New 'open' policy for BBC wildlife show

New BBC wildlife series Africa will tell viewers when animals are filmed in specially controlled conditions after an episode of Frozen Planet was criticised as fake.

The BBC was criticised for failing to inform viewers that scenes of a polar bear with her newborn cubs in last year’s natural history series Frozen Planet were actually filmed in a zoo.

Producers say that the new BBC2 series, Africa, which shows how the shoebill bird deliberately deprives its youngest chick of food to allow it to die, will make it clear in Sir David Attenborough’s commentary when controlled filming is used.

“Because of the reactions to the polar bears being filmed for Frozen Planet it was appropriate to be more explicit… we feel it is important to maintain trust and credibility with the audience,” series producer James Honeyborne said.

“What’s important to us is to be able to share great moments of animal nature, and some controlled filming allows us to do that.

“We’re proud of those sequences because they reveal new aspects of behaviour that you can only see filmed in this way,” he said of the shots featuring a mole rat and a rock python.

“We know that the audience wants to know, and we don’t have a problem with it. We’re not embarrassed about it, we’re absolutely proud of it.”

Africa explores some of the lesser-known stories of the continent’s wildlife and features the shoebill, which hatches two eggs and deprives the younger one of food and drink.

Honeyborne told the Radio Times: “Very little is known about the shoebill and it has hardly ever been seen.

“It took us four weeks to find a nest, and once we located one the crew had to drag canoes full of equipment for two days through the swamp and then camp for a month on a half-drowned ants’ nest while filming.

“Initially we thought it was going to be a funny sequence, but then we realised that the parent birds were favouring one chick over the other – one chick was being fed, was growing and getting stronger and the other one was being ignored.

“It has never been witnessed in that detail before and we’ve only been able to do that because of the new technology we have.”

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