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‘Spy in the Wild’: BBC documentary hides cameras inside robotic animals

How do you photograph skittish wildlife up close and personal? Design a camera robot that looks just like them. That’s the idea behind Spy in the Wild, a new documentary series on BBC. While the producers anticipated using the disguised cameras to get unique shots, they didn’t anticipate what would happen when a group of Langur monkeys thought the animatronic camera had “died.”

The new series, which aired Thursday in the U.K. on BBC and is set to premiere in the U.S. on PBS on February 1, aims to capture what wildlife videographers often have a hard time finding: emotions.

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That is exactly what the crew got when they set up one of the disguised cameras near a group of Langur monkeys in India. The rather life-like baby Langur monkey included animatronic facial movements, including noises. The team posed the monkey on a branch and sat back to watch a group interact with the decoy.

A preview for the series shows the monkeys interacting with the camera, but where it really starts to get interesting is when one monkey tries to play with the fake Langur and ends up bringing it into a tree — and letting go.

With animatronics only in the face, the Langurs appear to think the camera monkey has died. The unexpected turn of events allows the crew to film how the animals react when one of their own die. The monkeys gather around the motionless camera and older Langurs pull younger monkeys into a hug.

The two-minute video is just a glimpse into what the series is hoping to do by hiding cameras into well-disguised robots. So far, BBC has already released previews showing cameras hidden inside baby crocodiles, prairie dogs, and wild dogs, while the series preview also shows a robotic wolf, chimpanzee, hippo, otter, and even a tortoise.