Wildlife series. Steve chases a deadly racer snake downriver and even faces his fears to handle some giant bullet ants, while on the hunt for a harpy eagle.
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My name's Steve Backshall.
And this is my mission to find the Deadly 60.
Not just animals that are deadly to me, but deadly in their own world.
I'm exploring the planet,
and you're coming with me, every step of the way.
This time, we're in Panama.
North America meets South America
and the Pacific meets the Caribbean in the mighty Panama Canal.
These are some of the deepest, darkest jungles.
We set ourselves our toughest mission to date -
to find and film a harpy eagle.
This is about the biggest, most powerful eagle on Earth.
But it's also one of the rarest and one of the least often seen.
This is an incredible gamble.
A gamble, but we're bound to find other deadly animals on our journey.
And that mission...starts here,
in a soggy Central American airport.
We're packing up to head into the back of beyond. That's our plane.
It's hammering down with rain and has been since we got to Panama.
The thought of being in the forest,
trying to film birds with it hammering down is...
-How would you describe it, boys?
Next stop, the middle of nowhere.
This is where our adventure starts.
When this plane goes, we're stranded here in the forest.
I think Nick's forgotten his make-up bag!
This is our big pink fun bus which, happily, we're leaving behind.
hopefully, are going to help us carry all of this.
If the harpy eagle looks familiar, it's probably because
it was the inspiration for Dumbledor's phoenix in Harry Potter.
With a wingspan as wide as the front door on your house,
and talons the size of grizzly bear claws,
there are few birds of prey in the world that equal the harpy eagle.
Harpy eagles only live in untouched rainforests, far from people.
Which means we have to drag all our kit into the middle of nowhere.
However, the crew and I have spent years in jungles.
It kind of feels like home and it's stuffed with sensational wildlife.
On the other side of this stream,
a dark shape has just made a dash for the cover of these bushes.
Oh! Look at that!
It's a racer!
-Can you see it?
-Yeah. It's on the bank here.
Well, now you see where it gets the name racer from.
I've got it.
Head up and try and bite me.
I'll just take it below the tail.
I can't hurt it.
He's going to decide in a second that I'm not worth biting.
Look at that.
An absolutely beautiful snake.
It's just...opening his mouth.
Look at that.
This is a back-fanged snake.
He has very tiny fangs at the rear of the mouth.
He'd struggle to get a decent bite on me and, if he did,
the venom wouldn't be too serious.
Its main weapon is incredible speed.
As you saw me chasing after it, they move at lightning pace.
They feed mostly on small lizards, frogs, even little birds.
And the colouring is beautiful.
He's quite snappy.
Unlike many snakes around here, this racer
is most active during the day.
It avoids predators by being so quick.
It can actively hunt down pretty much anything it wants to feed on.
It's a magnificent little snake.
And, actually, I reckon it's worthy of a place on the Deadly 60.
You're quick enough.
One of my favourite snakes
on the Deadly 60 list.
We've got a long way to go before we're into harpy territory.
The heavy rains have turned the trail into a mud bath.
An awful lot better at this than we are.
I don't think we'd do this without them.
Our plan is to overnight at a remote village before heading on
into the heart of darkness.
This is it!
Just a little bit... muddy and sweaty.
-How are you doing, Nicky boy?
There's only 100 people living in the thatched huts of the village.
They make their entire living from what the forest provides.
Their way of welcoming us is a little out of the ordinary.
The villagers are preparing for a big dance this evening.
They cover themselves in tattoos made out of this fruit, ground up
into a blue dye which stains the skin.
Our entire crew is going to do it with me, aren't you, guys?
-Aren't you, guys?
Just a short back and sides, please.
This design is supposed to represent a venomous snake from the jungle.
This is the harpy eagle dance.
The little kid in the basket is a chick in the nest.
The adults are feeding her as if they were parent birds.
They have an intimate relationship with everything in their forest,
with special respect for the harpy,
the majestic hunter of the jungle skies.
It's first thing in the morning and we're heading into those hills
in search of our harpy eagle.
The guys here have said there's a nest two, three hours' walk away.
We've got a send-off committee.
This little lady
has a peccary piglet as a pet.
Isn't that adorable? Very pretty.
Keep my finger away from those teeth!
This is SO exciting.
Walking through the forest, knowing that, perhaps, two hours away,
is an encounter with a harpy eagle,
an animal which I've never seen and is one of the most special.
There's a lot of reasons for that.
First of all, their incredible size,
its strength, its power,
but more than that, the fact that they are so difficult to see.
I know people who've lived their lives in these forests
and never come across a harpy eagle.
This could be one of the greatest privileges of my whole life.
After two days of hiking,
we might as well be a million miles away from civilisation.
We are entering the realm of the eagle king.
The effort it takes to carry our stuff!
Look at this guy carrying our tree platform into the distance.
Phew. Glad that's not me.
Look! Eh? What about me?
As we set to building camp, in the damp forest floor leaves,
I found a weird and wonderful little bug.
This crazy looking little bug is called a masked hunter.
It's really weird.
It's covered in thousands of tiny little hooks,
which pick up little bits of goo that it's wandering around in,
fixes them to its body, giving it perfect camouflage.
It's not just hiding from things that might want to eat it.
The masked hunter is, funnily enough, a great hunter.
Those are the antennae and, just underneath, you'll see curled up,
a beak called a rostrum.
To feed, it plunges that beak deep into insect prey
and injects a kind of acid which turns the prey into liquid.
Then it sucks it up and gets a yummy meal of liquidised insect.
It's good, but I'm not going to put it on the list.
After all, it looks like a walking Sugar Puff.
After three days of sweaty slogging, we're finally here, base camp.
We've got a lovely flat area where we can put out our kit and hammocks.
There's a stream close by,
and we think that the nest is about ten minutes in that direction.
We're going to be moving very quietly, so as not to disturb the bird, if the bird's there at all.
-He's pointing at something.
He's pointing up that way.
That's where the nest must be.
-Oh, my goodness!
This is her tree.
It's called a kapok tree.
Harpies always go for what's called an "emergent" tree.
That is one that bursts up above the canopy,
the tallest trees for miles around.
She's up there.
That is beautiful. She knows we're here.
Our job now is to find another tree here somewhere that we can climb
so we can film it.
Stealth mode from here on in. Very, very quiet.
'It's just about impossible to see harpy eagles from the forest floor.
'We need to get up to their level.
'My tree-climbing buddy James is here to help.
'He's an old hand at filming harpy eagles.
'The last time, he was attacked by an angry female harpy.'
In addition to all the normal climbing gear,
James is also wearing a stab vest
and one of these, very much like the things worn by riot police.
-There's a good reason for that, isn't there, James?
You can never tell how the bird's going to react.
There aren't many animals on the Deadly 60, let alone birds, that you have to wear this to get close to.
'As James climbs the tree,
'I found a spider that might even charm arachnophobics.
'It's as cute as spiders get.'
Look at that! A little baby tarantula.
One of the prettiest I've ever seen. Look at the colours on that abdomen.
It's almost like a ladybird. A black base colour.
Bright, bright orange spots.
And, even at this size, it still has that beautiful,
hypnotic careful movement
that you see in the huge tarantulas.
Look at that. Just kind of gingerly tapping around on my hand.
Just feeling out what I am.
That is absolutely beautiful.
I don't know if you can see but, as she's moving...
Ooh! She just poo-ed on my hand!
Getting a bit carried away about spider poo!
'James has done his recce up high, but has he seen our eagle?'
Well, the good news is, we haven't disturbed HER.
Bad news is...
..can't see the tree, let alone the nest.
-OK. That is bad news.
And I had a really good look around,
and the only tree that I could even imagine might have a look,
a view over the nest,
is on the other side of the valley.
That's very bad news.
This is a disaster.
Getting above the vast blanket of the canopy is not easy.
And we're running out of daylight.
To brighten our mood, it starts to rain(!) Really hard.
-SHOUTS OVER DOWNPOUR
-The rain comes on so fast.
The first thunder and lightning was only five minutes ago.
Already, it's a struggle to keep the camp up.
You can get a month's worth of rain falling in a few hours.
Look how muddy the ground is already.
I really hope this doesn't last.
The rain does last - all night -
but the dawn brings clear skies.
James is heading to the other side of the valley,
hoping against hope to find a tree
that'll get us up to harpy height.
While James is finding a likely tree,
I've got a rainforest nasty to show you and they're, unfortunately,
really rather common.
If you ask people who live here what animal they're most frightened of
they won't say snakes or scorpions, they'll probably say
the tiny insects that are living in this tree.
It might surprise you to know
that they're ants.
I'll just see if I can get some to come out with my snake hook.
That's the entrance to their nest, just there.
And look at that.
These...are bullet ants.
They're called bullet ants cos being stung by one
feels a bit like being shot.
They've got the most painful toxin, venom, of any insect.
I'm watching very carefully,
making sure they don't run up my trouser leg.
There was a guy called Schmidt
who tested the stings of insects to find out which are most painful.
This one came out on top.
He described it as "a pure, intense, brilliant pain"
that was like "stepping your heel into a rusty nail".
I can confirm that the bullet ant is the most painful experience.
I've been stung by these many, many times.
A few years back, I took part in a ritual in the Amazon,
where I was stung by hundreds of bullet ants at the same time.
Within a short period of time,
I lost consciousness because of the pain.
Relax your arm.
The bullet ant's incredible sting isn't really for overcoming prey.
They spend time hunting up in the canopy, down on the ground.
They use their powerful mandibles or jaws to overcome their insect prey.
The sting is used for getting rid of animals that hunt them.
The reason it's so painful is so that if something big
sticks its nose in the nest, it'll get stung, perhaps many times,
and think that it's in real danger because of the incredible pain
caused by the bullet ant's sting.
Because I've been stung by these so many times,
I know that, if get stung again,
it's going to hurt, but it's not dangerous.
I won't have an allergic reaction.
If I didn't know that, I wouldn't do what I'm about to try.
If you're ever anywhere where there are bullet ants, don't try this.
I'm going to get one of these little fellas...
It's the biggest ant in the world!
I'm going to see if I can get one of these ants to walk over my hand
without biting me.
-Are you nervous?
I've now got the world's most painful stinging insect on my hand.
I am very nervous.
I've been stung by this before.
I can remember how badly it hurt.
If you look at it up close,
it really is one of the most awesome creatures.
Look at it cleaning its antennae. Isn't that beautiful?
Those are its primary sensory mechanisms.
It is extraordinary that an animal of this size
has a sting that's powerful enough
to incapacitate an animal the size of me.
Think how many times bigger I am.
But one little sting is going to have me crying on the floor.
That has to be one of the miracles of Mother Nature.
As you can probably see, I'm shaking a bit.
I reckon, for that alone, the bullet ant has to go on the Deadly 60.
An animal this size...
that can make a huge animal like me cry.
I didn't get stung!
Back at the tree, James uses this massive catapult
to get a line over a high branch.
Next, we drag up the ropes and then I get on my climbing kit
and prepare to head for the tree tops.
This is actually really exciting.
I'm about to get right up
above the forest canopy.
This is a magnificent tree, as high as a 16-storey building.
I'm going to get an eagle's eye view of what this forest looks like.
Here we go.
I forgot to say, I've got this little camera with me
so you can see everything I see.
My cameraman Johnny is coming, too. Give us a wave, Johnny.
See you up high.
This is utterly spectacular.
I'm coming into the part of the canopy where the harpy eagle hunts.
It's so dense, it's incredible to think
a bird that size can swoop in and out of this vegetation
and snatch a monkey off a branch.
THAT's something I'd like to see.
-It's properly sweaty work, isn't it?
Right. Let's get the bins out. See what we can see.
There's our eagle tree.
Just see the top of it
off in the distance out that way.
But she's too well hidden. I can't really see her.
This is proving to be incredibly tough.
But that's why the harpy eagle is just so rarely seen.
They're very canny birds.
They choose spots where they can see their prey.
They've got a good view of monkeys and sloths, things they like to eat.
And moving they, themselves, are still quite well hidden.
We're probably 60 metres up here. That is a very long way down!
I think maybe our best shot, actually,
is going to be from that direction.
We haven't got time to rig another tree.
We're going to have to try and film this from the ground.
It's not ideal but it's the only option we have left to us.
'With time running out, our best chance is to film from a ridge
'that has a view to our harpy eagle tree.
'With the naked eye, you can't see anything,
'but Johnny's huge zoom lens could see a fly at 100 paces.
'It's all down to you, John boy.'
We're throwing everything we have at this.
Can't come all this way and not see them. That would be a tragedy.
Johnny's picked out the nest among the foliage, but there's no bird.
No! There she is! The bird we've travelled all this distance to see.
A sight very few people have ever seen.
-That's better than I thought we'd get.
-It's just nice to see a bird.
What we're looking at is probably the biggest eagle in the world.
Wingspan 2.1 metres.
If I was to stand up and hold my hand up, about that long.
She is magnificent.
Well, it's cost us several bucket loads of sweat - each.
But finally, we've got our view of the harpy eagle,
something I honestly never thought I'd ever see.
One of the largest birds in the world.
And also one of the rarest.
People spend their lives in these forests and never get a glimpse.
There she is, stood up there in the nest with, possibly, chicks.
Possibly eggs. But, whatever, hope for the future of harpy eagles.
This magnificent bird has got to go on the Deadly 60.
'Join me next time as I continue my search for the Deadly 60.'
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Panama is home to one of the largest and most impressive birds of prey in the world - the harpy eagle. But to track it down, Steve and the crew have to trek into a remote part of the Darien jungle. Along the way Steve chases a deadly racer snake downriver, and even faces his fears to handle some giant bullet ants.