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Hundreds of historical wildlife films dating back to the 19th Century have been preserved in archive

Eric Ashby playing with fox Eric Ashby

Douglas Fisher filming penguins, 1972 Jeffery Boswall

Press release issued: 19 October 2022

Recordings of a boxing kangaroo, decoy gull heads and an experiment in high definition video are among nearly 300 natural history films digitised as part of the ‘Making Wildfilm History Archive Project’.

A grant from the Wellcome Trust to the University of Bristol’s Special Collections has enabled the comprehensive cataloguing of this remarkable archive, containing some the world's most pioneering wildlife films gathered together in this unique collection.

The earliest example of animal behaviour on film is from 1895, ‘Das Boxende Kanguruh’ by Max Skladanowsky. The captive marsupial is recorded boxing against a human, capturing animal movement and behaviour in a way audiences had never seen before.

The archive charts the progress of wildlife filmmaking for over a hundred years, including the ‘golden era’ period between 1960-1985, which paved the way for today’s big budget, technologically advanced blue-chip productions. It contains unique records from the BBC Natural History Unit’s ground-breaking ‘Life on Earth’ series, broadcast in 1979 – ranging from production stills, scripts and travel itineraries, to oral history interviews with writer/presenter Sir David Attenborough, composer Edward Williams, and cameraman Martin Saunders, who recounts filming Attenborough’s famously close encounter with a mountain gorilla, and how they nearly lost this iconic footage to the Rwandan Army.

Source material from the WildFilmHistory project led by Bristol based organisation Wildscreen, which ran from 2008-2012, sits alongside production papers and stills collected by Jeffery Boswall (1931-2012), a Producer for the BBC Natural History Unit. Recordings from industry symposiums and festivals capture debates on issues of conservation and climate change, and the moral responsibilities of wildlife film-makers.

Other unique highlights include a 1965 film of an expedition by John Hurrell Crook to the High Simien in Ethiopia to observe Gelada Baboons, produced by the University of Bristol’s Psychology Department, in collaboration with the BBC’s Natural History Unit. An intriguing experiment with decoy gull heads is among a collection of films from renowned ethologist Niko Tinbergen (1907-1988). There’s also footage of an early experiment in High Definition filming made in 1987 at Morecambe Bay.

In addition, oral history interviews with 60 industry pioneers have been digitised from their video master tapes to the latest digital preservation standards.

Further information about the archive is available online at


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