Fake shots `routine' in TV wildlife programmes

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ONE OF Britain's leading cameramen said yesterday that it was routine for nature programmes to use tame animals to simulate scenes shot in the wild.

Hugh Miles, who has worked for the BBC and for Anglia Television's Survival series for more than 20 years, claimed that the practice of choreographing extra scenes with captive, or "habituated", animals is regarded as an acceptable solution for many wildlife documentary makers.

"It is a common technique when you need to capture a particular piece of behaviour that is vital for the story you are telling," said Mr Miles, who shot memorable sequences for Sir David Attenborough's Life on Earth series and for the more recent documentaries, Flight of the Condor and Kingdom of the Ice Bear.

"It is always a last resort and it is certainly something I try to avoid," added Mr Miles. "But on one or two occasions I have had to fall back on it myself. The truth is that all films are a cheat. We get as close as we can to the scientific truth and 99 per cent of the work is genuine."

Mr Miles was responding to allegations that a film crew working for Survival made use of tame hyenas, porcupines and wild cats when they put together a new documentary, Tale of the Tides. The film has already been shortlisted for the 1998 Wildscreen Golden Panda award and is to be broadcast on ITV without any explanation to viewers about some of the techniques used.

"I know the team involved with making this film, Mark Deeble and Vicky Stone, and they are two of the most committed film-makers you could find," said Mr Miles. "They will only have used captive animals if the piece of behaviour they needed to get would have been too stressful for the wild animals involved."

A spokesman for Anglia Television, which commissions the Survival series, admitted the film had made use of tame animals, but stressed that the decision was not the result of budget considerations.

"Tale of the Tides makes use of the practice, but the bulk of the film is the result of two years' work and thousands of hours spent filming in the wild," the spokesman said.

"The sole criterion for using habituated and captive animals is to show behaviour that looks natural in the wild but that would be either impossible, prohibitively difficult, or unjustifiably disturbing to film with totally wild creatures.

"Strict conditions are always applied: no animal is harmed or put under unnatural stress, the behaviour shown is authentic and the relevant sequences are not be possible to obtain in any other way. Survival, along with other UK-based natural history producers, has never made any secret of the fact that these techniques are occasionally employed."

The methods used by wildlife camera crews are likely to come under greater scrutiny in future, however. Public attitudes to fakery have been sensitised in recent months by the revelation that several documentaries, factual programmes and docu-dramas routinely set up and re-shoot scenes to give a desired impression.