mountains of the Mount Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Borneo, they were stunned by the sheer size and quantity of the caves they found there. They returned with a large and well equipped expedition.
Wildlife on One: Serpents, Swiftlets and the Chasm of Gloom. BBC1, 1987 (TV series)
Narrated by David Attenborough. In the black caverns of Borneo live what are surely the
strangest birds in the world. They make their nests of spit and can fly in total
darkness. These cave swiftlets are but one of a multitude of creatures that inhabit this
underworld; bat eating snakes hunt beneath roosts that harbour bats by the million; huge
mounds of guano seethe with insect scavengers, and giant poisonous centipedes stalk the
cavern walls. Men, too, come to these gigantic caves, clinging precariously to fragile
ladders and walkways to gather a remarkable harvest... for the swiftlets' nests are used,
incredibly, to make bird's nest soup. Shown on BBC1 in Feb 1987. 30 minutes long.
Farewell to the King, (film)
Farewell to the King is a 1988 film written and directed by John Milius. It stars Nick Nolte (Learoyd), Nigel Havers (botanist), Frank McRae (Tenga), and Gerry Lopez (Gwai) and is based on the 1969 novel L'Adieu au Roi by Pierre Schoendoerffer.
During World War II, an American soldier, Learoyd, becomes a deserter and escapes a Japanese firing squad in the Philippines in 1942. He manages to sail to Borneo and hides himself in the wilds of Borneo. Learoyd is adopted by a head-hunting tribe of Dayaks, a tribe of headhunters. They consider him "divine" because of his blue eyes. Before long, Learoyd is the reigning king of the Dayaks. He takes a local wife and has a child.
When British soldiers approach him to rejoin the war against the Japanese, Learoyd resists. When his own tribe is threatened by the invaders, the "king" deigns to fight for their rights when the Japanese attack his adopted people. This war story told in the style of Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling.
The film was partly shot on location in the caves at Bau, Kuching, Sarawak. The crew stayed in the Holiday Inn, Kuching and returned there every night. The hotel is within a two-hour drive of every jungle, river, cave or beach location used for "Farewell to the King."
The film is different from the book. In the book, Learoyd is an Irishman in the British army.
The film wasn't very successful and had very mixed reviews.
Release Date: 7 July 1989 (UK)
The Trials of Life , David Attenborough (TV series)
The Trials of Life: A Natural History of Behaviour is a BBC nature documentary series written and presented by David Attenborough, first transmitted in the UK October 1990.
Episode 5 "Finding the Way" included some filming in Niah, showing ecolocation by bats and swiftlets.
The Living Edens : Borneo : Islands in the Clouds (TV series)
Originally by PBS. 1999. 47 mins. Episode 9, Season 1
The version shown on TV in Malaysia is dated 2006, shown on National Geographic Wild channel.
Living Edens: Borneo, An Island in the Clouds documents the wide variety of animal life unique to Borneo. Exploring its caves, forests, and reefs, the ambitious program details the life history of animals, and photographs and discusses the cave swiftlet and the wrinkled-lip bat amongst many others. Partly filmed in Deer Cave in Mulu, includes cave crabs and crickets.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, erosion and other geological forces have carved out one of the largest, most intricate cave systems on earth. Deep within Borneo's caves, water and dissolved limestone form otherworldly formations of rock. These formations take an eternity to form -- only a half inch of new rock is added with each passing century.
Long abandoned by their human inhabitants, who lived here thousands of years ago, Borneo's caves support varied, unusual forms of life.
Cave swiftlets, small, flitting birds, navigate through the darkness using sonar. They come to rest on the cave's walls, where they construct nests out of their own spittle. The birds saliva is perfect for sticking to the cave wall, and it dries rock hard on contact with the air. Even so, it may take two months of work before a pair of swiftlets complete their nest and are ready to breed.
Unfortunately for the swiftlets, their nests are a Chinese delicacy, and reputedly, an aphrodisiac. Some 16 million of the birds' nests are harvested and exported for nearly a billion dollars each year, making this the most lucrative wildlife trade in the world.
Swiftlets are not the only cave dwellers that use sonar. Bats, which comprise a huge percentage of all mammal species in Borneo, also find their way around through echolocation. A bat emits a high pitched sound through its mouth or nose, and based on the pattern of echos that return, its brain creates an image of the surrounding environment. This incredible adaptation allows the bats to catch their insect prey without ever seeing it.
In some caves, bat populations number in the millions. When it's time to feed, a bat colony can take nearly an hour to empty out into the darkening forest.
Cockroaches, crickets and other invertebrates populate caves by the millions. Inadvertently, these insects keep the floor of the caverns clean, feeding on every available organism, and leaving nothing to waste.
Planet Earth : Caves (TV series)
Planet Earth is a 2006 television series produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. It is an 11 part series featuring different environments, episode 4 is on caves.
The series took 4 years to make and was one of the most expensive nature documentary series ever commissioned by the BBC. The series was co-produced by the Discovery Channel and NHK in association with CBC. Planet Earth was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One in March 2006, and premiered one year later in the USA on the Discovery Channel. By June 2007, it had been shown in 130 countries worldwide. The original BBC version was narrated by David Attenborough and produced by Alastair Fothergill. For Discovery, the executive producer was Maureen Lemire, with Sigourney Weaver's voiceover replacing Attenborough. The series is often repeated on satelllite tv channels.
The Caves episode was filmed in America, Mexico and Malaysia. The Malaysian segments features Deer Cave and Gomantong Cave. However the programame doesn't actually differentiate between the 2 caves. The Deer Cave inhabitants include three million wrinkle-lipped bats, which have deposited mounds of guano over the years. The 100m high guano mountain (actually in Gomantong) is covered with hundreds of thousands of cockroaches and other invertebrates. Caves are not powered by the sun, all the animals are dependant on the guano. Cockroaches feed on the guano and anything that falls into it. Giant centipedes more than 20cm long eat cockroaches. Crabs sift through the droppings. Bats are shown leaving Deer Cave, 3 million bats take 2 hours to leave each evening, some are prey to specialised birds. The next sequence is on swiftlets (in Gomantong), they navigate by clicks, and the nests have been collected for over 500 years. Men take risks using no safety equipment, climbing up to 60m high on ladders made from forest vines. The pure white nests are for soup.
At the end of each fifty-minute episode, a ten-minute featurette takes a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges of filming the series. This was particularly interesting as they showed how it took them around 5 days just to film a short segment of the camera travelling up the huge guano mountain. The video can be seen on various websites, including Yahoo video Planet Earth caves.
Expedition Borneo, BBC
Episode 4 of 5.
Wildlife adventure series following a team of explorers in the heart of the tropical island of Borneo - a lost world of unexplored jungle protected by a fortress of impenetrable mountains. Their aim is to find evidence that will help the area to be preserved forever. One team is hunting for bats, snakes and giant spiders, whilst the other finds extraordinary cave paintings made by an ancient rainforest people. Then the climbers set out on their greatest challenge yet - to drop into an enormous collapsed chamber lying at the top of a jungle mountain. (30 minutes )
Episode 5 of 5.
5/5 A bizarre twilight network of caverns never explored by humans before is discovered. First broadcast: 05 Jan 2007.
Wildlife adventure series following a team of explorers in the heart of the tropical island of Borneo.
Their aim is to find evidence that will help the area to be preserved forever. Steve and Justine are camped at the bottom of an enormous hole lying deep in the jungle. They are the first naturalists ever to explore this bizarre twilight world and they stumble across a network of caverns and passages, never explored by humans before.
Meanwhile, Tara and her team face the white water rapids of a remote jungle river in order to be the first team of biologists ever to explore the pristine jungle that lies upstream. (30 minutes )
Video clip Underground abyss, Presenter Steve Backshall descends into an untouched wilderness in Borneo.
Quest: Expedition Borneo, on Discovery Channel
2 cave related Discovery Channel videos from 2007 on Mulu.
Quest: Expedition Borneo: Daring Descent.
Scientists Steve Backshall and Justine Evans drop 500 feet through thin air into a
sinkhole in the heart of Borneo's dense jungle in Mulu.
Expedition Borneo: Bats and Bones.
Caves on Borneo hold all sorts of surprises, including ancient burial grounds and
millions of bats in Deer Cave.
Steve Backshall's diaries on Expedition Borneo - Descent Into Darkness can be read here.
Deadly 60 (CBBC TV series)
Deadly 60 is a TV series produced by CBBC. Naturalist Steve Backshall is on the search for animals for his Deadly 60 list. The category is rated as 'Children's, Factual'. Each episode is 28 minutes.
The 10th episode features Malaysia, specifically the Gomantong centipede which is on the Deadly 60 list. It was first shown on 2 August 2009. The programme info says: "Naturalist Steve Backshall is on the search for animals for his Deadly 60 list. In this spine-chilling episode, he abseils into the darkness of the incredible Gomantong cave system. Here, he encounters thousands of cockroaches and one of the scariest creepy crawlies to go on the Deadly 60 list, the scutigera centipede. Thousands of wrinkle-lipped bats call this cave their home. In order to show how amazing they are, Steve hangs like a bat from the cave ceiling. It is a truly awesome sight as they leave the cave in their thousands to hunt for bugs in the night sky. Steve also scours the waterways of the Borneo jungle for a reticulated python, and the team get munched on by tiger leeches. Not an episode for the faint-hearted".
Unfortunately the programme seems to feature on sensationalism, and over- exaggerates the dangers of the centipede. It is described as an incredible hunter because of its long legs used to feel its environment, and can be as long as a man's forearm, with a venomous bite. A local man was bitten and spent a week in hospital. The segments ends saying "a truly terrifying cave predator".
A 2 minute clip on YouTube.
The expedition was called Earth Explorers - Underground Borneo, see an article on Dropping into the Gomantong Caves.
Another programme in the Deadly 60 series shows a different centipede, the world’s largest. This highly venomous giant scolopendra is found in a cave in Venezuela.
Jeff Corwin Experience : Wild Man in Borneo (TV series).
The Jeff Corwin Experience is an American television show about animals airing on the Animal Planet cable channel since 2001. Each episode is 30 mins.
Season 1 , Episode 1 — Borneo: A Wild Man in Borneo
The main intention of this programme is to find the Asian elephant in the Kinabatangan area. Corwin goes into a shop in Kuching that sells birds nests, then goes to Gomantong Cave. He goes in the lower entrance and shows the deep guano underfoot with millions and millions of cockroaches and beetles. There is a shot of a baby swiflet being eaten. Next we see the nest collectors hoisiting their ladders, and Corwin climbs a ladder wearing a head mounted Infra Red camera to see in the dark. The first nests are collected before the birds lay their eggs. They then have to build another nest, lay their eggs which are allowed to hatch, and then the second nest is taken. In the next part, Corwin climbs the mountain, and talks to a talking cat. He handles an insectivorous bat.
Austin Stevens : Snakemaster, Animal Planet (TV series)
Austin Stevens: Snakemaster also known as Austin Stevens: Most Dangerous and Austin Stevens Adventures. Produced by Animal Planet, 2004. During each episode, he searches extensively for a certain snake, and also encounters other snakes along the way.
Episode 1: In Search of The Man-Eating Python
Austin Stevens goes to Borneo to find the Reticulated Python. On the way he encounters a cave racer in Gomantong Cave. On the way up he says how almost all snakes eat live food, with the exception of the rare and unusual snakes that live underground in Borneo and feed on dead bats. He abseils into Gomantong Cave. During the abseil he says caves have a special significance, that evil spirits live underground. The Kinabatangan people used to bury their dead in decorated coffins in caves. There are stories of a female vampire which lives deep underground in caves and lures men and sucks their blood. He says the noise and smell of the bats is overpowering. Then he finds a cave racer, and in typical form, falls as he catches it! He says they are found all over forests, but some have learnt to live in caves and rarely come out as the food is there. He says forest racers are green and the cave ones grey, and suggests it is because the snakes loose colour as they stay in the cave. He says most snakes eat live prey and are semi constrictors, but these racers have learnt to eat dead prey as there is so much around. They are semi carrion eaters as they eat bats and birds that died up to a few days ago. Describes how snakes have to eat the bat head and make sure the wings are worked into the mouth. He then says he has to look for a way out of the cave! The cave segments lasts 5 minutes. Video can be seen on www.quicksilverscreen.com.
Snake Crusader With Bruce George (TV series)
This series is by Discovery Networks, 2008, and shown on Animal Planet, first aired in Malaysia in August 2009.
Snake Crusader With Bruce George: Batman Bruce
Onboard his Harley Davidson, Aussie snake charmer, Bruce George goes on adventure across Australia and Asia on a quest to help the not so popular endangered native animals! This episode features both the cave racer and bats.
Even Bruce is not so sure about these creatures, so he has come to Peninsular Malaysia to learn a bit more. This area has one of the highest concentrations of bats, anywhere in the world but like so many creatures in the world, these amazing creatures are under threat. Bruce arrives at the base of Batu Caves, north of the Kuala Lumpur. Standing guard at the steps to the caves is a 42 metre high gold statue of Hindu war god, Lord Muraga. Bruce climbs the daunting 272 step staircase to meet caving enthusiast Yee Yoke Chuan. He shows Bruce the amazing cave system that is home to over half a million bats and hoards of cockroaches and other strange insects that never see the light of day. Yee tells him that bats drive this ecosystem as the guano they excrete feeds the insects that other animals in the cave feed on. It´s this amazing food chain and at the top of the food chain are cave racer snakes. Bruce is told he is unlikely to see a cave racer snake, but at the last moment Bruce hits the jackpot and sees two of these elusive creatures. As jungle habitats disappear, snakes are being pushed into urban areas. Bruce meets fellow snake rescuer Mo Kumar and they rescue a mangrove snake that has wandered into a warehouse. It is in poor condition and they take it back to Mo´s reptile sanctuary for observation. Just then another snake arrives from a rescue. It is a King Cobra and Bruce gets up close with the royalty of snakes. Back on the bat trail, Bruce heads to Krau Wildlife Reserve, a 30 million year old rainforest and a bat paradise. Krau is a magnet for bat researchers like Dr Tigga Kingston and her team. Bruce helps the team set up harp traps across a well-known bat flight paths in the forest to track the bat populations living in the jungle. That night they check the traps and it´s a bat bonanza. The bats are bagged and taken back to camp where they are weighed and measured. Wing samples are taken for genetic sampling. This data helps Tigga build a picture of the bat populations living in the forest. Although they have caught a lot of bats tonight, Bruce learns that habitat destruction will cause 20% of south east Asian bats to be extinct by the end of the century. If we lose bat species, it will be a huge economic and ecological disaster. Not only do fruit bats reseed forests and pollinate many plants and fruit trees, large colonies of insects eating bats devour over 2000 tonnes of insects per year. Without bats, many crops would be devastated. Gathering information to ensure the survival of bat species is crucial. In the early morning Bruce and Tigga release dozens of bats into the forest. They agree there´s nothing as wonderful as releasing wild animals back into their natural habitat! Working with bats has been a revelation for Bruce and he´s become a bit of a "bat evangelist" like Tigga.
My notes from the film - Dark Cave is 400 million years old . There are 200 animal species, cockroaches live in the guano. There are 100,000 bats in Chamber A and 1/2 million bats in the cave [I don't know where these figures came from]. The racer has white skin, is grey in some caves, is 3-4 m in length, eats bats and bats eat insects. The long legged centipede is not poisonous but gives a bad sting. The cave racer is similiar to the Trinket snake in Singapore. They saw 2 snakes, one with a fresh tail wound, Yee says attacked by a rat. Yee never seen 2 snakes in 1 cavern at any 1 time.
Bugs (IMAX movie)
Bugs is a documentary film about the various insects in Borneo's rainforest, highlighting the extraordinary world of insects. It was made for the IMAX 3D screen. It was released in October 2003 in the UK, and shown in KL's IMAX cinema in Aug 2005.
Bugs is a live-action nature drama filmed in awe inspiring, totally immersive 3D. Shot on location in Sarawak, Borneo and in a purpose-built studio in Oxford, England. Judi Dench is the narrator.
Although not specifically cave related, part of the filming was done in Gunung Mulu National Park. Bats were filmed in Deer Cave. The challenges of filming in Mulu were described...... "Although accessing the rainforest was a simple matter, transporting the cumbersome 3D equipment in 30 degrees Celsius (85 F) was no easy task. In Mulu, three hundred and fifty pounds of camera equipment and rigs were lashed to boats. Climbing slippery hills to get to the dripping bat caves into which the heavy cameras were lowered, was another challenge along with dodging poisonous animals such as Wagler's Pit Vipers, Scolapendra Centipedes, scorpions and tarantulas. Being situated almost on the Equator proved another problem. The sunrise and sunsets, the beloved 'magic hours' for filmmakers, are about thirty minutes long! The sun just pops over the horizon and then heads straight up the sky. It's directly above (unattractive light for filming) by breakfast time. The same is true each evening - a few minutes of beauty and then 'pop', the sun goes out. So, for any beautiful dawn shots, the crew had to be in position the night before, taking five hours to rig the cameras on the mountain top to capture a classic image in the film called 'Mulu Dawn'. A team of night watchmen kept things secure until the crew headed up the mountain at 3 am for the 5.30 am sunrise."
Life In The Undergrowth : The Silk Spinners (TV Series)
David Attenborough made a series called "Life in the Undergrowth", as part of the BBC's nature documentaries. It was first shown on TV in 2005. One episode is called "The Silk Spinners". This is about spiders. It begins in Waitomo Cave in New Zealand and shows the larvae of the fungus gnat, which produce hanging silken strands which trap insects.
Further on in the episode is some excellent footage of the trapdoor spider. Although not filmed in a cave, various species of trapdoor spiders do live in Malaysian caves. This sequence was filmed in the forest at Frasers Hill and shows a spider jumping out of its trapdoor and catching a beetle.
Bite Me with Dr Mike (TV Series)
Bite Me with Dr. Mike Leahy is an American documentary television show
originally shown on Travel Channel. The first season has eight episodes
and started June 2009.
Virologist Dr. Mike Leahy showcases some of Earth's most dangerous and often tiny creatures that may be a surprise for travelers. Dr. Leahy will go to the furthest extent to understand these creatures by letting them bite, sting, or feed on his body.
Episode 5 "Borneo" was first shown July 21 2009. In Malaysia it appeared on Nat. Geog. channel in Feb 2011. Dr Mike Leahy travels to Borneo where he learns the hard way that everything is out to get you, whether trekking through the forest, climbing a mountain, exploring a 65 million year old cave system or cruising through the mangrove swamp.
He goes to Gomantong and describes the cockroaches and histo spores. He
says Gomantong is one of the most spooky and disgusting places he's
trekked to. 1 million bats, 100 ft high pile of bat poo. It smells
gross and is alive with bugs and parasites that can damage your health.
The bats don't harm you as they go out to feed. He says cockroaches
have hairs in their butts to detect you coming. They live and feed in the guano. They have 2 brains, one at the head and one at the tail, which are linked by a huge nerve. They have hearing organs in their knees, and armour plating which keeps the moisture in and disease out. They carry disease. He wears a suit and mask to climb the guano pile and they use a night camera to show the creatures in the guano. The histoplasmo parasite can kill. The fungal spores enter your lung and white blood cells move in to attack them, but the histoplasmo spores reproduce in the white blood cells, and cause histoplasmosis - an infection of the lungs and upper respiratory tract.
Decade of Discovery (TV Series)
Chris Packham presents a one hour programme on new species discovered in the last 10 years. This BBC Documentary was first shown on BBC TV on 14 Dec 2010.
The decade's top ten new species:
As 2010 draws to a close, scientists have been looking back over the array of new species that have been discovered since the beginning of the century. Some of the weirdest and most scientifically wonderful are featured in the documentary. The film-makers collaborated with Conservation International to make the documentary, which has whittled down nature's top ten revelations.
Coming in at number 2 is a gecko found in Perlis caves. It is the
Langkawi Bent-toed Gecko, (Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus).
Possibly a double discovery, this extraordinary gecko was first discovered in 2008 by Dr Lee Grismer from La Sierra University, California in forests on Langkawi. It has also recently been found in a limestone cave, probably to escape its main predator, the pit viper. To live and hunt in a cave the gecko has had to make some drastic changes to its body shape: a flatter head, longer limbs and slighter build. If Lee's theory is correct then we are witnessing speciation in action, the moment when one animal becomes two. My photo of the gecko.
In Too Deep - Discovery Animal Planet (TV Series)
This series is by Discovery Networks, 2008, and shown on Animal Planet, aired in Malaysia in May 2011.
Series in which Animal Planet is on a mission to find out how animal life survives in the harshest of environments. Jamie Crawford presents "In Too Deep", as he demonstrates the amazing capabilities of the animals he meets.
Episode 2 Borneo : The half hour show starts in the Kinabatangan area in Sabah. The last section is in Gomantong.
"Finally, deep in the Gomontong Caves Jamie finds the cave swifts –
birds with the ultimate adaptation. They are able to navigate their way
through the darkness of the caves and swamps looking for food. Jamie
has to overcome his greatest fear, heights, to descend into the cave
with the drop to the ground at 300ft below."
Jamie briefly mentions the 2 million bats living in the cave. He then
climbs to the top of the hill, up a 30 m ladder, and then he abseils in
although not much is shown. There is a brief shot of a centipede and
cave racer. Jamie says how the swiflets have the ultimate adaptation as
they are the only birds in the world that navigate by echo location. We
see a shot of the swiftlets returning to the cave in the evening. Then
Jamie leaves. There are no close up shots of the switlets, or mention
of their nests.
Niah Cave - BBC Earth News (UTube)
A short clip on Niah on YouTube.
World's Biggest Cave - Nat Geog (TV Series)
Although this film is about Hang Son Doong, Mountain River Cave, in Vietnam, there are various comparisons with Mulu's Deer Cave. At the end they say that Hang Son Doong is continually higher, longer and wider than any other cave in the world. See Nat Geog. 2010?
Malaysian Journey with Jason Scott Lee - National Geographic Channel (TV Series)
Not a naturalist programme, a travel one (2008?). Jason Scott Lee is a part-time actor, part-time farmer, fisherman from Hawaii. Shown on Malaysian TV May 2011.
In the second part of this episode he goes to Sandakan, and accompanied by Cede [Prudente] he goes to Gomantong. The clip is only 2-3 minutes, focusing on the swiftlets and birds' nests. We are told one nest costs $30 and 1 kg $3000. The nests are collected 3 times a year, men climb 80 m high ladders, and earn millions of $ a year. There is a guard in the cave. Cockroaches feed on the droppings. The cave centipede is venomous, we briefly see cave crabs. At dusk bats leave the cave and swiftlets return. Malaysian Journey www.
Passage to Malaysia - Across the Seas- TLC (The Learning Channel) Discovery channel (TV Series)
Each episode of PASSAGE TO MALAYSIA explores some of the threads that weave the rich fabric that is modern Malaysia. Premieres June 22 
Denise embarks on an epic-like seafaring adventure into Malaysia's history through a maritime prism. In this episode she starts in Langkawi. She tells us Langkawi is 500 million years old and is the first UNESCO geopark in SE Asia. She goes to Gunung Raya Adventure sports for abseiling. Then they go along the Kilim River to a sea cave on the east side of Langkawi's 'biggest dome'. They canoe in, climb up and abseil back down. Her German (?) guide says the cave is 'the result of tidal activity, the cave was washed out leaving these outcrops'. See the
YouTube video, limestone section starts at 5.00.
Passage to Malaysia - Into the Wild - TLC (The Learning Channel) Discovery channel (TV Series)
Into the Wild with host Denise Keller. Denise travels to East Malaysia, home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Mulu National Park and the Mount Kinabalu National Park. The episode starts in Sabah - Maliau Basin & Kinabatangan. Next onto Sarawak - Rajang River, Kapit, and onto Mulu.
The Mulu sector starts with a boat trip up the Melinau. Denise meets David Labang who was on the first expedition. They go to Langs Cave and Deer Cave. They do some caving. We are told there are many other caves, to reach Tiger Cave involves a rock climb of 400 m. They move onto Clearwater for caving, probably in Turtle Cave. Next is the canopy walk, followed by the bat flight from Deer Cave.
The episode returns to Sabah and to the orang utan centre at the
Man vs Wild Bear Grylls : Borneo Jungle (TV series)
Borneo Jungle is Part 1 in Series 6 by Discovery Channel. It was first shown in Malaysia on 28 Aug 2011 though was posted much earlier on youtube. It was filmed in Sabah. 2011.
The aim is to show viewers have to survive, but it comes across more a series of over-dramatic stunts.
Borneo has one of the toughest jungles in the world and Bear fights his way through it. He abseils out of a helicopter into the jungle. He soon arrives at the top of an open shaft into a cave. He wants to go down to find the waterway. He needs a light so runs to a Damar tree, takes some resin and packs some into bamboo. He pulls off a long length of rattan vine for an improvised rope and softens it by rubbing around a tree trunk. He descends the first shaft into the cave by using strong vines and climbs down. He almost lands on a brightly coloured centipede!
He has to descend the next shaft, so uses his jungle rattan rope, and loops it around a big block and abseils into the cave (without using his light!). On the floor he lights his lamp using tinder from shavings of dead bamboo. Shavings take spark from a striker - we don't see this.
He mentions the smell of bat guano, a lot on the ground, with flesh eating cockroaches. They live off guano and dead birds and bats. He says it is eerily quiet in the cave. He sees a 'huge' spider, then sees birds nests, some made from bird saliva. Good nests can fetch $900/lb but these aren't so valuable. He eats raw cave swift eggs - fresh eggs are a good source of protein and fluid.
Part 1 on Utube ends there, 14.42 min. Part 2 - Borneo famous for its large cave systems, one extends more than 180 miles underground and new parts are still being explored. This cave not so big, he sticks to a downhill route to find the stream. He enters a new [part of the] cave system and hears water and sees daylight & leaves the cave. The next section is in a river, descending a 40' waterfall using trees, next he sees a river in flood, and the following scene the river is clear!
At the start of part 3 he finds a tree racer. He grabs it and it bites his hand. Quite a big snake, greenish in colour. He cuts the head off and has the snake for dinner. He skins and guts it, winds it around a stick then grills it over a fire. He eats it straight off the stick. Says it is tough and boney compared to chicken, but is good nourishment. Uses yam sap to rub on the bite as a mild antiseptic.
Places we go : Borneo - TLC (TV series)
Places We Go is a documentary travel series that takes viewers on an intimate journey around the world. Series 2 - Borneo – This is the hottest, sweatiest place in the world. We're on the Head Hunter's trail in Mulu National Park where we've been welcomed in by the Iban.
Synopsis - Clint takes away his mate Shane to explore one of the hottest, sweatiest places on the planet – the jungles of Borneo. The boys are following the infamous head hunters trail to meet the locals and see how it is today.., After spending an afternoon with a grandson of a headhunter....
Released in March 2011 (shown on TLC in Malaysia in Oct 2011).
Hidden Cities : Malaysia - History Channel (TV series)
This episode briefly mentions Perak Man, the oldest and most complete skeleton dated at over 11,000 years.
The bulk of the programme features "the dark secrets of an island off Penang, a mysterious colonial castle and a prehistoric human settlement in Perak". The latter is Bujang Valley in Kedah. Presenter is Anthony Morse. History Channel 2010.
Cyril: Simply Magic (TV series)
Cyril Street Magic in Malaysia. This series was shown on AXN channel in June 2012 in Malaysia, though was filmed in 2009(?). In Episode 3, Kuala Lumpur, Part 1, a segment of the show is filmed at Batu Caves, where Cyril does some magic at a flower stall and then does one trick with a water bottle in Temple Cave.
Dangerous encounters with Brady Barr (TV series)
A National Geographic series. Although this was filmed in a cave in Indonesia and not Malaysia, it is interesting. Brady Barr got bitten by a large python inside the cave (2007). See the write up and the video. Apparently they struggled for 3 hours to get the snake out of the crack. No wonder it bit! They then returned to the cave almost a year later. It is called the Snake Palace, a guano filled bat cave. They found an approx 3 m reticulated python covered in ticks, which shows the snake leaves the cave as ticks can't survive in the cave. They find another python on a ledge, also with ticks, 330 cm long. Further in the cave the air level deteriorates, normal oxygen levels are 21% but it went down to 15.4% so they had to turn back. On the way out they see a snake trail and find the snake in a crack. They can't get it out so stick a fishing line on the snake. Next day they go back and find the line leads out of the cave. They followed the line and found the snake, which was striking and bit the camera. Unfortunately the last couple of minutes of video doesn't play so we don't get to find out if the snake was 20 ft. See the full video return to Snake Cave, looking for a python over 20 ft long!
The show is particularly annoying as so many things are over exaggerated and it is falsely dramatic!
Anthony Bourdain No Reservations, TLC (TV series)
Anthony Bourdain No Reservations was made for TLC Discovery channel. "In the Jungle" Malaysia series 5, episode 1, from 2005, starts in Kuala Lumpur where Chef Wan takes Anthony to a food market. The next day Anthony visits Batu Caves and we are shown a few clips from Thaipusam. He buys flower necklaces and milk at the bottom. The steps and cave are empty of visitors. He has a blessing in the cave temple.
Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild - BBC (TV series)
Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild is a three-part BBC documentary series chronicling the 60 years career making wildlife programmes of Sir David Attenborough and broadcast in Nov 2012. The third and final part, "Our Fragile Planet" shows a brief sequence from Gomantong Cave.
Ben Fogle's Sarawak Adventures - cave to car park cuisine
Ben Fogle, an English adventurer and broadcaster made a series of films for the Sarawak Tourism Board. In one he went to Fairy Cave at Bau, Sarawak. At Fairy Cave he is "wowed" by the vastness and age of the caves. He meets Rambli Ahmed, a biologist for the Sarawak Forestry who informed him that the rock was formed during the Jurassic period and the caves are three million years old!
See a 90 second
However the films did attract controversy over Sarawak's "'environmental destruction ", see The Independent Mar 2013 and it was later reported that Ben Fogle had pulled out of the contract.
'The Chamber tells the story of the discovery of Sarawak Chamber in Mulu. Not only the largest cave chamber yet found but also the largest enclosed space in the world.'
Directed by Gavin Newman and released in 2014. See more on Sheffield film festival.
Ride n' seek Borneo - History Channel (TV series)
Episode 2,"Bat Poop And Flying Squirrels". "Jamie rides in search of a cave flled with millions of dollars worth of treasure, only to find that the treasure is organic and smells very bad indeed".
First Jamie Dempsey goes to Sibu and after visiting a bakery is sent to a Chinese medicine shop for something cooling - bird nest soup. She found it slightly sweet due to the added rock sugar. The nests come from Niah Cave and sell for RM10,000-13,000 / kg (US$4000). Her next stop is Niah. 2 nest collectors set up a bamboo pole and one climbs up the rope using his hands and feet and collects a 3 year old nest for her. Then she meets some guano collectors, the guano is used as fertiliser.
AETN Asia 2014.
Shown on TV in Malaysia Sept 2014.
Wildest Indochina - Discovery Animal Planet (TV series)
A programme about Malaysia's mega biodiversity, 2014 and aired Sept 2014.
It includes a very short section on caves. Malaysia's trickling waterways carve landscapes. For millenium streams have fallen into limestone, caves were formed millions of years ago from bodies of dead sea creatures. Dissolving to form caves, caves to caverns. Malaysia is home to some of the largest cave systems on the planet, some so large you can park 40 jumbo jets. They are some of the most inhospitable places on earth. They have an extraordinary biodiversity. Bat roost. Cave provides a safe haven for predators. Guano, lots of it. 100m high pile, seething with cockroaches in their millions. The guano alone is enough to feed them, but a bat that has lost its footing is the ultimate prize.
Forbidden Caves - History Channel (TV series)
Season 7, No 83, "Forbidden Caves", premiered October 31, 2014.
Researchers discuss the possibility that caves have served as portals for contact with extraterrestrial beings, becoming the inspiration for various mythological traditions.
"Could the darkest recesses of our planet contain important information left by our ancient ancestors? And within Earth’s mysterious caves, might we find evidence of otherworldly contact? Throughout human history, some caves have
been considered sacred places for spiritual encounter and enlightenment, while others have been feared as true portals to purgatory. What happens in these subterranean spaces that has the power to influence religions around the
globe? Could some of Earth’s deepest caverns be secret conduits to supernatural realms? In Charma, India, archeologists recently discovered 10,000 year-old prehistoric artwork of what appears to be extraterrestrial beings.
Could these paintings be a visual record of alien encounters in the distant past? Or might there be knowledge actually stored within the crystals and minerals that cover the walls of caves, as some Ancient Astronaut theorists
suggest?". Watch full episode .
The episode briefly showed Batu Caves. Hindus revere caves, monks can go to find wisdom. Caves are a conduit to communicate with divine beings. The programme also mentioned crystals. Quartz and crystals contain powers. Crystals can store info, maybe aliens are tapping in. Quartz and crystals oscillate, are used in conducting and communicating, e.g. computer chips. Caves are hot spots for earth's energy.
Exploring Malaysia with Nick Baker - National Geographic Channel (TV Series)
Produced 2015 and shown on Malaysian TV 13 April 2015
"Nick Baker jumps into the heart of Malaysian Borneo, from river to rainforest, as he discovers astonishingly adapted plants and
animals and summits the highest mountain in the Malay archipelago."
The programme is only half an hour and the cave segment was disappointing - very short and showed very little.
Nick started with canoeing on a river in Upper Sarawak. He says Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world. Then he goes
underground, in Fairy Cave, with Alex. Nick tells us caves are a biological goldmine for the process of evolution. Sarawak has
one of the most extensive cave systems in the world, full of adapted creatures. We are shown a scorpion that sprays a 'vinegar'
secretion. Cave dwellers have evolved heightened tactile sensors. Cave dwellers are specifically adapted to cave living and many
are unable to live outside. Next we see a pale crab, adapted to the dark and damp. That was all we saw in the cave. He then moves
onto Bako and the remander is climbing Mt Kinabalu.
Rise of Animals: Triumph of the Vertebrates - (TV Series)
2014 by Colussus Productions & Sky.
David Attenborough embarks on a remarkable 500 million-year journey revealing the extraordinary group of animals that dominate our world, and how their evolution defines our human bodies. See more about the filming of the cave section on Live Science. Released 2013.
Conquest of the Skies - Triumph, David Attenborough - (TV Series)
"The power of flight is one of nature’s greatest achievements. From its humble beginnings, over one hundred billion creatures soar through the sky today, from tiny, nectar-drinking hummingbirds to armoured airborne beetles, bizarre winged lizards and sonar-guided bats hunting in the dead of night.
In Conquest of the Skies 3D, David Attenborough travels through time to unravel the astonishing, 300-million-year story of the flying animals. Who were the first flying creatures, where did they evolve, and how did they adapt into the huge variety of aeronauts that fill our skies today? Only now can he reveal the hidden mechanics behind their gravity-defying skills, using cutting-edge CGI, the very latest in high-resolution filming techniques, and pioneering scientific analysis." from Conquest of the Skies.
In the 2nd episode, 'Rivals', we are told the oldest known bat fossil is 52.5 million years old. And there are 1100 species of bats, which is over one fifth of all mammals.
In part 3, 'Triumph', the last part focuses on the bats at Gomantong. The caves were carved by stream water over millions of years. They are home to communities of cave dwelling specialists. Bats scarcely the size of mice hang by their fingers. They exist in huge numbers, the vast number of bats can be seen by the huge guano pile. Cockroaches chew their way through the droppings. Some people think there are 1 million bats in the cave. They are impossible to see in the gloom, but with night vision cameras we see they are densely packed, hanging from the ceiling. Their tiny eyes are adapted to low light. They evolved echo location or sonar millions of years ago. They produce high pitched sounds in the throat that are projected forward. These sounds bounce off the walls as echoes and are detected by the ears. Bats maps their surroundings with precision. They need to find their way and they need to find food, night flying insects, including moths. When hunting, the bat sonar beams switch info into attack mode as it homes in. They precisely pinpoint their prey. Scientists have discovered that other creatures use sound as a weapon. Using ultrasonic microphones, scientists recorded bat sounds and the moth sounds. Hawk moths make sounds to reply to the bats. As the bat approaches the moth, the bat's pulse switches to attack mode but the hawk moth does the same and jams the bat's sonar. So the bat misses the moth. However a vast number of other insects have no defence. Every evening the bats leave the cave to hunt. They use their echo location skills to find the entrance and leave. They don't collide. The main exodus is from a high chimney. David Attenborough is hauled up 200 feet to the entrance where the bats leave. They assemble in a comparatively small chamber and fly in a swirling cloud waiting for the daylight to fade, then they go. Day and night fliers encounter each other. Danger awaits, birds - hawks, eagles and kites. They are why bats leave in groups, but some pay the price. The vast majority make it out and use their skill of echo location to find food.
In conclusion, animals colonised the skies 300 million years ago. First the insects, then reptiles, then dinosaurs which evolved into birds. 60 million years ago the flying mammals arrived, bats. Gomantong has 3 surviving groups, insects, birds and bats. They are still locked in an evolutionary struggle.
© Liz Price 2009 - 2016
Page last updated May 2016