Thrills of the chase

Battles between hunter and hunted come to the fore in The Hunt, which is voiced by famed naturalist David Attenborough

When adventurer Bear Grylls said recently that much-loved naturalist Sir David Attenborough could be "a bit dry", the British press took umbrage.

A commentary in The Daily Mail carried the headline, "How dare celebrity show-off Bear Grylls dismiss genius David Attenborough as 'dry'?"

Grylls, 41, is best known for the wilderness survival television show Man Vs Wild. He is also venturing into natural history presenting, which has been Attenborough's domain of expertise since the 1950s.

Attenborough simply notes over the telephone from London: "I suppose it's because I've been appearing on television in these kinds of programmes for a very long time."

If you watch nature documentaries, then you would probably have heard Attenborough's authoritative narration at some point. He has presented and narrated works considered to be pioneering landmarks of the genre, from Life On Earth (1979) to The Blue Planet (2001).

At 89, he retains an enthusiasm and respect for nature and has lent his voice to The Hunt, a documentary about predators and prey which premieres on BBC Earth Asia (StarHub TV Channel 407) today.

He says viewers "can expect to see real drama because the most dramatic events in the natural world are the battle between hunter and hunted".

"They may expect to see a lot of blood but it will not be a lot of blood. What it will be is a lot of drama."

As he speaks, you can practically imagine scenes from the documentary unfolding in your head - of a gazelle leaping away from a cheetah's lunge or an orca hunting humpback calves in crystal-clear waters.

Each episode revolves around a key habitat such as open grassland or dense forest and zooms in on the strategies that predators and prey deploy for their survival.

Executive producer Alastair Fothergill, 55, says during the same interview: "Many shows in the past have depicted predators as red in tooth and claw and that could not be further from the truth. They fail most of the time. They are without doubt the hardest-working animals in nature."

There are some who might wonder if there is really anything new under the sun to fill up yet another nature documentary.

Fothergill points out: "You always think there isn't anything new to film but that's so, so far from the truth. We filmed blue whales feeding underwater for the first time.

"On the other end of the scale, we filmed a new spider in Madagascar which made this extraordinary web 25m across a river using a silk that is much stronger than steel."

Fothergill is a veteran producer of nature documentaries for TV and cinema and has worked with Attenborough on the award- winning series, The Blue Planet and Planet Earth (2006).

He sums up Attenborough's enduring appeal thus: "I think he brings authority. People around the world trust David because of the quality of the work he's done over the years.

"His voice is very powerful and what I don't think people realise is that David is very involved with the script before he reads it. His ability as a storyteller and communicator is second to none."

In a public poll last year, Attenborough was voted Britain's most popular trusted person.

And the No. 1 message he has to convey is this: "That the natural world is one of the greatest treasures that humanity has and it needs protecting. The more you understand about the natural world, the more likely you are to understand why it is so important to humanity and to do something about looking after it."

He has dedicated his life to learning about the planet and has travelled far and wide to do so. His favourite spots are a mix of the familiar and the exotic.

He reveals: "It's about 10 miles from here and that's my home. Apart from that, I suppose I would say New Guinea or Borneo. I speak a little of the language in Indonesia and I enjoy that."

He has also spent years tracking a lifelong passion in the jungles of New Guinea and Indonesia and has made Attenborough's Birds Of Paradise (2015) about the colourful creatures.

Ask him about the allure of natural history and he replies with a dash of wit: "One is that it's very beautiful and you often see things that you've never seen before. It's very dramatic, it doesn't involve politicians and it's not trying to sell you anything. It's a wonderful escape from all other kinds of television."

•The Hunt premieres on BBC Earth Asia (StarHub TV Channel 407) today at 8.05pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Thrills of the chase'. Print Edition | Subscribe