This week’s post is written by guest blogger Sheri Speede, DVM, the founder/director of In Defense of Animals-Africa and its Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon. She has just written a memoir, titled Kindred Beings: What Seventy-Three Chimpanzees Taught Me About Life, Love and Connection. Check out the book’s Web site and Facebook page for more information.
In January 1997, IPPL sponsored my first trip to Cameroon, Africa. With Dr. McGreal’s encouragement and support, I went to provide veterinary care to chimpanzees, gorillas, and monkeys at the Limbe Wildlife Centre, which IPPL had already been assisting for several years. It was my first exposure to the illegal bushmeat trade and its terrible consequences—the first time I met and befriended adult chimpanzee orphans who, as clinging infants, were pried from their dead mothers by poachers who later sold them as tourist attractions.
A lot has happened since that first trip. Dr. McGreal jokes that I have her to blame for the adversity I faced in years to come as I followed my path in Cameroon, but mostly I have her to thank for opening my eyes to a world that grabbed my heart, awakened my passion, and inspired my unwavering commitment like nothing else ever had.
In my new book, Kindred Beings: What Seventy-Three Chimpanzees Taught Me About Life, Love and Connection, published by HarperCollins and on sale since September 10th, I tell my personal story and, more important, the story of the chimpanzees I came to know and love as I followed their lives from cages and chains to the sanctuary that my larger-than-life collaborators and I eventually built for them in the Mbargue Forest of rural Cameroon.
Furious Jacky had languished in a small cage at a resort hotel for 30 years and was known by local people as the “mad” chimpanzee, and he did appear to be lost to the sane world. He was dangerous to humans, and we doubted whether he could be socialized with other chimpanzees.
But in an enclosed tract of natural habitat forest at our Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, his recovery from decades of abuse and deprivation seemed nothing short of miraculous. After establishing a loving and strategic alliance with a strong female named Nama, he became a kind and gentle leader, keeping the peace as alpha male of his social group for over a decade.
Today, the elder, retired Jacky is still respected and loved by the chimpanzees and humans who know him. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about Jacky and the other amazing kindred beings I have known.