Frogs and fam­ily fig­ure in pos­si­ble swan song

At­ten­bor­ough re­mains sci­en­tific even though you sense he’s in love with frogs

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

Life in Cold Blood 7.30pm, Nine

NO, the ti­tle is not a ref­er­ence to the Nine Net­work’s shabby han­dling of Steve Ja­cobs’s first ven­ture out of his com­fort zone as To­day ’ s weather man into the bright lights of prime time. The Power of Ten, which was due to air in this times­lot last week, was ruth­lessly pulled at short no­tice.

But quicker than you could say cross- pro­mo­tion, Nine went to air with this mag­nif­i­cent nat­u­ral­ist se­ries the day af­ter host David At­ten­bor­ough ap­peared on 60 Min­utes with a fawn­ing Liz Hayes, who de­clared At­ten­bor­ough a what- you- see- iswhat- you- get kind of guy.

At 81, who would have the en­ergy to be any­thing else? To be sure, At­ten­bor­ough seems a lovely fel­low who has spent his life do­ing what he does best: fos­sick­ing for trea­sure in the nat­u­ral world, then shar­ing it with his es­ti­mated 500 mil­lion view­ers.

It is en­tirely pos­si­ble that Life in Cold Blood, a study of the evo­lu­tion and habits of am­phib­ians and rep­tiles, will be, if you’ll par­don the pun, At­ten­bor­ough’s swan song.

If it should mark the full stop on a nat­u­ral­ist es­say that has run for more than 50 years, it will be a wor­thy end.

When it de­buted last week, we wit­nessed some of the se­crets of rep­tiles, in par­tic­u­lar the time scales on which they op­er­ate. I’ll never for­get the sight of a gi­ant snake crush­ing a young deer to death, then swal­low­ing it whole. It takes hours for a snake to swal­low a deer, and though snakes are cold- blooded, they do need to breathe. The an­swer? The snake ex­tends its wind­pipe be­yond its mouth while it snarfs down the deer, antlers, fur, hooves, the lot. Af­ter that, it doesn’t need to eat for years.

Tonight it’s the turn of am­phib­ians in Land In­vaders. As al­ways, At­ten­bor­ough re­mains sci­en­tific and is never sen­ti­men­tal, even though you sense he is com­pletely in love with frogs. He does not an­thro­po­mor­phise, pre­fer­ring to at­tribute nat­u­ral rather than hu­man mo­tives to the an­i­mals he stud­ies. But there is com­edy as a male frog ad­heres it­self to the much larger fe­male of the species, then some other daffy males ad­here them­selves to it; in­ge­nu­ity as the gi­ant male African bull­frog digs a canal to free the tad­poles it pro­tects in a dry­ing pond so they can sur­vive in the main stream; and great ten­der­ness as a male gold frog waves to a po­ten­tial mate, even if she turns out to be male. But above all there is won­der in view­ing the in­tri­cate web of life through the gaze of this re­mark­able yet hum­ble ad­ven­turer. Per­haps Hayes was right to be awe- struck.

Ian Cuth­bert­son

Pleased to meet you: David At­ten­bor­ough with an am­phib­ian friend

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