David Attenborough discusses the book and television documentary "Life On Earth"

BROADCAST: Oct. 29, 1981 | DURATION: 00:52:27

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Discussing his book and upcoming television series "Life on Earth," with the writer and narrator, David Attenborough.


Studs Terkel Once upon a time, Charles Darwin twenty-five years after a trip on the Beagle came through with a book and the world hasn't been the same since. "Origin of the Species" though here in the United States there's a problem right now. Hard to believe, but that's a book that gave people new insight into themselves and beginnings. And David Attenborough is then a book you might call a variation on the "Origin of the Species" called "Life on Earth". He's an excellent naturalist and broadcaster and "Life on Earth" is what it's about precisely that published by Little Brown and this is in a sense is, well he can talk about that part of a series of soon be seen on public TV it's now a smash in England on BBC as to be seen much in the manner of Bronowski's "Ascent of Man" and Jonathan Miller's "The Body in Question". And, and David Attenborough is my guest and Life on Earth, how it happened who we are, and where we make it. Suppose we began with a children's song. Pete Seeger it's a song about called "Froggy went a Courtin'" an old Mother Goose song.

Pete Seeger Recording: Froggie Went A Courtin' [Music plays]

Studs Terkel In listening to that song of Pete Seeger sing that, Mr. Attenborough do thoughts come to your mind in connection with your book? [unintelligible].

David Attenborough [Laughs] Well in truly they do because frog went a-courting, okay how do frogs court? I could tell you stories about some frogs' courtship that really are as fantastic as anything Pete Seeger sang about. For example, there is, one of the problems about frogs is that they face is that they need liquid for their tadpoles to hatch in. Uh, and how do they provide that, well there is one down in southern Chile where the females lay the eggs on the ground, the male leans forward and actually seems to eat them. But what actually they do is that the eggs go into the throat pouch. And the eggs hatch into tadpoles so the male becomes pregnant. And underneath his stomach you can see all these tadpoles wriggling inside and when the moment comes, the male sort of [imitates smacking sound] goes like that.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough And then he sort of [imitates cough] coughs.

Studs Terkel Um hum.

David Attenborough And the babies shoot out of his mouth.

Studs Terkel Out of the male's mouth?

David Attenborough Out of the male's mouth and as a matter of fact nobody I don't think anyone had ever seen that happen, and certainly never been filmed, uh, until we sent a unit down there, and we got, we found these frogs and we found the pregnant males, and, and, one of the cameramen watched a pregnant male frog for one hundred and eighty hours, continuously, him and his taking turn in turn about with his assistant until he, he filmed that moment.

Studs Terkel You know I think as you say this, there's a remarkable story you tell. That's the underlying theme of the [order?] of all your discoveries--the infinite variety of species.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel So you are extending in a way what Darwin first came upon, in

David Attenborough Yes, I mean Darwin, uh, what Darwin did was to uh suggest a mechanism whereby life developed from the simplest forms to its uh present complexity and what we have tried to do in this book in the films is to show how that history and life developed.

Studs Terkel It begins just there with the infinite variety and then you speak of the species the variety. Where was it, you have here a mollusk lays 400 million eggs.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel You're talking now about, you spoke of, you spoke of the frog a moment ago, the male frog from.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel His throat.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel As from Medusa's head, as.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough [Laughs]Yes.

Studs Terkel [intelligible.]

David Attenborough Athena perhaps.

Studs Terkel Athena, yeah.

David Attenborough Yeah, um-hum.

Studs Terkel OK, so we have, uh what does this do of course to, to the ideas, that you know what does this do to set, cut and dried ideas?

David Attenborough Well, uh, of course the clam lays all those kind of eggs, um, in a, in uh sort of a broadside for survival, it knows that vast numbers of creatures will feed on those eggs, and just one or two will get through and one, one of the progresses that you can see in the history of life is, uh, that peopl-that animals have become increasingly careful about their young, until you get the situation of us where we produce our babies nine months to produce them, uh, three years look after them before they're even possibly independent and that's a very different thing from the clam.

Studs Terkel This comes to us, but this began, your adventure began what about 25 years ago?

David Attenborough Yeah, I, I joined, I was educated as a zoologist and then I joined BBC television.

Studs Terkel Zoologist.

David Attenborough Yes, back in 19--I joined back in 1952, um, when television, in our country at any rate, was certainly very, very primitive. Pretty terrible I think probably, but anyway I used to produce television programs and I used to produce all kinds, I used to produce, directed for the prime minister, or the quiz programs, or ballet, or short story and you name it and we did it in those days. But I also wanted very much to go and see the tropics, see all those wonderful places I read about as a boy and thought about as a student, and eventually persuaded the BBC that I, uh, would be able to make films in Africa. Goodness knows how I managed to. I hadn't the faintest idea about Africa, never been there or how I's going to make movies, and I remember very well turning up with, with a cameraman called Charles Lagus, he and I, he hadn't been to Africa either. And we, we just got a ticket out of the BBC, in some kind of way.

Studs Terkel So that's good as isn't it? [Attenborough laughs] No,the fact that you went with an air of wonder.

David Attenborough Oh, gosh.

Studs Terkel So you were not, there was no plan set was there.

David Attenborough No, not at all and, and, and I had no idea what we were going to bring back.

Studs Terkel So you went there with--

David Attenborough Well, I.

Studs Terkel Innocence.

David Attenborough Oh, absolute--.

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] your knowledge, you are a zoologist but you, but you.

David Attenborough Very Much.

Studs Terkel Went there open.

David Attenborough Yeah, but, but we have, in order to sell, in order to sell and get the check for the ticket I had to tell the BBC we were going to do something, you know something in particular and I thought the thing to do was to say we'd find a bird, an animal that nobody else had seen before, and we would film it. And, uh, the only thing I could find that matched that description was a bird. A very strange rare bird. Unfortunately its only name was picathartes gymnocephalus and I thought how on earth am I going to get the population of the United Kingdom.

Studs Terkel How are you going to that, how are you going to do that?

David Attenborough Excited about that?

Studs Terkel A Welshman couldn't do that.

David Attenborough [Laughs] Well I'll tell you after, and we did bring, we found the bird and we filmed it. When we got back I remember very well stopping in Piccadilly traffic lights and the bus driver leant out and I was in a little, a little open car, a sports car and he leant out he said, "Hello Dave," he said, "How's picathartes gymnocephalus?" he said. So I thought, well if we got that far we hadn't done badly. [Laughs.]

Studs Terkel So you're, so by the, in your adventures this book which by the way is very beautiful, I haven't spoken of the incredible photographs illustrations, you know, of it, but so your adventure began in West Africa.

David Attenborough Yes.

Studs Terkel Yeah and then different, you went, you went to Galapagos too.

David Attenborough Yes, that's.

Studs Terkel Where Darwin was.

David Attenborough That's right. Uh, we went to Galapagos particularly for this book, this this book and, and, and the films associated with us, took us, took us three years.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough And we just whizzed around everywhere seeing all the most exciting and spectacular sights in the natural world can offer which is a terrific privilege.

Studs Terkel But it really is a history book. It's.

David Attenborough It's.

David Attenborough A history of nature and the continuity.

David Attenborough That's and that's the thing that, that really sort of knocks you in the eye when you when you start on this. How complete the record is, how extraordinary it is that using initially the fossils in the rocks but then going from the fossils and finding that they're living descendants there. If you look in the right places you can find living creatures which exemplify those fossils in almost every case except perhaps [by accident?] obviously the dinosaurs and one or two things like trilobites, but for the most part you can find in the world today and little remote nooks and crannies, survivors from these [unintelligible] times.

Studs Terkel Now survivors as one of, which was that, uh, bird fish or what? That, that a seventy mill-uh you found a co-

David Attenborough A coelacanth, was it?

Studs Terkel Where was that, that was.

David Attenborough Well, a coelacanth was it was a fish which we only saw and certainly knew about from fossils, uh, for a long long long time.

Studs Terkel And there was an actual breathing one.

David Attenborough Yeah and then in 1938, just one turned up and the scientists had thought that had been extinct for over seventy million years and then it just turned up.

Studs Terkel How could that, uh, how, that's the point, how did that one survive? How would you explain that?

David Attenborough Well, of course it's, it was in fact, uh, uh, a little community of them have survived, and it survived because in that one particular tiny little remote corner of the Indian Ocean there were the conditions which suited it best nothing else did it any better. Nothing else can get a better living than that one and so this little creature, oh well it isn't a little creature, it's five feet long, six feet long, has survived there in a way that, that th-where it's become extinct everywhere else that place.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough Just suited it, this suits me fine [unintelligible.]

Studs Terkel So what are we talking about? We're talking about survival.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel Under certain conditions isn't, isn't that it.

David Attenborough Yes.

Studs Terkel And in your, in your travels you've had, it's survival you're talking about, whether it be insect, amphibious creature, flying creature, big cat.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel Tree climber.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel Survivors, what.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel We're talking about.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel And it's the history of survival of the animal kingdom.

David Attenborough Survival and development.

Studs Terkel And development.

David Attenborough Because of course three and a half billion years ago, um, the, life started this tiny little bacteria-like organisms,

Studs Terkel You said three and a half.

David Attenborough Billion.

Studs Terkel Billion years ago.

David Attenborough Yeah. That's, the about the oldest fossil. Fossil form of life that we are-

Studs Terkel So it began.

David Attenborough As a tiny little microscopic bacteria, uh, and that, that, that's is an example of what I mean is that even today those little first forms that we know of still survive as bacteria if you know where to look for them. And for example just to give you a really remote one the early the early forms

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Of life almost certainly the seas were very hot the water on Earth was very hot as it was cooling and if you actually go to Hot Springs now you can find algae, little microscopic.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Plants which are living in water so hot that you can't bear to touch it. Yellowstone Park if you believe you know I'm sure you know Yellowstone very well and much better than I do but there's wonderful colors in the water of, of the rocks. Those are algae which are very like the earliest algae of three billion years ago.

Studs Terkel Yeah, you know it's so funny. Again I think of songs and I think of certain phenomena that is sad as far as the farmer's concerned. The boll weevil, you see the algae survives in the hottest of, the boll weevil was destroying all the cotton you know of the South and so the story about the boll weevil that Leadbelly.

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel A black singer sings about survival and you know the story that of the boll weevil?

David Attenborough I know the song, yeah.

Studs Terkel Ah, you knew the song.

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel And so I, I put him in the hot sand, he say I'll stand like a man. I put him, I take of ice that's mighty cool and nice.

David Attenborough Yes that's right.

Studs Terkel And so it's survival we're talking about.

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel Throughout.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel I realize your book has another theme. It's leading up to Homo sapiens with someone say Homo sap.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

Studs Terkel Really the way he's behaving today.

Studs Terkel That's right.

Studs Terkel Is, can we, [laughs] we will come to that later. Well, let's come it now the dinosaur, now when was the time of the dinosaur?

David Attenborough The last one died sixty-seven million years ago something like that.

Studs Terkel But the dinosaur as I und-didn't, could not survive because they could not adjust to a changing topography.

David Attenborough Well it's in truth a mystery, uh, we, we can make a number of guesses as to why they all died out. Uh, the best guess in my view at any rate is that in fact there was a major change in the world's climate. Uh, there was a major cooling of the planet for various reasons which we're now beginning to understand to do with the shifting of the continents and, uh, dinosaurs like reptiles today like crocodiles like snakes, can't to any real degree generate heat inside themselves as we can. So that over night if you had, if it really froze very solidly, a dinosaur would lose all its heat and if you lose heat, you, the chemistry of your body doesn't work fast enough, so you don't produce energy, so you can't actually move and it is absolutely possible that a large dinosaur once it has lost its heat simply couldn't warm up in the sun enough to move and and died from starvation because it simply haven't got the energy to go out and eat.

Studs Terkel And because the world itself had altered.

David Attenborough Yes.

Studs Terkel And the dinosaur could not change.

Studs Terkel That's right.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] so we live at-toward the very end of your book you speak of man, who the, all this led to him.

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel Us, you, me, at the end, there's a chapter has been devoted only one species: ourselves. I'm jumping the gun on it and now the question is, uh, we, you know,uh, what we think that we got something they never had.

David Attenborough Oh, yeah.

Studs Terkel That thought process, that language, you know and therefore we will survive forever.

David Attenborough No, uh, that very we-uh, we are enormously clever. We are fantastically clever. We are clever and, and, and in my, what I'm suggesting in the book is that the reason that we are as clever as we are, uh, is because we have one major invention and development quite early in the life of our species which was that we managed to, uh, find methods of, uh, recording our experiences of our lives so that they didn't die with us, but could be recorded in clay tablets or in myth so that we were able to convey it from one generation to another and so accumulate knowledge. Uh, my body, your body, uh my a-uh skeleton. If we put our skeleton alongside the skeleton of a, a caveman, who had lived with stone tools and painting mammoths on the side of the cave in the Ice Age there's hardly anything to choose between his body and mine between my skull and his. The brain is about the same size. What makes a difference between the fact that I'm sitting talking to you and, and through microphones and through the miracles of all kinds of technology, is the culture it's not that I'm cleverer than he was. It is that I am the inheritor of generation upon generation of human beings who recorded their discoveries.

Studs Terkel So sense of history.

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel A sense of history. So if we lose a sense of history we go as the dinosaur did.

David Attenborough Yeah. I, I think that the, the problem is that, that, that not in the sense of history but also that accumulated wisdom which we all have makes us, doesn't mean this is necessarily wisdom it's knowledge and if only we were as wise as we are clever.

Studs Terkel Ah.

David Attenborough That would be a good thing.

Studs Terkel And so if all that wisdom comes along that tells us what happened to ancestors were they four footed.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel Or bipedal. If we learn we know that there are those that could not adapt died, so the dinosaur among others could not die. So if we can adapt to the fact that war today destroys the human race we go.

David Attenborough That's right, that's right and the, and if we don't get wise, you see, the the dinosaurs couldn't help themselves in a way the, the, uh, fact that the ca-the world was cooling down that they could not do nothing about that. Uh, the difference between us and the dinosaurs in this instance is that the dinosaurs were the innocent victims if you like of change we are showing every sign of actually bringing about our own destruction.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough Of changing the world and ourselves because of straight forward stupidity or carelessness. And if, if homo sapiens come to the end, to an end of the line the likelihood is that we will have brought it upon ourselves.

Studs Terkel Yeah. So this is part of his book, the book itself Life on Earth is a very exciting one, when we've jumped the gun you realize in talking about man, we've got to go back to the scorpion dance and oh, I get something down I'll ask you about that, insect as a metaphor I wonder why I said that will come to that in a minute. So we're the insect and I put down, metaphor and real. Perhaps I should read that, why I said that in the notes here. As you open it, why don't you read the opening passage of that, of that chapter for the swarming hordes.

David Attenborough "By any standards the insect body must be reckoned the most successful of all the solutions to the problems of living on the surface of the earth. Insects swarm in deserts as well as in forests they swim below water and crawl in deep caves in perpetual darkness. They fly over the high peaks in the Himalayas and they exist in surprising numbers on the permanent ice caps of the poles."

Studs Terkel I know I said it, of course, survival. This object, you know this sometimes infinitesimally small object survival to come again.

David Attenborough Well, the, the, the insects are an incredible I mean of course we don't really know how many are, different species there are, we're still counting. Uh, the, the unlike almost any other group, that any one can think of in the animal kingdom. W-the insects we have never managed to exterminate any insect even though we've tried very hard. One of the reasons must be because, I think, because they are so very small that you you can't be sure that you've got rid of every single individual.

Studs Terkel So that's so.

David Attenborough Well that's one of the reasons.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough And the other reason is.

Studs Terkel So you mean then it's the smallness becomes its armor.

David Attenborough To some degree.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough Because it's very difficult to exterminate any species of insect and we've tried out enough goodness knows we've tried flame throwers, we find.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough Poisonous chemicals we find.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough In the words of the boll weevil song that you were talking about.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough We've done everything.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough We can do but.

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] there.

David Attenborough [unintelligible] we can't get rid of them all.

Studs Terkel But then, you also talk of in-something out of transformation and as kids we always hear, we think of the caterpillar.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel And the butterfly.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel Don't we? You know something rather.

David Attenborough Well.

Studs Terkel Slimy to something beautiful.

David Attenborough Ah, yes and of course it is one of them it, uh, doesn't matter how often you've seen it. If you've actually watched, uh, butterflies struggling out of a chrysalis and its wings expanding and the liquid in its wings slowly filling the veins and pulling it out and then being withdrawn and the whole thing drying out and then slight quivering, so, then it often in many insect-butterflies when you watch this it comes out with the wings, the wings actually fold together. So you haven't actually seen the full distended beautiful glory of its wings and when it's ready, it slowly opens its wings and it's like opening a book that you've never opened a page of before.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough And there you are, you're the first person ever to see those particular wings.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough And they're beautiful.

Studs Terkel So another aspect of, in, in the history of [unintelligible] is transformation.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel Is metamorphosis.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel That becomes part of it too.

David Attenborough Um, very much.

Studs Terkel Um, have we talked to the social, we haven't talked of social life.

David Attenborough No.

Studs Terkel Now, the colonies.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel OK, we hear, read of the worker ants and soldier ants. Now here we have something a cooperative society.

David Attenborough Yes it's, uh, it's sometimes um, a particularly, if I may say so and I as an Englishman come to Chicago and I look down from the top of your high buildings, I mean, it's tempting to say look at all those little dots crawling along in the bottom of that canyon of steel and glass they're, ah, just like insects or termites but they're not at all. Actually the parallel is a trite, a misleadingly easy one because all the insects, all the termites in a termite colony are actually the descendant of one mother and what is more every one of them are incomplete. No one could exist, uh, without the others. All the workers for example can't reproduce. The Queen on the other hand can't feed itself. Um, and there are many other variations too, uh, so that the correct parallel to a colony of termite, colony with may may contain two million individuals is not to a city, but to actually one body, one which is, which is.

Studs Terkel Ah, yeah.

David Attenborough Broken up into tiny little, er, separate.

Studs Terkel Segmented.

David Attenborough Constituents.

Studs Terkel I heard you speak of the segmented creatures.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel So it's, it's segmented so it isn't a question of each one depen-each one a, whole being.

David Attenborough No.

Studs Terkel Ah, say, a cooperative society but rather segmented parts of one body.

David Attenborough That's right and it's, it's so that if you see a termite hill in, uh, in, in the prairie or the savannas of Africa a great termite hill with maybe three million individuals in it, the, to, the right parallel is that isn't equivalent to perhaps a, uh, um, a big antelope because it's sending out

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Its individuals

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Instead of wondering around on feet to eat. It's wandering around on eight million feet.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Or six million feet or whatever it is. [Laughs.]

Studs Terkel Um, see what we're doing now is, just, just wandering round and about uh, we're not doing the book in it's continuity that you have. I'm thinking of, or the thing that came to my mind dependence is the word right now and so you speak of the flower,

David Attenborough Yes.

Studs Terkel And orchid and the bee [I think of?].

David Attenborough Well, I tell you what, uh, I tell you what impresses me most about, about that. Um, flowers I mean we tend to think flowers are there because they're such beautiful colors and they're such beautiful perfumes and they're there to please us. Eh, but of course they were there long before human beings appeared on Earth and the reason that a flower is, is beautiful and colorful and perfumed is in order to appeal to insects and if in fact the insects had been color blind or if they hadn't been able to smell, flowers would have no color and no perfume. Uh, so it was, it was to the insects that we owe this beauty, not they're, not they're.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough Initially to please us.

Studs Terkel I, I like that phrase you said. Flowers developed a completely new bribe: nectar.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel Know. They, the appearance of flowers transform the face of the world and so these prizes of pollen and nectar have to be advertised.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel And so again a-they were born, uh, little flowers came into being to attract.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel Other.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel Species or whatever might it be, yeah.

David Attenborough I think, that's, that puts man in the right, in the right perspective.

Studs Terkel And that puts man, now where a man [unintelligible].

David Attenborough Well, because man tends to think that those flowers were.

Studs Terkel For him.

David Attenborough for, for him.

Studs Terkel Oh so we come to a man and his egocentricity.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel This is what we're talking about.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel Too, aren't we.

David Attenborough Uh, one of the greatest of Darwin's contemporaries, uh, Wallace has a very, very famous passage he was the co, in, he was the co-divisor of the theory of natural selection with Darwin, but a long time after Darwin had originally thought of it but, but Wallace wrote when he went to New Guinea and saw birds of paradise that he, in a marvelous passage, which I can't quote verbatim, but he says it is, it is extraordinary to believe that this fantastic splendor of these wonderful plumes of it had been, these birds have been displaying for centuries, of millions of years befo-without mankind ever seeing it. What an extraordinary concept. And of course it is indeed so it's humbling.

Studs Terkel Yeah, I'm thinking Mr. Attenborough of, of the dimensions of your book and the implications and without, I'm not stretching a point either. I mean, I hate to use the word morals [to be?], but the fact there's the richness of life on Earth that has nothing to do with man.

David Attenborough Not all all.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] enough for me. But the impression we have our species it is all for us.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel And thus you have depredation happening.

David Attenborough Yes.

Studs Terkel Now as far as nature is concerned.

David Attenborough That's right, that's right and it is, there is in fact, um, it's, it's deep seated in all of us I'm sure, I mean me as well as everybody else there's a, there's a kind of unconscious thought belief that somehow the world of nature is like a, a well-stocked larder and that all we, the we have come some kind of moral right to wander into this and simply plunder the shelves simply, we like this OK we'll eat it and if we don't like it we can put it in the gas can and, and who cares.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough And that, that kind of attitude, um, is in my view, uh, mistaken both scientifically and morally.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Um, and what is more, it is, it is that kind of attitude which has led us to, uh, the the very edge of disaster.

Studs Terkel Well,you see, you said it scientifically mistaken morally. They're related and you can't separate one from the other.

David Attenborough Well.

Studs Terkel If it is morally ethically, uh, undesirable it is also scientific because I'm going to kill ourselves and the earth.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel In being immoral.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel This is the ironic aspect of.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel Uh, your point about, uh, we're proud of our astronauts and justifiably. But you say flies are the best of all astronauts.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel The fly is.

David Attenborough Well [unintelligible] better than all flyers. Uh, um, um, I have to say that the astronauts of course are unparalleled.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough No other species of animal has actually left the planet which.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough Gave it to birth and that is, you see, that achievement of man is absolutely mind boggling and what uh, what it seems to me as, as someone who is concerned and conservation is that this great nation here in North America was able, its president was able to say in ten years we will put a man on the moon. I mean as extraordinary an extravagant claim as you can imagine. Now if it can do that surely to heaven it can also save the whale from dying from being exterminated or prevent the total destruction of the environment. If you can put a man on the moon it can do anything. The, the all you have to do to prevent the disasters that are looming up on the horizon is take very simple things much less complicated than putting a man on the moon.

Studs Terkel Yes indeed like survival ourselves.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel Or something just as same species.

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel [Laughs].

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel [Laughs] So we're having an arms race, [laughs] not to be believed. You hope you can't believe it, but it [laughs] happens and we, you mention way outs, you don't mind if we freely.

David Attenborough No, that's [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel Associate as we.

David Attenborough No.

Studs Terkel Do. So, it, way out here again is something remarkable in the iciest of waters you point out of that whales and dolphins. You know that the, the preservation of their, their young in environments that should be death.

David Attenborough Um hum. Um hum, well it's, uh, it is absolutely extraordinary how over the millions of years different species of devour-have evolved ways of colonizing the most inhospitable environments and, um, the whale, uh, is is as you know as everyone knows is a mammal like us that is to say it has warm blood in it. And it once ancestrally of course had fur and it once ancestrally had legs, um, yet over a relatively short period of time like sort of forty million years which isn't all that much. Um, it has adapted, it has lost its legs, it has lost its fur, it's grown huge, and it's and it's developed a great blubber wrapping which is as good, uh, a thermal insulation as you can find anywhere and when people say, well, how do you actually know that it's lost its legs, of course you find the remnants of the bones of the legs and of the hip bones in, buried in the blubber not doing, is having any function at all. That to me is as vivid.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Demonstration of the fact of evolution as anything.

Studs Terkel Adaptation and survival.

David Attenborough Yeah. And the, re, the remains of history that's what it is.

Studs Terkel The remains come back to history.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel It's always, but since we're on the subject of whales and dolphins we come to sounds.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel And language.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel We think of language as again man's exclusive possession.

David Attenborough Well of course it depends how you, how you define language.

Studs Terkel Interrupt language.

David Attenborough And there's a difference between language and communication.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough There are lots of different signals and we know uh there's them again there's a marvelous American scientist called Roger Payne who's done a lot of wonderful work on whale communication, uh, but two for, a, uh, set of signals to qualify as a language, I think it is necessary to demonstrate that creatures use separate signals and put them together in, uh, a, an order which is meaningful, um, because, uh, man eats dog is not the same as dog eats man.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough And each one of those, er, words is as it were a kind of signal in the sense that it conveys.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Something but no animal that I am aware is able to use, uh, string together signals in that way. So, in a way that which the order is significant and, and unless you have that you can't really convey complex thoughts.

Studs Terkel So that's the, and yet we in experiments with a dolphin, what's the name of the scientist who worked with dolphins.

David Attenborough Lilly.

Studs Terkel Lilly, John Lilly. Uh, speaks of a highly sophisticated.

David Attenborough Yes, it's perfectly true and do-dolphins send out uh, a whole large number of different signals which mean, uh, separate things like danger or attack.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Or food or parent or protection.

Studs Terkel But also, uh, they are not belligerent.

David Attenborough No.

Studs Terkel By the whale is the best example, huge a leviathan, the whale is really a pacific creature, is it not?

David Attenborough Well, it's world wide.

Studs Terkel Hum?

David Attenborough It's world wi- oh, pacific it has.

Studs Terkel No no I meant, I meant.

David Attenborough Peaceful, yes, yes, yeah, yeah, yes, yes. It is a paci-, well not all of course. I mean the biggest whales are, but there is such a thing as a killer whale and, and the killer whale, oh golly I was watching killer whales in the arctic.

Studs Terkel But is the killer whale kill, uh, without reason, I mean, or is it, unless provoked.

David Attenborough I, I was, I'm a great propagandist for the animals and I would like to say that everyone was wonderful, but I have to admit.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough That the killer whale sometimes goes on rampages.

Studs Terkel Oh it does?

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel Without being provoked?

David Attenborough Apparently.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough And apparently it will kill, it will kill seal, after seal, after seal.

Studs Terkel There goes my theory.

David Attenborough Yeah mine too. [Laughs].

Studs Terkel [Laughs]. What, we had when we were, since we're talking about the water.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel So there was the time, there was a moment to a transition, the leap.

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel When the creatures came from the sea to land.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel The amphibians.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel So that was a moment.

David Attenborough Oh that was one of the great, one of the great epic, uh, stories in the whole history of life that for, from three thousand or three billion years ago around there, for billions upon years life was restricted to the sea. And it wasn't until, uh, about two hundred million years ago which is a long time after three thousand billion, uh, three, uh, as we say three thousand million.

Studs Terkel Hum.

David Attenborough It wasn't until about two hundred million years ago that any life of any course-of any sort, sort, plant or animal came out on the land. The first things that did it in the animal kingdom were in fact segmented creatures without backbones like insects, but about one hundred fifty million years ago, some fish were inhabiting pools that were drying out, fresh water pools, and fresh water when it gets tepid as any fisherman knows loses its oxygen and the fish come up to the surface and one kind of fish kept under the surface and developed the talent to breathe air by gulping air. And so it developed primitive lungs and the muscles developed around the si-around the bases of its fins so that it could actually haul itself through the mud, through these drying pools and then some of them managed to get out onto the mud and spend most of their time on the mud, maybe to feed on the insects which were not there. And those were the ancestors of amphibians and so suddenly, well not suddenly, it was millions of years, but it was a breakthrough which, was performed, which is achieved by amphibians. They came out onto the land and the land was populated for the first time by backbone animals, but of course the link with water wasn't broken. They, the frogs had to go, the amphibians had to go back to the, to the water to lay their eggs [unintelligible] and their, and their young was still to all intents and purposes fish that is to say tadpoles.

Studs Terkel And so what are they called.

David Attenborough Amphibians?

Studs Terkel No, no, the one, the word used before that, tad-.

David Attenborough Tadpoles.

Studs Terkel A tadpole. They were tadpoles.

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel And so that moment it's, obviously it's a moment of transition but it's I guess it's a it's a quantum jump moment.

David Attenborough Oh yes very much.

Studs Terkel Isn't it.

David Attenborough Oh yes a threshold has been passed.

Studs Terkel Now, what is it, so the adaptation, the body was changing, but a way of life also was changing for them to adapt, to survive. They who lived in water.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel On land. So again it's adaptation. Survival is it not?

David Attenborough It is but, the but the other, the other very moving thing, emotionally moving thing is that when you chronicle all these changes when you start from the beginning and go all the way through it really seems that there is a driving force in life which if there is a vacuum, if there's an empty niche, if there is a place where you can possibly get any kind of living some creature evolves to take advantage of that, whether it's the whale swimming in the Arctic Seas or whether it's a fish that, ah, uh, have ahead of them a land on which no backbone animal has ever lived before. Over the millions of years forms develop to fill that space.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

David Attenborough Nature as they say abhors a vacuum.

Studs Terkel Abhors a vacuum. And so we come to hunters, as you have a chapter, and hunted.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel And [unintelligible] great, we said this is great, here are the members of the animal kingdom inhabiting this, we call the earth. And now come to hunters and hunted.

David Attenborough Mmm. Well, they've always been hunters and hunted, um, as this is a good book says all, all, all meat is all meat is grass, uh, and we can't exist without grass. We can't exist without vegetation. There all, all animal life is dependent on plant life for its food, but some animals prey on other animals, and get their vegetation as it were one step removed, and there were hunters in the [unintelligible] sea, there were carnivorous fish then, they were, when the insects first came out on to land some of them became hunters. Bats have become hunters and we, we were hunters.

Studs Terkel Uh, funny, one of the four surviving primates, uh, the gorilla is a vegetarian.

David Attenborough Yes.

Studs Terkel And gentle.

David Attenborough Yes very, um, and that again was another extraordinary moving moment for me, uh, in making this because, as a wonderful, uh, American zoologist called Dian Fossey, who I think comes from this part of the world, uh, who spent ten years studying gorillas, wild gorillas, in, uh, Central Africa and they got so accustomed to her that they knew that she would do them no harm and they trusted her, and if you were lucky enough, as we were, that Dian should say alright 'I'll be your ambassador, and I will introduce you to the court of the king gorilla as it were. I'll take you to that gorilla community and if you behave in certain ways they may trust you as well.' She did that for us which was an enormous compliment to us that she should have done that. The, the rewards were, uh, um, beyond description really because eventually we were able to sit with these gorillas and I, I acted, it's almost funny, I had to look at the camera and to try and describe some of the things that we were seeing and explain the significance of some of the ways that the gorillas were using their fingers and their hands as they ate. And while I was trying to concentrate on looking at the camera, and I suddenly felt a great weight on my feet, and I turned around and the young son of this gorilla family, it was about the size of a fourteen year old boy, was actually sitting on my feet trying to undo my shoe laces.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough To take my shoes off and I looked down at him, and, and the female gorilla, um, the old lady or the Queen, or whatever you wish to call her, put a hand on top of my head [laughs]. And the funny thing was that, that when I look at that film now people say, 'gosh weren't you frightened' and in a way, I look at it, and say, 'gosh weren't you frightened?'. The fact was that fear was the last thing that was in one's mind. What was in one's mind was just you had been paid the most enormous compliment by these wonderful creatures. They had accepted you into that world and that was marvelous.

Studs Terkel That is a moving, moving experience as you describe it, moving moment. Uh, again it is our preconceived notions, our arrogance, our egocentricity. We think a gorilla immediately, because he is hairy, and big, and unlike us, though like us, of course, and.

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel Therefore is inferior and therefore inferior being brutish, therefore to be what dangerous.

David Attenborough Yeah, [unintelligible] it is the most dreadful paradox that, that, the gorilla, as you say is gentle, kind, vegetarian, and unaggressive, and we have chosen to make him the symbol of everything that he isn't, and that we are.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough That is to say aggressive, violent, and dangerous. [Background noise].

Studs Terkel I'm talking to David Attenborough as you can gather the book is deeply moving as, as I'm sure the series is on television, now, we be seeing very soon and it's just these little insights and discoveries here in it and again, I repeat the illustrations are quite remarkable. But back to the things, there are three other primates surviving aside from the gorilla, the, the orangutan, the gibbon, and the chimp. Are they like the gorilla in this respect?

David Attenborough Um, not, not all, the chimp actually is quite a dangerous animal. Um, you don't, I, I, I, because of this experience of the gorillas, chimps I, I, I've behaved in I think slightly foolish way, uh, chimps spend a great deal of time on what zoologists call mutual grooming that is they sit by one another and they work through one, through the hair, on one another's skin, not looking for lice.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Because actually they're very clean [animal?], but it's a pleasant sort of.

Studs Terkel Um hum.

David Attenborough It's like cocktail conversation, um, and I sat with, with a group of chimps again in Central Africa. I gained there were chimps that have been observed by, by scientists and so actually in this instance by Japanese scientists and, and they were aware of human beings. So I was able to sit quite close them and, uh, one of the old females was sitting absolutely along side and she was. uh, grooming her, her daughter, and I thought I wonder whether I should be sensible or just a nice friendly thing to do to perhaps just casually try and groom her. I haven't got my hand out, I mean I didn't even touch her, I was just moving that way and she suddenly turned around and, and snarled, uh, and she, an enraged chimp.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough It's a very dangerous animal.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough They are of course, everybody thinks that chimps are, are vegetarians but they're not.

Studs Terkel No.

David Attenborough They, they do eat flesh.

Studs Terkel Yeah, I have found myself, this is hardly, in South Africa, but that's a long story this was 1962. It is February so it's summer and we're on our way to Kruger National Park.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel A number of us, uh, different journalists, others from different countries and there is a chimp and the chimp hops on the back of the car [laughs].

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel As though a kid is hopping on the back of a streetcar.

David Attenborough Oh, yeah.

Studs Terkel He hopped on the back of the car, then he got off [laughs].

David Attenborough But do you know that in India there are, um, there are monkeys.

Studs Terkel It was a bus I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

David Attenborough Yeah.

Studs Terkel I'm sorry in India there were.

David Attenborough Well, in India there, there are monkeys which actually ride into town with, with the passengers with the, with the, with the rush, the morning rush. They, they jump on to the trains and come into town because the people [laughs] they've got to see people in the, in the temples and you see, and then they come back again at night [laughs.

Studs Terkel [Laughs]. They're commuters.

David Attenborough Yes, yes, absolutely.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] Speaking of monkeys, uh, there's a certain monkey, the macaque monkey.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel Ow, he's bright. You said he's a learner.

David Attenborough Very bright and it's one of the things, uh, because you know we are learning more things about creatures all the time but there's a Jap-, uh, the Japanese macaque, a little group of, of monkeys, um, living on a small island, and they were, their behavior was studied by Japanese scientists and they discovered that one of the, one of the females who was called Emo, a middle aged female, um, scientists were trying to get the monkeys to come out onto the beach so they could watch them, and they thought how can we do this. What we would do is to take rice, uh, husked rice, which they love. That is rice in its husks, um, and, and we will scatter it on the sand and then the monkeys will have to pick it out one grain at a time, and they'll be there for a long time, so we can watch how they behave and how they react to one another. So they did that and it worked very well for a [Terkel coughs] bit, but that young Emo, this, this female suddenly started picking up handfuls of rice grains [Terkel coughs] and sand, carrying them down to a pool, dropping it in the pool, and, of course the sand grains drop.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough To the bottom and the rice grains floated and then she skimmed it off with her hand.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Now that was rema-I mean that was fantastic that, that she should have invented this as it were, she should have worked it out or whether she did it by accident or whether she actually logically thought it doesn't matter the fact was she did it and the next fact is that once she did it, other monkeys started doing it. Other monkeys imitated that and in particular, the baby that was sitting on her shoulders watched mummy doing it and learned and that baby.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

David Attenborough Then, when it grew up always did it so that soon the whole troop was doing this thing except the old folk, the old folk were too o- late.

Studs Terkel Too old.

David Attenborough Too old to learn. And why that is interesting is, is that that is a demonstration of something which may exist and probably does exist in many other species of primate and that is to say you are watching their culture actually developing and being handed on from generation to generation.

Studs Terkel When we come back again don't we, being handed on generation to generation this is what Life on Earth is about too. Mmm. A culture, a continuity in nature, a history which of course leads us to man.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel And we haven't talked about the airborne creatures and how mammals flew. We spoke with a bat a moment ago. Now the bat has a thumb.

David Attenborough Yes.

Studs Terkel So bat when the few non-humans with.

David Attenborough Well, no, uh, I mean it depends how you define a thumb that is to say it's got five fingers. The bird, the bird lost effectively all its fingers, you can see the remains, but, but they effectively it lost them and it's just their wings are made with one long finger whereas the bats, without feathers have used their fingers as it were the struts to support the skin and the front, the front finger the small finger which we would call a thumb that is on the front of the wing and that it uses to groom, groom itself and sometimes hang itself up with.

Studs Terkel With, so to hang itself up with.

David Attenborough Well, it clambers about with it.

Studs Terkel And I thinking about it, we come to the primates then.

David Attenborough Mmm.

Studs Terkel And so the capacity to grasp, to climb tree,s so we, they needed some grasping tool.

David Attenborough Yes. The, the, if we had, our ancestry was that we were climbing around in trees so that we could grasp and we had to be able to grasp in which we did, but the grasping a tree also enables you if you've got the kind of opposable thumb that we have to actually manipulate tools and it was manipulating tools it was a crucial element in our history.

Studs Terkel And so it's tools, man the toolmaker, but you put the chimpanzee.

David Attenborough That's right. Oh yes.

Studs Terkel Can you make a tool.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel So again we come to man and his egocentricity.

David Attenborough That's right.

Studs Terkel And this is how the book it comes to the end, and the last part is homo sapiens. And now, and the question we raised earlier about adaptability to a changing world, in our case to the fact that the human race can destroy itself.

David Attenborough Yep.

Studs Terkel With war. That war is NO NO LONGER, [unintelligible].

David Attenborough We cannot only destroy ourselves with war, we can actually starve ourselves, which is what we are showing every indication of doing because the population size of our population is growing at an enormous rate. And at the same time we are using up the resources of the earth, destroying the fertility of the land and of the sea.

Studs Terkel [Chair squeak] And what have we learned, and there is much to learn and we come back to history again which is the underlying theme of David Attenborough's quite remarkable book Life on Earth, Little Brown, the publishers and I assume equally remarkable film series soon to be seen here. We open with a children's song about an animal, a frog went a counting. Let's [chair squeak] close one about the little rabbit.

David Attenborough Very good.

Studs Terkel The rabbit and his way of looking at things. Thank you very much indeed.

David Attenborough Thank you, Studs.

Pete Seeger Recording: Mr. Rabbit [Music plays].