A BBC film crew helped a group of penguins escape an icy gully in Antarctica. AFP
When we see a person in distress, our immediate reaction is to lend a hand. Not to do so would be a moral failure.
But what if we see an animal in distress, does the same logic apply?
This question was raised following the “rescue” of a group of penguins from an icy gully in Antarctica. It was filmed for the BBC wildlife series Dynasties.
The film crew was alarmed when they saw that a group of penguins had fallen into a gully and been trapped with their young. The crew dug a shallow ramp so that a few of the penguins could save themselves.
The case has taken the international media by storm. Viewers watching this episode let out a sigh of relief on social media. “I’m so glad. I understand not getting directly involved, but a helping hand isn’t interfering, right?” viewer Kathryn Shaw tweeted.
However, others think that human intervention is unnatural. It’s an unwritten rule among documentary filmmakers that they are there to observe, not to participate, according to CBS News. For example, in another episode of Dynasties, David the chimpanzee, was left to die after he was filmed being beaten up by other chimps.
“Tragedy is a part of life. You can’t have sunshine throughout your life. To have done anything else would only make matters worse and distort the truth,” said the show’s creator David Attenborough, according to The Times.
In this case, however, Mike Gunton, the executive producer of the series, said that this was a one-off situation. “There were no animals going to suffer by intervening. It wasn’t dangerous. You weren’t touching the animals and it was just felt by doing this... they had the opportunity to not have to keep slipping down the slope,” he told the BBC.
Such cases are familiar to Paul Nicklen, wildlife photographer for National Geographic.
“I have a practical view when it comes to the natural rhythm of life,” he told Metro. “If it’s ever a predator situation, no matter how gut-wrenching, you stay out of the way. Even when you are watching a male polar bear eat a cub.”
But he said that he would help animals if he saw no real gain or disruption to the ecosystem.
Indeed, there will always be two sides to the coin, and human beings will forever be conflicted in such circumstances. “There’s no rule book in those situations. You can only respond to the facts that are right there in front of you,” Will Lawson, the show’s director, told Daily Mail.