David Attenborough: force of nature

The orangutan may be called the ‘old man of the forest’, but Sir David Attenborough runs it a close second. We put your questions to the great man

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© Rob Greig

When we asked you for questions to put to naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, the passion and knowledge behind them blew us away. Thanks to you, we got the Great Communicator discussing everything from his views on politicians and time working in BBC senior management to environmental campaigning and his favourite place on the planet – you’ll never guess where it is. (And sorry, @joolygee, we didn’t propose marriage on your behalf – but that’s only because we ran out of time.) Questions asked by Time Out’s TV editor, Gabriel Tate.

Attenborough on…

  1. The natural world
  2. The environment
  3. Broadcasting
  4. London
  5. Everything else

When did you decide to become a naturalist?
Felix Miller, 8, north London
‘As long as I remember, I’ve been interested in nature. Every child born is interested in the natural world but as life goes on some people lose it. If they do lose it all together, they have lost something very precious.’

Your brother [film director Richard Attenborough] famously brought back dinosaurs for ‘Jurassic Park’. If you could bring back one animal from extinction, which would it be?
Dominique Sisley, 24, Finsbury Park
‘We made a film about pterosaurs, which were those big flying reptiles, and they had a wingspan the size of a small aeroplane. I’d love to see that.’

Is there an animal you brought back as part of an expedition that you rather wish you hadn’t?
Azra Hussain, 34, New Cross Gate
‘Well, I brought back an orangutan for [his first TV series] ‘Zoo Quest’. Orangutans are endangered in the forests of Borneo, and I brought back a young male who was an orphan, because the Dayak people – with whom I was living at the time in the long houses in the centre of Borneo – were protecting their crops which were being raided by orangs. I gave it to London Zoo and he lived very well and founded a dynasty of orangs there. But I wouldn’t want to bring an orang back from the forest now, because zoos don’t need it. They breed almost all the animals which they exhibit.’

What in nature always puts a smile on your face?
Kevin Morrison, 31, Kensal Rise
‘Young things succeeding. Little elephant calves learning to walk, that puts a smile on my face.’

Are there any animals you hate?
Andrew Morris, 27, Richmond
‘I don’t like rats, and I don’t like things that carry disease and travel around in pestilential places. I don’t mind spiders, I like spiders and I’m interested in spiders. But rats, I don’t care for.’

What do you feel like when you’re near an echidna?
Isaac Maya, 6, USA
‘I feel rather the same as when I’m next to a kangaroo. Echidnas are very interesting animals. What you fear most is, you don’t want to disturb it, because if it gets disturbed it waggles all four feet and simply goes down into the earth. But you feel privileged to see this particular stage that represents one of the rungs on the long evolutionary ladder.’

If you could be reincarnated as any creature living or extinct, which would it be?
Ran Matthews
‘Well, I will say a sloth, because all you have to do is hang upside down from a tree. That would be fine.’

What’s your favourite dinosaur?

Maddie She-ra TallulahFord, 30, Islington
‘One of the hadrosaurs, I suppose, one of the duck-bills. They had curious vocal apparatus and made honking noises. Then of course some of the big sauropods like diplodocus. It would be interesting to see whether our theories of what they were really like are true. We keep changing our minds about how they moved and what they did, whether they lived in swamps or didn’t live in swamps…’

If you could take a characteristic or ability of any animal, what would it be?
Claire Hale, 39, Surrey
‘I’d like to fly. Just open the window and a couple of flaps and I’m home. That would be nice. You’d see a different aspect of things, visit all over the place.’

What’s been your most awkward moment with an animal?

Kieran Riddlough, 21, Bethnal Green
‘I haven’t been chased by many. Most of my life is spent trying to persuade an animal I’m not there. That is what making naturalistic films is about, you’re concealing your existence. So it’s embarrassing when an animal does know I’m there, unless it’s a tame animal. The Rwandan gorillas was a very strange and particular episode [in ‘Life on Earth’], but those animals were habituated by Dian Fossey, so they reacted to human beings in a way which was not natural.’

You’ve had a carnivorous pitcher plant, a long-beaked echidna, a tree and an armoured prehistoric fish named after you. If you could pick another creature to bear your name, what would it be?
Rid Hollands, 31, Kensal Rise
‘A hummingbird. They’re very beautiful, very interesting, nice to look at. And I hum, that’s true.’

Could you summarise the understanding your travels have given you on the relationship between the human race and wildlife?
Tom Buxton, 19, North Kensington
‘What interests me about the natural world is not how it illuminates my character or the human character. It’s the way in which it’s not human. There are many ways of living that have nothing to do with human beings or their morals, logic or anything else. I think termites are absolutely fascinating. They are the absolute antithesis of what human beings are – but that’s why they’re interesting. I think it’s extraordinary, solipsistic, to think that things are only interesting in as much as they apply to you. That’s not the way I look at the natural world.’

David Attenborough’s Rise of the Animals’, Friday September 20 & 27, 9pm, BBC2.

Watch a clip from ‘Rise of the Animals’

Read our ‘Rise of the Animals’ reviews

Episode one

  • Rated as: 4/5

Attenborough’s legacy is already one of the most assured and noble in television history. Yet even now, he isn’t content to coast and remains relentlessly determined to shed light, bring knowledge, vanquish ignorance. To inform, educate and entertain.

Read the full review

Episode two

  • Rated as: 4/5

There are plenty of diverting asides on everything from echidna to wallabies, as well as an intriguing theory on the extinction of giant mammals. And we never thought we’d see the day that he’d experiment on a puppy. We’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Read the full review


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