BBC admits filming rare polar bear birth in zoo

A scene from Frozen Planet. Photo / Supplied
A scene from Frozen Planet. Photo / Supplied

The BBC's Frozen Planet series promises to show viewers Arctic animals in their snowy, frozen habitats, but the British broadcaster has conceded that recent scenes of a polar bear with her cubs were actually shot in a zoo, not the wild, as had been implied in the program.

The broadcaster insisted that it had not misled audiences or tricked them into thinking that the scenes showing a female polar bear tenderly nursing her newborn cubs in an icy den in the dead of winter were filmed in the wild.

Its response came after The Daily Mirror accused it of "faking" the footage. The paper quoted MP John Whittingdale, who heads the House of Commons culture committee, as saying the BBC should have been clearer about the origin of the shots.

The BBC statement said most of the footage for the Frozen Planet series was filmed in the wild but that some sequences, including those of the polar bear giving birth, had to be filmed in controlled conditions.

It said: "We felt that the birthing process was a pivotal part of the story, which had to be told. It would be quite impossible for our cameras to film inside a den in the wild without disturbing the female. For this reason the polar bear den sequence was filmed in controlled conditions."

The BBC said presenter David Attenborough's narration was carefully worded so that it did not mislead audiences.

In the episode, seen by more than eight million people in Britain on November 23, the camera follows a female polar bear in the Arctic as Attenborough comments: "She starts to dig a shallow nest ... once the snow here is deep enough, she'll dig down to make a den. She'll then lie waiting for her cubs to be born as winter sets in."

He then says: "On these side slopes beneath the snow, new lives are beginning."

Footage of the newborn cubs filmed at the German zoo is then screened but Attenborough does not say in the program that the mother and cubs were in fact in a man-made den.

The veteran broadcaster defended the decision to film in the zoo.

He told ITV on Monday: "If you had tried to put a camera in the wild in a polar bear den, she would either have killed the cub or she would have killed the cameraman, one or the other."

He said explaining about the zoo during the show's commentary would have ruined the atmosphere, adding: "It's not falsehood and we don't keep it secret either."

The BBC said it had made it clear the footage was from a zoo in an interview with producer Kathryn Jeffs that was posted on the broadcaster's website a few weeks before the program aired.

In the video, Jeffs says there was no way to film a polar bear giving birth in the wild.

Check out the trailer for Frozen Planet:

- AAP

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