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Operation Lemur with John Cleese

John Cleese loves animals? -- surely not! The man who brought us the dead parrot sketch and the irascible Basil Fawlty couldn't possibly have a penchant for small furry lemurs? You'd better believe it.

"They're gentle, well mannered, and pretty and yet great fun . . . I should have married one."

Thirteen/WNET presents IN THE WILD: LEMURS WITH JOHN CLEESE, premiering nationally on Sunday, October 10, 1999, at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). Cleese had a lifelong obsession with the lemurs of Madagascar -- he first fell in love with a ringtail lemur at the tender age of 12. Last year, he raised money to release five black and white ruffed lemurs born in captivity back into the rainforests of Madagascar. The U.S.-bred "Carolina Five," as these lemurs are affectionately known, are the first lemurs ever to be released into the wild. The hope is that they will survive and eventually mate with the existing population of lemurs to introduce new genes into the population.

Then came the difficult bit. John Cleese set out on a three-week trek to go out and find the lemurs. On his journey into the jungle, he comes nose to nose with some of Madagascar's dinosaur-like chameleons, discusses football with a troop of ringtail lemurs, bounds through the forest with dancing sifakas, and shares dinner with the evil-looking aye-aye.

The expedition by plane, French colonial train, jeep, and eventually, on foot, takes Cleese up to Betampona Reserve, a remote forest perched on a hill on the Eastern coast of the island where the Carolina Five were originally released. But lemurs don't stay still for long, and tracking them down proves an almost impossible task.

Plagued by a dodgy knee, but cloaked in the full armor of his inimitable wit, Cleese fights his way through the jungle to catch a glimpse of these pioneer balls of fluff. If the ruffed lemur project is a success, the process could be repeated to help save many of the other 32 species of lemur who are now teetering on the brink of extinction.

IN THE WILD: LEMURS WITH JOHN CLEESE, a Tigress Production, is a co-production of Thirteen/WNET in New York and the BBC. It is produced by Sarah Williams and directed by Justine Kershaw. Series producer for IN THE WILD is Jeremy Bradshaw. Executive producer for Thirteen/WNET is Fred Kaufman.

IN THE WILD: LEMURS WITH JOHN CLEESE is made possible by Park Foundation and by the nation's public television stations.

Visit the Web companion to the NATURE program A LEMUR'S TALE!

For more information about lemurs and Madagascar, visit the Madagascar Fauna Group.

For more information about preserving species like the lemur, visit the Jersey Zoological Park.

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