Back in January we took a call from TV company Mighty Productions who were developing a new wildlife quiz show for BBC2, to be hosted by Kate Humble. They planned to call it Curious Creatures and they needed exotic animal droppings for the Whose Poo rounds in which contestants would sniff, dissect and identify species from faeces.
In February we booked some specimens out from the Depository at our Isle of Wight HQ and took them to London for the run-through of Curious Creatures. The show impressed the BBC, who commissioned a pilot series.
By May, Mighty were ready to make the pilot and they wanted even more exotic, even smellier, poos. This time Poo Technician Bill would have to transport them all the way to BBC Scotland’s studios in Glasgow.
We immediately began to search for rare poos - faeces that could tell fascinating wildlife stories. We’ve been asked not to say what kinds of poo we supplied but we can reveal the identity of one that didn’t quite make the show.
Wombats do square poos. This gives them a crucial survival advantage because they mark their territory by depositing piles of droppings on stones. Round droppings would roll off but square ones remain in a neat pile. How they can poo squares is is still not fully understood. Scientist Robyn Lawrence has used jelly and an artificial wombat gut to investigate.
Unforseen circumstances plunged us into a last-minute scramble to find wombat poo. We put out an urgent request on social media. Our zoo contacts checked databases looking for captive wombats in the UK. In the end we located the nearest wombats - in a Belgian zoo - just too late to meet the deadline.
Making the ten shows of the series was a gruelling three-day slog. While cheerful, glamorous and unruffled Kate Humble, along with Team Captains Chris Packham, Lucy Cooke and the celebrity guests, worked for hours on the studio floor, Poo Technician Bill had it easy waiting for the next Whose Poo round.
Bill’s task was to keep the poos chilled and in perfect condition, ready at a moment’s notice to be placed before the contestants. There is no way to guarantee that a fresh poo is pathogen-free. Bill had to manage health and safety, disinfecting and providing hand wash facilities so that any poo-stained fingers could be immediately cleaned.
If the poo wasn’t infectious, the excitement around Curious Creatures certainly was. It was fascinating to sit in the control room - The Gallery - and experience the buzz as the shows came together. The audiences had a great time too. They roared with laughter at the contestants’ reactions to our most extreme poos. The shows, due to start airing within the next few weeks, look set to be a real hit.
Big thanks to Chester Zoo, Isle of Wight Zoo, Blue Reef Aquarium in Portsmouth and others who helped us round up the poos, and to our brilliant social media followers for their collective expertise. Also to Mighty Productions for help, hospitality and lots of tea.