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Monday 25 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
# Polar Bears
This guy gets to film polar bears for a living (and one tried to attack him)
Meet Gordon Buchanan.


GORDON BUCHANAN HAS a job that most of us would dream about. He’s a wildlife cameraman, so he gets to travel the world, see amazing animals, and make great TV shows about the process.

Hang out with polar bears all day and get paid? Colour us jealous (but a little scared, admittedly).

Buchanan is getting ready to head around Ireland for a few weeks of talks this month, when he will give Irish audiences a glimpse into his experiences working with some incredible animals.

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Over a career already spanning 20 years, he has travelled to parts of the world we can only dream of. And it all started off by accident.

“I was working in a restaurant at the weekend on the summer holidays,” recalls Buchanan. It just so happened that the owner was a wildlife cameraman. “I’d never considered it as a job and I got to know him and I was absolutely fascinated by what he does.”

They got on well, and the cameraman offered Buchanan an opportunity to join him – so the young lad couldn’t say no.

Having “arsed around in school”, becoming a cameraman was a way of seeing the world.

Buchanan grew up on the Isle of Mull, which is a fairly remote part of Scotland. “There wasn’t much to do and I absolutely loved exploring the world about me and seeing the animals that lived alongside us,” he remembers.

Meeting the animals

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This sense of curiosity is what must drive him to keep exploring the planet. What’s it like filming animals around the world? “A lot of the time you’re trying to hide,” he says.

“There are occasions when there’s animals that can completely ignore you and you are able to ignore the environment and watch them do what they do naturally,
and then occasionally animals cross the line and they want to engage with you some way… it’s a great privilege to get to spend time with animals.”

The one thing he had always wanted to do was film polar bears in the Arctic – but he didn’t get to achieve this lifetime’s aim until 2012. When he did get there, he met them at a critical time, after sea ice melted early, due to climate change. “When we got there we thought, ‘this isn’t a good time to film polar bears’, but really it was because it showed them what they faced.”

“I don’t even have to remind myself how lucky I am to be doing the job that I’m doing,” acknowledges Buchanan. “I think if you go complacent or tired of doing it, it would be time to give up. There are so many fascinating places and fascinating people that every time I go away I do feel completely blessed.”

Even when things like this happen…

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Changing attitudes

In recent years, Buchanan has become hugely interested in the environment, and the human race’s impact on the world around it.

“In the beginning, the early days, when I was just starting to get my career going it was almost a selfish thing because it was a job I desperately wanted to do,” he says. It has made him realise that as individuals, we can all impact on the world, and he wants to make sure he treads lightly on it.

“What I care deeply about is raising the awareness of places or species that are in danger and I would love to get to the end of my career and end of my life and feel I’ve done everything to possible to help the natural world.”

He says you don’t have to go to the Arctic to see the effects of climate change. Earlier this year, thousands of seabirds washed up dead along the west coast of Scotland.

“That was caused by climate change, winter warming,” explains Buchanan. “There was a freak weather event where we had these storms that lasted much longer than the amount of days they normally do.”


Buchanan knows that a lot of the “big” decisions to help the environment are going to be made at big levels. But he also believes that we can all help save the world by making small changes.

“I think all of this attitude should start at a very basic level – if you walk out of a room, switch off the lights, don’t leave the taps running.”


He drills these tips into his own kids, to make sure they’re aware. “I just look at everything I do,” he says, adding that he’s not telling people to “knit their own onesies and live in a cabin”.

“If we can all make these small differences we can put pressure on government and politicians,” he said.

The past years have seen him sort out his life-work balance, which has given him more time for causes and conservation. So far, he’s teamed up with the likes of Greenpeace, Trees for life and Scottish Wildlife to help boost their work.

Life with the snow wolves


Buchanan’s next television show is The Snow Wolf Family and Me, where he spent time with Arctic wolves.

He found them fascinating – but realised that he shouldn’t lose sight of their natural instincts. “They are an animal that have killed people in the past. But that adds to the excitement of being with the animal. You can’t switch off.”

“We do have these preconceived ideas of what bears and wolves are like,” he says. “The programme really shows them as they really are.”

Gordon will give talks around the country from 11 November: 11 November: Lyric Theatre Belfast;  12 November: An Grianan Letterkenny; 13 November: Royal Theatre Castlebar;  14 November: Station House Clifden; 15 November: Town Hall Theatre Galway;  17 November: St Michael’s Theatre New Ross; 18 November: Theatre Royal Waterford; 19 November: Glór Ennis; 20 November: Triskel Christchurch Cork; 21 November: George Bernard Shaw Theatre Carlow;  22 November: Axis, Ballymun Dublin.

Read: Poachers turned gamekeepers: Rwanda looks to hunters to save mountain gorillas>

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