a fam­ily af­fair!

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Sir David At­ten­bor­ough talks about his breath­tak­ing new se­ries, which looks at five an­i­mal dy­nas­ties…

QYour new se­ries took four years to make. Wasn’t that a huge un­der­tak­ing?

AI thought the plan­ners were nuts! They said, ‘We’re go­ing to find groups of an­i­mals that are be­ing stud­ied by sci­en­tists all over the world, where there could be some sort of erup­tion, and we’ll film them for the next 18 months to two years to catch that when it hap­pens.’ I said, ‘Well, I think you’re bonkers!’ Imag­ine – two years and noth­ing hap­pens!

QWhy fo­cus on chimps, em­peror pen­guins, li­ons, painted wolves and tigers?

AThey’re charis­matic an­i­mals. You can’t beat a pen­guin. You can’t beat a chimp. They’re all full of ac­tiv­ity. It would be harder to do 18 months on sloths!

QThe first episode is about chimps. Why do you think we find them so fas­ci­nat­ing?

ABe­cause we can un­der­stand what they’re do­ing, or we think we do. We used the names the sci­en­tists had given each an­i­mal and it was my mis­for­tune that the old, griz­zled chimp – who’s been there for­ever and is tee­ter­ing on and just about hold­ing on – is called David.

QWas it less dan­ger­ous to film be­cause th­ese crea­tures are used to hu­mans?

AIt’s more dan­ger­ous be­cause the an­i­mals aren’t fright­ened. Those who are work­ing among chim­panzees have to be ex­tremely care­ful not to be provoca­tive in any way.

QHave you ex­pe­ri­enced any tricky mo­ments?

AYes! Around 20 or 30 years ago, I was work­ing with a small­ish group of chimps. I’d been with them for about a week and I knew them quite well, and they took no no­tice of us. Then one morn­ing, four or five of them were groom­ing one an­other and I was sit­ting next to them. I very fool­ishly thought, ‘I won­der…’ and put my hand out slowly and touched one – and there was the most ex­tra­or­di­nary erup­tion. I was barmy!

QDo you think this se­ries will have an eco­log­i­cal im­pact like Blue Planet II had con­cern­ing plas­tic pol­lu­tion?

AIf peo­ple care for th­ese an­i­mals and give them liv­ing space, then we’ll be pleased. I don’t try to make axe-grind­ing films, but we’re in this busi­ness be­cause we care about the wild world, so any­thing that helps it flour­ish is a very good thing in­deed.

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