How we treat our nearest relatives… Read: The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary & if in Bend, visit chimps-inc.org

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The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, by Andrew Westoll

The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, by Andrew Westoll

This weekend, I read The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary; A True Story of Resilience and Recovery. The title stuck out to me at the library the other day because I’ve always had a fascination with the great apes and because we were going to have a representative from Chimps, Inc., our local Chimp sanctuary, speak at an upcoming VegNet potluck. Shayla Scott from Chimps, Inc. did in fact give a great presentation to our group on June 22. It reminded me of the tremendous difference each person can make within their own sphere of influence. Chimps, Inc., in case you didn’t know, is bringing Dr. Jane Goodall back to Bend in October. I was fortunate enough to hear Jane speak when she was here a few years ago, and it was definitely a highlight for me, as she is one of my heroes. Now on my short list—visit Chimps, Inc.!

The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is very engaging and easy to read, while not skirting around important ethical and legal issues, and I highly recommend it. I enjoyed it because not only does it tell the personal stories of the particular chimps that ended up at Fauna, as well as the story of the people behind Fauna and the author’s personal journey, but it also explores the bigger picture of the biomedical, circus, zoo, and space industries in the United States and worldwide, and the legislation that exists and is in process to govern when great apes are used and how they are treated. This book, of course, keeps most of the focus on captive chimpanzees, but the implication is that how we treat our animals extends to all animals used in research, circuses, zoos, and factory farms—not just the great apes.

A few months back I was reading about PTSD in elephants. The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary highlights that it happens to chimpanzees as well:

This paper, entitled “Building an Inner Sanctuary,” by Gay Bradshaw of the Kerulos Center, Theodora Capaldo and Lorin Lindner of NEAVS, and Gloria Grow, concerns two chimpanzees who spent more than a decade in a biomedical laboratory. It concludes that both chimps exhibit psychological symptoms of complex posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) consistent with those of humans who have suffered torture and imprisonment. In other words, the experiences chimpanzees go through in a typical biomedical laboratory render them as psychologically compromised as human victims of domestic violence or political and war prisoners.

A few of my favorite books about the great apes, that Westoll also has in his bibliography:

Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees, by Roger Fouts

The Wauchula Woods Accord: Toward a New Understanding of Animals, by Charles Siebert

Writing about this book reminds me of why I am so interested in this topic. When I moved back to Bend in late 2001, I had been starting to forge a new path for myself. I had been taking multiple biology and zoology courses at the local community college, with the goal of supplementing my Writing and Literature degree with a Biology degree. I took a sign language course specifically so that if given the opportunity, I could communicate with or participate in cognitive studies with great apes. I was volunteering at Elkhorn Slough and becoming an avid birder. I also took several marine mammal courses at a research facility through Cal State, including a one-week internship in which we learned to communicate with and train captive California Sea Lions. I had an internship set up and ready to go with UC Santa Cruz at a lab that studied cognition in California Sea Lions and other marine mammals. I thought this is what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

But then life happened. My husband left, moving to Alaska. My best friend had moved far away to Northern California. The house we were renting was not affordable on my own, long-term, and then they decided to sell it. I would have had to move into something much smaller in a market not very favorable to the guardian of three cats or those not part of the dot-com bubble.  I made the difficult decision to move back to Bend (something I though I would never do after growing up here), to lick my wounds, as they were, in a place that was much more affordable (at the time) and where I had a few relatives. I immediately enrolled in the only biology course available to me at our local community college that semester—the others were few and far between. There was talk of developing a robust biology program. It never happened, as far as I know.

I had heard of Chimps, Inc., and The High Desert Museum—and figured that those were two places at which I would volunteer right away. But instead, I ended getting divorced, buying a house, and trying to figure out a new way to earn income that wasn’t tied to my small business and ex-husband. I continued birding and hiking for a while, but even that activity has faded away as a priority.

Even though my life took a turn away from where I had imagined it going, I still have a keen interest in animal behavior and cognition and the growing field of cognitive ethology. I read avidly on the subject and also in the related fields of animals welfare and veganism. A lot of literature covers these interrelated topics and I will continue to learn, explore, and figure out where I can make a difference in my small sphere.

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