Meet Paul ‘Mungo’ Mungeam: Adventure Cameraman and Host of Expedition Mungo

Animal Planet
Animal Planet

Paul “Mungo” Mungeam has never met a corner of the world he didn’t want to explore. Over the past two decades, the renowned adventure cameraman—who has logged many hours working alongside Bear Grylls—has traveled to more than 90 countries to capture the most wonderful (and wild) places on Earth. Now, after years behind the camera, Mungo is stepping in front of it with his own Animal Planet series, Expedition Mungo, which sees the London-based adventurer reveal the truth behind the mythical creatures and legends that have been passed down from generation to generation. We caught up with Mungo to learn more about his work, and to get his take on Bigfoot.

How did you arrive at your current position as an adventure cameraman?

Through a friend, I met Simon Niblett (a renowned documentary cameraman). We got on famously. He offered me a job as his camera assistant; TV suited me and I suited it. The rest is history.

Were you aware that such an occupation existed before?

Yes, but I never dreamed that I would one day do it—I didn’t think it would ever be within my reach.

What are the key qualifications for the job?

To know your craft. There’s no substitute for experience, earned through hard work. Some go to film school, but I learned on the job, more like an apprenticeship. Humility and the right attitude will serve you better in this job than academic qualifications.

What's the biggest misconception people have about what your job entails?

They often think my job is glamorous. I guess, occasionally it can be—granted, I get paid to go to some incredible places around the world—but I work very hard. My job is creative, yet also incredibly physical and all-consuming. The locations are often not glamorous at all, but rather, extreme and regularly very uncomfortable. You have to remember, we are not there on holiday. We are there to achieve what our clients are paying us (pretty well) to deliver.

What is the most rewarding part of the job for you?

I love leading a team. I have risen up through the ranks. I started out making numerous cups of tea and cleaning kits and cars. When I was proven faithful in the small things, I was allowed to move on to greater responsibilities. That’s the way I like my team to work. You earn your stripes and you’re as strong as your weakest team member. I now enjoy giving others the opportunity once given to me (by Simon).

What's the part you dread most?

B-roll and GVs—the shots that fill in the gaps of more interesting storytelling footage. General views are just that: vistas of your location, etc. They are very important, but I now find them so dull to film.


Animal Planet

You’ve traveled to more than 90 countries in your work as a cameraman; what’s the most dangerous predicament you’ve ever found yourself in?

There have been too many scrapes to pick one. But if you forced me, which I guess you are, I would pick a night camping with a presenter in a small, two-man tent on the saddle of a mountain pass in the Canadian Rockies. Our tent was pitched in a precarious area, very exposed, with sharp drops on either side. Our guides were useless … They had forgotten an extra tent, so slept in a mocked-up shelter. And they had not charged the satellite phone—our only communication with the outside world, in case of an emergency. We were already very vulnerable to the elements, but that night all hell let loose. The wind was like nothing I had heard before. Our ropes and tent pegs were being ripped out of the ground, so I had to keep getting up and out of the tent (in the craziest conditions) to re-secure them. We didn’t sleep a wink. I lay there thinking, ‘What can I do to make us safer?,’ but couldn’t think of one thing. We were totally at the mercy of Mother Nature.

It was a very long night. Thankfully we lived to see another day. The [pilot] that ended up risking all to rescue us said he had been out all night, helping people, as three tornadoes had blown through that mountain range in one night. That’s three tornadoes! We got lucky.

What’s the one place you’ve traveled to that surprised you the most—for good reasons or otherwise?

Due to watching movies, I always thought deserts would be somewhat romantic and just searingly hot. Having now been to a number of the world’s biggest deserts, I can say that there is very little romance about them—apart from the odd, stunning sunset/sunrise. During the day it can be how I imagine the surface of the sun being: hot! Yet, at night, it can also be incredibly cold. A change which, if you are not prepared, can easily cost you your life.

With Expedition Mungo, you’ve moved from behind the camera to in front of it. What has been the biggest challenge in doing that?

Stepping in front of the camera hasn’t been as difficult as some would think. I have spent 20-plus years working with presenters/hosts and helping them come across well, so it’s familiar territory. The secret is to be 100 percent yourself. If you try to be someone who you are not, the viewer will very quickly smell a rat. So, what you see of me on Expedition Mungo is 100 percent me; like me, or switch the channel.


Animal Planet

Your new series seeks to uncover the truth behind the many legends and mythical creatures we’ve all heard about. When planning the show, what’s the one legend you knew you had to tackle—the one that’s always been of interest to you?

There has always been so much talk of the Bigfoot/Yeti legends. To actually meet, face-to-face, a number of eyewitnesses who claim they have seen one was amazing. I was shocked by my reaction, from “cynic” to pretty much “believer.” You’ll need to watch the series Expedition Mungo to hear the stories and see the people, but they are very compelling accounts. One guy lost his power of speech for over two weeks, from fear of what he saw. He lost his job and was ousted by his community for “losing his mind.” My question is, if he was lying, why wouldn’t he just hold his hands up and say “Hey guys, I was only kidding,” and get his job and community back? Rather, he stayed true to what he saw as he swears it was real, the truth. I have to give him the benefit of the doubt. (Look out for the Argentina episode, coming soon!)

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow your career path?

Be willing to start from scratch. Put in years of hard work and learn your craft (if you try to take a short cut, beware: you will get found out). Check out the closing credits of shows that you are inspired by and note the production company who makes it; contact them to see who supplied their technical equipment. Contact the facilities company and see if there are any vacancies to work/learn there.

You need to learn about all the equipment before you’ll ever be let loose to shoot a TV show. Plus, it’s not all about equipment or filming, but also learning the etiquette of being on a filming set (where to stand and where not to stand, when to talk and when not to talk, etc.).

If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

I would either have made a career as an artist of some kind or I would have joined the Royal Marines Commandos.

I so wish I had five lives, as there’s far more I would love to have done. Having said that, I never take for granted how fortunate I am to have a job that I love. I wish the same for you.

Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it!” Why not?

Expedition Mungo airs on Animal Planet on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Watch the video below for a sneak peek of tonight’s episode, in which Mungo travels to Namibia to learn about the dog-headed pig monster.

Here's How Many People Grow Up to Hold Their Childhood Dream Job

iStock.com/chameleonseye
iStock.com/chameleonseye

When kids are told they can grow up to be whatever they want, they tend to dream big. According to a recent survey by TollFreeForwarding, high-paying and glamorous job titles like doctor, actor, and pro sports star are some of the most common childhood dream careers in America. But the same survey also found that just a small fraction of people go on to become what they wanted to be when they were young.

The virtual phone company surveyed 2000 adults in the U.S., asking them what career they dreamed of pursuing when they were teenagers. Public service jobs proved the most popular, with teacher, doctor/nurse, and vet making up the top three spots on the list. Those were followed by musician, actor, pro sports, and writer—all jobs that many kids associate with celebrities. Scientist, lawyer, and artist rounded out the top 10. (You can see the whole breakdown here.)

Of the people surveyed, only 10 percent reported holding their dream job today. The most common reasons they gave for not achieving their childhood dreams were financial limitations, a lack of skills, and prioritizing family. Only 39 percent of people who never landed their dream job said they regretted it.

That 10 percent may seem small, but TollFreeForwarding also found that an additional 14 percent of respondents had held their former dream job at some point in their lives, even if they don't have that job today. And dream jobs aren't always all they're made out to be—among the people surveyed who achieved their childhood dream, just 64 percent said it met their childhood expectations.

If you're still set on pursuing your dream job in light of these facts, there is a right way to go about it. Here are some tips for making your most ambitious career goals come true.

When Queen Victoria Employed an Official Rat-Catcher

Wikimedia Commons // Rebecca O'Connell
Wikimedia Commons // Rebecca O'Connell

Victorian England was infested with rats. Rodents were in your basement, your sewers, your garden, your pantry, your parks, your pipes—and it was a huge problem. An untold number of rats crippled crops, spoiled food supplies, clogged drains, and, of course, had helped spread a plague that killed about 60 percent of Europe’s population. (Though gerbils may deserve some blame, too.)

Residents resorted to a handful of techniques to stop the critters. Farmers were known to catch rats and strap bells around their necks, or singe their fur, hoping a horde of jangly burnt rodents would scare fellow pests away. It didn’t. “Rats are everywhere about London,” said a man named Jack Black, “both in rich and poor places.”

Black would know. He was England’s royal rat-catcher.


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“Rat-catcher” may not be a job you see at Career Day anymore, but in Victorian England, it was a popular and sometimes lucrative career. According to author Barbara Tufty [PDF], a decent rat-catcher could earn “special privileges” if he caught at least 5000 rats a year, or about 13 rats a day. The job was so common that rodent-chasers in England established their own professional rat-catcher guilds. The occupation even inspired a popular folktale: The Pied Piper was a rat-catcher.

During the Victorian era, Jack Black was the king of the rat-catchers. The official “rat and mole destroyer to her Majesty,” Black got his start doing government work as a young man after he noticed London’s royal parks were spilling over with rats. (Literally: They had gnawed through the bridge drains.) His talent for catching rodents proved unmatchable, and he was eventually appointed by Queen Victoria to the post of supreme rat-catcher.

Black strolled around London with the swagger and audacity of royalty while maintaining the appearance of a court jester. He wore a homemade uniform of white leather pants, a scarlet waistcoat, a green topcoat, a gold band around his hat, and a sash emblazoned with metal rat-shaped medallions, which he had made by secretly melting down his wife’s saucepans.

Ever the showman, Black ambled around the city with a cart full of rats and peddled a homemade brew of varmint poison. After finding a crowd, he would set up a small stage, open a giant cage of rats, and reach inside. The rodents would jump onto his arms, scurry over his shoulders, and scamper from one hand to the next. The crowds oohed and ahhed—Black was rarely bitten. (Whenever a rat did sink its teeth in, Black treated his wound by visiting the local pub and having some “medicine,” a.k.a. stout—although if the bite was really bad, he would make sure to clean the wound.)

After luring a crowd, Black would begin hawking his poison to onlookers. “I challenge my composition, and sell the art of rat-destroying, against any chemical ray-destroyer in the world, for any sum,” he’d bark. “I don’t care what it is. Let anybody, either a medical or druggist manufacturer of composition, come and test with rats again me.”

After a pleasant afternoon selling rodenticide, Black would descend into London’s basements and sewers with a legion of ferrets and dogs to catch more rats. Black had trained the ferrets to sniff out vermin, while he trained the dogs to track down the ferrets in case they got lost or stuck in a sewer pipe, according to Lapham’s Quarterly.

Black tried using other animals to catch vermin. He trained a badger, two raccoons, and a monkey, but most of them couldn’t compete with dogs and ferrets. “I’ve learnt a monkey to kill rats,” he said, “but he wouldn’t do much, and only give them a good shaking when they bit him.”


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Black didn’t kill every rat he caught, though. He often kept them alive and bred them for sport.

Nineteenth-century Europeans have an unfortunate history of enjoying animal bloodsports: Monkey-baiting (Can a monkey armed with a stick fight a dog?); fox-tossing (Who can throw a fox highest in the air?); and goose-pulling (Can you decapitate a goose while riding a horse?) were just a few. During Black’s time, rat-baiting, in which dozens of rats are tossed in a pit with a dog, was one of the most popular pastimes in London taverns. The bloodsport was so beloved that the government taxed the rat-killing dogs. London’s premiere rat pit owner, Jimmy Shaw, bought 26,000 live rats each year from rat-catchers like Black.

But Black also bred rats for gentler reasons. He knew that some people wanted rodents as pets—and that some folks would pay handsomely for an equally handsome rat—so he began breeding “fancy” rats. Whenever he discovered a rat-of-a-different-color, he’d take it home for “ladies to keep in squirrel cages.”

Black was proud of his fancy rat-breeding skills. It’s rumored that he bred rats for the Queen and the author Beatrix Potter. He claimed that “I’ve bred the finest collection of pied rats which has ever been knowed [sic] in the world.” Which is probably true. The American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association says Black “can be credited as the originator of the first true domestic rats.”

But Jack Black’s legacy may dig even deeper: The first white lab rat—bred in Philadelphia—was descended from an albino rat that may have been bred by the rat catcher.

There’s no way to be certain, but as Robert Sullivan writes in his book Rats: Observations on the History & habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants, “I like to think that all the great scientific achievements that have been made in the modern scientific era as a result of work with laboratory rats are ultimately the result of the work of Jack Black, rat catcher.”

You can read more about Jack Black in Robert Mayhew’s 1851 classic oral history of everyday Londoners, London Labour and the London Poor—the fun starts on page 11 [PDF].

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