Driving passion brought rare bird to the masses


Your reprinted item from 1955 concerning an expedition to Sierra Leone to find Picathartes gymnocephala (“50 years ago” Nature 433, 23; 2005 10.1038/433023b) did not mention that the team was led by a recently appointed member of BBC staff called David Attenborough.

The search formed the central plank of the Zoo Quest series, which captured the imagination of the British television-watching public in the 1950s and was the direct forerunner of classic programmes such as Life on Earth, which was broadcast to millions around the world.

In his autobiography Life on Air (BBC Books, London, 2002), Attenborough tells of a bus driver pulling up next to the open-top car in which he was travelling. “'Ere, Dave,” called the bus driver, “are you going to find that Picafartes gymno-blinking-cephala or aren't you?”

He did — and as a result, through increased public awareness and government funding, we have all discovered much more since then.

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Marshall, R., Nice, H. Driving passion brought rare bird to the masses. Nature 434, 559 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/434559c

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