What Is Being Done To Save Chimpanzees – Baby chimpanzees, like humans, need affection and play. The caretaker Ludovic Rabasa of the Tchimounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo offers both.
Author and conservationist Nancy Merrick first fell in love with chimpanzees in the 1970s when she worked at Jane Goodall’s legendary Gombe Stream Research Center. Charmed by her intelligence and sensitivity, she went on to a distinguished career at Stanford University, founding ChimpSaver.org, an interactive website that helps users contribute to chimpanzee conservation.
What Is Being Done To Save Chimpanzees
In 2008, she brought her children back to Africa to find that the forests had been destroyed and the number of chimpanzees had dropped dramatically. His new book, Among Chimpanzees: Field Notes From The Race To Save Our Endangered Relatives, is both a call to action and a tender evocation of the emotional life of man’s closest relative.
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Speaking from her home in Ventura, California, she recalled what it was like to work with Jane Goodall; explains why intelligent design about chimpanzees is wrong; and why it is crucial for us to protect the Congo Basin for future generations.
You took your children to Africa in 2008 and you start your book with this experience. Tell us about Ngamba Island and what’s going on there.
The Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary is currently home to 48 orphaned chimpanzees who were rescued by wildlife authorities after being taken from their mothers to be sold in the pet trade. These are the happy chimpanzees. There are countless others who are not so lucky. They need a place to survive the rest of their lives, as chimpanzees are usually not returned to the wild after being removed in this way.
Anyone who sees a group of chimpanzees and sees their intelligence, their relationship to each other, cannot help but realize how much they have in common with us. By Nancy Merrick
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This wonderful sanctuary will house these chimpanzees for the rest of their lives, which will probably last between 35 and 50 years. It also allows people like me and my family to go there, see the chimpanzees up close and interact with their Ugandan caretakers.
It is a much more personal experience than going to an ecotourism site. I took my family there to make sure they saw chimpanzees and learn more about them before returning to Gombe, where I had previously worked and where we were less sure how many chimpanzees we would actually see.
You describe a wonderful experience walking with chimpanzees in the morning on Ngamba Island. Tell us about it.
They offered what was called the forest path. It was recently discontinued because it became apparent that it had harmful effects on chimpanzees. But it was an amazing experience to spend an hour in the forest with a small group of young chimpanzees, periodically sitting down to play or plow with them. We were always forbidden to think about doing such a thing in Gombe. [Laughs] So it was fun for once to break the rules and feel what it’s like to be part of a grooming session or play with a chimpanzee.
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You did your fieldwork with Jane Goodall in the 70s. What attracted you to your research on chimpanzees?
Chimpanzees are like us in many ways. We share over 98% of our genetic material with them, so it’s no surprise that we so often see our behavior reflected in theirs. They are so intelligent. They experience many complex emotions just like us. When you look at them, their expressions are so similar to ours. They are fascinating creatures. I think since the first National Geographic special I saw in high school with Jane [Goodall] and the chimps. I had not imagined until this moment that there are creatures as intelligent as they are.
It was like a fairy tale to go out and study the chimpanzees, walking 15 meters behind them for as many hours as you could keep up with. On the other hand, there was a certain schizophrenia because you also lived in Africa, the poverty and the countless problems that affect the human population there.
We were a small community of African and European students, mostly graduate students and a group of students like me who were from Stanford University. Every evening we maneuvered to tell him what we saw.
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For over 50 years, Jane Goodall has studied and advocated for chimpanzees. This photo was taken in 1995 when she used her experience and understanding to comfort a chimpanzee in captivity.
We all thought we had made an important discovery that we had never heard of before. She laughed and very quietly tried to tell us, well, no, she had seen this many times and she could always remember who first observed this particular behavior and how many times it had been said since! She reaches all her students and even people who write letters. She is amazing like that.
You returned to Africa in 2008 to discover that enormous changes had taken place in the lives of the chimpanzees. Give us an overview of this change.
In 1972, there were millions of chimpanzees living in forests full of fruit trees, their main occupation, far from human presence. By 2008, the chimpanzee population had declined to somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 chimpanzees. Things have changed dramatically.
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There are so many challenges. It is essential that the Congo Basin forests are protected as this is where the last reservoirs of chimpanzees and gorillas live. By Nancy Merrick
This was evident when we boarded the water taxi to Gombe Stream National Park. The hills were bare of vegetation. Where once there were small fishing camps along the edges of the park, villages have sprung up that were home to hundreds of people. The air was filled with smoke. I will never forget it because it reminded me of a forest fire I saw in California – the smell in the air of ash.
Author Nancy Merrick studied chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania as a research assistant under Jane Goodall in 1972.
You write that the relationships between chimpanzees are important and that they stay with their mother until they reach sexual maturity, around the age of 10 to 12 years. Tell us about how chimpanzees identify and even adopt.
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Chimpanzees have big hearts and very close family relationships. I’ve studied mother and baby chimpanzees, so I have a good feel for it. When a mother was lost or died, it was not uncommon for a sister to become the adoptive mother of all the children she left behind.
My first “tracking” in Gombe was that of a very famous chimpanzee described by Jane, called Flint. Her mother, Flo, had died two weeks earlier. Flint was about eight or nine years old, the equivalent of a young teenager in human life.
He was devastated by her disappearance. He laid down in the creek bed where she had collapsed a few weeks earlier and went for days without eating or moving from that site. It was striking to see a chimpanzee mourning the death of his mother. It was my first experience of the complexity of the emotional life of chimpanzees.
In Tchimpounga in the Republic of Congo, a chimpanzee calls for the camera. The sanctuary, built by Conoco, Inc. and run by the Jane Goodall Institute, cares for orphaned chimpanzees.
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In the last decade, there has been a rise in a theory called intelligent design, which fundamentally rejects Darwin’s origin of species. Tell us about the human perception of chimpanzees and how this theory could endanger chimpanzees and apes.
[Laughs] It’s hard to answer this one because I have such a hard time imagining people believing otherwise. Anyone who sees a group of chimpanzees and sees their intelligence, their relationship to each other, cannot help but realize how much they have in common with us.
Whatever your opinion on evolution or intelligent design, it doesn’t matter. Experience a chimpanzee. You don’t have to believe that they are our genetic parents to realize that they are important beings on the planet that are worth saving.
Both chimpanzees and gorillas are critically endangered species. What are the biggest environmental challenges they face and how can they be saved?
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There are so many challenges. It is essential that the Congo Basin forests are protected as this is where the last reservoirs of chimpanzees and gorillas live. The biggest challenge is uncontrolled population growth. We are a planet of about seven billion. By 2050 we will have added about two billion more, many of them on the African continent, which is probably the continent least able to accommodate such an increase.
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We are already seeing that where chimpanzees and gorillas live close to human habitats, their forests are quickly converted to agriculture. Dr. Matt
What is being done to save rainforests, what is being done to save pandas, what is being done to save elephants, what is being done to save cheetahs, what is being done to save narwhals, what is being done to protect chimpanzees, what is being done to save tigers, what is being done to save african elephants, what is being done to save the african elephant, what is being done to save jaguars, what is being done to save orangutans, what is being done to save pangolins