Watch Young David Attenborough Encounter Animals in Their Natural Habitats: Video from the 1950s and 1960s

Expe­ri­ence long ago con­ferred the man­tle of author­i­ty on broad­cast­er, biol­o­gist, nat­ur­al his­to­ri­an and author David Atten­bor­ough, age 97.

In his late 20s, he land­ed at the BBC, pro­duc­ing live stu­dio broad­casts that ran the gamut from children’s shows, bal­let per­for­mances and arche­o­log­i­cal quizzes to pro­grams focused on cook­ing, reli­gion and pol­i­tics.

When an edu­ca­tion­al show star­ring ani­mals from the Lon­don Zoo became a hit with view­ers, the pow­ers that be built on its pop­u­lar­i­ty with a fresh take — a show that sent the intre­pid young Atten­bor­ough around the world, seek­ing ani­mals in their native habi­tats. He was accom­pa­nied by cam­era­man Charles Lagus and two zool­o­gists, whom he quick­ly sup­plant­ed as host.

It made for thrilling view­ing in an era when wildlife tourism was avail­able to a very few.

The New York Times notes that many of the crea­tures who cropped up onscreen in these ear­ly Zoo Quest episodes were shipped back to Lon­don Zoo:

It is not the kind of mis­sion we approve of nowa­days, but with­out it the West might nev­er have got­ten inter­est­ed in wildlife to begin with. We start­ed by shoot­ing exot­ic species for their skins and bones and trap­ping them for our zoos, and only recent­ly moved to wor­ry­ing about their sur­vival in the wild and the health of the plan­et in gen­er­al. This his­to­ry is sym­bol­ized by the trans­for­ma­tion of Atten­bor­ough him­self from a talk­ing and writ­ing croc­o­dile hunter to the great­est liv­ing advo­cate of the glob­al ecosys­tem.

In Bor­neo in 1956, in search for Komo­do drag­ons, he paused for an encounter with an orang­utan, above, and also a big whiff of duri­an, the spiky, odif­er­ous fruit whose aro­ma famous­ly got it banned from Singapore’s ele­gant Raf­fles Hotel, with taxis, planes, sub­ways, and fer­ries fol­low­ing suit.

Soon there­after, the six-episode hunt for the Komo­do drag­on finds Atten­bor­ough in Java, mask­ing his nerves as he uses a cut­lass, a will­ing­ness to climb trees, and a cloth sack to get the bet­ter of a ful­ly grown python.

(Once the ser­pent was set­tled at the Lon­don Zoo, he made the trek to the BBC for an in-stu­dio appear­ance.)

You’ll note that this episode is in col­or.

Although Zoo Quest filmed in col­or, it aired ten years before col­or broad­casts were avail­able to UK view­ers, so most of the folks watch­ing at home assumed it had been shot in black and white.

In 1960, Atten­bor­ough used the lat­est — now severe­ly out­mod­ed-look­ing– tech­nol­o­gy to cap­ture the first audio record­ing of the indri, Madagascar’s largest lemur for Attenborough’s Won­der of Song.

This audio vic­to­ry led him to won­der if he could be the first to film an indri.

Frus­trat­ed by the thick canopy over­head, Atten­bor­ough resort­ed to play­back, suc­cess­ful­ly tempt­ing the ani­mals to not only come clos­er, but do so while vocal­iz­ing.

Mat­ing calls?

No. Atten­bor­ough deduced that they were the indris’ “bat­tle songs”, issued as a warn­ing to the per­ceived threat of unfa­mil­iar indris.

In 2011, Atten­bor­ough returned to Mada­gas­car, lis­ten­ing respect­ful­ly to Joseph, a local hunter turned con­ser­va­tion­ist, who explains how the local pop­u­lace no longer think of indri as a food source, but rather a sym­bol of their com­mit­ment to pre­serv­ing the nat­ur­al world around them. Joseph’s rela­tion­ship with the indri affords Sir David a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty, as the indri feed from his hand:

Fifty years ago, I spent days and days and days search­ing through the for­est, with these fir­ing their noise over­head but now this group is so accus­tomed to see­ing peo­ple around that I have been right close up to them, some­thing I nev­er believed could have be pos­si­ble. 

Read more about David Atten­bor­ough’s Zoo Quest expe­ri­ences in his mem­oir, Adven­tures of a Young Nat­u­ral­ist, and watch a playlist of doc­u­men­taries for the BBC here.

via TheKidsShould­SeeThis

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Net­flix Makes Doc­u­men­taries Free to Stream: Design, Pol­i­tics, Sports, Sir David Atten­bor­ough & More

David Atten­bor­ough Reads “What a Won­der­ful World” in a Mov­ing Video

Björk and Sir David Atten­bor­ough Team Up in a New Doc­u­men­tary About Music and Tech­nol­o­gy

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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