Living with Apes in the Wild: Emily Otali and Lone Nielsen
The Ugandan woman who observes chimpanzees from dawn to sunset meets the Danish former air hostess who became a substitute 'mum' to 36 orphan orangutans in Borneo
Emily Otali is a primatologist from Uganda. She's been told that she's the first black African woman to earn a PhD in the subject. On an early field trip she broke the rules and made direct eye-contact with a female chimpanzee, but that was the moment she 'fell in love' and found her vocation. Emily's job now is to observe a community of chimpanzees in Uganda's Kibale National Park and study their behaviour from dawn to sunset, and from birth until death. She says there's a deeper purpose to the work:- "we also study them to understand ourselves: where we have come from and where we're going in the future." Emily gave up her social life in Kampala for a comparatively lonely, but beautiful, forest life. She's also living apart from one of her children who is at school in the city. Despite some initial misgivings her parents and family now support her career choice and she tells others to be sure to choose a job they love because "if you don't like it, you'll never be happy."
Lone Nielsen left behind a 10-year career as an air hostess and turned her habit of volunteering at a research project for orangutans in Borneo into her life's work. Lone is the founder of Nyaru Menteng Rescue Centre which now looks after around 600 orangutans who've been orphaned, displaced or mistreated. The aim of the Centre is to 'educate' the apes so they can return to the wild and start a new population. She describes how, for eight years, her own house on the Indonesian island was home to between 6 and 36 orphaned baby orangutans who needed through-the-night care either needing milk, their diapers changed, or comfort if their nightmares woke them. She says: "I became the substitute mother and I didn't get a lot of sleep at the time." In her time working with orangutans Lone says she's observed gender traits in their behaviour which are so similar to humans, "it's scary." She says male apes often "take the easy way out" and are less industrious than the females. Lone also talks about "the kindest soul I've ever met" - an orangutan called Alma whose death she describes as the hardest thing that ever happened to her.
Presenter: Kim Chakanetsa
Picture: Emily Otali with a chimpanzee (Left) Credit: Pamela Otali; and Lone Nielsen with an orangutan ((Right). BPI Björn Vaugn / Save the Orangutan