Netflix’s A Life On Our Planet: Why David Attenborough’s new documentary has brought so many viewers to tears

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Sir David Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet – now streaming on Netflix – has prompted an outpouring of emotion on Twitter

In his 94 years, Sir David Attenborough has visited every continent on the globe, documenting the living world in all its variety and wonder.

And, in Netflix’s A Life On Our Planet, he reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime as a naturalist – as well as the devastating changes he has witnessed in the world around him.

As ever, the documentary has proven itself urgent viewing, with thousands of people tuning in from across the globe.

Many, of course, have praised Attenborough’s latest TV project. Many, too, have thanked him for raising awareness of climate change.

But even more, it seems, have taken to Twitter to share their reactions to one particularly distressing scene.

We’re talking, of course, about the homeless orangutans of Borneo.

Netflix’s A Life On Our Planet: The deforestation of our rainforests is causing many orangutans to become homeless.
Netflix’s A Life On Our Planet: The deforestation of our rainforests is causing many orangutans to become homeless.

“Many of the millions of species in the forests exist in small numbers. Every single one has a critical role to play,” Attenborough explains in the clip, noting that over half of the world’s rainforests have been cleared to make room for oil palms – which equates to some three trillion trees.

“Orangutan mothers have to spend 10 years with their young, teaching them which fruits are worth eating. Without this training, they would not complete their role in dispersing seeds. 

“The future generations of many tree species would be at risk.”

Attenborough continues: “Tree diversity is the key to a rainforest. In a single small patch of tropical rainforest there could be 700 different species of tree, as many as there are in the whole of North America.

“And yet this,” he adds, as footage of homeless orangutans scouring bare, lifeless branches fills the screen, “is what we’ve been turning this dizzying diversity into.

“[It’s] a monoculture of oil palm, a habitat that is dead in comparison.”

Many viewers found themselves brought to tears by the footage, prompting an outpouring of emotion on social media.

“I couldn’t help but cry watching that beautiful orangutan walking around looking for somewhere to call home,” wrote one.

“Breaks my heart.”

Another, insisting the film will “make you cry,” added: “The deforestation of Borneo has reduced the population of orangutans by two-thirds. Literally a man-made disaster of global scale.”

Elsewhere, one person tweeted: “The deforestation scenes in A Life On Our Planet makes me fucking sob. Trees and plants are the coolest things on this planet. How dare we.”

While another said: “The scenes of his documentary, A Life On Our Planet is heartbreaking, showing orangutans frolicking and swinging through the rainforest in Borneo before, followed by no forest and a single orangutan struggling to clamor up a branchless tree trunk.”

“Just got to the part where the orangutan is climbing up the last remaining tree on David Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet, and man.. that made me CRY,” said one more.

And another noted: “If you’re watching David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet and not crying then either you’re dehydrated or a sociopath.

“In summary: The stats are alarming. We’re the reason the planet is a complete disaster.”

The response that best sums it up, though?

“Just watched David Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet and I’m lost for words. It is so unbelievably important that everyone watches this documentary and understands what has already happened, and what will happen, to our planet and our future generations if we don’t act now!!!”

For more information and advice on how you can help save the rainforest, visit the Rainforest Foundation’s website

A Life On Our Planet, which Sir David Attenborough intends to serve as his “witness statement”, is streaming on Netflix now.

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Images: Netflix

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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