Sir David Attenborough and Wandering Albatross Chick

Photo © Ben Osborne.

After having watched many hours of nature shows, seemingly most of them narrated by Sir David Attenborough, I find myself haunted not by their incredible natural beauty, but by scenes whose tragedy was accentuated by Attenborough’s calm commentary. For example, I can’t look at a coot without recalling how a mother intentionally kills one of her chicks in “Life of Birds”.  When I see a polar bear I recall a bear hunting a baby seal. The narrative goes something like “If the mother cannot catch this seal, her two hungry cubs will starve to death”. Then she doesn’t catch the seal. A flock of flamingos or flamingo-like birds is flying up from a muddy lake. Except a few of them can’t lift off, their legs caked in mud. The longer the birds flail about, the larger the weights become. A mother lemur (or some other kind of swinging-in-the-trees primate) is moving in the forest with her young who are performing amazing acrobatics while jumping from branch to branch. Then one of the youngsters falls and lies injured. The mother calls to him, and he cries back, but after some time, she continues on, with his cries growing fainter with distance. It makes me wonder if the cameraman ever sneaks back to free the flamingos from their shackles, or throw a steak to the polar bear, or put a cast on the little one’s broken leg. And you, Sir David Attenborough, do you shed a tear when you’re editing the material later on? Or has nature hardened you long ago?

A couple of years ago, I played a DVD (I forget which one exactly), a present. I watched as a young elephant became separated from his herd in some extremely arid part of the planet. As the camera zooms out, you get an aerial view of the little elephant running all alone in the wrong direction, and you hear “He has no chance. Without the herd guiding him to water, he will die of thirst”.  I turned off the TV and ejected the DVD. For a few years I watched no more nature documentaries.

But with new incentives to watch nature shows,  I’ve been searching for ones that may soften the realities of the natural world a bit. And so I came to watch the strangely-titled 1974 film “Animals are beautiful people” (by the time I reached the scene with animals getting drunk off of fermented fruit, I realized I’d seen it before decades ago). In one of the scenes, a piglet is chased by a cheetah. It manages to get away by finding a hiding hole. But it’s separated from its family. However, the next day its search is fruitful and it is reunited with mom. Which is unlike any of the outcomes I’ve seen in other nature documentaries. Must be fiction. But I’d really rather remember it, and forget the coots.

  One Response to “David Attenborough, take it back”

  1. After living in the UK for 3.5 years, I’ve decided that Brits don’t cry. I’m sure they have emotions—they just don’t show them.

    As for Attenborough’s shows, there’s always the firefly foreplay scene if you want something uplifting.

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