In a scathing open letter addressed to the duo, Packham, 62, criticised the comedians and show bosses at ITV for the alleged mistreatment of animals on the survivalist reality series, now in its 23rd season.
“I’m a Celeb remains a grotesque blob on the reputations of both yourselves and ITV,” the English naturalist wrote in a message posted on X/Twitter. “Its continued exploitation of animals for entertainment is an anachronistic embarrassment and betrays a dangerous disconnect between a world increasingly concerned with an environmental crisis.”
Packham, who is president of the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), added that he was writing to Ant and Dec – full names Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly – in his personal capacity.
“But I can tell you that last year, [the animal welfare] charity received 17,000 complaints about your wilful abuse of animals and the reinforcement of negative stereotypes,” he continued.
Packham explained that shows such as I’m a Celeb – which has repeatedly been criticised for its use of animals such as snakes, insects, and reptiles – “recklessly countermands” the need for “essential action” to protect the world’s wildlife species for the sake of entertainment and humour.
Directly addressing Dec, 48, he wrote: “In 2019, I asked you to please think about how your daughter will perceive your actions as she grows into a world increasingly devoid of wildlife. What did she say?
“What is she saying now, aware I’m sure that her future is seriously imperilled by climate breakdown and biodiversity loss?”
He highlighted that, while I’m a Celeb is a lucrative opportunity for all its various stakeholders, recent viewing figures might be a sign that audiences “need a change of format”.
Viewing figures for the 2023 season premiere plummeted to 7.8 million from a peak of 10.2 million people, who watched the launch episode last year.
Urging Ant and Dec to “read the writing on the wall”, Packham continued: “The cruel exploitation of wildlife for gratuitous entertainment on your programme continues to damage the great reputation of the UK as a ‘nation of animal lovers’.”
He concluded his letter with a list of recommendations for the show and its presenters. These include introducing an “educational component” about wildlife conservation from the 2024 season of I’m a Celeb, donating a portion of the profits to conservation efforts, and that Ant and Dec will “agree to be ambassadors and influencers for prominent wildlife charities”.
In response, a spokesperson for I’m a Celeb told The Independent: “We are always fully transparent about our protocols and we have a very strict environmental plan in place on the show.
As a production, we comply with all regional and national laws concerning the use of insects, animals and reptiles.
Welfare and safety is always the primary priority on any of our programmes, and at any Bushtucker trial that features animals, we have qualified and experienced animal handlers on site at all times.
We inform the RSPCA NSW of all of our activities on the show and they have an open invitation to attend the site at any time.
We cannot stress enough that we have rigorous protocols in place to ensure that animals are handled safely at all times, before, during and after any filming has taken place, in compliance with all regional and national laws.”
The Independent has approached representatives for Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly for comment.
Packham had not responded to the statement from ITV at the time of writing.