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Martin Clunes: 'I couldn't eat a bear for the sake of good TV!'

They say you’re either a dog or a cat person. Well, Martin Clunes is both. He’s also partial to horses, lemurs and manta rays – and he’s made documentaries on all of the above.

Whether he’s rescuing big cats in Africa or at home on his farm in Dorset, the 53-year-old actor is at his happiest when surrounded by animals. Martin is about to return with a new two-part ITV documentary Man & Beast (Friday, May 15), exploring the bond between humankind and the animal kingdom...

Have you always had an interest in animals?

“I’ve always been interested in how we relate to animals and the cultural contradictions around the world within those relationships. For example, I breed cattle for beef on my farm, but in Nepal the cow is sacred and they lead the greatest lives. I visited one family there that feeds their cows chapattis every morning!

“Cows are more than a source of milk for households there as they use their urine as a pesticide for crops and every other house is powered by their poo!”

In the programme you meet a Japanese bear hunter, how did you feel about that?

“I couldn’t get my head around it. They live a kind of shamanistic life up there, with God and the mountain, and killing a bear is seen as a sort of sacred ritual. It’s so far away from my life experience.”

Did you eat any bear?

 “I thought I’d be OK with it because I eat the lambs that I bottle-feed on my farm, I’m grown up about that, but I didn’t want to eat a bear for the sake of ‘good television.’ It just seemed wrong."

But you farm cattle for beef and lamb...

“I understand that’s a contradiction because I send cattle and lamb off to slaughter, but that’s the deal I have with some of my animals. I’ll do my best by them and they will have the greatest short lives.”

You are fond of most animals, but are there any you don’t like?

“Snakes! I just can’t warm to them. I didn’t like seeing the snake charming in Nepal, it’s not that charming at all! What I didn’t know beforehand is that the snake isn’t reacting to charmer’s music; it’s deaf, so it’s probably rigid with fear.”

Do you think animals are generally good for us?

“We need to be around them more; it’s ridiculous to live in isolation. It’s proven that dogs in the workplace lower blood pressure – they’re good for us!

"We’ve got a long way to go when it comes to animal welfare, though, and certainly our relationship with wild animals, but I’d love it if people just got out there and discovered what makes an animal tick because there’s nothing more fulfilling.”