David Attenborough: force of nature


It is hard to believe that Sir David Attenborough has ever mistreated a single animal in his life. This is a man for whom the natural world is sacred, after all. Yet midway through our interview, organised to promote his new television series Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild, a crestfallen look crosses the great naturalist’s features when I ask if he has any regrets about his career.

“Jumping on animals. I regret that,” he states. I blink in disbelief. It is as if Judi Dench had admitted to glue-sniffing. Attenborough explains. “Fifty years ago, I used to go along, chase a giant anteater and pull it by the tail so we could film it. I am sorry about that sort of thing. But those were different days.”

Then there was the time he and his crew were stuck in Borneo and strapped for something to film. “I found a little crocodile and we did a cod sequence with it. We filmed it close up so that it looked like a really big crocodile. I then took off my shirt and jumped on it. Everyone thought I had a fight with a full-sized crocodile. ‘God you were brave,’ they told me. I wish I hadn’t done that.”

And as for eating turtle eggs, he pulls a face. “They were horrible, salty. I wished I hadn’t done that either.”

As crimes against nature, these are minor transactions, it must be admitted. Yet they are informative – for it is easy to forget how attitudes to wildlife have changed since Attenborough began his career in 1952 on programmes such as The Pattern of Animals and, later, Zoo Quest. Wild creatures were still viewed from a Victorian perspective in those days. They were there to be tracked, captured, tied up and brought back to Britain to be goggled at. Attenborough was no different from other naturalists at the time, he admits.

Zoo Quest was certainly made in that mould, he believes. For the nine years it aired, Attenborough would travel with staff from London Zoo to a tropical country to capture an animal for the zoo’s collection, a practice that was considered to be perfectly acceptable at the time. Attenborough’s first assignment was to track down a white-necked Picathartes in Sierra Leone on the grounds that no other zoo in Europe had one or even knew what it looked like. “I thought: ‘Oooh, a bird that no one has ever even seen. I must become the first European to get one.’ It was very childish really.”

Written By: Robin McKie
continue to source article at guardian.co.uk


  1. The most sober articulate presenter of nature program’s ever.
    He is science based through and through having graduated as a geologist.
    I’ve never heard one single person utter a word of criticism about him.
    I would like him to carry on for as long as is possible;because I’m sure he loves his work.

  2. The most sober erudite presenter of nature programs ever!
    Spelling mistake due to automatic alterations on my iPad.

  3.  ”  Everyone thought I had a fight with a full-sized crocodile. ‘God you were brave,’ they told me. I wish I hadn’t done that. “

    I am having a hard time imagining the world’s greatest expounder on naturalism as a croc wrassler!

  4. @hellosnackbar:disqus 

    I would like him to carry on for as long as is possible…

    I’ve already asked him to “live forever, please”.  Or at least clone himself :p

  5. I was told to keep away from the nest of bunnies in the grass. Being a curious little girl, I visited them several times. The mother rabbit abandoned them (because of my scent.) They all died 🙁

    I also admit to several road kills, mostly squirrels, one pregnant bird…the raccoon was very traumatic. I drove in circles until it passed.  As a child, I used to torture anthills with a mixture of pink laundry detergent and water. I’ve killed tens of thousands of ants; I’m sure of it. I’ve eaten frog legs. I would have never made a good Buddhist.

    Sir DA should not have any regrets; we’ve all killed, made uninformed decisions…

  6. Wasn’t he also involved in the BBC’s ‘Frozen Planet’ SCANDAL(!!!). You got to love the British press.
    The guy’s a legend. I love his programs. If you are looking for a Christmas Present, his Blue Planet / Planet Earth / Frozen Planet collection is well worth a punt. The BBC is also replaying all his early documentaries on I-Player, in all their black and white glory.

    EDIT : hmmm… coincidence?

  7. Those who deny global warming just need to be given enough rope; trouble is, time’s short, so it can only be hoped that they get on and hang themselves expeditiously!

    I’m eager to learn what their motivation/motivations are; does anyone have any evidence concerning the matter?

    My guess, and it’s nothing more than that, is that it’s that position all such individuals have a tendency to default to – greed.

    I wouldn’t dream of accusing Lord Lawson of such a grievous fault, but I’m pleased that Sir David has brought his Lordship into the frame; now Nige’ has an opportunity to present some evidence.

    Such evidence will, of course, need to have been double-blind tested, peer reviewed and published.   

    I’d also be interested to learn in which subject graduated.

  8. He’s not a hero of mine.  He once said that he thought evolution and religion were compatible.  I seem to remember he was talking to Kirsty Young at the time, on Desert Island Discs.

  9. My main victims were spiders in my youth.  I was a terrible arachnophobe, and wouldn’t go into a room with one unless someone took it out or I killed it first.  It was partly thanks to Attenborough’s programs and my interest in biology that brought me to my senses.  I still wouldn’t want to meet a black widow or a cobalt blue, but the house spiders I come across are just harmless and probably terrified of me. So I just let them be or take them outside myself. Heck, I’ve tried to grab a few with my hands once or twice (they’re quick little blighters). It’s probably a stage we just have to pass through

    Much as I appreciate Attenborough’s regret for his actions, I have to admit the crocodile one made me laugh.  There’s just no way he could be as badass as Steve Irwin.  >:D

  10. I have argued about global warming a lot with Australians on a website forum; most of them treat the idea with total scorn and derision. I do have a theory about the reason.

    The first settlers from Europe found, in Australia, a brutally hostile land where nature was the enemy, and they had to fight it to survive. They are still plagued by drought, bush fires and floods, and I think the very idea of treating nature with respect, as a partner, is alien to their  mindset.

    In America, another country whose pioneering days are quite recent historically, you have in addition the effects of religion. Judaeo-Christian scriptures make it clear the earth and all its products are here for our use – that we have “dominion” over them. If you take that view of the world, you aren’t going to care too much for ecology and the environment.

    Our home-grown British sceptics, like the gentleman mentioned, often have less elevated motives, I fear.

  11. CEVA34
    I have argued about global warming a lot with Australians on a website forum; most of them treat the idea with total scorn and derision. I do have a theory about the reason.

    Eventually some of them will make the connection between global warming and local drying!
    Nobody wins a long-term battle with nature.

  12. Sir David also had two seasons of a wonderful BBC radio 4 program called ‘Life Stories’.
    I missed season two.  Sure would be nice if BBC made them available again – the audio CD
    is available for purchase, tho.

  13. I love spiders. A couple of months ago I awakened to find a small web near the sink. He was a busy little fellow. I redirected some ants toward the web and he proved to be a very good ally.


    papa lazaru
    Wasn’t he also involved in the BBC’s ‘Frozen Planet’ SCANDAL(!!!). You got to love the British press.

    Yea! They used some zoo shots to illustrate polar bears and did some close-up snowflake formation in a studio/lab rather than in an arctic blizzard.

    The tabloids love manufactured pseudo scandal – it distracts from the episode in the US which was cut because it covered ice-loss and global warming.  – Can’t upset the TV sponsoring oil company advertisers!

  15. Evolution and religion are compatible, of course.  It just narrows your choice of religion, slightly.  

    Incompatibility with evolution is not the only ground for rejecting religion.

  16. How are they compatible?  Only if you conceive of a god that is a “creative force”, rather than a personal one, and that is really so much of a cop-out, I don’t see the point of giving it brain-time.

    David Attenborough was once asked if he believed in god, on Radio 4 in an interview with Mark Lawson, and he said no, that it had never occurred to him to believe in god.  So why take this wishy-washy viewpoint now, if not solely for popularity’s sake?

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