Thanks To PBS Spy Robots, Animals Face New Challenge: Loss Of Privacy

As if animals don’t have enough problems, now we’re pranking them.

That’s one way of looking at this new five-episode “Nature” miniseries in which a variety of realistic robot animals with camera eyes were sent in among real-life animal families to film their most intimate moments.

Look! this series seems to be saying, We tricked these dumb animals into believing this robot is really one of their own! Watch as we use this device that they have accepted into their homes to spy on them!

Imagine that. You’re innocently going about your business, and all along there’s some sort of hidden technology tracking your every move. As human beings, we wouldn’t stand for this, would we?



Of course not. But for some reason, it’s OK to subject unsuspecting animals to this kind of surveillance. And then, to make matters worse, we then gloat about how clever we are for fooling them. Well, it’s not that tricky to fool an animal. Anyone knows this who has ever had a dog and faked throwing a ball. 

For this “Nature” miniseries -- subtitled “Spy in the Wild” and airing over the next five Wednesday nights -- 30 animatronic spy animals were deployed to locations as far-flung as Africa, India, Antarctica and the American West to infiltrate various animal packs and groups.

The animals include Nile crocodiles, African elephants and wild dogs, southeast Asian orangutans (the creature at left in the photo above is a robot spy), Indian langur monkeys, American prairie dogs, Antarctic Adélie penguins and many others. 

The spies include a baby spy langur, spy crocodile hatchlings and a spy wild dog pup -- all designed to exploit the high degree of mother love in the female of these species. Other robot spies include a spy tortoise and spy egret (both deployed among the elephant group for a ground-eye view of them), a spy cobra and a spy meerkat.

The show rationalizes these intrusions as aiding in the advancement of science. “What [the robots] discover will change our perception of animals forever,” says a narrator at the outset of the premiere episode. “Perhaps [the animals the robots are spying on] are more like us than we ever believed possible!”

To drive this point home, the first four of the five episodes each gets a subtitle of its own that reflects a trait more widely attributed to humans, beginning with “Love” -- in which various animals are seen making demonstrations of affection for mates and offspring -- “Intelligence” (Episode Two), “Friendship” (Episode Three) and “Bad Behavior” (Episode Four). Episode Five, titled “Meet the Spies,” explains how the furry (and feathery) robot spies were developed.

Certainly, the footage on view in these “Nature” episodes is among the best you will ever see of wildlife living their lives. These shows represent a high level of production quality that is so commonplace for this long-running series -- and, it should be said, a number of other nature specials and series that have come and gone in recent TV seasons -- that it’s easy to take these achievements for granted.

The current generation of up-close-and-personal nature shows have been made possible by advancements in video and audio recording technology -- i.e., smaller cameras that go everywhere, can be concealed anywhere and are capable of amazing high-definition clarity.

In fact, much of this “Nature” miniseries is made up of high-def footage that seems to have been collected by equipment other than the camera-equipped eyes of the show’s animatronic spies. 

In other words, in the premiere episode at least, there seems to be more footage shot by other means of the robots and their interactions with the animals than there is footage actually emanating from the robots’ own point of view.

It is worth noting that the robot animals are very impressive and very realistic. It is easy to see why the real animals were fooled by them. But with all the miniature technology available to nature videographers today, you can’t help but wonder if deploying these robot spies was really necessary.

But far be it for the TV Blog to stand in the way of technological advancement. It just seems a shame that in the interest of science, humans seem hellbent on pestering animals in order to learn about them -- shooting them with tranquilizer darts to affix bulky collars around their necks and staple tags to their ears, sending cameras into their midst disguised as cute pups and hatchlings, and other devious means.

Wanna do animals a big favor? The TV Blog has this suggestion: How about leaving them alone for a while?

“Spy in the Wild, a ‘Nature’ Miniseries” premieres Wednesday (Feb. 1) at 8 p.m. Eastern on PBS.

1 comment about "Thanks To PBS Spy Robots, Animals Face New Challenge: Loss Of Privacy".
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  1. Chuck Lantz from, network, February 1, 2017 at 2:13 p.m.

    I must disagree.  I think that the more we know about other species, the narrower the gap between "them" and "us" becomes, and the less likely we are to ignore programs and issues that protect them and their habitats. 

    To put it another way, maybe PBS could add a third bank of cameras, pointed at viewers at home, watching the Spy In the Wild series, and showing their increasing recognition of the importance of other life forms and families. 

    Yes, I know that sounds all tree-hugger-ish, but what the hell; ... sometimes trees just need a hug. 

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