It’s hard not to envy Gavin Thurston. His 30-year career behind the camera has allowed him to gaze upon the birds of the Galapagos, chimps in the Congo, and black-footed ferrets in Nebraska. Thurston has scooped up awards and collaborated with some lofty figures: on one of many trips with Sir David Attenborough, Thurston found time to introduce the great man to the songs of Monty Python.
The going has often been tough: some ‘plane crashes, wars, coups, near-death experiences and a kidnap attempt thrown in to boot’. He was once punched by a silverback gorilla. The mundane inconveniences of the well-travelled wildlife cameraman also take their toll. You lose your way, endure sleepless nights, succumb to illness and, perhaps worst of all, you are separated from your nearest and dearest for long spells: Thurston calculates that he has spent, on average, 220 days per year away from home.
It has, for Thurston, been a worthwhile sacrifice. He stands in awe of the glamorous creatures he has encountered – the Sumatran tigers or the 50,000-strong herds of Canadian caribou. But he also has a soft spot for the little guys: termites are a particular favourite, what with their extraordinary organisational skills and plucky resistance to intrusive swarms of ants. The people he has met also garner praise: the masters of bushcraft in Kenya, the fixer able to negotiate his way through Indonesian airport red-tape, or the hardy French sailor who, ‘chain-smoking and concentrating intensely’ kept the boat afloat in choppy Antarctic seas for hours on end.
Thurston has had the honour of filming geckos begging insects for a drop of honeydew and the curious experience of hitching a lift on a naturist cruise to film whales off America’s Pacific coast. All a long and wonderful way from the borrowed Box Brownie of his school days.
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