Survival night

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 June, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 June, 1999, 12:00am

Audiences never tire of well-made wildlife programming, even though the same circle-of-life story is revisited again and again. Maybe one of the reasons such films hold so much fascination is that they often, implicitly, hold up a mirror to our own behaviour, and remind us of how far we have lost touch with our natural selves and the natural world.

From how we attract each other and reproduce to how we fight, deep-rooted natural instincts are reflected in nature. After all, humans are also a species of animal shaped by natural evolution, something most of us have forgotten.

Survival School (World, 9pm) is a new three-part series from the BBC that explores the laws of childhood in the animal kingdom: how young animals must master their environment if they are to survive into adulthood.

Baby animals are a particularly good reference for understanding a child's behaviour and needs, from birth until fully socialised within society. It is a stage of life when nature is at its most powerful.

A case in point is the role of play. Survival School reminds us that this is an innate and vital form of behaviour. Veteran audiences of numerous other wildlife shows have seen, time and again, that the playful antics of the young are not just play but their chance to learn vital life skills. It is the same for children. Modern societies have piled artificial pressures on our young. Exams for four-year-olds too often take precedence over play. It is time to learn from the animals and see how far we have gone astray.

This episode, Running Wild, looks at survival mechanisms for newborns on the land. Elephants are shown communally to be gently protective of their young while the mother has a built-in chemical protection system. She coats her baby with a saliva that poisons the attacker. But spotted hyena cubs enjoy no such security. They arrive in this world attacking each other, ensuring that the more vicious survive.

Later in the evening another new series shows how far our adult behaviour has departed from natural law. No other species has ever developed the power to wreak such extensive havoc on our kind and all others. Science At War (World, 10pm), looks at the scientific 'breakthroughs' that have shaped warfare.

Poison has always been an assassin's tool, and by the 15th century poison gasses were employed in battle. Arsenic and sulphur were added to shells, as noted by Leonardo da Vinci. But it was only with scientific breakthroughs from World War I onwards that they have been developed into an even more vicious form of vicious weapon, one capable of mass destruction, as more recently used against Kurds in northern Iraq, for instance.

This programme looks at the history of chemical warfare and the horrible threat it still poses. Those intrigued by war will find this series interesting. Others will stick with nature and wish we could live in a way that need not be so destructive to it.