TV naturalist Chris Packham won a special honour and a standing ovation at the world’s top wildlife film festival this week.
Packham was given a lifetime achievement award at the Wildscreen festival on a night when David Attenborough documentaries – Light on Earth and The Giant Dinosaur – won three awards, although Attenborough found himself beaten to best presenter by American journalist and broadcaster Bryan Christy.
Christy’s National Geographic documentary Warlords of Ivory was one of two about the slaughter of elephants to be garlanded. The other – The Ivory Game – won the festival’s highest accolade, the WWF Golden Panda Award.
Backed by Leonardo di Caprio and soon to be screened on Netflix it has been acclaimed by many in the industry as one of the most important conservation films ever made.
Walter Koehler of the Austrian film company Terra Mater received the award. He told the 2,000 capacity audience in Bristol: “This is an enormous prize, but for me the biggest prize would be if in one year I would know the exact date when China will ban the national ivory trade. I want everyone to cry out that ivory has no value unless it is on a living elephant.”
In all, 23 Panda statuettes were handed out on the night – the ceremony is dubbed the “green Oscars” – but it was Packham’s award, presented by David Attenborough, that earned the biggest cheer of the evening.
“We live in a beautiful place, but a place that is in peril,” he said. “I just feel that we’re at a time when we still have a chance. We can make a difference. We have got one chance to get it right.”
Packham, 55, joins a distinguished list of former winners of the Wildscreen lifetime achievement award including, naturally, David Attenborough but also Prince Philip.
Earlier in the day, during a festival interview with Attenborough, Packham had questioned whether conservationists needed to be more like the Greenpeace activists of the 70s. He revealed he had just returned from Cyprus where he’d been cutting down nets that were illegally trapping migrant birds. “What do we do to affect change?” he asked. “Crawling around on Cyprus tearing nets down because two million birds are killed there every year. This is activism. Why was I there? Because no one else was doing anything about it.”
But back to last night and the evening ended on a light-hearted note. As Packham clutched his statuette he laughingly recalled the comments he made to Radio Times many years ago about giant pandas reaching an evolutionary cul-de-sac: “…and (this), after all I’ve said about pandas over the years…”