The filmmakers at John Downer Productions came up with a genius way to record animals in their natural habitat. They employed lifelike robots made to resemble the creatures and had these “ultra-realistic animatronic” spies go undercover and capture unique animal behavior from up close. One of these secret agents, a gorilla, became a true star of the show. As it was embedded in the wild, it did such a wonderful job of infiltrating the giant apes, it came back with some never-seen-before footage of these guys singing. And farting.

Image credits: John Downer Productions

“For this series, we looked at some of the most iconic and remarkable animals across the planet. We felt mountain gorillas would be perfect for ‘The Tropics’ program,” Matthew Gordon, the producer of the series, told Bored Panda.

Gordon explained the team first needed to work out what spy animals would be best to film the animal. For example, it would not be a good idea to make a spy Silverback Mountain gorilla, as this could have been seen as too much of a threat to the real mountain gorillas. In fact, that’s the reason why they went with a baby gorilla.

Image credits: John Downer Productions

“It took about 3 months in total to build Spy Gorilla. One of the biggest challenges was making it look and move as realistically as possible, while also trying to get a small enough camera to fit in the eye and finally make sure that all this will work properly in the field,” Gordon added.

However, all of the efforts were worth it. Gordon even thinks that in some aspects, the undercover espionage mission was more successful than the filmmakers could have possibly imagined. “To see a youngster interacting with our Spy Gorilla and then see both beating their chests was remarkable to witness and film and gave the viewer a fascinating and unique perspective into their world.”

Watch the spy gorilla in action

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Even though it was the first time humans recorded apes singing, we’ve already heard about it. A 2016 study published in PLOS ONE detailed this “food-calling”, describing the vocal sounds the great apes were unleashing when eating, with pitches and durations depending on the quantity and quality of the food and the audience.

“Food-associated calling may function to notify the rest of the group of an individual’s current feeding activity, similar to what has been reported for chimpanzees,” the researchers wrote. “Informing other group members of one’s current activity could be important for group coordination and cohesion. Such a scenario could also explain the higher frequency of adult male calls: Silverbacks may have to engage more frequently in auditory informing as they are generally the ones initiating changes in group activity.”

Image credits: John Downer Productions

The authors of the study stated that this discovery provides an interesting viewpoint on the evolution of language and vocal communication in general. The filmmakers gave the phenomenon a poetic name — the chorus of appreciation.

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

As the video shows, gorillas can climb trees, but are typically seen on the ground in communities of up to 30 individuals. They organize themselves according to social structures; troops are led by one dominant, older adult male, often called a silverback due to the swath of silver hair that adorns his otherwise dark fur. Troops also include a few other young males, some females, and their offspring.

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

It’s the leader who organizes troop activities like eating, nesting in leaves, and moving about. Those who have an issue with it and decide to challenge the alpha male are put in place by impressive shows of physical power. He can stand upright, throw things, make aggressive charges, and pound his huge chest while barking out powerful hoots or unleashing a frightening roar. Despite these acts and the animals’ obvious physical power, however, gorillas are generally calm and nonaggressive unless they are disturbed.

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

The filmmakers also shared a clip of the spy gorilla infiltrating the wild family

Image credits: John Downer Productions

And they built other animal robots which are just as fascinating

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions

Image credits: John Downer Productions