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Image / Editorial

BBC nature team defends decision to break protocol to save mother and baby penguins


by Jennifer McShane
21st Nov 2018
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A BBC nature documentary team has defended their decision to build a ramp to help save a group of penguins. Doing so breached a long-held principle to “observe but not intervene” but the film crew on David Attenborough’s latest BBC series made a decision to step in and help the mother and baby penguins.

According to The Guardian, the penguins at the centre of Sunday’s episode of Dynasties had either blown or tumbled into a gully in a storm and were unable to get out.

Fearing for the lives of the penguins and in what BBC Earth described as an “unprecedented move”, the crew dug a shallow ramp so some of the penguins would be able to use it to save themselves.

And to the delight of the crew, that’s exactly what happened.

Wildlife cameraman Doug Allan explained he felt the intervention was justified on the basis that it was not a case of prey being hunted by a predator.

“If [for example] you’re watching a predator and prey relationship, the key thing is your presence must not influence the outcome,” Allan said.

“Interfering or not is a decision based on what you’re seeing at the time. To interfere on a predation event is definitely wrong but, in this situation, they didn’t spook the penguins. All they did was create an escape route for them,” he said.

“I certainly think, in that case, what they did was entirely justifiable and entirely understandable. I would have done the same thing in their situation.”

Series director Will Lawson, camera operator Lindsay McCrae and assistant Stefan Christmann explained why they felt it was okay to make an exception.

“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. There’s no rule book in those situations. You can only respond to the facts that are right there in front of you,” Lawson told LADbible.

As you can imagine, we only show a fraction of the real trauma and difficulty that the animals go through—it was a very hard thing to see. What was unique with this was that the only other animal there was us—nothing else would directly benefit from this. I’m sure some people will have an opinion in the other direction but in my heart of hearts, I think we made the right decision.

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