Last night's viewing: Poaching Wars with Tom Hardy, ITV1 Chickens, Sky1


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The Independent Culture

Should the whole mega-millions-movie thing fail for Tom Hardy, the British actor last seen in the cinema as Batman's nemesis in The Dark Knight Rises, a second career awaits as a tough-guy presenter with a heart.

Take David Attenborough, roll back the decades, add a hunk of Ross Kemp, and a slab of a less-posh Bear Grylls, and you've got your man. These attributes and a fondness for big animals were all the qualifications Hardy needed to explore the desperate plight of elephants and rhinos in Poaching Wars with Tom Hardy. But it didn't matter: he was an engaging, intrepid guide from the "I know nothing but I'll muck in and it'll be fun to watch me learn" school of celebrity presenter.

There he goes, touching an elephant's belly. Look, he's playing hide-and-seek with another elephant, and falling out of a hammock. Now he's got his shirt off and is riding a bucking elephant in a lake. "Nice bit of a work-out, bit of a swim – and malaria!" he shouted to the camera safely positioned on dry land.

Japes aside, this was serious business and Hardy's concern was genuine. In South Africa, home to most of the world's last rhinos, he met some of the men fighting a losing war against sophisticated, organised poachers described by one breeder as "equivalent to Navy Seals and SAS operatives... they're not poachers, they're rhino assassins".

It's all for their horns, of course, which are worth their weight in gold, thanks to a sickening black market run by crime syndicates based in South-east Asia. The elephants are equally imperilled, their period of grace following the global ban on ivory trade a distant memory even for them.

What was new to me was the extent to which politics and race further threaten these animals. The landowners leading the fight are generally rich and white and viewed with suspicion. Poachers, meanwhile, many of whom are recruited locally with the promise of rich rewards, are black and often seen as Robin Hood figures.

Tumi, a highly skilled tracker working for an armed elephant protection unit in Kruger Park, had rejected these stereotypes – and the cash. While showing Hardy around his village, he recalled how a government official had offered him a small fortune for a single rhino horn. When Tumi refused, the man threatened to kill his family and neighbours if he told anyone.

Most disheartening was how little these animal-lovers felt they were succeeding in stopping the slaughter. In Johannesburg, Hardy took one step back to learn about the crime bosses behind the poachers, and the way smuggling funds terrorism. But there was scant mention of the actual market for the stuff: an emerging Chinese middle class buying trinkets and horn-based "medicines". Once he's got his shirt back on, perhaps Hardy can travel to Asia for a follow-up.

I watched Chickens without prejudice, without knowing, as I do now, that Channel 4 declined to take the series after screening a pilot a couple of years ago (Sky stepped in). I watched as a fan of The Inbetweeners and its stars, Simon Bird and Joe Thomas, who joined fellow Cambridge Footlights man Jonny Sweet for this new sitcom. I wanted to like it, but, Christ, it was tough.

The trio put on posh accents, but, incongruously, their own familiar voices to play chaps who stay behind during the First World War (Bird's character has flat feet, Thomas's is a pacifist, and the other one is too thick to know there's a war on). They try to go about their business while being ridiculed and vilified by the women of their village. That's it. It is at best, I say with regret, a Footlights sketch on a bad week.