Nancy J. Merrick came to Boston recently to talk about her new book Among Chimpanzees: Field Notes from the Race to Save Our Endangered Relatives. Over lunch, she passed around a series of photographs taken by chimpanzee researcher Matthew McLennan. The photos were compelling, showing key members of a chimpanzee group in Bulindi, Uganda. In them, one could see all the intelligence, emotion, and wild beauty that first captivated a young Merrick in 1972, when she was a student of Jane Goodall’s at the famed Gombe Stream camp in Tanzania. Chimpanzees—as Goodall and the rest of the world would discover—can fashion tools, solve problems, and have complex societies and relationships. And they share 98% of our DNA, making chimps our closest relatives. The chimpanzees in the photographs seemed to have enough charisma to ignite the imaginations of anybody they encountered. But the photographs also showed a darker side: chimpanzees sharing a road with local villagers while the humans looked on, wary but not surprised.
It’s a sad fact that chimpanzees are disappearing at an alarming rate from areas they had previously called home. Exploding human populations have led to vast deforestation and increased conflict with native chimpanzees, who become victim to trapping, poisoning, mutilation, or worse. In Bulindi, where these photos were taken, the chimpanzee population has dropped by a third in just a few years. And interactions with villagers have grown distressingly common as the chimps, desperate for food, look to farmers’ crops as the next available option. It’s this essential conflict, repeated again and again across Africa, that has led to the current crisis. Chimpanzees are now extinct from four countries, and critically endangered in ten others. A large percentage of the remaining populations live in unprotected, increasingly fragmented forests. During her visit, Merrick impressed upon us the importance of her book’s message:
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:
To read more about the chimpanzees Merrick encountered in the writing of Among Chimpanzees, including the “Bulindi Survivors” pictured above, or to learn more about ways you can help in the fight to save chimpanzees, visit www.chimpsaver.org.
ABOUT NANCY J. MERRICK
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.