Ahead of David Attenborough’s New Zealand live shows, Anthony Gardiner pens a heartfelt letter to the man in blue who made bat poo cool.
I can’t remember the first time you came into my life. For someone who means so much to us all, it is strange to not be able to recall that moment. Stranger still, however, to try to imagine a time without you.
It seems you have always been here with us, joining us in our living rooms every week or so, showing us our world and the marvelous creatures and plants we share it with. During our time together, how many places have you taken us?
I will never forget the Cave of the Ice Giants, Eisriesenwelt. The polar bear in there is remarkable. As is the Monarch butterfly migration you took us to in Mexico. Perhaps a more child-friendly destination than the bat cave not far away. When you delivered a few lines about the bats’ sonar and how it means you were in no danger of being flown into, only to have a bat fly into your face as soon as the cameras came off, it made it worth the obvious discomfort of you and your crew having to endure the guano mountain.
You have taken us to the amazing Mount Roraima, Papua with your Birds of Paradise, your first trip to Komodo for Zoo Quest, your own back yard with the hedgehog, Madagascar, Antarctica, the Amazonian forest canopy… even the very limits of space. To have traveled these places with someone so informed has been a privilege.
You have also shown us things in our own back yard here in New Zealand, in ways we had never thought about. Of course our New Zealand bat has a reduced capacity to fly after millennia of not needing to, finding more than enough food simply by foraging in the leaf litter! But who had ever considered this to be an example of devolution? Certainly not I, until you pointed it out.
Your comprehensive knowledge of our natural world is surpassed only by the child-like enthusiasm with which you share it all with us. To see you on the boat as the blue whale surfaced next to you reminded us all of the wonder in which we should see the world.
And yet perhaps, due to your extensive travels over so many decades of film making, you would have more reason than most to have lost that wonder, to have had that enthusiasm diminished by the changes you have seen. When you speak of the differences in Australia’s coral reef over the six decades since your first visit, it is truly heartbreaking.
And still you do not admonish us our shortcomings, even when you know that multiplied 7 billion-fold they cause such harm. You gently guide us, showing us all that is worth protecting. Never scalding, always hopeful. Always certain of the power we have to undo the damage we have caused.
You know that there is hope. Having once been a suit who pursued natural history programming as a hobby more than a career, you have shown us the capacity we all have to help, in immeasurable ways. I would be very much surprised if there was a single environmentalist on this planet who had not been inspired by your work, and by your attitude.
How glorious and important a moment then, when you spoke to your brother Dickey (our deepest condolences about his passing), all in a flap, and told him you could not possibly accept the role as chairman of the BBC. How different would this planet be, how much further behind would the environmental movement be had generations of us not grown up with you as our adopted grandfather? How different would this planet be if you had turned your back on your passion and chosen to be a suit?
The world has more than enough suits. It only has, and only ever will have, one Sir David Frederick Attenborough.
It has 7 billion of us though. And if we all aspired to do 1% of the good you have done for this planet and its people, we would solve all of the Earth’s problems by morning tea time.
It is said we are the sum of all the people we meet, and of all the places we have been. Each one of us is a far more complete person thanks to having met you.
Thank you for choosing your passion. Thank you for sharing it with us. Thank you for showing us how truly remarkable and absolutely worthwhile this planet is.
And thank you for recording it so our children, and their children, can see what you have seen.
7 billion humans
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