“More than sixty years ago, in September 1954, I started studying Biology in Utrecht, together with 26 others. Of course I joined the UBV, which was as obvious for me as studying biology.
Born in 1936 and raised in Burger’s Zoo, a popular zoo in Arnhem, the Netherlands. The zoo was, now more than a 100 years ago, set up by my grandfather Jan Burgers and was later managed by my parents. My parents were able to make it through the rough periode in 1944, a time which is known as the ‘Slag om Arnhem’ and the following evacuation months.
So, I grew up among animals and my interest in their behaviour was awoken right then and there. It was a chance in a lifetime that I would be able to finish my studies under the supervision of later Nobel prize winner Niko Tinbergen in Oxford. Stimulated by reading ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’ by Charles Darwin, I wanted to do research on the facial expressions of primates. This couldn’t be done in Utrecht, however, at that time professor in Comparative Physiology Sven Dijkgraaf, made sure I had a place in Oxford.
Another opportunity was given to me in 1966. The US Air Force had a big institute in New-Mexico, where they conducted research in preparation of manned space missions. They had approximately a hundred chimpanzees, which they intended to maintain socially adequate. This was the research I partook in. Those valuable memories I gained led to the creation of a new chimpanzee colony in Burgers’ Zoo in 1971. This colony would become world famous by their contribution in research, mainly done by Dr. Frans de Waal, my first PhD student and later, post-doc.
The chimpanzee research would go on for many years, even after I was named professor at the department of Biology at UU. Behavioural research would expand to other primate species, such as long tailed macaques at the Uithof, but to other mammals as well, for example zebras and wolves mainly in Arnhem. Many students participated and a few promotions followed from this. Besides the research on social processes on animals in captivity, field research on socio-ecology was up and coming. Research took place in Indonesia, Kenia and Venezuela. A lot of students and a couple of promovendi looked at socio-ecological issues.
In 2001 this wonderful chapter was finished with my retirement. I was able to do some guest lectures in Zurich and Paris and fulfill many beautiful functions, such as General Secretary at the International Primatological Society. I look back with great satisfaction and hope that in my resting years I can still provide for the Utrecht biologists.”