BP / AP: Before Primates and After Primates

By Robin Huffman, Safina Center Fellow

In an earlier blog I featured individuals I know whose lives were changed by their encounters with primates. Here are a few more:

Twenty years ago while backpacking through Ecuador, Jo-Anne McArthur photographed a monkey, chained to a windowsill, who’d been trained to pickpocket passersby. Onlooking tourists found it hilarious. Jo-Anne thought it humiliating and belittling to both the monkey and the humans. It struck her that the monkey’s life was invisible while in plain sight. That experience started Jo-Anne’s career in photojournalism. She launched We Animals, a photo project documenting human relationship with animals. “I wanted the project to help people see what I had seen that day: not an entertaining act, but the rope around the monkey’s ankle.”

Jo-Anne McArthur has become a global force as an animal defender and is passionate about empowering others. Photojournalist, educator, animal rights activist, author, speaker, she’s the subject of an award-winning feature-length documentary. She co-founded the inspiring Unbound Project, a multimedia/book project profiling women–contemporary and historical–at the forefront of animal advocacy*. And We Animals Archives offers Jo-Anne’s thousands of images and videos of animals in human environments free to individuals and entities helping animals.

Jo-Anne McArthur. Photo: Kelly Guerin 2019

We Animals’ first image. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Life was hard for Appolinaire Ndouhoudou, growing up in Chad in the ‘60s and 70s, a period of violence and political turmoil. The family couldn’t afford school for him. As a young man, his parents were killed in the civil war. Appolinaire found work in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde as a night watchman at Ape Action Africa. Rachel Hogan was raising young gorilla orphan Nkan Daniel, who tolerated no one but Rachel; she’d raised him since he was 1-½ weeks old. A steadfast nighttime presence, the serene Appolinaire would sit for hours, wordless. This fascinated the ape toddler. One evening, Nkan Daniel rolled a ball towards Appolinaire, who gently rolled it back. When he spoke, it was in soft, reassuring tones. Nkan’s first friend! The gorilla’s acceptance prompted Rachel to offer Appolinaire an infant gorilla caregiver role. Together, they’ve raised virtually all the sanctuary’s orphaned gorillas, and continue to have remarkable relationships with them. Appolinaire cares for them as adults, and is also the controller, overseeing day-to-day operations. His respectful, almost reverent approach to each primate he encounters still fascinates them.

Jo-Anne McArthur’s photograph of Appolinaire with Pikin won the People’s Choice award in the Natural History Museum 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in London. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

From early childhood in Mississippi, Sheri Speede was acutely attuned to animals’ suffering. She became a veterinarian and ultimately an owner in a large veterinary practice in Portland, Oregon. Wanting to advocate for animals in a bigger way, Sheri joined the staff of In Defense of Animals (IDA), an animal-advocacy nonprofit. During a trip to Cameroon to provide veterinary care at a wildlife center for orphaned gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys who were victims of bushmeat and illegal pet trades, she met Jacky, Pepe and Becky. The adult chimps were tourist attractions at a nearby hotel, housed in small separate cages. Stolen by poachers as infants, they’d spent most of their lives in captivity–Jacky, angry and possibly irretrievably mad; Pepe, insufferably lonely; Becky, craving a friend. Sheri’s compassionate-defender fire ignited. Singularly determined to rescue them and give them a home, against daunting odds, Sheri founded Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in the remote Mbargue forest.** Now home to 76 chimps and caregiving staff, it’s a dynamic force in conservation. Sheri observes, “In the face of the chimpanzees’ profoundly familiar ape consciousness and in the genuine friendships that grew between us, I became a more fully realized human animal.”

Sheri Speede (right) and Rachel Hogan. Photo courtesy: Sheri Speede

*Rachel Hogan, in my previous blog, is among those profiled
**Also from my previous blog: the chimpanzee named Future, rescued by Ofir Drory, now lives at Sanaga-Yong.

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