Upcoming Book, The Chimpanzee Chronicles, Reminds me of My Time With Chimps in Zambia

I have been communicating with Debra Rosenman, a certified Rubenfeld Synergist, and Jessica O’Donoghue, an animal behavior consultant, about my work with chimpanzees in the 1990’s. Debra and Jessica met at Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary in New Mexico during one of my trainings there this year, and began a conversation about Debra’s upcoming book, the Chimpanzee Chronicles. I find it so inspiring how wonderful people meet and share ideas at our trainings.

This exchange reminds me of my time in Zambia and New York City TTouching apes and monkeys. I spent only a few brief moments in passing with a beautiful baboon female under the streets of New York City at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where thousands of animals are kept for research. I can see and feel her beauty and her desperate eyes as though it were yesterday. The consciousness that was present was so clear that I wonder how we humans can be so unaware. I was at Sloan-Kettering research at the time discussing the fate of 6 pig-tailed macaques scheduled to be sold to a biomedical research center by Hunter College. I met with the veterinarians in charge of the Hunter College apes to convince them that we could offer a worthwhile life in retirement instead.

Through my Animal Ambassador program we were able to bring the 6 pig-tailed macaques to New Mexico and rehabilitate them. We put them together in a living situation where they had fresh air, a diet of fresh fruit and vegetable and a relatively stress free life. Two of the six had daily free range of my 10-room office building and the other six went outside (through a cat door!) to an outdoor area where they could watch the neighborhood activity.

This was after 16 years of sitting on wire in tiny cages, separated where they could not see each other, and fed kibble and some sort of jello-like food in the Hunter College psychology department. It’s not to be believed what we humans do to other beings. Our senior macaque, Gaia, raised four cats from tiny kittens, in spite of the fact that she was captured in Indonesia and was apparently too young to have had offspring. She was incredibly gentle with the kittens and “tamed” them with amazing intelligence and gentleness.

I am grateful to Debra for all she is doing as an ambassador for chimpanzees. Their stories need to be told. Look for the upcoming publication of her book, the Chimpanzee Chronicles: Achingly personal stories revealing the heartache, grace & truth about captive chimpanzees and their humans.

I thought I might share with you a story from the archives, so to speak. It’s from my 1990 journal!

1990 Africa! At long last. I made it.

In November Carolyn Bocian from the National Zoo in Washington D.C. sent me information about AN APPEAL FOR FUNDS TO HELP 17 ORPHANED CHIMPANZEES IN AFRICA. The privately operated Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia urgently needs your support in building new outdoor facilities for 17 young chimpanzees confiscated by government authorities from wildlife poachers and smugglers. The number of salvaged youngsters living at Chimfunshi grows year by year as the Zambians try to enforce laws against commercial trafficking in baby chimpanzees obtained by shooting and poisoning their mothers and relatives. Many African countries are being hard pressed to supply infants for biomedical markets. The Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage is the only sanctuary in Africa accepting confiscated chimpanzees. Confiscation programs in many other countries depend on its continuing operation and expansion. This Zambian action illegal wildlife trade therefore must be encouraged by international support. David and Sheila Siddle, the Directors of Chimfunshi, have single-handedly managed and supported this project since 1983. Their private resources are nearly exhausted. Outside financial aid is urgently needed to finish constructing an outdoor compound where the orphans can live as a normal social group.

December 19th Harriet Crosby and I boarded a plane from Zurich to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.
December 23rd We arrived at the ranch just South of the Zaire border, smack in the middle of Africa. The Siddles were contacted by telex by Dr. Gaza Teleki, and we were told they would be expecting us.
We were really flying by the seat of our pants. We were told there was no space available into Lusaka – even the waiting list was full – and we had no luck making connections to Chingola, where we had been told by a World Wildlife advisor to fly. We managed to get on the plane and arrived in Lusaka at 9:30 p.m., only to discover there had never been a flight to Chingola. The closest airport was Kitwe but they didn’t fly there tomorrow.
On the ride into town, with a kind airline employee who drove us because it was too late for a taxi, we were informed that we’d better have a good reason for being in Zambia because any white people were most likely to be mistaken for South African terrorists!

It was a most educational experience getting to Siddle’s ranch. We flew to a town 100 kilometers from Chingola, where we were to telex friends of the Siddles, but the telexes were shut down for Christmas. Thirty hours after we arrived in Ndola, Harriet ran into a British woman who took us to an American Lutheran minister friend of hers. He very kindly called around northern Zambia until he found someone who knew the Siddles, got careful directions, popped his family in his fancy van, and drove us three and a half hours to the Chimfuhni chimpanzee sanctuary.

Dave and Sheila were relieved to see us, knowing we were enroute, but having no idea where!

CHIMPS: We had a cold beer sitting under a long thatched roof with handmade table and chairs. The view is spectacular, over a river flood plain with several hundred acres of grass bordered by forests as far as the eye can see. In the rainy season the river overflows and the plain is covered by water. A lawn stretches out from the sitting area. Left of the lawn is an enclosure with 12 orphaned baboons, previously very gentle and much-handled by David and Sheila, but now isolated for attacking strangers. They’re waiting for release.

An orange orchard borders the far side of the lawn–with geese and wild ducks. On the right is the house, and all 17 chimpanzees. We met the chimps and were warned to keep the glasses out of reach. They love to take them and scrape the floor!
The 9 youngsters were on the outside. Beyond were the older groups, directly attached to the living room. The whole living room “wall” was wire, looking directly into the chimp cage.

When any chimp is sick it is taken into bed with Sheila and Dave–if young enough to diaper. If not, Sheila sleeps in the straw with them.

5:00 PM–Patrick, the trusted keeper who has been with the chimps for 5 years webt off duty. Sheila and Dave fed everyone their ball of meal, cooked and mixed with vegetables and garlic. All the chimps are very gentle and orderly in their receiving of the food.

Stay tuned for the next installment from my Zambia Chimp Journal!

© 2011, Linda Tellington-Jones. All rights reserved.

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