Up close and personal encounters with polar bears in the Arctic, the secret wonders of wolves in the wild, and a year spent with a family of black bears in Minnesota, are just some of the adventures people in Mayo can expect to hear about if they go along to a new live show by famous documentary film-maker Gordan Buchanan.
The Scottish wildlife expert is coming to the Ruby Room, in the Royal Theatre, Castlebar, on November 13, as part of his Lost Adventures tour of Scotland and Ireland.
The tour sees Buchanan share his experiences and film footage from a career spanning 25 years, studying some of the most dangerous and fascinating animals in far flung destinations around the globe.
When the Mayo Advertiser chatted to Buchanan last week, he was rattling around his native Highlands and excited to talk about his work and upcoming visit to Ireland and Mayo.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years. My wife and kids aren’t that interested anymore and I’ve bored my friends by now,” he laughs.
Self-deprecation surely. It seems unlikely someone like Buchanan would ever be classed as boring.
Many people will remember him as the sole occupant of a Perspex pod on a desolate and icy Norwegian landscape, being jostled around for 40 minutes by a hungry polar bear, complete with gnashing teeth, pawing to get in.
The memorable, and terrifying, clip is from Buchanan’s BBC 2 series The Polar Bear Family and Me.
For the show, Buchanan travelled to the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean, to get closer than anyone ever had to a family of the fearsome predators.
Studying the polar bears was a dream come true for Buchanan, who counts David Attenborough as one of his all time greatest heroes.
“This was a life’s ambition for me. When I finally got the chance to do it, it was everything that I wanted it to be and more,” he recounts. “The polar bears were sensational.”
Unlike most predators, few of which are true maneaters, polar bears really do see humans as a food source.
“Every single one of them was looking at me as if they were thinking ‘that’s something I might be able to snack on’. I had to constantly think about safety.”
However the danger of these “impressive beasts” only added to the excitement, says Buchanan.
His wife Wendy, with whom he has two young children, manages not to be a complete nervous wreck over her husband’s exploits.
“She has a good insurance policy,” he joked. “But seriously, of course she used to worry a lot over the years but she’s got used to me doing the things I do and I think she respects it. She trusts me to make the right decisions.”
His children, aged nine and 10, “think it’s cool”.
Buchanan said his work is not as risky as it might appear onscreen.
His polar bear project was based on his popular series The Bear Family and Me, filmed in 2010.
In that series Buchanan lived for a year, in very close quarters, to a family of black bears in Minnesota.
He gained the trust of the animals, and in so doing, managed to capture an intimate and heartwarming insight into the lives of bears in the wild.
“I’m sure from some of the footage, it looked like I was doing something very foolish,” he says. “But I think it showed these animals aren’t monsters. They are incredibly timid creatures, and if you respect them you can spend time with them and be safe.”
For his latest series, Buchanan has just recently returned after many long months spent in the Arctic following a pack of snow wolves.
“It was great to be able to work with an animal that is so misunderstood,” he says. “In mythology and legends, wolves have always been depicted as evil, sinister, creatures of the night, but the real story couldn’t be further from that. They are an incredibly loving, caring, tender animal.
“It was very easy to look at them in human terms when you see the respect they have for one another. They adore each other and everything is to do with the family. By the end I wasn’t calling them a pack, it felt derogatory. They are a family in its true sense.”
The Snow Wolf Family and Me is due to be screened by the BBC in January.
Buchanan says his Castlebar show will focus on these experiences as well as his many expeditions to some of the most far flung locations on the planet for the BBC series The Lost Land.
“It will be informal, not bumptious or stuffy. People might think that because I spend a lot of time on my own I’m some kind of weirdo who prefers the company of animals,” he jokes. “That’s not the case at all. I love the job and I’m looking foward to sharing my experiences.”
Tickets for Gordon Buchanan’s Lost Adventures, which comes to the Ruby Room at the Royal Theatre, Castlebar, cost €15 and are available now from the Royal Theatre Box Office, Westport Road, and from Ticketmaster outlets nationwide. Tickets are also available by phone on (094 ) 9023111 or 0818 300 000 or online at www.royaltheatre.ie or www.ticketmaster.ie