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Four films in a day!

Working with famous people is quite interesting. I mean sure, we aren’t filming Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts or anything, but to me, Dr. Birute Galdikas is somewhat of an icon. I’ve read her books and wanted to meet her for decades. But famous people are just like everyone else- full of opinions, have busy schedules, and they do things like share their coffee with wild orangutans.  I was a bit nervous around Dr. Birute at first because I wanted to sound like someone who knows about primates, has a passion for the subject, but isn’t too gushy and brown-nosey, or worse- come across as just one of “those film-maker types”. (Often film crews can come across as really pushy and so obsessed with their own agenda that they don’t exactly get the people they’re working with to warm to them).  But she was welcoming with us and we spent some time talking and I think we grew on her a little bit.

But it was definitely stressful.  She’s a pinnacle part of the film since we’re featuring “Leakey’s Angels” and she’s one of the two surviving ones, and so we had some complex sequences planned to film with her.  Now you might think having a cup of coffee with a world-famous scientist on her veranda in a National Park should be a simple thing to shoot- but not so!  We’d gotten rushed because Dr. Birute’s time with us got very much shortened by her busy schedule and then the day we did have to film with her in Camp Leakey, there was also a small Lithuanian film crew there trying to do a documentary on her as well. Now bear in mind, this didn’t phase Dr. Birute in the least, she’s made dozens of documentaries, and this isn’t even her first 3D film! Just last year they released “Born to Be Wild” a 3D IMAX movie about  Bornean orangutan and Kenyan elephant orphans. (I recommend it highly!)  But she did also point out that that 3D crew was huge and they were filming with her for a month. So once again, it reminded us that we’re trying to do a huge task with less people, less time, and less resources, so things do tend to get hectic.

Our filming with Dr. Birute was going really well, we did a beautiful but complicated sequence of me arriving in a boat and walking with her on the long boardwalk into the park. But that involved working around some wild orangutans who were irritated with us because we wanted to park our boat right where they were trying to bathe. Dr. Birute was shocked at how aggressive they were being- even with her.  All of this shooting was taking place in the midday sun, at about 100 degrees F, with almost 100% humidity, so I was bathed in sweat for most of it. (So I will NOT be looking fresh as a daisy in this film- no one will wonder whether or not I had a hair and makeup trailer- that’s for sure!) When it came time to film the ‘having tea on the veranda’ sequence, we were losing light fast, the 3D crew were trying to film as fast as they could, Mike was filming for the television series and also his “The Making Of’’ movie because lots of funny and annoying things were going on while we were filming, and the Lithuanians were also filming. So I’m not sure if it’s a world record or not, but in this one hour, 4 films were being made simultaneously of Dr. Birute!

The funniest thing was, Siswi of course had to be part of the action, and many other orangutans also like to gather close when Dr. Birute is there, so at any moment during filming, there was all sorts of orangutan action in the trees around us.  But Siswi has plonked herself right in front of us, and when Mark and Ben were trying to film on the dolly, she just kept grabbing the tripod and stopping it from moving back and forth!  So the rangers tried to lure her away with a sweet, milky cup of coffee. But that didn’t’ work because she slurped it down in a few seconds and went right back to being a key grip.  So then they decided to give her TWO cups of coffee at once, which did work because she wandered away to drink them. So we filmed for a few minutes, free of the extra hands on the tripod and dolly, but then the same irate wild female whose bath we’d interrupted, came down out of the tree and onto the porch and was kiss-squeaking with outrage at Dr. Birute for not giving HER a cup of coffee.  Meanwhile the standard slew of bush pigs were milling around hoping to get in on some snacks…Honestly, the whole thing was somewhat farcical.  For me, it was fun because I sat there chatting on the porch with Dr. Birute about her life, about the orangutans, and having a good laugh.  It felt a bit like I was sitting with St. Francis of Assisi, you know, the statue of the calm-placid saint, with all the animals just flocking to him… that’s how Dr. Birute is.  So whether or not that particular ‘tea on the veranda’ sequence ends up in the film, it’ll be a real GEM for the “Making Of”.

A few days later, when it was time to leave and head on to Sumatra, Dr. Birute gave us the most incredible compliment.  She said “I’m actually sad to see you guys go, and I NEVER say that to people”…. to which her assistant laughed and said “That’s true, she DOESN’T ever say that”.  And then Dr. Birute continued to Jeremy “you know, you guys said you were different to other film crews and I didn’t believe you, but you really ARE different, and it’s been a pleasure to have you.”  That was the most wonderful thing to hear. Now I just hope that our film will do justice to her character, her work, her orangutans and her legacy.

Holly meets Dr Birute Galdikas at Camp Leakey

Holly meets Dr Birute Galdikas at Camp Leakey

Filming can be quite boring and these guys made that clear

Filming can be quite boring and these guys made that clear

Filming from the boat

Filming from the boat

Holly looks at Tut and Thor through the dining room window

Holly looks at Tut and Thor through the dining room window

Yes you’re cute but you still can’t come in

Yes you're cute but you still cant come in

Tut and Thor would like to join us for Lunch 

Tut and Thor would like to join us for Lunch

Two orangutans watch the show 

Two orangutans watch the show

The new key grip lacks training 

The new key grip lacks training

The veranda scene with Siswi as key grip 

The veranda scene with Siswi as key grip

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Touched by an orangutan… and not with her teeth

We were wandering around Camp Leakey, looking for animals in trees to film, and just as we’d finished shooting a nice sequence and were going to carry our gear back to the boat we spotted a female with an infant quite far down the boardwalk.  I knelt down and started to photograph her with my long lens and the guys got the 3D camera in position to film her. We were hoping to get a cool ‘two shot’…or ‘three shot’ as it were since there were two orangutans and myself. As I sat there, she got closer and closer, we had a guide with us and he told us it was Akmad. This was so special for me because I remembered reading about Akmad and she’s one of my favorites from Dr. Birute Galdikas’ book Reflections of Eden so I was glad to even be seeing her on my visit. Akmad was the first ex-captive that Dr. Birute had rescued in 1971 and re-released to the wild and she is one of the oldest females there now, likely in her late 40’s or early 50’s. Dr. Birute described Akmad as a young orangutan this way: “Akmad was a lady. She had a gentle way about her. She never ran, she always walked. She never grabbed, she always reached. Even her squeal had a daintiness that the vocalizations of other orangutans lacked. How human she appeared, like an orange gnome, with her intelligent, quietly inquisitive face.”

As I sat on the boardwalk and she approached, she just started to walk right up to me. (Now at this point, I did not know what was happening to Jeremy with Siswi in another part of camp, and I’d only seen very docile orangutans here, but was still wary of getting too close to them).

Mark and Ben assured me they’d seen her earlier and she’d walked right up to them and gently touched their legs, so they told me to stay where I was (the camera had a beautiful view of us).  So I did, and she got so close to me that in any other situation I would have moved away, but there was nowhere for me to go. At the very least I looked away as you do with the gorillas or chimps, so as not to threaten them.  But orangutans are different, they don’t mind eye contact, and if anything they seem to want to look into your eyes so that they can make a decision about who and what kind of person you are. Ben whispered for me to look at her, assuring me that it was okay.   When I did I could see her tiny infant (one of the littlest we’d seen so far) just peeking around her at me. They were both leaning towards me, Akmad looking right at my face as if she was trying to smell my breath. She was so close to me that I could have turned my head and kissed her without moving my body! (Which of course, I DID NOT do). They stayed like that for a moment and then walked past the camera and down the boardwalk. 

What an incredible experience, Akmad had basically just greeted me and moved on. It’s a moment I won’t ever forget… and that you will get to see if you go watch The Last of the Great Apes.

Akmad and her infant approach at Camp Leakey

Akmad and her infant approach at Camp Leakey

Akmad and her infant come closer

Akmad and her infant come closer

and closer still

and closer still

Beautiful old Akmad 

Beautiful old Akmad

holding hands

Holding hands

juvenile plays in the reeds 

Juvenile plays in the reeds

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Jeremy takes one for the team

Siswe, as it turns out is spelled Siswi.  And another fact I got wrong in the first Camp Leakey blog, is that Siswi is not a wild-born ex-captive, she’s in fact totally wild, born in the wild, but her mother was an ex-captive that used to come to Camp Leakey and bring her along, so Siswi growing up with a familiarity of humans, and at some point decided she’d rather spend lots of time in Camp, than in the forest. I’m telling you this because it’s relevant to this next story. You see, as you wander around Camp Leakey, with animals everywhere you look, it’s easy to become complacent, to drop your guard, and to forget these are wild animals. I mean, Siswi was playing in a rain poncho for 15 minutes for crying out loud!  What I didn’t tell you about that was that when Mike and I filmed Siswi performing this way, Jeremy was quite stressed about the 3D team getting the shots they needed, and he just didn’t want to stop and watch her and it was clear that he wasn’t interested.  And she very much noticed this. Honestly, you can watch that animal for just a short time to know that she is perceptive and she really does get annoyed if you are not making her the center of your attention. And I’ve been told by various people who work with orangutans- they hold grudges.

Much later in the day we’d been filming out by where the boat docks, and Jeremy headed back to Camp to let Craig know we were going to have lunch on the boat, and he walked back along the boardwalks on his own instead of taking one of the guides. He saw Siswi on the boardwalk and went to walk past her. (This in itself shows the level of complacency we’d gotten to, because you’d NEVER try that with any of the other great apes, but these guys are just so docile, you sort of forget the basics of primate manners: never supplant a dominant animal (i.e. you don’t move an animal out of it’s place by advancing on it, you wait for it to move off). So Siswi grabbed Jeremy’s hand. He thought that was sweet and he held her hand for a second, but if I know Jeremy it was with an air of (“oh Siswi this is lovely, but I really need to walk a long distance just to tell Craig that it’s lunch time and we have so much to do today!”) And after just a second of holding hands she bit his calf-  HARD -  and didn’t let go.  At first he thought she’d stop, but she didn’t let go so he started screaming for help. After an entire minute some rangers came running, and just their advancing presence shooed her off.  Jeremy was fine, thankfully the teeth hadn’t pierced the fabric of his pants but he was bruised and the skin abraded from the force.

He arrived back at the boat and calmly told us what happened and was quite stoic about the whole thing, you know, no big deal, as if you get bitten by wild orangutans all the time.  It was a pretty nasty looking wound and I was shocked and asked him to replay every detail, how he approached her, how he moved, trying to assess WHY she did it. And I found myself trying to think through her thoughts sometimes from a basic primate behavior perspective (supplanting, feeling threatened on the narrow dock, etc.) but the fact that she gently held his hand first was really throwing me off. And I couldn’t help but feel it was something else. Why him? Why now? We’d all been around her a lot, why on the boardwalk?  But when I told Dr. Birute about it, I said that I had this crazy anthropomorphic theory that because she seemed to really thrive on attention, and he’d been clearly dismissive of her antics earlier in the day, that she somehow didn’t like him for it and was lashing out. She asked a few questions and had me describe how he wasn’t interested in us filming her (which he was expressing verbally and of course non-verbally with body language) and then she asked a bit more detail about when she bit him and when Dr. Birute heard she was alone on the boardwalk with none of the (dominant) Indonesian rangers around, she said she thought I was absolutely right, that she was annoyed with him from earlier and was just expressing that. Although she added that the bite probably wasn’t quite meant to be as damaging as it turned out, Dr. Birute felt that it was a ‘gnaw’ rather than a bite, something orangutans do to one another that doesn’t hurt and pointed out that she didn’t even break the skin- whereas what’s she’s capable of would have ripped his calf muscle off.   She reiterated that these are wild animals, and bites happen and that it’s something to be aware of… 

Siswi relaxes on the boardwalk

Siswi relaxes on the boardwalk

When we need to pass, our guides shoo off Siswi and she gets down and wades in the swamp

Siswi wades in the swamp

This is just a harmless yawn, but Jeremy experienced a less adorable moment with those teeth

a harmless yawn but Jeremy sees another view

Good thing Siswi only gnawed on Jeremy, a real bite could have been worse

orangutan gnaw, not a bite

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Orangutan in a bag

Many of us have seen funny behaviors from apes in zoos, and they’re doing it because they’re bored out of their minds, and giving them toys and foreign objects to play with is a form of enrichment. But here at Camp Leakey in Borneo, these orangutans are wild-born EX-captive animals that have been rehabilitated and released into a protected forest. So they can spend as much time as they want in the forest, but choose to be around humans for entertainment occasionally.

So when we arrived outside the main dining room building at Camp Leakey today, Siswi arrived shortly thereafter. (Many of the orangutans here will similarly head thru the forest to the long boardwalks leading to the boat docks to see the visitors when they arrive, once that excitement is over they tend to go back to feeding and other ‘wild’ behaviors in the forest.)  She was sitting there watching us, but because we were prepping to film, we soon had our attention elsewhere. Then I saw her wander into an outdoor cooking area, so Mike and I returned to take photos of her, and she got into seemingly one of her favorite positions- prostrate on her back, legs akimbo, but each hand holding a foot, completed with a totally relaxed upside-down look into our eyes. It looked like some sort of orange ape yoga pose. We photographed her a bit but then wandered off to go get the gear ready. Then Siswi decided to up the ante, so she grabbed a thin plastic rain poncho, walked around the front of the dining hall, and began putting it on, and playing around inside it. That was too good to resist, so we filmed that for a bit. She really seemed to enjoy just playing in it, sometimes getting entirely inside it and then rolling on the ground, sometimes poking her face through the arm holes. (The perfectionist humans of course were waiting for her to put it on ‘properly’ with her head poking out of the hood, so we kept waiting for that. But this was not a human, it was an orangutan playing with an article of clothing she’d seen humans wear, and often I had this feeling that her intentions oscillated between general enjoyment and manipulation of us through our reactions.) I was amazed again at how gentle she was, stretching and playing inside this thin film of plastic, but never destroying it, though I myself find it hard to get into those things without ruining them. She did her yoga pose inside the rain poncho and we eventually had to wander back to our preparations. We were off to film the orangutans at the feeding station.

The ex-captive now wild orangutans that live here in Tanjung Puting National Park need to have their diet augmented by a feeding station, but that’s because sadly, the acreage in the park does not provide enough wild food to support the hundreds of animals that have been released here. So each day at the same time, bananas and milk are brought to a platform in the forest and any orangutans in the area can come to eat. Seasonally, when fruits are more plentiful in the forest, attendance at these feedings is lower, showing that it may not necessarily affect their ‘wild’ behavior unless they need or want the food supplement. This feeding is also a great opportunity for tourists to see many orangutans together and interacting (which is quite rare in the wild for these mostly solitary apes).  Today the film crew and about 60 Indonesian visitors had come to see the spectacle!

Camp Leakey definitely makes for a unique tourist destination. There are not many places in the world where you’d have this kind of access to wild endangered animals. Unlike other parks where there are rangers there to protect the animals and keep the tourists to strict rules, here, there are only the ‘rangers’ hired by Dr. Birute at Camp Leakey, and for the most part they let the apes do as they please, and the visitors too for that matter. It’s all very laid back.

The purist in me struggled with the fact that I was coming into closer contact with these orangutans than I would if I were with wild apes in National Parks elsewhere. And there are wild orangutans in this park, but those rarely come to Camp Leakey. Wild apes that have never been captive, even when habituated to human presence for research or tourism, usually keep their distance and tend not to interact with people very often. For the wild-born ex-captive orangutans that frequent camp, I worried about their medical health, coming so close to humans. But I guess since they’ve been fostered by people for so many years, they’ve probably been exposed to our diseases and developed immunity to them, much like human children do.  And honestly, the animal-hugger in me was enjoying the prospect of having an orangutan just stroll past me and whether they decided to dress up in a poncho, or just walk very close to me, I knew it was because they chose to.  

Mike Dillon films Siswi and her poncho:

Mike Dillon films Siswi and her poncho

siswi and those meaningful looks

Siswi and those meaningful looks

Siswi in her poncho sleeve

Siswi in her poncho sleeve

Siswi plays inside a poncho

Siswi plays inside a poncho

Siswi looks to make sure we’re still interested

Siswi looks to make sure we're still interested

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More Photos from Camp Leakey

Power lounging

I can stand too

Mom and infant at the feeding station Camp Leakey

Bipedal orangutan at the feeding station

gibbon technically a lesser ape but not to me

gibbon hands

black handed gibbon

flying squirrel

respect the orangutans

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Camp Leakey photo grab bag

Perhaps some of you have noticed that my photos have gotten just a bit better, if so, thanks! But it’s because Craig brought his digital SLR camera with a nice long lens and he’s been letting me use it on this trip, so here’s some random photos of cool stuff from Borneo and Camp Leakey- enjoy!

a wildlife wonderland

I can't help but think of Jungle Book

and you thought gorillas were cool

and the back view

who knew 5 hours a day in a boat would be so nice

Ben and Mark filming from a boat

long tailed macaque

Popeye is one big Bornean boy

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Camp Leakey

It was great to see the crew again, even though it was 5 am at the Melbourne airport. We arrived near Tanjung Puting National Park about two days after setting off. The travel was pretty seamless and again, miraculously, our 57 cases made it too!

Already, I’m amazed at how wonderful Indonesia is! I mean, I knew that this trip would be fun, and I was excited to see wild orangutans for the first time, but it’s as if I didn’t know just HOW cool it would be.  The people here are so friendly, always smiling, helpful and they treat you very casually as if you are an old friend.  To get to Rimba Lodge, which is outside the park we took a two-hour boat ride in one of the common Klotok boats which are essentially double-decker live-aboard river boats that pleasantly chug up the river.  The lodge lies on the Sekonyer River, built on stilts with boardwalks connecting the buildings, right in the middle of essentially a swamp forest. It’s beautiful and had me in love right away because as we unloaded our gear I heard the distinct rustle of monkeys in the trees and a belch-like call- it was a group of proboscis monkeys just a few feet from me! These monkeys are pretty funny, the females have snooty little noses but the male has pretty much a phallus hanging from his face, but their fur looked soft as a rabbit’s, in colors of beautiful contrasting white, peachy orange and soft grey.

The next day we headed another two hours upriver to Camp Leakey. I was so excited to meet Dr. Birute Galdikas. What a unique lady! She’s one of the world’s most well-known primatologists because of her pioneering research on Bornean orangutans and her rehabilitation of hundreds of wild-born ex-captive individuals, many of whom now live free in Tanjung Puting National Park.  She started this place over 40 years ago.  Camp Leakey is named after Louis Leakey the paleoanthropologist who had the foresight to send three ‘untrained’ women to remote parts of the world to study our living cousins. He felt that being female and having a ‘fresh’ take on observations of these animals could lead us to a better understanding of not only the great apes, but ourselves, and he was so right! They’ve been called “Leakey’s angels”- Birute, Jane Goodall, and Dian Fossey, and each of them has left an indelible mark on primatology, anthropology and great ape conservation.

Dr. Birute (as she likes to be called) was a soft-spoken woman, had a very calm and peaceful demeanor, and invited us into the dining room and immediately began chatting with Jeremy and I.  We talked about everything from filmmaking to politics, to Louis Leakey and her Baltic roots, and of course the sad state of affairs with palm oil plantations and how global demand is causing the demise of her precious apes! I wanted to hear every word she said, but right outside Siswe, a wild-born ex- captive female orangutan of surprising size and stature, and self-appointed camp ambassador, strolled up and wanted to greet us, or better yet- join us for lunch.  When she didn’t get the attention she wanted, she climbed the fenced windows and looked in!  I was so torn, having never seen a wild orangutan! I knew we’d get to see them here, but I didn’t know it would be this closely and within 10 minutes of walking into camp! As if to steal the limelight from Dr. Birute, she sat outside and started building a hat of leaves and throwing it on top of her head to shade her from the sun. (It is oppressively hot and humid here, the sweat drips down your face so much that your eyes burn from all the salt as if you’ve been swimming in the ocean- we’ve all been walking around red-eyed…)

As if a rotund red ape wasn’t fabulous enough, right outside the building, huge wild bush pigs with their piglets walked around camp as if they owned the place.  Then an Asian civet strolled through the yard, just as a wild gibbon came to the kitchen and hung by his impossibly long arms, staring in at our lunch!  I asked if he was a rehabilitant also, and Dr. Birute explained that Boswell was a wild-born gibbon, but his mother had been an ex-captive release that mated with a wild gibbon but then kept returning to Camp Leaky and bringing her son with her. So here was Boswell, a wild black-handed gibbon, just a few feet from my face, a gift to see one these guys so close because they’d usually be brachiating across the tree canopy in a blur of black. I hadn’t been there an hour, and it felt like being in the world’s most special zoo where the animals wander around freely and you get dizzy from swinging around trying to photograph them all.

Dr. Birute had a few special guests from Lithuania there visiting so we all went to her veranda and of course Siswe followed and managed to steal a few mangoes from inside her house (she’s very smart and hard to keep out of the buildings, and also I think she doesn’t have to try that hard to get Dr. Birute or the rangers to give her the fruit, as she’s clearly a camp favorite).  As she lay outside eating her mangoes, you could see many of the other orangutans approaching in the trees but keeping a safe distance from her as she’s absolutely the alpha female at Camp Leakey.  A cheeky juvenile walked right up onto the deck and took a mango she’d set down and she didn’t even bat an eye. Dr. Birute explained that Siswe’s incredibly tolerant of juveniles, despite the fact that the other adult females were clearly afraid of her and gave her a wide berth.

We were snapping photos and filming orangutans in trees and the wild bush piglets trying to steal mangoes from Siswe, and having a ball, totally distracted by the cool animal life all around us, but we’d foolishly set some of our stuff down. Siswe grabbed an umbrella before we realized it.  Immediately one of the rangers tried to take it away from her but she was having none of it- she tried to beat him with it and then when he got hold of it, she played tug-of-war with him and won. (Duh, they have the strength of five men!)  Then she proceeded to gently open it and hold it over her head as she ate her mango. Then she’d close it, and open it, close it and open it, all to the delight of the Lithuanians and our film crew! She was so funny, full of personality, and a whole lot of attitude (but with the slow, calm, calculating orangutan- sort of way). But then the head ranger strolled up and went to take the umbrella from her, and she instantly handed it over, and seemed almost penitent, as if she’d been a ‘bad girl’ and knew it. It was amazing how differently she responded to this man, who was clearly the alpha among the human rangers!

A pleasant boat ride to Camp Leakey, Borneo. (Photo by Craig Carter)

A pleasant boat ride, even when it rained

Dr. Birute and Mr. Jeremy (Photo by Holly Carroll)

Dr. Birute and Mr. Jeremy

Siswe the self-appointed ambassador of Camp Leakey (Photo by Holly Carroll

Siswe the Camp Leakey ambassador

Sisw builds a leaf hat (Photo by Holly Carroll)

Siswe builds a leaf hat

…proud of her sun hat (Photo by Holly Carroll)

Proud of her sun hat

No one likes to get wet while eating their mango. (Photo by Holly Carroll)

No one likes to get wet while eating mango

Orangutan foot and cutest big toe I’ve ever seen (Photo by Holly Carroll)

Orangutan foot

 …not so different from ours (Photo by Holly Carroll).

Orangutan hand

the handsome and anatomically correct black-handed gibbon (Photo by Holly Carroll)

The handsome black-handed gibbon

Am I the only one that thinks bush piglets are adorable? (Photo by Holly Carroll)

Bush piglet

Orangutan mother and infant (Photo by Holly Carroll)

Orangutan mother and infant

“I got the mango! I got the mango!” (Photo by Holly Carroll)

Triumphant bushpiglet steals a mango Photo by Holly Carroll

I see you up there (Photo by Holly Carroll)

I see you up there Photo by Holly Carroll

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Off to Indonesia to film the orange apes!

So after what felt like a very brief break, we are starting shoot two in Borneo. I’m pretty excited about this as I’ll get to meet one of Louis Leakey’s other famous primatologist women- Dr. Birute Galdikas. She’s been working with orang utans in Borneo about as long as Jane Goodall was in Gombe.  After that we’ll travel to Sumatra to meet Ian Singleton who is fighting to save wild Sumatran orang utans.

Then we head to Kyoto where Dr. Matsuzawa works with one of the smartest apes in the world- a chimpanzee named Ai who can memorize sequences of numbers better than many humans! This trip will be very different from Africa and among other things, I’m looking forward to lots of noodles!  Stay tuned for updates when I get there….

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Jane’s House

Now normally, it’s not recommended that you swim in fresh water in Africa because hippos and crocodiles are a serious hazard. But we were told this area of Lake Tanganyika was free from those animals.  Which was good because it was SO hot in this part of western Tanzania that we’d spend much of the day sweating profusely, and the water was so perfectly cool and clean that to swim in there was irresistible.

But the very first day that Ben enjoyed a long morning swim, he saw a weird object only 50 meters in front of him. Not yet wearing his contacts and being unfamiliar with the shape, he watched it for a while, and could still hardly believe his eyes when a hippopotamus slowly emerged from the lake, walked across the narrow strip of beach and disappeared into the forest! Needless to say, Ben vacated the water very swiftly and did not swim again that day. We were all then assured by Anton that Ben’s sighting must have been the ‘once-per-year’ hippo  and it would be perfectly safe for us to continue to bathe in the lake….

We had a wonderful and challenging few days of filming. Because the chimps were feeding on these tiny delicious berries called ‘monkey fruits’, they were very widely dispersed throughout the park. We were treated to much vigorous hiking but rewarded with some stellar chimpanzee moments. We’d gone from thinking we’d never get good footage, to getting some really beautiful sequences including fishing for termites!!  But the highlight for me was filming at Jane’s house. It’s an incredibly humble home, nestled right in the forest just a few feet from the beach. It, like all the houses, has caged windows so the baboons and chimps can’t get inside. But it was filled with stacks of old books, bones, beach rocks, and other curious finds, that Jane and other researchers had accumulated over the years. To be there felt so special, and weirdly reverent, and the whole crew could feel it. We filmed a little sequence of me visiting the house and just as we finished, Ferdinand, the dominant male chimp in the community strolled right past the house! He didn’t seem particularly interested in us, just passing along the trail and going off into the forest. The sun was nearly setting, I was in the home of one of my all-time heroes, the cameras were rolling, and a chimp chose that moment to visit, and I thought: what did I ever do to get THIS lucky?!

The guys were definitely riding the high of such a great afternoon of filming, and we joked around on the beach as we waited for ideal light for the final shot of me walking down the beach at sunset. I was so grateful that after being together nearly every waking minute of 70 days, running back and forth across Africa, thru fun times and some pretty tough times, we were not only still talking to one another, but joking around, laughing and generally enjoying this lovely little crew of ours. These guys had so graciously put up with my idiosyncracies (and each other’s) like true gentleman! As the sun set that night on Lake Tanganyika, it was also setting on this first film shoot. We’d done it! Our little crew of seven had filmed each of the African apes in the wild in 3D! And though we have a long way to go to finish this film, we can congratulate ourselves on being the first team to do it!

Ben swims in Lake Tanganyika and then 50 meters away a hippo gets out of the water and walks up the beach and Ben nearly s#@ts himself. (Photo by Mike Dillon).

Ben swims in beautiful lake Tanganyika

Mark and Stu luxuriate in the lake after a long day of filming, hippos be damned (Photo by Ben Cunningham)

Mark and Stu in lake Tanganyika

Holly at Jane Goodall’s house in Gombe National Park (Mike Dillon).

Holly in Jane Goodall's house, Gombe

Sometimes the chimps like to visit Jane’s house, this one just happened to be the highest ranking male in the community, Ferdinand. (Photo by Mike Dillon).

Ferdinand comes to Jane's house

Even after 70 days together in the field we’re still having a good time. I LOVE these guys! (Photo by Mike Dillon).

crew monkeys around waiting for sunset at gombe

A perfect ending to our first film shoot (Photo by Ben Cunningham).

Sunset on lake Tanganyika