February 8, 2018
Arizona State University researcher Kevin Langergraber knows nearly 200 chimpanzees of the Ngogo community by sight and by name — Jackson, the alpha male; Marlene, the oldest female; and Morton, a particularly aggressive adult male.
Langergraber began learning about the Ngogo chimpanzees in 2001 as a graduate student. Now a research affiliate with the Institute of Human Origins and assistant professor with the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Langergraber codirects the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project, a long-term study of the Ngogo chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda.
Marlene, the oldest female in the Ngogo chimpanzee community. Image by Kevin Langergraber
Along with project founders David Watts (Yale University) and John Mitani (University of Michigan), Langergraber is featured in a documentary about the Ngogo chimpanzees and the researchers who have studied them for the last 25 years. "Rise of the Warrior Apes" will be screened at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Marston Theater on ASU's Tempe campus.
Langergraber has had experience working with wildlife film crews before, including for BBC’s "Planet Earth" series. "Rise of the Warrior Apes," however, is very different from most wildlife films.
“Film crews typically come out to Ngogo for a few weeks to film generic chimpanzee behavior — they want to get footage of them grooming one another, hunting monkeys or going on territorial boundary patrols in search for chimpanzees from neighboring groups — just chimps doing chimp things,” Langergraber said.
But the director of "Warrior Apes," James Reed, was specifically interested in telling the stories of individual chimpanzees and the researchers who have studied them since 1993.
“Watching chimpanzees is like watching a soap opera,” Reed said. “At dinner we gossip about who did what with whom that day and what we think will happen to so-and-so in the future. This film is great not only because it tells some of these really interesting stories about individual chimps, but also because it gives some insight into the experiences of the humans who have been studying them for so many years.”
In contrast to other wildlife films, much of the footage in the film was taken by the Ngogo researchers themselves over the last 25 years, rather than by visiting professional camera crews.
Langergraber credits this unique perspective as the main reason "Rise of the Warrior Apes" was recently awarded “Best Animal Behavior Film” at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, besting large budget productions such as BBC’s Planet Earth II series.