Cambridge life sciences team take part in a new animal adventure series

Published: 11 June 2009 at 15:02

Experts at Anglia Ruskin University help TV presenter to get close to a troop of baboons

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A team of scientists from Anglia Ruskin University’s Department of Life Sciences - led by Animal Behaviour and Ecology expert Guy Norton - has helped with the filming of a four part series in Africa for Five, due for transmission beginning 21 June (8.00pm).

Among The Apes gets up close and personal to four of the best known primate species: Three apes; mountain gorillas, orang-utans, chimpanzees and baboons a monkey species living in the woody and grassy African habitats similar to the home of early man. 

As Director of the Animal Behaviour Research Unit (ABRU) in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania, Guy Norton, assisted the series presenter, the well known primatologist Charlotte Uhlenbroek, with her observations of baboons. These unique animals will be seen in the second programme in the series 28 June (8.00pm) in their natural habitat within the Mikumi National Park.

In the series Charlotte reveals the complex social and sexual dynamics of man’s closest evolutionary and ecological relatives. Her adventure was made possible through her working with those who live closest to the animals – the peoples, rangers and scientists on the ground. In the programmes, she is fully briefed by them, before making her own first, crucial approaches to the animals. Charlotte approached them closely to get an insight into their daily and personal lives. The series draw on Charlotte’s knowledge of living and working with these amazing animals.  Such familiarity with primates has been Charlotte’s life-long dream since her earliest chimpanzee studies in the forests of Gombe, Tanzania. 

Charlotte wore hidden body cameras and used a tiny hand held camera to record her experiences as they happened. Each programme unfolds Charlotte’s developing relationships with the animals in real time, with immediacy and closeness. Charlotte camped out in the African bush with the troop of baboons studied at ABRU and in other programmes; she built a nest in an attempt to sleep high in the jungle canopy like a chimpanzee, learned the ropes – quite literally – at a school for orphaned orang-utans, and foraged for food with mountain gorillas.

Guy Norton first met Charlotte in the 1980s when she was a school girl living with her UN employed parents in Tanzania. He said,

“We showed wild baboons up close to Charlotte even before she began her studies of chimpanzees at Gombe. Charlotte has an excellent knowledge of primates and a very real appreciation of the importance of long-term studies such as our work on baboons. Like Sir David Attenborough she understands the problems of conserving the habitats and populations of such species and how necessary behavioural and ecological work like ours is to further such conservation. I like to think that Charlotte’s early experience with our research might have helped inform her career. She is an excellent presenter and it was a pleasure to work alongside her on this filming project. I expect that this series will confirm her position as the potential successor to Sir David Attenborough.”

Anglia Ruskin University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Michael Thorne said:

“We are proud of the three decades of work that the team at ABRU have put into the study of baboons in Tanzania; and delighted that Guy Norton has helped to facilitate this very close contact between Charlotte and the baboons in their open countryside setting. It is expected that the series will yet again change the way we view primates in their natural world – and that we will all learn something from their behaviour along the way.”

The research and conservation activities of ABRU and the research activities of all staff contributes to the Animal and Environmental courses offered by the Department of Life Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University.   Subjects range from Animal Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation to Marine Biology and Natural History; and from Animal Welfare to Zoology.  For further information about these courses contact 0845 271 3333 or visit www.anglia.ac/lifesciences