Sir David Attenborough defended the decision of his team to let a baby elephant die of starvation because of an unwritten rule of nature filmmaking.
Sir David Attenborough and his team were filming for the BBC documentary series Africa when they came across a baby elephant and its mother struggling and approaching the end of their lives quickly.
The crew could have stepped in and offered the animals some food, but didn’t – and it’s now come out that this was because of a rule that almost all nature documentary crews follow.
Back in 2013, Attenborough defended the decision to let nature be nature and not get involved, stating that it is ‘very important’ for film crews to simply observe what is happening, rather than impacting it & getting involved.
This is a key unwritten rule, and is obeyed in almost all circumstances.
“The worst thing in this series as far as I’m concerned was that poor little baby elephant dying of thirst,” Attenborough said.
“Of course you see really tough things, but there’s nothing you can do about them.”
Backing Attenborough’s position up, the BBC series’ producer Mike Gunton said:
“That particular creature [the baby elephant] was dying of starvation, [and it was] far too dangerous to intervene.
“If you tried to go there, the mother would probably have attacked you. If you fed it, it would survive for maybe another hour.
“But because there was no food anywhere, ultimately – and this is David’s point – ultimately, you are just prolonging the misery and you let nature take its course.”
But… more recently whilst filming Attenborough’s show Dynasties, the crew did decide to intervene to help stop some baby penguins dying.
The crew were capturing some baby Emperor penguins trying to get up a slippery slope in Antarctica, with mother penguins having to leaving some chicks behind resulting in them dying in the extreme cold.
After a storm passed, the film crew returned to the spot and realised that if they dug a few steps into the ramp they could ensure that the penguins could make it out safely.
Without disturbing the birds, they ensured that a few made it out without dying unnecessarily.
At the time, the show’s director Will Lawson said:
“We opted to intervene passively. Once we’d dug that little ramp, which took very little time, we left it to the birds.
“We were elated when they decided to use it.”
In the narration for the show, Attenborough agreed with the decision to help the penguins out.
He said: “It’s very rare for the film crew to intervene. But they realise that they might be able to save at least some of these birds, simply by digging a few steps in the ice.”
Gunton later told BBC Radio 5 Live:
“It’s such an unusual circumstance to do this,
“There were no animals going to suffer by intervening. It wasn’t dangerous.
“You weren’t touching the animals and it was just felt by doing this…they had the opportunity to not have to keep slipping down the slope.”