One of the most popular forms of scientific dissemination, before social networks, were nature documentaries. In the days of Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente they became prime-time programs , and then they repositioned themselves in the comfortable niche of nap time, where many people claimed that they followed them just like the cycling tour in summer, between nods nod.
It cannot be denied that these documentaries have had a great role in spreading science, respect for nature and in awakening many scientific vocations. However, the rigor and veracity have been very uneven, especially if the program is directed by a self-described naturalist, an imprecise term, but which amounts to a tacit statement of lack of academic training.
Alfred Hitchcock used to say: “Never work with children, or animals, or in the sea or with Charles Laughton”, and it is true that shooting animals in the middle of nature is very complicated and requires a lot of patience. This sometimes causes certain scenes to be recreated and there is a backroom that makes what appears to be genuine animal behavior to be nothing more than a fictional scene with animals.
Famous documentary filmmakers have been denounced for notable falsifications and even for mistreating animals. And one of our great directors, Luis Buñuel, is not spared these accusations. The scenes with animals from his documentary Las Hurdes, tierra sin pan, were manufactured.
The bee-harassed donkey seen in the film is not an element of the Hurdes landscape, but a dying donkey that he bought from its owner and smeared it with honey to attract insects. The accidentally falling goat was actually killed by a poorly concealed gunshot. In the film you can see the smoke from the shotgun.
The problem is when one of these recreations ends up being taken for real animal behavior, and is incorporated into zoology books. Many of us have heard of the lemmini (also known as lemmings), a rodent typical of the arctic tundras of America and Eurasia.
People who are now around 50 years old will remember them because they were the protagonists of a popular and very addictive video game in the days of 286 processors. This little animal has a very short reproductive period, and the females are very fertile, which causes them to cyclically give population explosions in an environment with very limited resources.
In general, to cope with these problems, Lemmini build complex burrows where they store food for times of scarcity or migrate to more favorable environments. You may find in a book that at times of peak population the migrations of the Lemmini head towards the coast and end in collective suicides as a way of controlling the population.
Well, this is false, although the video game was based on this idea. From the point of view of evolution, it is true that the survival of the species is prioritized over that of the individual. There are animals whose strategy is based on having many offspring knowing that very few will survive. Or more macabre cases, like that of some sharks that practice intrauterine cannibalism.
This implies that the eggs hatch inside the mother and in the early stages they feed on the unhatched eggs or their weaker siblings. However, a suicidal behavior would have neither evolutionary nor ethological logic.Children’s Encyclopedia , where he describes that these animals make collective migrations until they drown in the sea. He had made it up.
In 1958, the Walt Disney documentary White Hell shows images of this collective suicide for the first time . The reality is that the scene is pure fiction.
It was not filmed in the sea, but in the Bow River, near Calgary (Canada), in an area where there are no lemmini, and they used a rotating platform that knocked the poor animals off the ground, previously captured. This behavior has never been seen in nature. By the way, Felix, can a golden eagle hunt a mountain goat?