The York-born actress graced theatre stages, film screens and podiums worldwide, but the rainforest proved to be a thrillingly novel environment for dame Judi during filming for her new two-part documentary, Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure which started tonight.
“When you’re in the middle of it, you can’t express how remarkable it is,” says the 84-year-old actress, whose fondness for forests was highlighted in last year’s BBC One programme, My Passion For Trees.
As part of her latest wildlife project, the great Dame spent two weeks in the jungles of Borneo with her “chap”, conservationist David Mills, meeting a plethora of exotic animals and finding out about conservation work being done to protect their habitats.
“I’ve been to a lot of places in the world, but I’ve never been to anywhere like that,” she says of the world’s third largest island, which is divided between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. “It does take your breath away. It’s wildly beyond your imagination.”
In this brand new documentary series for ITV, national treasure Dame Judi embarks on a wild adventure to Borneo to explore one of the oldest and most spectacular rainforests, meet its enchanting animals and get a vivid insight into the importance of this rainforest to life on our planet.
Judi reveals her passion for both orangutans and their habitat as she delves deep into one of the few untouched rainforests remaining in South East Asia. In fact since she has returned she has revealed has adopted three.
During her adventure in Borneo, the world’s third largest island, Judi experiences amazing interactions with animals including orangutans, sun bears, elephants, crocodiles and hornbills.
She glimpses stunning flying creatures like the unusual gliding mammal, the Kubong, that can fly for over 100 metres. She also sees more than a million bats, a dung beetle called Bob and a snake she names James Bond.
Dame Judi is astonished when the jungle comes alive at night. With as many as 80,000 species, the insects in Borneo could make up nearly one tenth of the number on the planet
As she travels down one of Borneo’s mightiest rivers, the Kinabatangan, Dame Judi goes on an extraordinary crocodile hunt where young crocodiles are plucked from the river by hand and adult crocodiles wrestled - all in the name of science. And finally she explores the marine life – the forests of coral that fringe the shores of the tropical island. As she shares her wildlife adventure David Mills, they learn how important the rainforest is as the lungs of the world and how the animals are actually helping us by maintaining the health of this unique environment and helping save the planet.
Tonight we see Dame Judi experience the rainforest for the first time in a thrilling 125 mile helicopter ride to the heart of the island with expert Glen Reynolds. The jungle there is 130 million years old – so ancient it was around when dinosaurs walked the earth.
“It is spectacular. I never imagined that it would be quite so over powering to look at. It is like flying over broccoli. It is like nothing I have ever seen before.” When she saw a male orangutan for the first time in a tree above her, she said:“He’s so relaxed. It takes your breath away.”
Dame Judi discovered how the orangutans, which share 97 per cent of their DNA with humans, are helping to prevent global warming by spreading the seeds of the large trees that are the most efficient at hoovering up the harmful carbon in the atmosphere.
In the company of expert Tom Fayle and Tony Kirkham, the head of the arboretum at Kew, she washoisted up one of the tallest trees in the forest to discover how the rainforest is a multilayered Eden with up to 30 per cent of life existing high in its canopy.
“I feel as if I am entering another world. I feel incredibly privileged. I feel I know the rainforest quite well now. It’s spectacular. It has given me an amazing insight into the importance of the rainforests for all of us. More forest means more homes for wildlife.”
In the second episode to be aired at 9pm next Tuesday Dame Judi journeys down Borneo’s Kinabatangan river, over 560km long, and along the island’s coastline to explore the unique wildlife that lives in this threatened environment.
With intrepid scientist, Kerisha Kntayya, Judi joins a crocodile hunt with a difference. Kerisha plucks young crocodiles out of the water. Judi then joins Kerisha’s team as they wrestle an adult croc as part of the study Kerisha hopes will help save these prehistoric monsters.
Judi says: “It’s skin was so soft…yet another experience in this, which I shall never forget.”
She meets her favourite animal of all time. She gets to meet an orphan baby and help it on its journey to freedom.
After holding hands with the orangutan and watching her go off to play, Judi says: “Such a great sight. They are being looked after so brilliantly. And when they are released they will have all the skills they need to survive. I never thought I would get so close to an orangutan. This is a never to be forgotten moment.”