Last Night's TV: Lost Land Of The Jaguar, BBC1
The Burning Season, BBC4

Lost Land of the Jaguar is a funny old beast. Not so much a nature documentary as a documentary about a nature documentary. Its setting, Guyana in South America, is home to one of the largest patches of pristine rainforest in the world, but nefarious logging companies are just aching to chop the place to bits. So a team of scientists, conservationists and film-makers went to the uncharted region to survey its flora and fauna, and use their findings to persuade the Guyanese government – and the international community – of the importance of protecting it. A second, unseen camera crew filmed the first lot for posterity, and this programme was the result.

This is all very admirable, but it doesn't always make for compelling television. Last week's opening episode began promisingly, with a luscious overhead shot of the spectacular Kaieteur Falls that was worthy of Planet Earth. But soon we were bogged down in an unsatisfying compromise between top-class nature porn and behind-the scenes exposition.

When you're watching a family of elusive howler monkeys hopping through the forest canopy, wouldn't you rather listen to a blast of Sigur Rós than some wildlife cameraperson whispering unscripted platitudes? "Ooooh... Oh, yeah... That's lovely... That's amaaazing!" Well, it might be amaaazing to someone who's been 30 metres up a tree for two days waiting for a glimpse of another primate, but those of us on the sofa are seasoned wildlife watchers now. We want spectacle: some death-defying tree-to-tree leaps, a monkey fistfight, or at least a bit of shagging. Instead, we got a few seconds of solemn leaf-munchery.

More exhilarating were the travails of the team. Steve Backshall, a telly naturalist and climber with the enthusiasm and high-pitched timbre of a schoolboy, began the episode caught in the open during a raging electric storm. By the end of it he was trying to catch 40 winks in a tent pitched halfway up a perilous 300-metre rock face. He and some pro-climber colleagues were scaling the remote Mt Upuigma to reach its untouched, Lost World-style plateau, but large chunks of the cliff had a habit of coming away in their hands.

The irony of Backshall's antics is that, since his safe return from Guyana, he broke his back in a fall at home in Gloucestershire, an injury from which he's still recovering. But this is where the show really got interesting. Forget about animals and rainforests in peril. What about the humans?

A late-night safety briefing gave them their first inkling that, much as the forest is fantastic and nature is great and all that jazz, it really would like nothing better than to kill and eat them. There were scorpions scurrying around the camp, a tarantula the size of a terrier nesting nearby, five species of deadly snakes and, if the scientists fancied a dip in the river, they had to negotiate the whopping great cayman that lay basking in the shallows. Possums purloined the humans' breakfast, a venomous centipede loitered in the ladies' dorm. But the team were undeterred. Beardy bugs expert Dr George McGavin is the sort of chap who ventures out after dark in search of the world's largest spider and its inch-long fangs. Last week, he was bitten by a zealous army ant. Last night, he was stung by a scorpion. What will it be next time? Swallowed whole by an anaconda?

Backshall, meanwhile, leapt into the piranha-filled river to net some tiny vampire catfish. They're the ones that swim up your pee and lodge themselves inside your penis with spikes. And there I was hoping they were just an urban myth.

Back in the forest, a platoon of army ants were about to feast on some just-hatched wren chicks, before mum turned up to shoo the insects away. The natural world may be amaaazing, but it sure is nasty. If there's one thing this programme managed to demonstrate, it's that humans should steer well clear of the rainforests, with or without chainsaws.

The Guyanese president is hoping to keep his forests upright in return for carbon credits, which were also the subject of BBC4's latest Storyville documentary, The Burning Season. Dorjee Sun, a young Australian entrepreneur with the same boyish energy as Backshall, was trying to find a business model for the protection of Indonesian rainforests from loggers and palm-oil plantations. The economics were complex, and confused not only me but the conscientious governors of three Indonesian provinces, bigwigs at Starbucks and eBay, and, at times, Sun himself.

Essentially, he wanted the Indonesians to sell the carbon-busting power of their forests to the emissions villains of the developed world in a carbon-offsetting programme. Carbon-offsetting and its dubious benefits are a controversial topic in the green community, but saving the rainforests is not. You only had to watch the lonesome orangutan picking through the remains of his fire-ravaged home at the start of the film to feel their loss viscerally. As his plan started to come together in the final reel, an exhausted Sun told us, "I feel like I'm coming down with something, and it could be hope." Now that's one rainforest bug I wouldn't mind catching.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game