She Walks with Apes

The epic story of three legendary women who fought to save the great apes — and inspired a generation
Available on CBC Gem

She Walks with Apes

Nature of Things

This is the epic story of three women who embarked on lifelong journeys to study and protect humanity’s closest living relatives: the great apes. That is, the other great apes. Humans are, after all, part of the same family. In fact, we share 96 per cent of our DNA with certain species due to sharing a common ancestor millions of years ago.

Our closest cousin is the chimpanzee, followed by the gorilla and finally by “the man of the forest,” as the majestic orangutan is called in Borneo. We share many behavioural habits and personality traits, yet half a century ago, we hardly knew anything about these great apes outside of what we’d seen in King Kong or Tarzan movies.

Birute Galdikas

A young Biruté Galdikas in Borneo

Three young women changed all that and much more: Jane Goodall, who left England to live with the chimpanzees of Tanzania and became one of the most famous scientists of our time; American Dian Fossey, who championed the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and, though she met a tragic end, made her cause legendary; and Canadian Biruté Galdikas, who went into the deepest jungles of Borneo to live among the orangutans. They came to be known as the Trimates, and were celebrated in National Geographic features and in films.

Each one crossed the line from pure science to passionate advocacy. And while their stories all began in isolation decades ago, their collective work served to open the world’s eyes to the wonder of the great apes, the crisis of their disappearing rainforest habitats and the state of the planet as a whole.

The Trimates also became powerful role models for a generation of young women around the world, many who were inspired to follow their lead as students, scientists and passionate defenders of our primate relatives. This documentary not only tells the story of the pioneering generation, but follows the adventures of three young women who were inspired by the Trimates to make the same choice to live with the great apes of Africa and Borneo.

Julia Badescu was a young immigrant girl in Calgary who dreamed of one day walking in the footsteps of the “badass women” she’d learned about who lived all alone in the jungle. After earning her doctorate in primatology, her dream came true. Today, she walks the hills of Uganda and lives among the chimpanzees.

Julia talks about how she dreamed of living in the forest with animals as a young girl.

Nadia Niyonizeye is a young Rwandan gorilla researcher who climbs up steep mountains every day into the world of the mountain gorillas. This was Dian Fossey’s world too, and, inspired by her example, Niyonizeye follows and studies the descendants of the primatologist’s beloved gorillas.


Nadia Niyonizeye studies descendants of Dian Fossey's moutain gorillas

Ruth Linsky grew up in Edmonton and was a self-described “rebel without a cause” until she discovered her passion in Borneo. Inspired by a primatology class taught by Biruté Galdikas, Linsky went to do volunteer work with Galdikas in the rainforest and has since become a scientist in her own right.

Louis Leakey selected three women to study the great apes, they inspire others today
Baby orangutans get a second chance at life at a Borneo orphanage
Biruté Galdikas is a famous primatologist that you’ve probably never heard of

She Walks with Apes, narrated by two-time Golden Globe winner, Canadian actress Sandra Ohis a visually stunning portrait of mysterious worlds, extraordinary creatures and passionate ideas. It’s also a film about determination, tragedy and redemption. We may think we know about the lives, work and lasting impact made by Goodall, Fossey and Galdakis, but this documentary lays out the whole epic story in a way no one has done before.