Hugo van Lawick

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Hugo van Lawick
Jesús Mosterín, Hugo van Lawick and Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente in Africa (1969).jpg
Jesús Mosterín, Hugo van Lawick and Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente in Africa 1969
Hugo Arndt Rodolf van Lawick

(1937-04-10)10 April 1937
Died2 June 2002(2002-06-02) (aged 65)
Jane Goodall
(m. 1964; div. 1974)

Theresa Rice
(m. 1978; div. 1984)

Hugo Arndt Rodolf, Baron van Lawick (10 April 1937 – 2 June 2002) was a Dutch wildlife filmmaker and photographer.

Through his still photographs and films, Van Lawick helped popularize the study of chimpanzees during his then-wife Jane Goodall's studies at Gombe Stream National Park during the 1960s and 1970s. His films drew the attention of the viewing public to the dramatic life cycles of several wild animals of the Serengeti, such as wild dogs, elephants, and lions.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Surabaya, then of Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) as the son of Baron Hugo Anne Victor Raoul van Lawick (11 August 1909 – 17 June 1941) and the former Isabella Sophia van Ittersum (11 February 1913 – 30 December 1977). His father was a pilot with the Dutch fleet, and upon his death while in service the Baroness moved Hugo and his brother first to Australia, then to England, where they lived successively, in London, Hull, and Devon. In the latter, Hugo was enrolled in boarding school, where he remained after his mother and brother moved to the Netherlands shortly after the end of World War II. In 1947, he joined them in Amersfoort.


In November 1959, Hugo went to Africa to pursue his passion of photographing and taking footage of wild animals, finding employment as a cameraman for a filmmaking couple. After a film he produced as the background to a lecture given by Louis Leakey was seen by a staff member at National Geographic, he was given a retainer for future work for the magazine.

On the recommendation of Leakey, in August 1962 he began photographing and filming chimpanzees of the Kasakela chimpanzee community at Gombe Stream National Park where Jane Goodall, Leakey's protégé, had been researching chimpanzees since July 1960. They married on 28 March 1964 in Chelsea Old Church, London and lived in Tanzania for many years, both at Gombe and elsewhere on other research projects. In 1967 they had a son Hugo Eric Louis, affectionately known as "Grub". They were divorced in 1974 but remained friends. On 23 March 1978, in Banjul, Gambia, Hugo married Theresa Rice. They were divorced 19 January 1984.

Through Hugo's film People of the Forest the world came to know members of Gombe's "F" family, namely Flo, Fifi, and Flint, in addition to a number of their other immediate relations. By the time he stopped filming at Gombe, he had created a visual record spanning over twenty years and documenting the lives of three generations of chimpanzees. Hugo made a number of wildlife documentaries for television, but also made several films for theatrical release on 35 mm film, such as The Leopard Son and Serengeti Symphony, both produced by Nature Conservation Films WW. Besides making films himself, Hugo was an important influence and mentor to a younger generation of wildlife filmmakers. His tented camp, Ndutu, in the Serengeti, became through his guidance a breeding ground for new wildlife film-makers.


Hugo van Lawick was the founder of Nature Conservation Films WW. For more than 30 years he lived and worked close to the grass of the African plains. He was part of the conservation structure of Tanzania and enjoyed complete access. Van Lawick can be seen as the writer of East Africa’s natural history, who recorded on film the diversity of natural resources that may never be seen again, through the eyes of an artist and with the accumulated knowledge, patience and precision of a scientist. In his films the animals tell their own story. The grace and perception of his extraordinary films led to eight Emmy Awards and numerous other prizes. Van Lawick was exceptionally dedicated to his work as a cameraman. Filming was his life. He expected the same attitude of all his crew members. He always worked according to the same principle: strongly emphasize the individual character of each animal, rather than just show a representative of a particular species.

Death and honors[edit]

In 1998, Hugo was forced to retire due to emphysema. He left Ndutu to live with his son, "Grub" in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he died at the age of 65. On 7 June, during a ceremony attended by family, friends, staff and government officials, Hugo was buried at the place his tent had stood for over 30 years in his camp in the Serengeti.

Hugo van Lawick won eight Emmy awards for his films, and was appointed officer in the Order of the Golden Ark in 1992 by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, the co-founder of the WWF.


  • with Peter Matthiessen: Sand Rivers, Aurum Press, London 1981, ISBN 0-906053-22-6.
  • Savage Paradise – The Predators of Serengeti, Collins, St James Place, London 1977. ISBN 0-002167719.


  • Dale Peterson, (2006) Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man, pgs. 299–301.

External links[edit]