Monday, January 9, 2017

#SafariLive, live safari drives on YouTube.

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The average game drive vehicle seats 10 people comfortably.
Most private lodges accommodate around 20-30 people,
meaning that 2 or perhaps 3 vehicles go out on any given game drive.
So, how can you place thousands of people on a live game drive...
Easy...with these words...
"We are live, we are live."
This phrase, spoken by director Louise Pavid, signalled the beginning
of the morning game drive and bush walk broadcast on #safariLive.
It is also used when crossing between the vehicles
or the presenter that is conducting the bush walk.
The viewers know this "call sign"well and
will often use it when they join the team via the Internet.
With three words, the vehicles are packed with
visitors who have the best views
and access to the presenters. 

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 Follow them on any of these platforms:
You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV6HJBZD_hZcIX9JVJ3dCXQ

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I was privileged to spend four days with the production crew, as well
as the presenter/guides as they shared the African bush and its inhabitants
with viewers throughout the world.
The power of modern technology allows viewers
to transcend the constraints of time zones and to watch in real time
no matter where they are.
As the audience gets to see what is in front of the lens,
 I would like to focus on what goes on in order for the show to be broadcast

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Final Control...
A great place to be on a hot summer afternoon as it is air-conditioned!
The bank of TV monitors offers the crew the option to cut between
the two vehicles, a drone and the bush-walk presenter.
In the director's seat for this particular broadcast...
 Louise Pavid. 

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The co-director, Kirsten McLennan-Smith was tasked
with relaying questions from the on-line audience to the presenters.
There are regular viewers who are knowledgeable about the area
that the vehicles traverse and will often ask about particular
animals and places.

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This audio clip will give you an idea of 
what it sounds like before a broadcast:
and for video links:

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I spent my first afternoon in the control room,
watching this leopard trying to catch a terrapin.
I was so engrossed in what I was seeing
that I actually believed that I was on the vehicle.
The beauty of this technology is that the viewing audience
get to virtually be on two vehicles as well as a bush walk simultaneously.
Something that a regular terrestrial visitor cannot do.

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Ranger/Presenter FW showing how a Buffalo wallows.
It was a blazing hot day and he wanted to show the audience
why buffalo enjoy a mud bath.
The presenters may have their own speciality,
but their overall bush knowledge is superb.
This particular incident took place the day before I arrived,
but I was able to watch the re-run.
This is yet another advantage for the viewing audience,
if they miss the live drive, they are able to watch later.

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A couple of days later, Brent decided to show viewers
his version of why elephants enjoy water.
It was his "excuse" to leap into a swimming pool
 at the end of a hot morning bush walk.
In reality it could not happen as an elephant is the only
known mammal that cannot jump.

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The workshop alongside the control room
is one of the neatest that I have come across.
Because the crew are situated far from the nearest hardware/electronics
store, they have to often rely on their own ingenuity to fix a problem,
if they do not have the relevant part in stock.
They are also in contact, via the Internet, with experts who can assist
should a problem arise that they are unable to resolve.

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This workshop is where engineer Connor was busy finishing off
his drone project. This will add yet another aspect to the drives/ walks
that only the viewing audience gets to enjoy.

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In the meantime, he is using this particular model to give an aerial perspective
 not normally seen by "regular" visitors to a reserve

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The real workhorse of the operation.
With current technology, the cameras are getting smaller
 and their quality is superb. (They all shoot in HD)
The vehicles are not designed to take passengers (as I discovered)
but are filled with equipment, batteries and camera gear.
Each vehicle has a team that consists of
 a cameraman and the driver/presenter.
The presenters are all highly qualified rangers whose bush skills are beyond reproach.
They are basically "teaching" an international audience about
our natural resources.
Those include (but not limited to) both flora and fauna.
I have been visiting game reserves since 1966 and studied to be a game ranger,
but the knowledge that the presenters are imparting to their viewing audience,
is the best that I have had the privilege to experience.

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Not one...
but three radios to keep in touch with Final Control
as well as other game drive vehicles that traverse the property.
Although not dependant on game drive vehicles from the various lodges
on the property, they do share information about sightings.

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The crew (myself included) were up at 04h00 (South African time)
so that the vehicles could head out at 04h30.
On the morning drive that I went on, the moon was still clearly visible...

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Time to head out...
The pre-drive check list rivals that in the cockpit of a long haul jet liner.
Everything from torches to tyre pressure is checked
via a list that is read from the director in Final Control.

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Dawn breaking over the African bushveld,
 and it gets shared with the world.
There is something very special about witnessing a sunrise (or sunset)
in the African bush.

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My view of the camera vehicle.
As I mentioned earlier, the vehicles are not designed to have a third person on board.
That being said, the cameraman was most accommodating in allowing me to ride along.
Aside from being a travel writer, I also work within the TV industry
so I know when to keep my head down and my legs out of the way.
The monitor in the front allows the presenter to see what is being broadcast.
What I thought was a second monitor turned out to be a bank of LED lights.
Instructions and questioned are relayed to the presenters via an ear-piece,
which means that questions can be answered immediately.
This makes the audience feel as if they were on the drive.

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This is Inkanyeni (meaning Light).
As a result of the high cub mortality, leopards are only named once they are a year old.
The audience are 'au fait' with the leopard population
and will often enquire about certain animals when the drives start.
Especially if it has not been spotted for some time.
Many International viewers might never have the opportunity to get to visit Africa
 and therefore this is the closest they will come to the bush experience.
The opportunity that #safariLive offers is invaluable,
as it allows the viewers to be a part of an experience
 that they might otherwise never have enjoyed.

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A reminder that the bush walks take place in a Big 5 reserve
and an armed ranger/tracker is a necessary precaution
 for the safety of both the presenter and the wildlife...
Herberth shared his vast knowledge of the bush with me
when I joined the team on a morning bush walk.
Shadowing him, while the presenter and cameraman did their "thing"
was a lesson in "bush-craft" for me.
He also pointed out where I needed to be so as NOT
to cast a show during filming, something that I had not considered.

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No creatures are taken for granted...as I was to discover.
This log contained a nest of Polyrhachis Ants
that were being attacked by Robber Flies.
The on-line participants were as enthralled as I was.
This interaction again reinforced the fact that the viewing audience
is exposed to both the walk and drives during the same broadcast.

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The beauty of a walk is that you get to find 
crawlies that would go unnoticed from a vehicle.
Brent was able to hold, and describe, this Ground Beetle
 to the audience without harming it.
It was released once it had played its part as an exhibit

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I was privy to watch the editing of this video:
https://www.facebook.com/LIVEsafariLIVE/videos/740247236140753/
It caused a LOT of laughter in the control room as it was being compiled,
and although I had only watched a few episodes before my visit,
the situations that the team found themselves in
caused me to laugh out loud more than once.


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