Monday, July 22, 2002

BBC'S PRIMATOLOGIST CHARLOTTE UHLENBROEK

Intoxicating call of the wild
Tarzan babe... eco-friendly Lara Croft... giggler among the gorillas... just who is BBC nature girl Charlotte Uhlenbroek? ANNE SIMPSON investigates

...And where does Uhlenbroek find her spiritual nourishment? "Out in the wilds. During the last television series we were in some pretty wild places, but only for brief periods so, when filming was over, I took a month's holiday in Gombe just to see the chimps again and it was marvellously calming and replenishing."

Her affinity with these, her favourite of all creatures, was amusingly chronicled in BBC2's Chimpanzee Diary when Uhlenbroek was studying with the distinguished behavioural scientist Jane Goodall. Home then was a hut on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and from there Uhlenbroek would set out to record in detail the "soap opera" antics of chimp existence. In the second series, Cousins, she was jumped on by a 300lb adolescent chimpanzee, an episode she gamely explained as juvenile boisterousness. "In fact, it was a privilege to have been singled out as this young male's punch-bag."

Women comprise 62% of the world directory of primatologists, and 90% of primate sanctuaries are run by women. But Uhlenbroek is impatient with the subversive theory, touted by men, that those women drawn to primate research are suffering from maternal instinct displacement. "I can't agree that the idea of a baby substitute is the principle motivation for anyone in this line of work. The fact is it takes a long, long time to win an animal's confidence in order to observe it, and women are far more patient than men, who tend to want immediate results. But you just have to be prepared to become completely absorbed."...

Talking With Animals by Charlotte Uhlenbroek, based on her BBC1 series. Hodder and Stoughton, £18.99.