Among Chimpanzees: Field Notes from the Race to Save Our Endangered Relatives

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9780807080740: Among Chimpanzees: Field Notes from the Race to Save Our Endangered Relatives
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Foreword by Jane Goodall

A former student and colleague of Jane Goodall shares stories of chimps and their heroes, and takes readers on a journey to save man’s closest relative.

 
Unbeknownst to much of the public, chimps are in trouble: censuses show them to be extinct in four African countries and nearly so in ten others. A large percentage of the remaining populations live in unprotected, increasingly fragmented forests.
 
When Nancy Merrick learned these startling facts in 2009, she decided it was past time to discover the extent to which chimpanzees are at risk across Africa and what can be done. Merrick had begun working with primates in 1972 as a young field assistant in Jane Goodall’s famous Gombe camp. Like the rest of the world at the time, she was swept up in the excitement of discovering the remarkable world of chimpanzees—their ability to fashion tools, their dazzling intelligence, and their complex relationships and societies. From that moment on, her human-centered worldview shifted, and she became a devoted advocate for our closest genetic relatives.
 
When Merrick returns to Africa decades later, she’s alarmed by how much has changed. Human activity, such as agriculture and logging, has encroached on natural habitats throughout equatorial Africa, endangering chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos. In an effort to understand what we can do to save great apes, Merrick connects with primatologists and conservationists who are trying to protect the last great forests. Visits to some of Africa’s parks, sanctuaries, and expanding agricultural areas reveal the urgency of the problems and the inspiration of the people leading the search for solutions. Along the way, Merrick demonstrates that the best hope for chimps and other great apes lies in connecting conservation to humanitarian efforts, ensuring a healthy future for animals and humans alike.
 
Among Chimpanzees is at once an inspiring chronicle of Merrick’s personal search to learn how chimps are faring across Africa and in captivity, a crucial eyewitness account of a very critical period in their existence, and a rousing call for us to join the efforts to be a voice for the chimpanzees, before it’s too late.
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About the Author:

Nancy J. Merrick is an accomplished physician-internist and a reviewer for the Annals of Internal Medicine. She is the creator of ChimpSaver.org, a website teaching users why chimpanzees are remarkable and enabling them to advocate on behalf of chimps and other Great Apes. She is rapidly becoming a recognized leader in the battle to save great apes. She lives in Ventura, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface
 
The disturbing e-mail arrived on June 16, 2009, its subject header reading,“Decimation of Chimp Population in Tanzania.” I agonized for two days before opening it, hoping its contents would not be as devastating as I feared. Finally, it was time. I clicked on it and found an update from the Scientific American website:
 
Tanzania’s chimpanzee population has plummeted to just 700 today,
according to a report from the Tanzania National Parks Authority.
The Parks Authority blamed disease and predation—by humans and
other mammals—for the dramatic losses. The country’s chimpanzees
are located in just two habitats, making them highly susceptible
to population-destroying illnesses.

 
And there it was—exactly what I had dreaded. It appeared that even in Tanzania, home to Dr. Jane Goodall’s famous research center, chimpanzees are threatened with extinction. If true, it meant that one catastrophic epidemic or even just continued habitat loss could spell disaster for these last Tanzanian survivors.
 
An e-mail from Dr. James Moore, of the University of California, San Diego, revealed that the faulty estimate of 700 was not that far off from current estimates of 1,000 to 2,600 chimpanzees.1 One hundred of the chimps make up three small adjacent communities at Goodall’s research site in western Tanzania. This is a population so small that it is teetering on the edge of biological nonviability. The others remain in areas to the south where human encroachment is fast approaching. The message hit
hard because it cinched the truth—the situation was even bleaker than what we had guessed while visiting Tanzania some months before. This was final confirmation that it was past time to investigate the full extent to which chimpanzees are at risk across Equatorial Africa.
 
The truth was tough. One hundred years ago, chimps numbered in the millions, and although an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 remain, their numbers are plummeting even in remote forests. Exponential human population growth means that critical swaths of forest are becoming fragmented or disappearing, and chimps living in unprotected forests—a majority—are in immediate danger every day. In fact, many chimp populations can no longer survive in what little forest area they are left with. Field researcher Matthew McLennan writes,
 
I just got back from Uganda last week. While it’s good to be back
home . . . I know I’m going to worry about the chimps at my site—
there seems to be no end to the forest clearance, and there really is
hardly anything left!

 
And, so, a 2009 e-mail lent new urgency to a task I already had under way—telling tales of the remarkable chimps and why they matter. It seemed a sacred debt I owe as one who has been blessed to know chimps. I have experienced the joy of walking with chimps, tickling and laughing with them, even having tears wiped from my eyes by my friend Bandit, the most intelligent and remarkable chimp I have known. I have witnessed their almost human dramas: a female selflessly adopting an orphaned infant, a group rolling a log to keep a lion at bay, an adolescent son mourning the death of his mother. I have seen them lie on their backs to wonder at the night sky, legs crossed, arms folded behind their heads.
 
My life with chimps dates to 1972, when I arrived at Dr. Jane Goodall’s camp in Tanzania as a Stanford University student, working as a field assistant. As I witnessed the tremendous intelligence and complexity of the chimps, my human-centered worldview was thrown into disarray. They were like children: excitable, curious, and often unable to control their very real emotions. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my Gombe arrival was the start of a path to working with some of the world’s most fascinating scientists and conservationists, people whose passions would make a difference for chimps and people of Africa. It was also the beginning of a lifelong fascination with chimps, without a doubt the most intriguing creatures on Earth. It is impossible not to be surprised by how human their laughter is as they tickle one another, impossible not to be touched by a usually fierce dominant male joyfully chasing a juvenile around a tree, then reversing and letting the youngster chase him round and round.
 
This book, so influenced by that e-mail, is both a chronicle of my personal search to learn how chimps are faring across Africa and in captivity and my eyewitness account of a very critical period in their existence. At times, it has been overwhelming to see how imminently threatened chimpanzees are in today’s world. But to allow a world without chimps is unconscionable—so you and I must get involved or risk losing them forever. This book recounts my journey among the inspiring people fighting to save them and is a call for us to join them in order to save humankind’s closest relative, the remarkable chimpanzees. Let us be a voice for the chimpanzees, beings who so deserve to be heard.

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