Climate Crisis and the Environment

Let Nature Run its Own Course: Should Humans Intervene in the Natural Processes of the World?

BBC One’s latest five-part nature series, Dynasty, has graced our screens with new footage of some of the world’s most amazing creatures and landscapes. The series, which is narrated by the beloved national treasure that is Sir David Attenborough, began on November 11th, and follows a wide range of animals as they protect their families and territories. However the most recent episode has raised questions as to whether humanity should intervene in the natural world and its due course…

The team behind the show is the same one behind the multi-award-winning 2016 Plant Earth II, hence the plethora of gorgeous shots of lush landscapes, and high-tension, fast-paced tracking of animals in their natural habitats. The series is four years in the making and Charlotte Moore, the Director of Content at the BBC, stated that she hoped the “intimate animal drama will connect with audiences”, and it has certainly achieved this goal.

The show premiered with an episode based in Senegal, and followed a chimpanzee named David, and the group he leads. The second episode moved south to Antarctica, this time observing a colony of emperor penguins in one of the toughest landscapes on the planet. It was this episode that had people talking, and for perhaps unexpected reasons.

The documentary team were following a group of fifty female penguins and watched as they were blown into a steep-sided gully during a fierce storm. After three days of watching just a handful of penguins managing to escape, with some being forced to abandon their chicks while the others desperately huddled for warmth, the team became visibly distressed, wiping away tears and telling the camera that it was “bloody hard to watch”.

“intervening posed a greater threat to the animal in question”

In an ‘unprecedented’ move, the crew decided to stop filming and intervene, digging steps into the side of the gully, which allowed the penguins and their chicks to safely climb out and return to their colony in Atka Bay.

This is an extremely rare occurrence. There have been numerous incidents where film teams have been unable to help for safety reasons, or because intervening posed a greater threat to the animal in question compared to allowing nature to run its course. Mike Gunton, the series’ executive producer, said that ’99.9% of the time’ it was inappropriate to interfere, but that this was a special case.

“to maintain the fragile dynamic of the natural world”

“There were no animals going to suffer by intervening. It wasn’t dangerous”,  he told the BBC, justifying the decision. While crews typically avoid acting, no matter how distressing the situation seems to be, this is to maintain the fragile dynamic of the natural world. But David Attenborough supported the decision the crew made as well, and Gunton stated that Attenborough ‘said he would have done the same’.

“extremely rare occurrence”

While the footage proved to be an emotional synthesis of humans and animals working together, it poses the question of whether such actions are ever acceptable. It can be argued that given the extent to which humans have negatively impacted the natural world, it is a good thing to see a positive intervention like this, and that not acting would have been cruel and inhumane. Emperor penguins have been considered ‘near threatened’ as a result of climate change, so perhaps this minimally invasive yet positive act was the right thing to do. It is certainly in the penguin’s best interests.


“saving one animal can have dire consequences for the rest of the fragile ecosystem”

However, it can also be seen that humans entering wild habitats to document animals is destructive enough already, and that even saving one animal can have dire consequences for the rest of the fragile ecosystem. Conversely, the impact of allowing such a large population of the colony to die may have had a similarly negative impact. The issue is evidently not one to be glossed over.

“one of the most memorable moments of the series”

The online reaction was significant, with the public both supporting and criticising the decision. While some claimed that it was ‘about time’ film crews ‘showed a bit of humanity to it’s [sic] fellow creatures’, others critiqued the decision, citing the ‘tough dilemma’ of not disturbing nature’s balance.

Regardless of the moral reasoning behind the Dynasties team’s decision, the segment of the program was emotionally-charged, edge-of-your-seat television, and will certainly go down as one of the most memorable moments of the series.

Esme Johnson

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Featured image courtesy of Anne Fröhlich via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here.

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