BBC nature team defends decision to intervene and save mother and baby emperor penguins

The decision broke a principle of nature film-making to observe but not interfere.

A BBC NATURE documentary team has defended the decision the build a ramp to help save a group of penguins, breaching a long-held principle to observe but not intervene. 

The intervention took place during filming as part of the new BBC series Dynasties, with the episode in question shown on Sunday.

The crew were filming a group of female emperor penguins and their young who had become stuck in an icy gully following a storm. The mothers are shown attempting to scale the side of the ravine before sliding down.

To help them, the team dug a shallow ramp that would allow them climb out. 

The BBC said the intervention was “unprecedented”. Series executive producer Mike Gunton said he has spoken to the show’s narrator David Attenborough who agreed it was the right decision.  

“It’s such an unusual circumstance to do this,” Gunton told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“There are lots of situations where you couldn’t, and shouldn’t and wouldn’t – but I think in this situation there were so many factors.” 

Speaking to The Guardian, wildlife cameraman Doug Allan said 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.

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The decision by the team to intervene to help the penguins was praised by many viewers watching the show, while others compared it to BBC’s Africa series from 2013 which recorded a baby elephant dying of starvation.

“That particular creature 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. What could you then do?,” Gunton said.

“Well, 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.”

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