Outcry over Frozen Planet footage prompts BBC to add new commentary to David Attenborough series

BBC documentary Africa will include narration indicating when filming has taken place using captive animals or under controlled conditions

Public anger over reports of “faked” wildlife filming has led the BBC to come clean over the use of captive animals, Radio Times can reveal.


There was uproar a year ago when it was disclosed that scenes from the epic series Frozen Planet purporting to show polar bear cubs in their den were, in fact, shot in a German zoo.

Now, in his latest landmark series, Africa, David Attenborough’s commentary admits to sequences having been shot under controlled conditions using captive animals.

Attenborough himself has always opposed the need for such explicit transparency. His view – and that of most of his colleagues at the world-famous Natural History Unit in Bristol – is that it impedes coherent storytelling.

“It’s not falsehood, and we don’t keep it secret either,” he said of the scene that caused last year’s Polar Bear-gate controversy.

Series producer of Africa, James Honeyborne, admits that the inclusion of the explanations in his new show is a direct consequence of last December’s outcry. “We felt that because of the reactions to the polar bears being filmed for Frozen Planet it was appropriate to be more explicit. We are doing it because we feel it is important to maintain trust and credibility with the audience.”

Honeyborne says there are two “full sequences” in the series – a rock python scene in episode three shot in a special filming burrow and one involving a naked mole rat in episode five – that required the use of captive animals.

He denies the decision to admit their use in commentary was forced on him by BBC bosses.


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