Thursday, May 23, 2024
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BBC is lost for words over elephant


A BBC Springwatch presenter, Gillian Burke, feels that calling wild African animals by their English names is ‘jarring’ and prefers to refer to them by their traditional Swahili monikers, as my colleague Margaret Ashworth observed yesterday. 

In response the BBC issued this memo to all presenters: ‘It has been brought to our attention that calling animals by their English names is no longer appropriate. Such names reflect outdated colonialist mores and do not reflect the values that the Corporation wishes to project. Presenters will be advised of the correct nomenclature by the BBC’s Animal Anti-Colonialist Diversity and Inclusivity Working Party. As an example elephant and lion must now be referred to by their Swahili names, Tembo and Simba.’

The BBC’s instruction caused dismay in the halls of the Indian High Commission. A spokesman complained: ‘It is completely unacceptable and an insult to the Indian people to call an elephant by an African name. It is just not cricket. Surely such a creature should be referred to by the Hindi name of Haathee. We object most strongly.’

The BBC quickly replied to the High Commission’s complaint. ‘The BBC humbly apologises to the people of India. We thank you for reminding us of the existence of the Asian elephant. We have instructed our World Service presenters to use the word Haathee when broadcasting to the sub-continent. The word will also be used by local BBC stations in Leicester, Preston and Blackburn. In other broadcasts the animal will be referred to as a Tembo-Haathee.’

This immediately drew fire from the leader of the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. ‘We are outraged. It cannot be right that the wonderful beast known to the world as the elephant should now be given a Swahili or Hindi name. The Zulu nation has historically had a close relationship with this animal and we demand that it should be referred to by its Bantu name of Indlovu.’

The BBC promptly apologised to the people of KwaZulu-Natal. ‘The Corporation regrets the offence it has inflicted on the people of the Zulu nation. It understands the hurt it has caused by omitting to include the word Indlovu when referring to the animal in question. Presenters have now been instructed to describe the animal formerly known as an elephant as a Tembo-Haathee-Indlovu.’

This apology was severely criticised by a representative from the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. ‘We are astonished that the BBC has disrespected the language of the people of Myanmar. The elephant, known by us as the Sain, is treasured by our nation and we demand that that the BBC takes note of our disgust.’

The BBC responded: ‘We are ashamed to admit that we did not take cognisance of the concerns of the citizens of Myanmar. We are now aware of the hurt this has caused and we have instructed our staff to refer to the elephant as a Tembo-Haathee-Indlovu-Sain.’

Sir David Attenborough is currently practising the correct pronunciation of Tembo-Haathee-Indlovu-Sain for his next climate propaganda nature programme.

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John Ellwood
John Ellwood
John is the father of four beautiful girls. He is, thankfully, not knowingly related to Tobias Ellwood. ‘My Dear Friends . . . ’ a compilation of many of John’s contributions to TCW Defending Freedom is available in paperback and on Kindle.

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