10 Questions for David Attenborough

3 minute read
Belinda Luscombe

Your new documentary, Flying Monsters 3D, is about dinosaurs. Aren’t you usually interested in living things, things you can actually film?

I don’t think an interest in the natural world needs to be confined to the creatures of the living. I first became really intoxicated with the natural world as a boy collecting fossils in the middle of England. They were shell fossils, but they were nonetheless very romantic.

Of all the dinosaurs, why pick pterosaurs?

Imagine them, a bird, an animal with a 40-ft. wingspan flying through the air. That’s as dramatic as any tyrannosaur. It’s extraordinary they have been neglected. Pterosaur fossils are much rarer because their bones are much more delicate than bones of robust creatures that were wandering around on the ground. They were very thin and hollow, so they’re much more easily destroyed in the fossilization process.

Do you have a favorite ecosystem?

Outside of my hometown? I’m very fond of Southeast Asia and especially Borneo. I’ve found it to be particularly rich in species of animals and plants that occur nowhere else.

You’ve just been there. At age 84. Was that wise?

I first went to Borneo 50 years ago, and next year it will be my 60th anniversary of making natural-history programs, and the BBC has asked me to make some programs to mark that event.

As the head of programming for the BBC, were you responsible for putting Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the air?

That’s correct. I was also responsible for televised snooker, because I’d introduced color TV and the colored [billiard] balls showed off its advantages.

Do you feel optimistic about the future of media?

The problem is as networks and audiences get smaller, one is worried that there won’t be finances to produce the big-scale natural-history programs which I’ve been involved in over the past 50-odd years. The temptation to make programs quicker, faster, cheaper is a strong one if your income is going down.

Why are you campaigning against creationism being taught in British schools?

I feel that children should be taught science, and science doesn’t accept a literal interpretation of the Bible, as far as Genesis is concerned. If you wish to teach that as part of religious story, that’s fine, but don’t teach it as though it’s science, because it’s not.

Are you still collecting things?

Yeah. If I come across a nice fossil, I certainly pick it up. And I have a weakness for buying books. I’m particularly fond of travel books published in the 20th century, especially on areas I’ve visited.

If you were to be reincarnated, what would you come back as?

I would come back as a sloth. Hanging from a tree, chewing leaves sounds great.

Are you optimistic about the future of the natural world?

No, I’m not. There are three times as many people living on this world as when I started making television programs. They’ve all got to live somewhere. They’ve all got to find food. They all want to drive motorcars. All those things require land and space. The only place it can come from is the natural world. So the natural world is under increasing pressure.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com