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The Independent Culture
"I've come to Kenya's Masai Mara to unravel the lion's story," said Gaby Roslin in the first of Predators (ITV). Well, not quite Gaby. That's already been comprehensively unravelled by decades of Survival wildlife programmes - you've come to decorate a repackaging of library cuts and some new footage, and very nicely you do it too; that golden mane, the handsome profile staring out over the grassland. Natural history purists will probably be a bit grumpy about this latest manifestation of a relatively recent trend - the association of celebrities with the top-billers of the natural world. Robin Williams swam with dolphins, Timothy Dalton romped with wolves, Brian Blessed wrestled with bears... actually I think I'm imagining the last one but you get the idea, a sort of Hello Nature! And what, after all, is the thrill? Are we supposed to be excited by the faint prospect that Gaby might end up as The Big Breakfast, rather than just on it? Or is it simply that the nation's big sister offers a useful ignorance - a genial innocence of the facts which the average viewer can identify with? I'm not sure - I'm just relieved that it wasn't Paula Yates, lolling open-crotched next to the King of the Beasts and asking impertinent questions about his love-life.

The programme itself wasn't too bad, after a slightly ragged start in which Gaby asked rhetorical questions and showed no signs of delivering the answers. But, apart from the dependable joys of slow-motion photography, which turns even the scrabbling panic of the kill into a dusty ballet, there was no prettification of the predator's life. When a new male enters a pride his first task is to kill all the cubs - a grim infanticide shown to us in all its unsentimental efficiency. There was also some touching film of an aged lion, displaced from the fat cat indolence in which his meals were delivered to his regal paws, reduced to eating a porcupine - it reminded me of my first youthful encounter with an unboned kipper.

The casual tourism of Predators was put into perspective by Africa's Big Game (BBC2), an intriguing account of our changing attitudes to African wildlife. The starting point was conveyed by an excited piece of Twenties newsreel: "Africa! Last grim outpost of civilisation, land of sorcery, witch-craft and mumbo-jumbo... Africa! Bloody, primitive, lustful - still ruled by fang and claw, poison dart, tawny kings of slaughter." Into this notionally hostile landscape came the civilising Europeans - who, for sport and curiosity alone, almost civilised the animal population into extinction in a matter of decades. Teddy Roosevelt and his son killed no less than nine white rhinos in the course of one safari, a level of bloodlust that, even in those days, was deemed to have "exceeded reasonable limits". Even the Queen Mother was pictured, standing proudly with her gun over various species she had helped, in her own small way, to endanger.

Local tribes, who had lived in equilibrium with wildlife for hundreds of years, understandably took exception when their white rulers eventually came to their senses and forbade all hunting, even for food. Natives were moved off tribal lands to make way for game reserves, protecting animals that had never been remotely threatened before the white hunters arrived. The legacy of that gross impertinence is still unresolved - with locals being last in line to share the tourist revenue earned by wildlife, first in line to be trampled by rogue elephants or stray buffalo.

Brian Leith's excellent film made good use of old natural history films, stiff with condescension, and had also tracked down some rare wildlife of his own - Elspeth Huxley and Bunny Allen, survivors of the colonial days who probably deserve a series in their own right. The result was unusually provoking - a thoughtful account of the depradations of the most efficient predator of all.

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