Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: During the filming of the 1958 Disney nature documentary White Wilderness, the film crew induced lemmings into jumping off a cliff and into the sea in order to document their supposedly suicidal behavior.
Origins: Lemming suicide is fiction. Contrary to popular belief, lemmings do not periodically hurl themselves off of cliffs and into the sea. Cyclical explosions in population do occasionally induce lemmings to attempt to migrate to areas of lesser population density. When such a migration occurs, some lemmings die by falling over cliffs or drowning in lakes or rivers. These deaths are not deliberate "suicide" attempts, however, but accidental deaths resulting from the lemmings' venturing into unfamiliar territories and being crowded and pushed over dangerous ledges. In fact, when the competition for food, space, or mates becomes too intense, lemmings are much more likely to kill each other than to kill themselves.
Disney's White Wilderness was filmed in Alberta, Canada, which is not a native habitat for lemmings and has no outlet to the sea. Lemmings were imported for use in the film, purchased from Inuit children by the filmmakers. The Arctic rodents were placed on a snow-covered turntable and filmed from various angles to produce a "migration" sequence; afterwards, the helpless creatures were transported to a cliff overlooking a river and herded into the water. White Wilderness does not depict an actual lemming migration
Nine different photographers spent three years shooting and assembling footage for the various segments that comprise White Wilderness. It is not known whether Disney approved or knew about the activities of
Nature documentaries are notoriously difficult to film, as wild animals are not terribly cooperative. Many nature shows and films of this era
Last updated: 19 August 2007
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