Fakery storm: Frozen Planet polar bear died in Dutch zoo
Published 13/12/2011 | 07:39
A POLAR bear cub filmed for the BBC's Frozen Planet series died in captivity, it has emerged as Sir David Attenborough defended the series against accusations of fakery.
The BBC One programme showed footage of a mother bear nursing twin cubs.
But while Sir David's narration referred to cubs being born "beneath the snow" and was intercut with genuine scenes of polar bears in the Arctic, the footage was shot in a man-made den in a city zoo.
What appeared to be snow on the floor of the den was actually woodchip.
The scenes were filmed at Ouwehands Animal Park in the Netherlands (not Germany, as previously reported).
The mother was a captive polar bear named Huggies, who was taken from the wilds of Siberia at five months and placed in captivity. She was named by her sponsor, Kimberley-Clark, the nappies manufacturer.
Viewers of Frozen Planet were not told of the cubs’ fate. But the smaller of the twins, who was named Swimmer and was underweight at birth, died in March 2010, three months after the scenes were shot.
The larger cub, Walker, was shipped to the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig, Scotland, and is the only polar bear in a British public collection.
Sir David said it was right that the programme disguised the origins of the footage because telling the truth would “ruin the atmosphere” for viewers.
He told ITV1's This Morning: “During the middle of this scene, when you’re trying to paint what it’s like in the middle of winter in the Pole, do you say, ‘Oh, by the way, this is filmed in a zoo?’
“It would completely ruin the atmosphere and destroy the pleasure of the viewers. It’s not a falsehood.
“How far do you take this? ‘This is a penguin but actually it’s a different penguin colony than we did for that one’ - come on. We’re making movies.”
Sir David added that it would have been impossible for a camera crew to film a polar bear giving birth in the wild. “If you had tried to put a camera in a polar bear mother’s den, she would either have killed the cub or she’d have killed the cameraman, one or the other. So it’s out of the question.”
The specially-constructed den in the programme was fitted with remote cameras linked to a webcam.
However, the film-makers made no mention of this in the segment at the end of the episode explaining how the programme was made.
The only explanation was buried amongst a dozen clips on the Frozen Planet website, in a four-minute film by the producer. It was put online two weeks before the November 23 episode.
One visitor to the BBC website said: “I would have sympathy with the producers of Frozen Planet if they had shown how the cub segment was filmed in the ‘how clever are we’ section bolted on to the end of the episode. Unfortunately they didn’t take the opportunity.”
Alastair Fothergill, the show’s executive producer, insisted that the narration was not misleading. He said: “We were very careful not to specifically refer to our polar bear cubs; if you read the commentary it talks very generally about polar bears in the plural."
Animal welfare charities criticised the programme for using bears in captivity.
Will Travers, chief executive of the Born Free Foundation, said: "The question is: would the film have been any less marvellous, astounding and sensational if that scene had been omitted? I doubt it.
"But sadly, as it stands, the public may be wondering whether there are any other sequences that are not quite what they seem.
"And millions of viewers were left with the feeling that the cubs were about to embark on a life in the wild, with all its adventures and challenges, when sadly their future is one of confinement and frustration.
"Ultimately it is these young bears who are being let down."
Ouwehands is one of the world's leading centres for breeding polar bears.
Its director Robin De Lange said the Frozen Planet team deserved praise for making the series.
"These scenes were a very small part of the programme. They have done a marvellous job," he said.