Why Sir David Attenborough bans producers from saving dying animals

'Tragedy is part of life and you have to show it.'

Sir David Attenborough’s latest series, Dynasties, follows on from the success of last year’s Frozen Planet II, trailing some of the animal kingdom’s most interesting species and documenting their struggle for survival. Chimpanzees, emperor penguins, lions, painted wolves and tigers feature in his latest documentary series, which took four years to film and create, and debuts on November 11th.

While fans get ready to tune in, Sir David has spoken out about an incident which saw the TV crew saving some endangered penguins.

In one of the upcoming episodes, viewers will see the camera crew cutting ‘stairs’ into an icy ravine where some newly-hatched Emperor penguins chicks have been trapped during a storm. It meant the family of penguins could get themselves to safety, but it is technically against Sir David’s rules.

During the show’s launch, executive producer Michael Gunton explained: ‘We have a rule that interfering is a very dangerous thing to do. But these penguins were going to die through a freak act of nature if nothing happened.’

He added: ‘How would this conversation be going if you said you saw them there and did nothing? I think you have to do it.’

In another scene, viewers will see a chimpanzee being attacked and killed by rivals – but the producers didn’t step in to help on that occasion.

new david attenborough show

BBC NHU/Theo Webb

So why did they help the chicks and not the chimp? Apparently, it is all to do with the fact that the crew’s interference didn’t impact the lives of other animals.

However, Sir David disagrees with any interference whatsoever, using an incident with a wildebeest calf being attacked by a leopard as an example.

He explained: ‘What do you do? Suppose you did something that frightened the leopard off, the fawn would be disorientated and would probably not even be able to find its way home, so it is likely to die.

‘The leopard would go off and have to find another fawn and it is likely to have problems with its cubs.’

He also spoke about an ‘absolutely agonising’ experience of watching a mother and baby elephant dying of thirst – but revealed why he wouldn’t get involved and give them water to save their lives.

‘All you’re doing is prolonging the death,’ he said.

‘So you make things infinitely worse… all you can do there is watch tragedy. Tragedy is part of life and you have to show it. You can’t have sunshine throughout your life. And to have done anything else would only have made matters worse and distort the truth.’

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