In March of 2015, during the height of the Ebola crisis, the New York Blood Center(NYBC), a U.S. based research institution, stopped paying for the care of over 60 of its chimpanzees. These chimps which were used in hepatitis research at a center in Liberia, were then left on islands to live out their lives. The research project they were used in was created and funded by the NYBC in partnership with the Government of Liberia.
When we woke up we ate some hard boiled eggs before a few students joined Nate on his tour of the sanctuary of Tacugama. I decided to stay behind and enjoy the peace that came with an empty bungalow in the middle of a rainforest. It was such a beautiful place to be with your mind, that I couldn’t bring myself to sacrifice the time I could be alone to wander through the sanctuary surrounded by people.
There are ancient trees here, covered in spots of lichen and orchids. While Lungi was hot and miserable, Tacugama is shaded and stays a pleasantly warm temperature all day, and even cool enough at night for a sweater.
I am so excited to finally announce that I will be spending three magnificent weeks in Sierra Leon observing chimpanzees this summer. It has been a while since I published a personal post, since I have been waiting to hear back from a few different institutions regarding my future in primatology. But now that I am pumped full of excitement and vaccines, I think that it is safe to share a little bit about the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project in the Tonkolili District of Sierra Leon in Western Africa.
The National Institute of Health is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world and is comprised of almost 30 centers. Wednesday, June 26, NIH announced that they would be retiring 310 government owned chimpanzees.
Chimpanzees share 98% of our DNA, they have complex relationships, raise their young, wage wars, have friendships, alliances and enemies. They have extensive tool use and even have intricate means of communication. As far as I knew, they were endangered species. I mean, this is what IUCN’s website and even WWF will tell you. But today I learned that that was only applicable to free-living chimpanzees. This means that chimpanzees in captivity are listed as threatened. Maybe this doesn’t seem so bad, until you realize that that is the loophole that allows them to be test subjects and live in labs, in often, sub-par conditions.
Of a chimpanzee researcher at Gombe National Park. Does Gombe sound familiar to you?? Well, if not, it should. Gombe is where Jane Goodall began her groundbreaking research on chimpanzees, or Pan troglodytes.