‘We’ve all been to the zoo, but what happens when we’re not watching?’
With these words, narrator Olivia Colman introduced the first episode of Channel 4’s The Secret Life of the Zoo on Tuesday evening (February 2) in an animal version of ‘Big Brother’ centred on Chester Zoo.
The series was filmed over 10 months offering a behind-the-scenes look at some of the zoo’s 20,000 animals and their relationship with the 86 keepers.
“Every animal has got some sort of personality,” said one female keeper, hitting on a theme pursued by the film-makers.
Keeper Kirsten commented: “The more time I spend working with animals, the more it teaches me about humans.”
Highlights included the birth of Nandita, a baby elephant compared to ‘a naughty toddler’, with viewers given an insight into the rivalry exhibited by two-year-old Hari and the awkward reaction of Nandita’s father on their first meeting.
And the cameras got close to a group of chimpanzees as alpha male Dylan faced down Eric the chimp, the would-be pretender to the role of leader.
But their keeper Niall is clearly a fan. “If you compare chimps to humans, give me chimps any day,” he said in deadpan tone.
The ever popular meerkats featured but keeper Kirsten offered a different perspective to their cute image as portrayed on TV. “The meerkats are the dirt of the zoo world,” she joked.
A family of endangered red pandas had a starring role with female Nima compared with a bossy wife and her male partner Jung in the role of henpecked husband.
There was a sad moment for Hannah, the keeper in charge of the otters, when she had to say goodbye to aging pair Robbie and Daisy after five years.
But there is a happy ending to this story after Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre later revealed they had stepped in to provide ‘a retirement home’.
The centre later posted: “As described in the show they all have real character, and we promise they have not got too big for their boots now that they are famous!”
The six-part series has been made using a range of filming techniques to capture animals’ behaviour in intimate detail. Next Tuesday’s episode promises the tigers moving house, a tarantula risks his life to mate and orphan bears arrive at the zoo.