Once upon a time, we thought the idea of primates acting like humans was the stuff of PG Tips adverts and not a great deal else.
Today, though, animal experts are discovering more and more behaviours which seem to echo those of our own – as we find out in this fascinating three-part series which follows zoologist Dr George McGavin as he gets up-close and personal with some of the world’s most fascinating primate species.
But it’s not all monkey business – George has a serious point to make about our ancestry. He explains, “We – that is monkeys, lemurs and apes – are all primates, and I want to introduce you to this amazing animal family, to meet some relatives you never even knew you had.”
He’s hoping to learn a bit more about the reasons behind the extended family’s successes: what is it that makes them so special? It looks like the secrets could lie in a number of areas, from their ingenious survival tactics and extraordinary physical adaptations to the fascinating familial structures which seem to echo our own in a number of uncanny ways – not to mention their highly intelligent, flexible minds which demonstrate that the smartest primates are actually more like us than you’d ever think possible.
George’s journey takes him from the snowy mountains of Japan to the blistering, windswept savannah of South Africa – a fact which in itself proves how successful and adaptable the various species really are. From the ninja tarsier, a spring-loaded ambush predator the size of a tennis ball, to the magnificent herds of geladas in the mountains of Ethiopia, primates have evolved and adapted to suit environments far and wide.
As he learns more, George finds a number of parallels between us and our primate cousins, and manages to capture some behaviours which have never before been caught on camera. He kicks things off in the first episode in the jungles of Borneo, where he meets a wild-living orang-utan by the name of Siswi who has learned to use all manner of human inventions to make her life better – using soap to wash herself, doodling with a pen and paper to pass the time, and even untying a moored boat and paddling it out into the river.
And in the numbing cold of the Japanese Alps, George finds macaques who huddle together in trees to share their warmth, and heading 100 metres underground to a secluded monkey dormitory.
MONKEY PLANET, BBC1, Wednesday 9pm