13 January 2013


I have been fascinated by the trailers on TV for the current series about Africa by David Attenborough.


A picture taken from our house window today.  There was less snow when I took Nick to the station at 7am but then it started snowing heavily.  It has just stopped at 12.30, lunchtime.

This has nothing to do with the post, just thought you might like to know!

Without watching a single programme I knew that the photography would be amazing, the scenery would be breath-taking and the animals just fantastic.

I also knew that it would probably have me in tears but I somehow felt I ought to see it, Mr Attenborough being something of a national treasure.

So with a little trepidation I turned on the TV this evening and watched enthralled as an amazing bird called a shoebill caught catfish to feed its young.  Then the smile disappeared from my face when the camera captured the moment when one of its starving babies was neglected by the mother in favour of its stronger sibling, who attacked the poor weakened little thing by pecking at it viciously.

It was the image of the little bird, staggering towards its mother for help and food, only for her to step over it and feed the stronger bird that did it.  I turned it off.

You can see the episode on i-player here, if you can access it.  Get your box of Kleenex ready.

Apparently the BBC received numerous complaints about a previous programme which showed the harrowing scenes of a mother elephant grieving for her dying calf.  I didn’t see it but you can read about it here.

Maybe I’m a complete wimp but I just don’t have the stomach to watch the suffering of animals on TV.  We all know that the animal kingdom is cruel as well as cute and fluffy, and It’s always the babies or the weak ones that get it.   I could never be a vegetarian or a saviour of animals, like Ms Bardot, but I don’t want to see them on the worst day of their lives either.  It’s just the same with humans – I don’t seem to be able to cope with seeing other people’s tragedies these days, even if it’s fiction.

So Africa is not for me and I won’t be buying the DVD, however wonderful the camera work or the scenery.

At my age I have come to realise that I can’t save the world all by myself or by worrying and having nightmares about it so I’d rather just do the cute and fluffy if that’s ok.  

Is it just me?


  1. I can't watch TV commericals for animals in shelters; and a story about a suffering animal sends me into hysterics. No, you are not alone.

  2. I am exactly the same, I didn't even watch the titles! I usually wonder how they can film things and do nothing!

    1. Ivan, that's what I don't understand either.

  3. The cameraman who filmed the dying elephant calf talked about exactly this issue at the end of the first episode. A lot of these cameramen are part of research teams, so they are used to appearing to remain detached. Of course they are not entirely, but they are also aware that in cases like this there is nothing you can do, and that the footage is scientifically valuable (recording the mother's behaviour, etc). To have intervened would have sent the mother into a frenzy -- and she was herself in a weakened state. To save the calf they would have had to take it away from the mother to a rescue centre. My guess is it wouldn't have survived the journey. This way the baby elephant provided life for some other suffering creature (no, they didn't show that, but that's what would have happened). The drought was very severe, but the herd survived to breed again when the rains broke. Its mother was relieved of the stress of producing milk and would have got pregnant again as soon as she was fit and well, hopefully to give birth to a healthy calf that could live a long life. Doing nothing is very often a valid option and doing something because its doing something is usually for the doers benefit, not the doees.

    Whether non-scientists need to see all this in their lounge rooms quite so graphically I am not sure. One part of me says its all part of their educational responsibility, one part acknowledges that under these circumstances many people will simply choose not to attend that class, by switching off, either mentally or physically.

    I see a growing trend again in these programmes to anthropomorphise the animals, in an attempt to encourage people to care about them -- it's a very difficult and fine line to tread and programme makers, especially the BBC wildlife unit, are incredibly professional, but inevitably will sometimes get the editing wrong as far as their audience is concerned.

    BTW, I get greatly affected by seeing people suffering on TV, in war situations and the like, but I watch, because I think I have a duty to know about their situation and in some cases it is a way of honouring their memory and their heroism. I'm also outraged by direct and deliberate human cruelty to animals, and again I watch, as otherwise I wouldn't believe some of the things people do. Usually the only time I switch a programme off is if it consists of people shouting at one another or if it is supposed to be comedy and I'm not laughing.

    1. Susan, you are made of stronger stuff than me I think.

      There was a half page advert in my father's newspaper recently for a charity that rescues ill treated dogs in the far east. Just a glimpse of the images and a few of the words gave me sleepless nights for days. This seems to be worse now than when I was a child - I have always had a low tolerance to cruelty of any kind but just can't stomach it any more.

      My understanding is that most animals experience pain, fear and distress at a similar level to humans, even if they don't have some of the other emotions that we have, such as pity. I can see this in Lulu sometimes when we take her to the vet. She trembles and is subdued and the look on her face is positively willing us to take her out of there, all because she presumably associates it with unpleasant things from the past, can remember the pain and is frightened.

      Even if I can't watch the programmes and don't know about all the cruelty that's out there I hope I am doing as much as I can by supporting certain charities and buying food as carefully as I can, given the choices that we have.

  4. Susan makes an extremely vslid point:
    "Doing nothing is very often a valid option and doing something because its doing something is usually for the doers benefit, not the doees."

    So my head completely agrees with Susan we shouldn't anthropomorphise. Nature isn't 'cute & fluffy' it just "is".
    But sometimes--often ironically exactly because it is so well fimed--my detachment goes out the window and my heart says 'NO! don't want to watch that'. So then I wimp out: I don't watch.

    1. N&A, I think it is possible to identify with the pain and fear an animal is suffering without having to attribute human emotions or characteristics to it.

      I once saw a sheep stuck on barbed wire in the snow, many winters ago. It was still there two days later, barely standing up and caught by its neck, having had no food or water. I could see by the state of it how it was suffering without having to think of it in terms of Wallace and Gromit. My father had phoned the farmer when we first spotted it and he phoned the police the next time. Only then did the farmer do something about rescuing it.

      As some humans feel no pity for animals and actually enjoy causing them to suffer, maybe the anthropomorphisation of animals is a good way of getting the public to support the legislation to protect them. On the other hand, maybe it just makes good television.

  5. I am quite happy to anthropomorphise...
    when it helps explain an animals actions...
    do not forget that we are animals ourselves...
    a lot of our behaviour is animalistic...
    it is just that we have "reason" and "language"....
    and are therefore "different"...
    are we the only ones that reason and talk...
    We are no different from animals.
    Except, perhaps, for the fact that we have the ability to distort our thoughts [cognitive distortion], to make the world an acceptable place in which to survive and breed.

    I am afraid I am with Susan...
    there is a lot of suffering in the world...
    and a lot of so called comedy...
    for which the off switch was designed...
    to avoid personal suffering!!

    Unfortunately there is not an off switch for the world...
    although it came close a couple of days ago!

    All we, as "little" people can do is...
    venture to change our portion of the planet...
    help, where we can, others to do the same...
    and honour the innocent who suffer in the name of....
    progress and greed!

  6. I have to say that some of David A.'s earlier shows have turned me off for the same reason. Rather than interesting or instructive, some scenes just seem sensationalistic, almost prurient.

  7. I haven't seen any of this series for various reasons, but have seen other programmes which show similar situations (elephants grieving, birds concentrating all their efforts on the stronger offspring) and I think Susan has said all I would want to say and said it better.

    In a crisis situation such as a drought, the parent bird or animal instinctively knows that it may not be able to rear all its young, so concentrates its efforts where they will have most success. Better one healthy chick than two weak and vulnerable ones who may both eventually die, thus wasting all the parent's efforts.

    Because humans are not entirely ruled by instinct we find this cruel, but this again is judging nature by standards which are based on our ability to empathise. As Niall & Antoinette said, nature just is and we distort it if we expect it to coincide with our developed human values.

  8. C'est la vie. Its a cruel world but really those programmes are fantastic and well worth watching. It is no good seeing all the good bits in life, you have to take the good and the bad, difficult as it may be sometimes. I often sit and snivel through some parts but it is worth it to watch the good bits. Cheer up and keep warm. Diane

    1. Diane, the trouble is, I don't dream about the good bits, it's only the sad or gruesome bits that have me waking up in a panic, so I don't watch at all.

  9. Yes, Ken stopped watching one of Attenborough's series when the crocodiles were tearing apart the wildebeest. In slow motion. It was a little much.

    1. That's the kind of thing that's usually in a certain kind of movie, not shown on TV until after the little ones should be in bed. So if it's not ok to show humans tearing each other apart, why is it ok to show animals?