David Attenborough

January 8, 2014

I am Sir David Attenborough, I'm on reddit, AMA.

Hello reddit. David Attenborough here. To help avoid immediate confusion, and so that I can answer as many questions as possible, Philly Harper will be helping me with typing.

However, please rest assured that these answers will be in my own words. We will get a picture up soon.

EDIT! PROOF! http://imgur.com/ydCWaOT

So as many of you in the UK already know, my latest film, Natural History Museum Alive came out on New Years Day in the UK. I heard about the AMA request and wanted to take this opportunity to stop by and talk with all of you.

I’ve just come away from a talk at Apple where we spoke about the app, and soon I shall be doing a Q&A at the Baftas, where I will be talking about my latest work in 3D.

Keeping all that in mind, we have compiled a short film a special short film especially for reddit telling this story. Watch to the end!

Please, ask away.

We’re here for about 1 hour.

--- UPDATE 1 ----

Phillyharper here. We tried to answer as many questions as we possibly could in our hour. I know that many of you have even more burning questions to ask Sir David, so please do keep them coming and if there's one top voted thing you'd love to hear David answer, I'll endeavor to get it to him and have it answered.

--- UPDATE 2 ---

To /u/shitty_watercolour ! Thanks! We will frame your picture and give it to Sir David! That's amazing! Thank you!

---UPDATE 3 ----


---UPDATE 4 ---

Someone somewhere won a DVD somehow. Please do PM us.

---UPDATE 5---

People have asked about the App, you can get it here. The website for the Natural History Alive film is here If you want to get updates on the latest work that Sir David Attenborough is doing and upcoming movie release dates, follow us on twitter

--UPDATE 6--

Doing our best to get Unidan's question to Sir David Attenborough.

--UPDATE 7--

Here are the 3D films which were being discussed.

Flying Monsters

Micro Monsters


Kingom of Plants

[No question]

Sir David here,

Here's Proof it's me. http://imgur.com/ydCWaOT

Hi Sir David, Thanks for doing the AMA, I have a few questions for you:

  1. What is one thing that amazed you that you doubt you'll ever see again?
  2. when you see a predator attempting to take down prey, do you take sides? Who do you barrack for?


You can't take sides. If you interfered you would cause more deaths not less.

I hope there is nothing I won't see again, the beauty of the natural world is that it repeats itself.

Sir David, how did you first get involved with making documentaries?

I started making live television programs, the first films I directed were inserts. It was some years before I made a complete program myself.

Simple question: what's next for you?

We're working on the evolution of flight, exploring 350 million years of flight. Here's a sneaky picture.

EDIT - the sneaky picture emerges.


Sir David.

I have been a fan of your fascinating work since I was a child.

To my question, though. Do you believe that presenters, as yourself, Dr. Brian Cox, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and others should take a more critical (even more agressive) stance in your broadcasting in regards to issues such as global warming and evolution?

Thanks for being here, it is amazing that educators like you exist.

EDIT: It goes without saying, that when I say critical, I mean towards denialism from governments and the general public towards these established scientific theories.

In presenting the natural world, it is our ambition is to present it as it is. If there's some aspect that is controversial, then we should show it as controversial.

Hello there Sir David!

In regards to nature and the environment, what changes would you like to see brought into effect within a decade from now?

Thank you for all of your hard work :)

People should realise that waste of anything is something that we cannot afford in this overcrowded world.

First of all, I want to give you a sincere 'thank you' for showing me incredible scenes from the world I live in that I never would have seen otherwise.

Okay, here's my question: In all your time of shooting nature programs, what is the most human thing you have ever witnessed an animal do?


A chimpanzee does in fact tell lies. If you can believe that. Also, when some Colobus monkeys find a very precious piece of food, it calls the alarm call that it would make if a snake were to arrive, and all the other monkeys run away and it gets the food.

Sir David, What are your views on the thought that we are currently entering a 'sixth mass extinction'? Do you think it is possible humans can reverse some of the damage that has already been done? Thank-you so much for everything!

Yes, I'm afraid we are. It's not possible to reverse the damage we've done. We are undoubtedly exterminating species at a speed which has never been known before.

How has the technology changed since you started? I just was always impressed in how you got across the advances that you were witnessing with the BBC crews...

It's no longer clockwork. You just get on with learning about these new platforms and using them to the best they can offer.

Sir David, I have three questions:

1) One of the potential exam questions I am due to face next week is essentially "The idea of Global Warming is a myth, discuss" - I was hoping you might be able to point me in the direction of a particularly important case study or piece of research that I could use in my answer.

2) If you could take 3 traits or qualities from 3 different species from the natural world, animal or plant. What would they be and why?

3) If you had to recommend one place on the planet to visit, where would it be?

Congratulations on a brilliant career.

ps: Your voice makes Morgan Freeman sound like a howler monkey

THe great barrier reef in Australia, which we're making a film about as we speak! A DVD will be out in 19 months.

Sir David, what is the biggest change in wildlife documentaries over the years?

How has better technology, better cameras, higher definiton televisions and super slow-mo helped? What is next?

Thanks, I have so much respect for you.

There has been a whole series of technical problems. From filming at low light levels to filming in time-lapse, to filming at macro levels. And most recently in 3D. Most of the visual problems have now been solved. But that still leaves one big problem: how to make a good programme!

Oh wow Sir Attenborough, welcome.

I have a few questions just because I will never again have this opportunity.

-Where is the one place in the world you would suggest going?

-What is your favourite animal?

-Who inspired you to become a Documentary maker? Are there any documentaries you could suggest I watch from them?

Thankyou for everything you have shown me :)

I don't think I was inspired by a film makers, but great naturalists. One that people may not have heard of is Ernest Thompson Seton, and his books inspired me greatly as a boy.

It was published in 1910.

I am a huge huge fan and have so many questions but I will cut it down to two. Your brother, Richard, is famous for his work in Jurassic Park among other movies. How did you two both go down such different paths and manage to achieve success and fame? My second question is related to the orca, which has recently become my favorite animal. Evidence points to them being able to communicate. How complex do you believe this "language" of theirs is?

All whales have complex languages. The hunting strategies of orcas seem to be some of the most complex and well orchestrated that we know.

I can't think of anything to ask you, I feel you've already answered everything I'd want to know.

Thank you so much for your work!

Well thank you! We'll put a DVD to you in the post if you send us a PM

Hello! What are your thoughts on guinea pigs? Lumpy morons or devious geniuses?

I never think about guinea pigs!

Mr. Attenborough sir! I am legit your biggest fan, you are such an inspiration to my boyfriend and I. Thankyou for all the documentaries you have done and helping us learn about animals. You probably won't get this :( but my questions are: What is the funniest thing an animal has done while filming? And What wild animal have you most wanted as a pet?

Thankyou sir, xxx

Unfortunately, I've never seen an animal be consciously funny, so funnyness lies in the world of the beholder! Thanks for your question!

Welcome to reddit!

What's one natural phenomenon that you still cannot believe is real, despite you knowing the science behind it?

The way a venus flower basket sponge puts together its skeleton.

Of all the work in your filmography, I enjoy the ones where you're writer & presenter far more than when you're credited with just narrator.

Can you tell me why? What key things are most important to you when shaping a film? (… presumably something the other writers could learn)

That the drama is carried by the animals, and not the presenter. Natural history films are about natural history. I prefer to make films which are exclusively about the animals, and nothing more.

Hi Sir David!

Other than The Origin of Species which book do you think changed the scientific world most?

Probably in recent times, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

I might actually be on time for an AMA!

I'll be quick!

Where is the best place you have ever been to Where would you like to visit again? Where would you never go back to? And finally is there anywhere you would recommend for the average redditor to visit?


Any of the slums, I've ever visited anywhere

This could be the answer to any one of those three questions. I'd like to think it's no. 3.

haha. It was answer to question number 2.

Sir David, you've been to many exotic locations, but whereabouts nearer home, in the UK, do you find most fascinating, in terms of wildlife/ecology? Thanks!

The inter-tidal zones of the United Kingdom are wonderful.

Curious if you believe in god?

I did high school biology with a little help from your documentaries in Kentucky, USA, in the mid-90's.

My teacher was a Christian, and there were school districts that were banning evolution in schools at the time for creationism. I am an atheist, but was always impressed how my teacher bridged the gap between Christianity and biology with the same wonder that you bring to your work.

I am an agnostic.

Hi Sir David, Wildlife Biologist here, I have to say that your documentaries have inspired me to become a naturalist from a young age. I specialize on the San Francisco Garter Snake and other threatened California hepetofauna.
I was wondering, what is your favorite reptile/amphibian? What led you to your path as a naturalist? What do you like to do in your free time? Thanks for doing this, you're a huge inspiration!

My favourite amphibian is the poison tree frog, because it has very interesting mating behaviour, there are a whole group of them, perhaps 30 different species.

As for my free time, I spend a lot of it sleeping.

I am truly inspired by your work and I especially enjoyed those documentaries of your explorations deeper into wilderness.

But I'm wondering where do you think there is some room left for explorers and adventurers in today's world? Do you have any advice for an aspiring adventurer/explorer?

You can no longer explore the world as people did in the 19th century. But there are always personal discoveries you can make.

Thanks for your amazing work all of the years. Your voice is synonymous with naturalism documentary.

If you could deliver just one message to the generation that's currently growing up, anything at all, what would you focus on?

Cherish the natural world, because you're a part of it and you depend on it.

At what point in your life did you think that this was what you wanted to do?

There was no television when I was a boy, but I wanted to become involved in the natural world somehow, so I was interested from a very young age.

Hello, Sir David!

I remember feeling absolutely heartbroken watching the elephant calf die in Africa. What has been your most distressing/upsetting moment in your career?

Seeing chimpanzees kill monkeys, they do this to eat them. They chase them, set an ambush, catch them, and tear them apart.

If you could bring just one animal back from extinction, what would it be and why?

Quetzal Coatlus- a giant pterosaur.

Hello Sir, a huge fan. Being from Nepal i would like to ask what do you think about the Yeti? Do you think it is real or a just a myth?

I am sure that some tracks have animal origin that are still unexplained.


The electronic camera, because it can record pictures at all light levels, at all speeds, it can operate 24 hours at a time, it can be added to a remote vehicle and can also give you an instant replay.

3D enables you to see how animals operate in the wild, it really does add an new dimension.

Sir David, what kind of shampoo and conditioner would I have to buy to keep my hair looking as good as yours for when I'm older?

Ill sell you a wig.

Hi Sir David,

Can I just say you have provided me with so much joy and entertainment, learning about nature is so beautiful to me.

My question is: Do you belieive it is ok to keep animals in captivity? Are there circumstances when animals should be taken from their natural habitat? I ask beause I have morally struggled with the concept of zoo's for most of my life.

There are some animals which have been kept happily in captivity, most of them are very small with small requirements. Big animals, unfortunately can't be kept in captivity satisfactorily- predators most of all.

Hello Sir David! I first wanted to say a massive thank you for being such a huge inspiration to me over my life, particularly for bringing me my passion about studying Zoology, and as a result my desire to pursue a career in Science Communication! I think a lot of my peers would say the same.

I can't really put into words how much I appreciate all you've done for the world of Natural History! I also loved your autobiography Life on Air, which provided me many hours of entertainment whilst travelling in Madagascar!

What do you think the future of Nature/Science boradcasting is? Are we heading towards a more computer-animated centered future?

Computer animation has its place, but natural history is about living and real animals and computer animation is merely a reflection of that.

As for the future, some science programs require big budgets and the increasing number of networks has divided the audience and therefore the money available for anyone.

I hope none the less that the big productions will continue somehow.

I just want to say that you are a huge inspiration to me and I've seen all your work. Please, keep inspiring the next generation. We need more people like you in this world. Also, what was the scariest moment working with birds?

Being charged by a cassowary

What would you say is the most compelling piece of evidence in support of evolution?

The fossil record absolutely speaks for itself. That's all the evidence you need.

Hello Sir David, Which overlooked animals do you think should the public should be made more aware of because of what they are like, and which should be made more aware of due to their endangerment?

The invertebrates are utterly overlooked, people rarely even notice them. That's why I chose to make the film micromonsters, which brings you into that world.

Sir David... Where is one place you have never been to, but always wanted to visit?

The central Gobe desert, I've always wanted to visit there because they have fascinating fossils there.

Sir David, thank you for talking to us. I will only have one chance to ask you this but what is your favourite biscuit?

I wouldn't want to let you down if you ever came over for tea. Thank you for bringing the natural world into everyone's homes.


Hello Sir David, such a regular in our household growing up! I wanted to ask what course you think all life on this planet will take eventually? Do you see us surviving long?

Thanks again!

We have many millions of years to go if we are to match the longevity of many species. Yes, I think we will get there, but perhaps our civilisation may actually become impoverished.

Sir David What is your favourite type of ecosystem? Do you like marine or land biology more? Do you believe that there is life out in space, and, if so, do you believe that humans will make documentaries out of them, or they will make documentaries out of us? You are truly a hero to not just me, but millions of adults and children alike. Also, what was your first thought when you say the Galápagos Islands?

We know of no complex life forms in the solar system. And since it will take so long to travel anywhere, the question is academic.

Random question time! What is your favourite thing about Britain? And what do you think of Scotland?

Coming from a Glaswegian.

Our tolerance is the best thing about Great Britain!

Hi David!

Thank you for doing this ama!

You once told a story of how you met a group of oncoming cannibals with a handshake and a “good afternoon!” Do you have any other amazing stories of encountering a group of people that may have never seen a film crew or even people from the outside world? If so – did your charm win them over as well?

We met such a group in central new guinea and failed to win them over. After several days, we tried to win them over with presents, gifts and so on, but they simply disappeared into the forest. We never saw them again.

Hi David. I remember watching your programmes every Sunday night with my parents. You have been a huge influence on mine and many others' lives.

What do you think about natural history programmes imposing narratives on situations, or editing footage in such a way to give a similar effect?

There are many ways of making natural history programs and if one illuminates about some truth about animal life, then it is certainly worth making. As long as we can illuminate the truth about the animal life...

Sir David, what organisations should everybody be aware of that help protect the natural world?

The Worldwide Fund for Nature

Another person here to say thank you- you have given me and my children hours of pleasure, taught us much and helped us to appreciate our planet. If you could remake one particular program- or series with the vision of hindsight and modern technology- which would it be?

I would remake Life on Earth, because we could do many things we couldn't actually do before.

Sir David,

As Ernest Thomson inspired you, you have inspired me. I eventually had to work in IT but biology has always been my forte. I want to thank you for your works.

My question: If you could visit a time period of earth's past which era would you think would be most interesting to see come alive.

Thank you again for everything to you and the teams that have helped you.

The late cretaceous period, because it was the last stages of the dinosaurs!

Welcome to reddit, Sir David Attenborough!


Wonderful! Thank you!

Thanks for coming by, Sir Attenborough!

I was able to briefly meet you recently at the American Museum of Natural History after your bird of paradise talk, so thank you again for that. As a biologist, meeting you was a huge moment for me, as you're one of my biggest inspirations!

Anyway, when you were retracing Wallace's steps with the birds of paradise, were there any memorable moments that resonated between your trips and his? Was there anything about the account of his journey that doing it yourself made you appreciate more?

Also, have David check out /r/awwducational if he can, it'd be right up his alley! :D

Thanks for your question.

Only one short moment sailing a native craft completely out of touch with anyone except our local companion. Something Wallace endured for months at a time.

Thought you might also be interested in this short film showing how we are trying to capture the natural world in 3D!


This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with David Attenborough conducted on Reddit on 2014-01-08. The Reddit AMA can be found here.