Mike Unwin: Too late to be a purist over The Not-Really-WildShow

Something to Declare

"Wild? I was absolutely livid!"

So protests Rowan Atkinson's Gerald the Gorilla to Mel Smith's Professor Fielding in the classic Not the Nine O'clock News sketch, after Fielding claims that his ape prodigy, when captured, had been "completely wild".

We prize wildness highly. It explains why we fork out such hefty sums on looking for wildlife. The clue is in the name. It's not called "zoo-life". Neither – and here things get a little tricky – is it called "captive-bred-", "reintroduced-" or "radio-collared-life".

Today, you'd struggle to capture a "completely wild" Gerald. The mountain gorillas of Rwanda, for which tourists pay some US$750 (£470) a head for an hour's viewing, may have the freedom of the misty Virunga volcanoes, where they exist (and, doubtless, occasionally become livid) as ostensibly wild animals. But every individual in every troop is known to park rangers, who monitor their health and movements, and introduce them to the daily stream of tourists, upon whom the habituated apes now turn a gaze of supreme indifference.

So does this stage management spoil it? After all, the thrill of any wildlife watching – from badgers on your common to lions in the Serengeti – surely stems from a sense of sneaking a glimpse into an unfettered natural world, where wildlife does its own thing on its terms. The romantic in us resists the idea that every inch of our planet is mapped and tamed.

What's more, we crave authenticity. A wildlife sighting that results from human interference smacks of cheating. Hence the uproar when the Attenborough blockbuster Frozen Planet was revealed to have faked a scene of a "wild" polar bear birth, using a Dutch zoo and artificial snow.

But perhaps we're deluding ourselves. It is, sadly, no longer possible to wander into an uncharted jungle, like some latter-day Dian Fossey, and find a mountain gorilla that has never before clapped eyes on humankind. Those jungles have gone. And the gorillas would have gone with them, were it not for conservation and tourism.

The white rhino is another case in point. By 1895 this two-tonne herbivore had been reduced to fewer than 100 individuals in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal. Conservationists pulled it back from the brink, built up its numbers and reintroduced it all over the place. A white rhino you now see anywhere else in Africa, from Kenya to Namibia, ultimately owes its existence to vets, helicopters and captive breeding programmes.

So is it really wild? And – even more important – can you count it on your list?

It's hard to be purist. Nobody wants to see goats tethered for tigers, yet we happily hang peanuts for great tits. If we accept that some artifice is required to get us safely to the wildlife – the flights, the spotlights, the anti-malarials – perhaps we should also accept the measures that keep the wildlife there. At least it's not behind bars. Meanwhile, we might just have to turn a blind eye to that ugly radio collar. Or remove it in Photoshop.

No doubt Sir David would offer words of wisdom. But, as Gerald protested to Professor Fielding: "Let's leave Dave out of this, shall we?"

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty

Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Designer Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after showing his Spring 2015 collection in September, his last show before his death
fashionThe passing of the legendary designer has left a vacancy: couturier to America’s royalty, says fashion editor Alexander Fury
Life and Style

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album