Kindred Beings: What Seventy-Three Chimpanzees Taught Me About Life, Love, and Connection
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Enter a world of tender friendships, staunch loyalties, violent jealousies—and enduring love.
As a child, Sheri Speede knew that she wanted to advocate for animals in any way she could. But it was not until many years after veterinary school, when she was transporting a chimpanzee named Pierre away from a biomedical facility as part of her job as a conservation advocate in Cameroon, that Dr. Speede discovered her true calling. She began to search for land for a forest sanctuary for captive chimpanzees that were held on chains and in small cages at local hotels.
Dr. Speede eventually founded the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, a forested home for orphans of the illegal ape meat trade. One chim- panzee, Dorothy, was rescued by Dr. Speede and her colleagues from a bleak existence imprisoned on a chain and forged a deep friendship with her. Dr. Speede explains how chimpanzees, like humans, are capable of a broad spectrum of emotional behaviors—both hateful and loving. Dr. Speede also candidly reveals her own struggles as a stranger in a foreign culture trying to adjust to rural African village life. And she admits that unlike Dorothy, she was not always kind, gentle, and forgiving.
Dorothy died of old age at the sanctuary, and a photograph of Dorothy's funeral, in which Dr. Speede cradled Dorothy's head while her family of chimpanzees mournfully viewed her body, went viral after being published in National Geographic. The world was surprised at the depth of the chimps' grief at the loss of their friend, but Dr. Speede was not. Through the chimps, she had come to understand the meaning of love, loyalty, and true connection.
While this is a compelling story about the emotional complexity of the chimpanzees she rescued and befriended, it is also Dr. Speede's story. Major events in her personal life, including love affairs, dangerous run-ins with criminals, and the birth of her daughter, unfold as the development of her primate rescue center runs parallel to her own development. Ultimately, Kindred Beings is a story of profound resilience, of both the apes and the woman who loved them.
general population is particularly intense, and vigilantism is common. Shouting “thief!” in a crowd is a good way to get someone killed. After giving me a few moments to absorb what he had told me, William continued. “After the victim fell out of the taxi and sounded the alarm, a growing crowd of angry citizens began running alongside the taxi. When the car had to stop in traffic, the criminals had no escape. The people pulled them out and proceeded to beat them to death,” William finished
sell our coco yams six days ago. Five days ago on the way home, she gave birth to her baby daughter on the trail. My daughter was fine until this morning when she started bleeding.” Again he made large flowing gestures with both his hands in the vicinity of his crotch to show where his daughter was bleeding a lot. I absorbed the fact that this girl, nine months pregnant, had walked from Bikol 2 to Bélabo (seventeen miles) carrying a heavy basin of produce on her head and had given birth on the
strong females, Becky resisted, hanging on stubbornly to the stick and pulling back. I didn’t breathe, waiting to see who would win this war of wills. When Becky finally released the stick, the tension dissipated instantly. Nama scooted away and, almost casually, tossed the stick toward the forest. It was still in sight, so Becky could have picked it up again, but she didn’t. Nama had made her point, strongly and effectively, without aggression. It was the only time I saw Becky use a stick to
first thought. I realized immediately that he could have hit me harder or cut me with the knife, and it provided me with a reason to believe I might survive whatever was about to happen. Faceup, prostrate on the dirt, I opened my mouth to yell and was silenced by the sharp point of the long triangular knife blade on the base of my throat. The large blade rose up diagonally under my chin and connected to the hand of an African man who straddled me. In the darkness, I couldn’t see his face or the
but I certainly wasn’t an obvious founder of one either. Gradually, we became irrevocably bonded by our love for the chimpanzees in our care, and our working relationship evolved into a deep friendship based on the concerns that consumed us both. In that same year of 2004, George Muna introduced me to Raymond Tchimisso, who was interested in collaborating on a sensitization campaign in Cameroon’s West Province. During his travels around the town of Bankim as the personnel manager for a Chinese