Sir David Attenborough returns to our screens this weekend with a new historic production.
The tone of the program is very different from its usual work.
For once, Britain’s favorite naturalist is not here to celebrate the incredible diversity of life on Earth, but to issue a stern warning to all of us.
The hour-long film, Extinction: The Facts, will air on BBC One in the UK on Sunday, September 13 at 8 p.m. BST.
“We are facing a crisis,” he warns at the start, “and which has consequences for all of us”.
What follows is a shocking toll of the damage our species has caused to the natural world.
Scenes of destruction
There are the stunning images of animals and plants you would expect from an Attenborough production, but also scenes of gruesome destruction.
In one sequence, monkeys jump from trees into a river to escape a huge fire.
In another, a koala crosses a road in its vain search for shelter as flames devour the surrounding forest.
There is a small army of experts on hand to quantify the extent of damage to the world’s ecosystems.
Of the eight million species estimated on Earth, one million are now threatened with extinction, warns an expert.
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Since 1970, vertebrate animals – birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians – have declined by 60%, another tells us.
We meet the last two white rhinos from the north of the world.
These great beasts were once found in the thousands in Central Africa, but have been pushed to the brink of extinction by habitat loss and hunting.
“A lot of people think extinction is that imaginary tale told by conservationists,” says James Mwenda, the caretaker who takes care of them, “but I’ve been through it, I know what it is. ‘is”.
James strokes and strokes the giant animals, but it becomes clear that they are the last of their kind when he tells us that Najin and Fatu are mother and daughter.
Species have always come and gone, that’s how evolution works. But, says Sir David, the rate of extinction has increased dramatically.
It is estimated that this is now happening at a hundred times the natural rate of evolution – and is accelerating.
“In my lifetime I have encountered some of the most remarkable species of animals in the world,” says Sir David, in one of the film’s most moving sequences.
“It’s only now that I realize how lucky I’ve been – many of these wonders seem like they’re on the verge of disappearing forever. “
Crisis in the natural world
Sir David struggles to explain that it’s not just about losing the magnificent creatures he featured in the hundreds of shows he made during his six decades as a natural history filmmaker .
The loss of pollinating insects could threaten the food crops we depend on. Plants and trees regulate the flow of water and produce the oxygen we breathe. Meanwhile, the seas are empty of their fish.
About 5% of the fish caught by trawlers now remain compared to before the turn of the 20th century, according to an expert.
But the pandemic provides perhaps the most immediate example of the risks of our ever-increasing encroachment on the natural world, as we have all learned in the most brutal way over the past six months.
The program follows the suspected origins of the coronavirus to bat populations living in cave systems in Yunnan Province, China.
We see the Chinese ‘wet market’ in Wuhan which specializes in selling wild animals for human consumption and is believed to have been linked to many early infections.
Cause of hope
The program is uncompromising in its description of the crisis in the natural world, admits Serena Davies, who led the program.
“Our job is to report the reality of the evidence,” she explains.
But the program doesn’t leave the public feeling that all is lost. Sir David said there is still reason to be hopeful.
“Its purpose is not to try to drag the public into the depths of despair,” says Davies, “but to take people on a journey that makes them understand what is driving these problems, we can also help them. solve. ”
The program ends in an iconic style.
We see one of the most famous moments of all the films Sir David has made during his long career, the moment he encountered a band of gorillas in the mountains on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Rwanda.
A young gorilla called Poppy tries to take off his shoes as he talks to the camera.
“It was an experience that stuck with me,” said Sir David, “but it was tinged with sadness, for I thought I might see some of the last of their kind. ”
The program officials returned to Rwanda and, after a long hike, spotted Poppy’s daughter and granddaughter in the brush of the deep forest.
We learn that the Rwandan government has worked with the local population to protect the animal and the gorillas are thriving.
There were 250 when Sir David visited in the 1970s, there are now over 1000.
It shows, says Sir David, what we can accomplish when we think about it.
“I may not be there to see it,” he concludes, “but if we make the right decisions at this critical moment, we can save our planet’s ecosystems, its extraordinary biodiversity and all of its inhabitants”.
His last line is powerful: “What happens next,” says Sir David, “depends on each of us”.
You can watch Extinction: The Facts by David Attenborough on BBC One in the UK on Sunday, September 13 at 8:00 p.m. BST.