My request is motivated on several grounds; welfare, stereotyping and undermining a respect for life, which then impacts negatively upon conservation. And that it spoils the show because it’s simply out of date, some would say barbaric. And actually it’s often pretty silly too, because many viewers recognise that the species used are not dangerous, or significantly toxic or venomous in the first place. Or that they’ve been “doctored”, their fangs sealed, their jaws bound so, even under the stress they’re exposed to, they couldn’t possibly harm any of your guests. But then, let’s face it, as we all know, you couldn’t let that happen anyway. It’s a sham.
The problem is that animals such as snakes, spiders, crocodiles, rats and many invertebrates are already misunderstood and thus unfortunately vilified, despite the incredibly important roles they play in the world’s ecosystems and our lives. By orchestrating a fear of them among your contestants, I’m afraid you’re reinforcing and exaggerating a terrible ignorance and intolerance of these remarkable animals. What particularly frustrates me is that this counters and undoes all the education that I and my colleagues strive to achieve in our natural history programmes.
Lads, it’s not all about the cute and the cuddly; every species plays a role and until we can all see the importance of this, we won’t make the urgent progress we need to in conservation. And the huge audiences you have [average 10m last year] exacerbate the problem. Just imagine getting them all to respect these creatures rather than continue to be unnecessarily revolted by them. Surely that is something you could be genuinely proud of?
Now, I know that you have consultants to advise on animal welfare, but I’m afraid I can guarantee that some animals are harmed during production, because they are fragile or easily stressed. Or simply killed, as they are in your “Bushtucker Trials”. We all know that in other parts of the world invertebrates are routinely eaten without repulsion – normally because there is no choice – no nutritional alternative. Ditto some of the body parts on your “menu”: eyes, testes etc. Imagine if the genuinely hungry from those cultures were to watch the mockery of their need on your programme. How embarrassing would that be? How could you possibly justify it?
Please realise that this repugnantly gratuitous scenario also does immense harm to the establishment of a fundamental respect for life. All your younger viewers, those who are set to inherit a hugely impoverished planet probably without wild tigers, rhinos, elephants, are being taught that killing things for plain exploitative “entertainment” is acceptable. I’m sorry, but that is a shame that I imagine neither of you will want to take to your graves, because I assure you that your grandchildren will not thank you for it.
The show has been running for years now. Surely it’s time for it to mature, for you to accept that, as pillars of the British broadcasting community, you should put an end to this inhumane, embarrassing and destructive aspect of an otherwise great show.
THE BROADCASTER RESPONDS
We asked ITV to pass Chris Packham’s letter on to Ant and Dec for a reply, but they declined. Instead ITV said: “Ant and Dec are the presenters of the show, and as such are not involved with the formatting of the trials, which are devised by the show’s producers. ITV takes animal welfare very seriously and expert handlers are on hand at all times.”