The BBC’s new big nature documentary (or is it drama?) series, narrated by David Attenborough; ‘The Hunt’ is now gracing our screens and astonishing viewers with incredible shots of incredible things in incredible landscapes. The HD is jaw-dropping, the camera work is excellent, the animals are fascinating and the whole thing is very well done. But we’ve seen it all before, and I’m getting a little frustrated.
The BBC also produces the ‘Natural World’ documentary series and the most recent episode was all about Orcas; because we’ve never had a documentary about those before (to be read in a sarcastic tone). It seems to me that current nature documentaries, current conservation organisations and the media all reuse the same animals, the same recognisable faces and the same stories. What if a big-hit film was made with a stunning cast, an equally successful sequel was then made, and then another, and then another and so on for ten, fifteen sequel films all starring the exact same cast – do you think people would get a little fatigued? Most documentaries keep showing us the same cast of animals repeatedly – polar bear, big cats, elephants, orcas, dolphins, wolves, penguins, crocodiles and bloody wildebeest. They may be filmed exquisitely in amazing slow-motion, they may be familiar, attractive animals and they may have great stories to tell – but there is so much else to show.
I had a flick through my young brothers animal encyclopedia the other day, it contained illustrations of almost every known land animal on earth (excepting invertebrates) – now I don’t consider myself an expert but I do have a strong interest in wildlife and have read rather a lot on the subject – yet it seemed that for every animal I recognised in the book there were two I had never heard of. There were species of wild cat with unusual names, there were strange marsupials of which I had never heard, there were interesting squirrel-like mammals with which I was not familiar and there were at least three more species of armadillo than I thought there were. Of all those animals in that book the ones used in current nature documentaries constituted at a guess less than 20% of those featured. I WANT to see films of these strangely-named animals, I want to know their life stories and see how they hunt or raise young – yet all I get is the well-worn tale of cheetahs hunting gazelles (this time with three extra angles!).
I want to be clear that I still very much enjoy seeing big cats and whales and rhinos on the telly and they DO have very interesting natural histories, I do think that ‘The Hunt’ is largely superb. But it seems that these wonderful organisms are being used simply as ‘brand-recognition’ to draw in audiences – as well as using their cute factor and large size to encourage people to care and help protect them – they are poster boys. Even well-known species like the Platypus are neglected, when did you last see the platypus or echidna in a documentary? The thing is I struggle to find an excuse for this other than they are just a bit weird.
The thing that strikes me when I do a bit of research is how many different species of animal and plant there are – absolutely tons! Yet the vast majority are ignored by the media and even conservation organisations, many of these creatures are under threat but the public don’t know about them so if they did go extinct would anyone but a few naturalists care? Education is everything, even if a species is not under threat it is still important that we showcase it, if only to show people the incredible diversity of life – take the Numbat for example; when did you ever see a numbat in any television programme? What the heck is a numbat? I want to know about what it eats, where it lives and how it survives, what does it look like and how does it breed? The television should be telling me about the numbat, or the radio or the newspaper or a magazine or even a billboard – WHAT IS A NUMBAT?
I just feel like documentaries have become about story and drama and being epic – nature is epic and it does have drama and a story to tell us; but focus too closely on just those things and the wild can start to look like a soap opera – rather than being educational. There are far too many species being underrepresented or ignored completely, while a precious and very recognisable few take all the limelight – I want to see more and I want new species to be in awe of. There are over a million different organisms on Earth, the BBC has not filmed all of them, so show us the numbats of this world already; I’m tired of pandas.