Anthropologists and biologists are members of the scientific community who spend much of their working lives among their subjects. There are others who we tend to think of as eccentrics who get great enjoyment and a feeling of family with otherwise ‘wild’ animals that they almost ‘go native’. Whatever the reason, these individuals experience something few of us can ever dream of – to inhabit the world of feral animals in their natural habitat.
George Adamson and Joy Adamson
Hands up anyone who remembers ‘Born Free’! Well it was based on the true story of George and Joy Adamson’s life as wildlife conservationists during the period where they looked after Elsa the orphaned lioness cub. For Swahili fans, George was known as the Father of Lions: ‘Baba Ya Simba’. Despite his devotion to wildlife and his good works both he and his wife died violently in separate murders in Kenya (1989 and 1980).
Last year saw Jane receiving the Treehugger Person of the Year award for her 50 years of studying chimpanzees and advocating habitat conservation. At the age of 26 she began her work in Tanzania and made some surprising discoveries including that: chimpanzees eat meat, they live in small troops and are intelligent enough to craft tools and use them. Today, Jane’s ‘Roots & Shoots’ scheme encourages over 150,000 children to participate in environmental projects.
As with Jane Goodall, Dian was chosen by renowned archaeologist S.B. Leakey to research great apes. Her work began in the 50s at Mount Mikenko, Congo with mountain gorillas. Dian became one of the foremost authorities on the species in Rwanda and her book, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ became an international best-seller and a film starring Sigourney Weaver. In 1985 she was murdered in the land where she had spent most of her life.
Author, journalist and scientist; Vanessa Woods is them all and more. Her fascination with chimpanzees and gentler cousins, the bonobos, has made her an authority on their comparative behaviours in the Congo. She is currently alive and well and working in Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
With a third bid for funding awarded to S.B. Leakey for his studies on primates, Dr. Birutė Galdikas, became his lead for the research on orang-utans in Borneo. Over the course of 40 years Birutė discovered the lengthy seven year break between females being pregnant, solid documentation on over 400 foods that constitute their diet and a breakdown of their social structures.
Together with associate Scott McVay, the pair logged over 100 whale research boat trips. His ‘benign research techniques’ are still used to this day but his most famous finding was discovering the haunting songs of humpback whales. Listen to some here.
Concluding my series of scientists who have lived for many years among animals is the most famous and most important of all; Charles Darwin. His five year sea voyage carried him to far off lands and famously included the Galapagos Islands. He added so many data to his ongoing work that it would eventually lead him to writing ‘On the Origin of Species’. This book, now in its 6th edition, is the bible for biologists and students interested in how the flora and fauna today have evolved from simpler forms. In 2009, the tome celebrated its 150th anniversary and was commemorated by documentaries that always tended to use pictures of him in his later years but not any showing him at the age at which he travelled.
Not all the people who live with animals are scientists. Some, like the three controversial individuals I cover next became involved with wild animals for pure enjoyment.
Grizzly bears are not cute and cuddly, nor deliberately dangerous but for 13 years, Treadwell would summer in Alaska alongside these ursine beasts and built up a rapport with them. Local officials, appalled with his techniques told him to stay away from the animals. In 2003 both he and his girlfriend were killed in a bear attack. A documentary was made about it called Grizzly Man.
Applying successfully for funding is often an infuriating undertaking. Joblon, the owner of a wildlife sanctuary in Florida took a big step to raise money by announcing his decision to live with a pair of lions in their enclosure. His attempt began in January and his aim is to reach $150,000.
‘As seen on TV’ goes the phrase, and Shaun Ellis is well known to viewers as ‘that man who lives with wolves‘. He lives with three wolves (orphaned as cubs) in the Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park in England and acts as the alpha male. Read more.
Forget Romulus and Remus, Tarzan and other fictional characters brought up by animals.
In 1999 the BBC ran a story about a six year old boy discovered in Uganda who had reportedly been brought up by African green monkeys. He had been abandoned at the age of two and, as implausible as it sounds, these monkeys taught Ssabunnya how to forage for food and to climb trees. The child, now 14 years old, is able to speak and sings in the Pearl of Africa’s children’s choir.
Guest blogger, Greg Coltman, writes prolifically about wildlife and the environment. He has a deep respect for anyone who shows the same level of respect to the planet’s flora and fauna. He’s interested in staying fit and well and enjoys learning as many healthy eating facts as possible.