Posts Tagged With: Jane Goodall

What On Earth Are We Doing?

An "eco-tourism lodge attraction" in the Congo

My original intention was to Google the story about the 32 monkeys that died when a Nevada lab overheated. Charles River Laboratories is one of 26 registered US  importers of primates (others on the list include zoos, universities and private labs). An article on indicated that 27, 388 primates were imported into the US in 2008, with an average of 25,000 primates being imported in the last four years. In 2008, Charles River housed over 10,000 primates at their facility alone.

Ikia's arrival at the Lubumbashi airport

The company’s history traces back to the 1940s when veterinarian  Dr. Henry L. Foster bought a Maryland rat farm for breeding purposes. Later, on a trapping expedition in the Himalayas, Foster returned to the states with several Rhesus monkeys to create a quick-breeding stock of 800. The monkeys were bred on two Florida islands where workers captured 400-500 a year to be sold to labs worldwide.

When I keyed “monkey” into the search engine, “monkeys for sale” immediately appeared in the drop-down list. Curious and appalled, I clicked on it. Monkeys for sale in Canada? I clicked through the pages and found a Japanese Snow monkey for $6,500, posted by Northern Exotics near Sudbury, Ontario. “This is a legit sale and not a scam as so often seen with monkeys.” There was also a baby female Snow monkey for $3,500, OBO.

The Northern Exotics site also boasted Jamaican Fruit bats, armadillos, sugar gliders and Fennec foxes.  In Montreal, Quebec, Pastor Emmanuel and his wife Cindy have an advert that says they “are giving out cute baby marmosets for adoption to any Christian, pet loving and caring family.” The babies are house-raised, diaper and leash trained, wear clothes and like to watch TV.

The primatestore. com had a Christmas special on infant black-handed spider monkeys—only $9,000 each. Tentatively, I keyed in “Chimps for sale.” I was stunned. There were several listings for chimps in Texas and Ohio.  One of the links led me to a 2008 SPCA report on the rescue of Henry, a 23-year-old chimp who was found at an emaciated 60 pounds (half the body weight of a healthy chimp) in a cage so small that it caused him severe spinal deformities. The cage was littered with empty soda cans and cigarette butts.

On the site PRLog Free Press Release I came across this headline: “We Sale Big Monkeys, Chimpanzees, Orang tuans, Gorillas.” They advertised worldwide delivery in two to three working days to America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Here’s a cut and paste of the ad at :

PR Log (Press Release)Mar 08, 2010 – You need a monkey babies or old ?  a chimpanzee, orang utans, gorillas, big cats, panter  please call us tehn we can get it done within 2 working days deliver to your home  or you can pick it up payment upon receival   we can also trains this animals for you  in additional 6 weeks  time.

I remember the day Chantal, Sevrine and I were driving out to a quarry for a picnic (in the Congo). We saw a sinewy Congolese boy in his early teens at the roadside. As our vehicle approached he lifted a dik dik in the air (a dik dik is a small, antelope-like animal). He began shouting at us as we slowed down. The dik dik was for sale. I hadn’t even seen a dik dik in the wild the entire month I was there, and was saddened to see a young one for sale that would most likely be bought as a pet by an expat, or slaughtered.

The image of the dik dik still haunts me, as does the arrival of Ikia, the chimp who was flown to the J.A.C.K. chimp sanctuary where I volunteered in Lubumbashi. She arrived dehydrated and limp-bodied, and died less than 12 hours later in the arms of Augustin. She was bought for $120 US on the roadside of Kalemie in a burlap sack bound with twigs.

Ikia, sold for $120 in Kalemie, Congo

Writing this post, I feel the dull pulse of a headache. It’s one that stems from frustration, and when I find another ad for a chimp for sale in Yellowknife, posted December 28th, I am exasperated. For $700, “King,” an eight-month-old chimp comes with a complete instruction book and other toys and accessories.

I need Jane Goodall on speed dial. Chimps and monkeys are not intended as pets. We can all easily recall the disturbing images of Charla Nash who was attacked by her friend’s chimp in Stamford, Connecticut, can’t we? The chimp was eventually shot by police due to his aggression. Nash is suing her friend, Sandra Herold, for $50 million saying she “was negligent and reckless for lacking the ability to control a wild animal with violent propensities.”

Travis, Herold’s chimp, had lived with her for 14 years. He had appeared in several TV commercials and a television pilot, as well as promotional events for Herold’s towing business. Nash is left blind, wearing a veil so she doesn’t scare people with her unsightly appearance.

I returned to the article on the Nevada research monkeys that were killed by human error. The company was charged just last year when a monkey was scalded to death after it was accidentally sent through an automatic cage washer.

Ikia at the J.A.C.K. sanctuary

Andrew Westoll, author of The Riverbones had posted the original article on his Facebook profile page. Westoll, a former biologist and primatologist who decided to focus on his dynamic writing talent is to publish Thirteen Chimpanzees in the spring of 2011. The thirteen chimps he writes about have spent decades in US biomedical research labs and have now found a safe haven at the Fauna Foundation in Quebec. The chimps share the farm with over a hundred other rehabilitating animals rescued from the entertainment industry, research labs or agriculture. Fauna is their forever home. As the home page for the Foundation promises, the animals are provided with companionship and enrichment, “free from the fear and hardships they have known.”

I clicked on the chimp In Remembrance page, knowing that I would be inconsolable. I read about Donna Rae, the chimp who came from the Animal Kingdom Talent Service. She learned to ride a bike and how to play the guitar. In her last five years at a lab, she was used in HIV studies that involved lymph node and bone marrow biopsies. Following one intervention, she actually went into shock from the pain. The obituary reads: “constantly mutilating herself, Donna always looked as though she had given up all hope.”

I read about Pablo who chewed off one of his fingers, clearly the direct result of being darted over 220 times, enduring 30 biopsies and being injected with 10,000 times the lethal dose of HIV.

In 1959, Annie was stolen from her family in Africa. She became part of the circus before spending 21 years in the lab as a breeder. Billy was often found having panic attacks so violent that he would be left convulsing. His teeth had been knocked out by a crow bar. After 15 years in the entertainment industry, he was knocked out 289 times for 40 liver and lymph node biopsies. He eventually chewed off  his own thumbs. Jean was inoculated with HIV after several cervical biopsies. After a nervous breakdown she removed all of her fingernails. Her aggressive seizures led to “floating hand and foot,” a condition that led her to attack her own feet and hands, as though they were not her own.

Fifteen years ago I wrote a feature for Cockroach magazine, a publication of the Environmental Youth Alliance, where I worked in Vancouver, BC. It was an expose of the bear bile and bear part trade industry in China. There are currently 7,000 bears on bear bile farms in China, caged and exploited for their bile which is used in traditional Chinese medicine. The bears have surgically implanted tubes in their gall bladders and are “milked” twice a day. Once they stop producing bile (between five and ten years of age), the bears are left to die of starvation or illness, or killed so the farm can sell their paws ($250 each). In the15 years since I wrote that article, the farms have grown in size and production.

In the documentary The Cove I watched the waters of Taiji, Japan turn scarlet red with the slaughter of dolphins. Over 20,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed every year, driven to shore by the fishing boats where they are harpooned. Due to suffocating media pressure and response to the documentary, Taiji actually called for a temporary ban on killing bottlenose dolphins.

Exposure brings education, hope and change.

The news seems to be littered with abominable stories of animal abuse lately. Like the 11 rare Siberian tigers who died at a zoo in Beijing. There is speculation that zoos in China may be deliberately breeding more animals than they can afford, selling the carcasses to the black market for use in traditional medicines and liquor. An article in the Hamilton Spectator reported the tigers starved to death, having been fed nothing but chicken bones. Since, there have been reports of tiger farms steeping the bones of deceased tigers in liquor which is then sold to visitors.

There are 300 Siberian tigers left in the wild, 50 in China. Five thousand more live in captivity on farms and wildlife parks across China.

I could go on.

However, there is hope. Jane Goodall says so. She is lecturing in Toronto next week, celebrating the 50th anniversary of her plight to bring the story of her chimps in Gombe, Tanzania to the world. Her latest book, Hope For Animals and Their World, How Endangered Species are Being Rescued From the Brink (co-authored with Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson) spotlights the enormous efforts of several individuals and field biologists who have truly saved several species from the brink. Her message is uplifting, and instils motivation. She dedicates the book to “the memory of Martha, the last passenger pigeon—and to the last Miss Waldron’s colobus monkey and the last Yangtze River dolphin. As we think of their lonely end, may we be inspired to work harder to prevent others suffering a similar fate.”

Please watch The Cove. Read about the Flora Foundation. Become a fan of Andrew Westoll’s Thirteen Chimpanzees on Facebook.. Buy tickets to see empowering speakers like Jane, a woman who has given her life to a crusade that should remind us all of the fragility and interconnectedness we share with animals on this Earth.

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope.” –Barbara Kingsolver

Andrew Westoll’s site:

Jane Goodall’s Hope For the Animals:

More on the bear trade industry:

The Cove

Fox News article on Nevada research monkeys:

Christian marmosets for sale:

Northern Exotics:

The Fauna Foundation:

Categories: Congo Line: Once Upon a Time in Africa, Into and Out of Africa, Polyblogs in a Jar, Things with Fur and Feathers | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Have a Little Faith

Indigo_2009_094When I started Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, I had already convinced myself that the book was going to be as flaky as baklava. I was certain that it would be a tacky spin-off of Michael Landon’s Highway to Heaven with the sap content of Touched by an Angel.

By God, I loved the book and the essential concept that we are constantly crossing silent intersections with people who may be directly influencing our life’s path. When I read that Mitch Albom was launching his first non-fiction book since Tuesdays With Morrie at Indigo tonight, I knew I had to be there.

Two weeks ago I sprinted from work with a stitch in my side to see Jane Goodall promoting her latest: Hope For the Animals. I was cursing my last hairy-backed client because I arrived 15 minutes before she graced the stage and the lower level of Indigo was like a Boxing Day sale. I had to choose between a pole obstruction or a Jolly Green Giant obstruction. Why is it that the 6 foot + set like to be in the very front? For most of the interview with Jane I saw only her left eye sandwiched between a woman with hair that was as high as it was wide, and a shifty guy who kept scratching something weeping on the back of his neck. Then there was the teeny bopper directly in front of me who proceeded to stand on her tiptoes every few minutes and adjust her ponytail in front of my face.

I wanted priority seating. I wanted there to be skill-testing questions on Jane Goodall that would earn true fans better seats. At the same time, I was thrilled that so many people had made it a priority to see and hear what Queen Jane had to say about chimps, the Earth and the hope that she sees in it all. She drew a crowd like free ice cream bars would at Yonge and Dundas square.

So, this time I was smart. I arrived an hour and a half early for Mitch Albom with a tall skim African Red Bush Tea Misto in hand. I even brought my glasses for high definition (not necessary with the previous pole and people obstructions with Jane). I assessed the crowd of New Age nerds, seniors with snow white hair and Werther’s candies and a large contingent of the over-40, Mr. Rogers cardigan-wearing set. The seats were soon filled, but the place wasn’t like the zoo it became with Jane Goodall in the house.

Albom’s visit to Indigo was a Canadian exclusive, and I was surprised that more hadn’t flocked to see the Oprah-approved writer promote his latest, Have a Little Faith. Given my faith in Albom and his ability to write books that make one think, I was eager to hear the behind-the-scenes snippets of his newest work.

Albom began by sharing the inspiration for the story, and explained how an 82-year-old rabbi from his hometown asked him to write his eulogy. He had known the rabbi for a long time, but not well enough to know his essence. Eight years later (the rabbi lived to be 90), Albom had a solid grip on the rabbi, and an intense education on the life of a man of God. Still, he was amazed that the rabbi wore Bermuda shorts and sandals with socks, and answered his own doorbell.

And then he introduced another vital character: the pastor at a scruffy church in Detroit with a hole in the roof that let  God and the rain in–in equal amounts. The pastor had promised God his life after robbing his own drug dealer and praying to survive behind a trash can with a shotgun. He lived, and fulfilled his promise with a self-imposed detox and gratitude for a second chance after a shaky as a Polaroid beginning. The pastor grew up impoverished, in a home where they left rice out for the mice so the vermin wouldn`t bite them while they slept. At 18, the pastor was charged with manslaughter (wrongfully) and imprisoned. When he was released from prison, he found solace in drugs, and in as  sketched out state and desperate for a fix, he robbed the most lucrative source he knew, his dealer. That was the night he was introduced to God and submitted his resume for immediate employment in the House of God.

Have a Little Faith was written to emphasize that we all need to find something bigger than ourselves to believe in. And although the Detroit pastor and 82-year-old rabbi had more differences than commonalities, they had both found comfort in faith.

This is when the book launch turned into a sermon and I started reading the quote on my Starbucks cup so I wouldn`t get sucked into the cult. Mitch Albom pointed out that we were all children of God and dictated his polished story of how babies enter the world with closed fists. He spoke in that therapeutic voice designed to stay with you and shape your life without you being aware. He told us of the rabbi in his dying days, and how the rabbi realized that babies come into this world not knowing what to expect. They have clenched fists, holding everything because they think they deserve it and are entitled to it. The ailing rabbi opened his hands before Albom and showed him how he would die—with open hands. Because you can`t take anything with you.  The crowd laughed in unison like Woody Woodpecker when he pointed out that a nice car won`t help you get to the afterlife, but faith will.

I was beginning to get distracted at this point. Maybe because after seeing Africa, I believed even more strongly  that there couldn`t  be a God. There`s even a documentary narrated by Nicole Kidman about the Lost Boys of Sudan called God Grew Tired Of Us. That`s how the Sudanese feel, like God grew tired of them and abandoned Africa altogether. But, they pray with such conviction and hope, with a trust that is unmatched.

Albom pulled the threads together by closing with his thoughts on the interconnectedness of faith and happiness.  This is where I might have started my obvious sneering. I do think many find great comfort in this combination, but I think happiness can also be a stand alone, without faith.

I wandered off, choosing not to buy the book (I`ll give it a go when it becomes available in paperback), and ended up in the Well Being section, because I was indeed feeling well after a shiatsu treatment and Chinese steamed pork buns. I found Julia Cameron`s The Artist`s Way on display and leafed through it for the twentieth time. My friend Heidi is contemplating it as well, but we are both hesitant on exposure to the supposedly life-altering words inside.

I picked up Oprah`s latest, because, confession here—sometimes I like to buy her glossy magazine and read all that gut-grilling stuff.  DREAM BIG!  O`s Guide To Discovering Your Best Life held more potential for me than Have a Little Faith. (Editor`s Note: If it was have a little Faith Hill, yes, sign me up!)

I flipped to O`s section on Five Things Happy People Do by Gabrielle LeBlanc (just to see if church was one of them). This is what I found, and will share with you so you can be happy as well.

1. Realize one`s golden self through eudaimonic well-being. Eudaimonia, for those not fluent in Oprah-speak, is striving toward excellence based on one`s unique talents and potential. Meaning: take on new challenges and follow one`s sense of purpose.

2. Design your life to bring joy in. Whether it be a relationship or a career, it`s difficult to abandon dreams even when they turn sour. Make deliberate changes, NOW. A study conducted out of the University of California San Diego had 900 women write down everything they did the day before. They had to evaluate how they felt at each point with each activity. Many of them cried realizing how much of their day was spent being unhappy.

3. Avoid If only…. fantasies. If only I were skinnier, if only I had more money, if only I had finished my degree…We misjudge contentment by zeroing in on one single aspect of life and are fooled by the focusing illusion. In a study where participants were asked how happy they were with their life in general, and how many dates they`d had in the last month, the answers were dramatically different according to the order of the questions. When asked about dating first, thoughts of their romantic life influenced the overall happiness response more negatively.

By keeping our life full of novelty, the pressure is alleviated from unrealistic expectations from partners or work, to solely fulfill happiness.

4. Put best friends first. More joy is derived from spending longer quality time with close friends than chatting with acquaintances. (Obviously the author of this entry doesn`t Twitter or Facebook.)

5. Allow yourself to be happy. Even the Dalai Lama says it`s cool in his books. We can`t save the polar bears and poor Africans all at once. Dalai says it`s okay to pursue personal happiness and help others simultaneously. Whew.

Basically, everything you own should have value. Either because it`s functional, beautiful, or you just love it.

And that`s happy in five easy steps. Just like making Kraft Dinner. If you need and want faith to get you there, fine. If pumpkin pie for breakfast is the critical omission to this checklist, go, be happy with your pie and morning paper.

Find your own brand of faith and indulge. Make your very own Happy Meal.


If you have more faith than I do, check out–

And for more on Jane Goodall`s latest–

O`s DREAM BIG! Link–

Categories: On My Bookshelf | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lessons in Dying

ikia in bagIt was to be a day of celebration, not a morning of angry tears and bitter rage directed at the ignorance of mankind.

I have always sympathized with Dian Fossey and her misinterpreted passion, I understood how her love for the mountain gorillas ran so deep and fast that strangling poachers bare-handed seemed  like the only viable solution to her. I’d like to stop the beating heart and breathing lungs of the guy who decided to rob Ikia of her life in the wild just to make a quick buck.

Three weeks ago, Julius, a geologist in Kalemie, was approached at his home a chimp trafficker, and the proposal wasn’t out of the ordinary. As a wealthy Congolese mining survey freelancer who frequently entertains expats and foreign nationals, Julius has been targeted as an individual who can afford exotic pets—and would have connections to others who would be interested in similar transactions. Exotic pet traffickers routinely come to his compound with African grey parrots, crocodiles, monkeys, marabou storks, and as of late, three baby chimpanzees.

When Julius saw the grave condition that Ikia was in, he felt there was no other choice but to save the chimp from the greedy hands of the trafficker who had her tucked away in a burlap sack bound with twigs. She was bought for $120US after Julius refused the asking price of $200.

Ikia’s decline was immediate. Julius provided her with shelter in his courtyard, and the young chimp was immediately hostile and aggressive. Attempts at feeding her were in vain—she refused milk and would only eat small amounts of papaya. Julius contacted the Jane Goodall Institute (no response) and Chimfunshi in Zambia (also no response) for advice. The husband of a colleague of Chantal’s who was familiar with her work as co-director of J.A.C.K. in Lubumbashi, cemented a connection between Julius and Chantal. Urgent phone calls and desperate emails ping-ponged between the two as Ikia’s health became critical.

Chantal immediately coordinated a meeting with the Minister of the Environment and an inspector from the Institute for Hunting and Conservation and Nature (notice how it’s the Institute of Hunting before other concerns like Conservation and Nature?) to obtain permission for the seizure and relocation of Ikia to the J.A.C.K. refuge where she could receive appropriate care and veterinary attention (from the one and only vet in Lubumbashi).

The Minister of the Environment was unavailable, but represented by a boozy stand-in, and the IHCN inspector proved to be shadier than a tree, working for financial motives more than animal welfare. The whiff of corruption was immediately evident as both men were asking for money to expedite the process and maintain their interest.

Ikia's arrival at the Lubumbashi airport

Ikia's arrival at the Lubumbashi airport

Kalemie is a two and a half hour flight from Lubumbashi. Due to Ikia’s deplorable condition, immediate decisions were necessary to ensure her survival. The documents that were to be signed by the officials on a Friday afternoon were somehow pushed to Monday in favour of whiskey, despite the urgent request for permission to fly Ikia to Lubumbashi that Saturday. On Monday, Chantal was to hear from the Minister by day’s end, but again, there was a delay in any formal action. When she was finally invited to the “office” of the Minister to receive the required documents, she was offered a seat (a plastic lawn chair) in a windowless office with only a table and one other lawn chair.  The Minister’s stand-in had no paper and asked Chantal to borrow a pen—which confirmed the lack of professionalism and governmental resources from the beginning.

Chantal phoned Julius to confirm that the permission had been granted, a pilot had been contacted and the expense of the flight was going to be waived. Except, on that Tuesday, only Julius got on the plane in Kalemie– there wasn’t room in the cargo area of the plane for Ikia. Julius decided to fly to Lubumbashi to assist the refuge with negotiations and his colleague, Patrick, would fly with Ikia the following day.

The refuge staff anxiously prepared the quarantine cage and the vet was contacted. As we paced, waiting for the phone call indicating that Ikia was on the plane, Julius informed us of different news– the flight from Kalemie was cancelled, but Ikia would arrive the next day. On Wednesday the flight was delayed for hours.  When we received the green light that Ikia was on the flight, we headed to the airport with the Minister’s useless sidekick and the seedy, glassy-eyed inspector. Halfway out of the city the sidekick realized he didn’t have the documents to present to the airport officials. We turned around. Then he decided he wanted to take his own vehicle—and asked Chantal for $10 to cover the petrol. 

In separate vehicles we rushed to the airport, exasperated at the behaviour of the ministry. The officials continued to ask Julius for more money. The airport officials in Kalemie demanded $100 US to put Ikia on the plane. The Lubumbashi  airport police stopped us at the gate and said we could only take one vehicle beyond the entrance. After removing the crate for transferring Ikia to the official’s car, he couldn’t unlock the back door of his Jeep, so we reloaded ours, and both cars were granted permission to proceed—with a bribe payment and a crooked smile.

The police officer wore a dusty uniform hat and a sweatshirt that my grandmother would have loved (it might have belonged to her at one point). The sweatshirt had LET IT SNOW written in big, sparkly letters and the snowflakes were carefully sewn-on sequins. The cardinals were also sparkly and of red glitter. I thought of the intense fear locals and the world have for the Congolese police. How could anyone be afraid of an officer wearing a nubby Grandma sweatshirt, even with a rifle slung over his shoulder?

The plane was landing as we made our way through the gate, the LET IT SNOW officer smiling like a fool with extra money in his pocket. Ikia had no idea of the life that was about to unfold for her, but already, the days had been too long. The daily setbacks in the process we tried to hurry would eventually determine her fate.

We don’t know how many days she spent in a burlap bag on the back of a bumpy truck from the mountains. We’ll never know how many chimps were killed in order for the trafficker to get his hands on Ikia. The chimp troop would have defended her and perished in a bloody battle to save their own from the trafficker.

Julius tells us the traffickers are infiltrating the Kalemie area from Tanzania–convincing local Bantus and a pygmy tribe that they can find a reliable income for their families by getting involved in the exotic pet trade.

Historically, the Bantus and Kalemie population have never eaten chimpanzee, but the ever-growing militia numbers in the area do, presenting another threat to the two chimp colonies nearby. No one knows the number of chimps living in this area—a survey has never been done. National Geographic biologists were in the region earlier this year, but their focus was on the snake and frog population.

For the chimps of Kalemie, habitat destruction is pushing them closer to local communities who are torching large stands of forest for charcoal (a major fuel source for locals for cooking) and farmland. Gold mining surveys are presently being carried out which could also upset the delicate ecosystem and range of the chimps in future years as mining exploits are carried out.

Many fingers of blame can be pointed in every direction. To the minister officials with questionable morals, to the inspectors with equally dark motives, to an uneducated population who have found exotic animal trafficking provides a lucrative income. There are no schools in a 120 km radius of Kalemie—the pygmy tribe still lives by nomadic principles, their quiet existence suddenly interrupted by outsiders who have found a valuable resource in their forests. The Tanzanian traders can be blamed too–for fulfilling a demand from Saudi Arabia, to supply wealthy oil barons and army officials asking for chimps to call their very own.

Although J.A.C.K. can celebrate 23 success stories, there is no progress being made when the alarming news of a lively chimp trafficking trade is illuminated. Lwiro Primates in South Kivu (near Goma) recently introduced two more chimps to its primate sanctuary, in addition to the 45 chimps and 50 monkeys that they already house. The existence of sanctuaries and refuges like Lwiro, J.A.C.K. and Ngamba Island (Entebbe, Uganda) are indications of human failure and the tremendously steep climb that is ahead.

Soccer balls, bonbons and old running shoes aren’t going to save Africa. The need for effective educational programs and a support staff to ensure their continuity are essential puzzle pieces in seeking equilibrium in this situation. Without education, poverty and corruption create an ugly piggy-back monster for a population surviving with limited resources.

086Ikia is a product of the conflict, soupy morals and disorientation of the Congo. She died 12 hours after she arrived at J.A.C.K. Severely malnourished and dehydrated, her immune system and vitality was compromised long before we could be of assistance. Her weak, initial cries upon arrival were the last we heard. By morning, she was unresponsive, her limp body was unable to resuscitate. She died in Augie’s arms, unaware of the safety and security that finally surrounded her.

The Congolese traditionally bury their dead the very same day, and by 2:30 that afternoon, Ikia’s body was placed in an elaborate coffin decorated with ivory bows and lined with cloth. She was customarily buried with tree branches pushed into the dirt of her grave, as the branches would take her back to nature when she went to the otherworld. The service was brief; the emotions of the J.A.C.K. staff were visible on drawn faces and in clenched fists. The tug-of-war between anger and inconceivable sadness for her death pulled at each of us.

Ikia reminded us of the consequence of poverty and the desperation of a beleaguered Africa. Her death provided insight into the existence of chimp colonies that were unheard of. Of course we envisioned a different life for her, but understand that her death was for a purpose that will prove to be greater than her life.

Please tell everyone you know about the chimp trafficking situation in the Congo. And if you want to donate money to a cause that will directly influence the future, wild population of chimpanzees in Africa, visit the J.A.C.K. website or Facebook link at:

Lwiro Primates:


Or if you’re bilingual like the Congo believes all Canadians to be due to Celine Dion singing French songs, visit the J.A.C.K. site on Facebook (en francais):


Categories: Congo Line: Once Upon a Time in Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Unexpected Life

When a local game ranger brought a malnourished and sickly chimpanzee to Shelia Siddle in Zambia in 1983, she never anticipated that one day her cattle ranch would become the largest chimp sanctuary in the world.

With only a copy of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man to refer to, Shelia and her husband Dave committed to the daunting task of nursing “Pal” back to health, following parenting instincts more than anything else.  After Pal came Liza Do Little, Girly, Junior and Charley, each with their own troubling story of abuse. When Shelia’s book In My Family Tree—A Life With Chimpanzees was published in 2002, her Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage had welcomed over 85 injured and abused chimps, dozens of monkeys, baboons, African grey parrots, bushbucks and a hippo named Billy.

For Shelia, who was ready to embrace a golden retirement on the Kafue River, Pal and those who followed forever changed the path of her life. Shelia had moved to Africa in 1947 with her wanderlust-driven parents and became a race-car driver, contrary to what her generation accepted as a traditional female role. She had five children and a cattle ranch, and never dreamed that her life would be dedicated to chimps.

Mac at Ngamba Island, Uganda

Chimps arrived at Chimfunshi addicted to cigarettes and beer from young lives spent as circus performers in local bars. Some chimpanzees didn’t recognize their own kind after being raised in human households. Others struggled for dominance, or sometimes just acceptance amongst the motley crew. Wide-eyed in their new territory, some of the youngsters had to watch the older chimps for lessons on how to build nests. The Siddles had built large enclosures so the chimps could sleep in the cages at night, or, in the open acreage in trees as they would in the wild.

Rita preferred the company of humans, and their shoes. She would remove the laces of every guest’s shoes, then carefully attempt to relace them, missing a few eyes, but would attempt to tie them up again. An artistic soul, Rita also used American scientist Mark Wright’s notepad and pen to draw. When other chimps were around though, they would annoy Rita by stealing her artwork. Eventually, Mark would wait until the other chimps were napping before he passed Rita the notepad. She would sometimes sit and draw for half an hour or more.

Pal was more concerned with Shelia’s complexion than doodling. Chimps love to groom one another, but Pal became consumed with the hairs on Shelia’s face. He would use his lips and teeth to pull out offending hairs and even squeeze pimples between his fingers!

The antics of Sandy had me laughing out loud. His natural reaction was to throw anything he could get his hands on at whoever might be in range. Oranges became perfect weapons, and Shelia finally realized she was perpetuating his behavior by returning the thrown objects back to him. When she held on to the thrown orange longer than usual, Sandy became sharply aware of the consequences. Shelia eventually returned the orange which Sandy immediately ate—quickly throwing the wadded-up orange peel at Shelia as she walked away.

Sunday at Ngamba Island

When the Siddles began offering sugarcane to the chimps to eat, Sandy found a dual purpose. He took great pleasure in thwacking unsuspecting chimps in the back of the head with the sugarcane stalks, creating instant chaos.

“It wasn’t long before mealtimes became a regular battlefield with Sandy around, as bits of fruits and vegetables filled the skies like V-2 rockets. Sandy eventually became a connoisseur of throwable food, preferring more solid bits like apple cores or apricot pits, or fruits that had peels that he could was into a tight ball. He clearly eschewed leafy foods like lettuce and cabbage though. The few times Sandy threw those, the leaves just fluttered harmlessly to the ground, and he trudged away disgusted.”

Sandy eventually found a partner in crime, Tara. The sanctuary was open to the public, and Sandy and Tara were known to pounce on visitors from their hiding spots on low branches. Other times they would pull back saplings like catapults and release them in perfect time to slap an unsuspecting visitor. Sandy also liked to race ahead and then quietly double back from which point he would dive on to the shoulders and heads of somebody. Many guests returned from the bush walks with bruises and torn clothing, but always full of smiles and stories.

Sandy was also dramatic—nearly convincing Shelia that he was near death one day.  He had refused his morning milk and was incredibly mopey. He appeared too weak to stand and “spent the entire day on the verge of death.” The following morning Sandy showed Shelia the source of his moping– his tooth had fallen out and he showed her by pulling back his lips with his fingers.

Rita was known for her nursing sense. When she couldn’t remove a splinter from Tara’s foot, she thrust Tara’s foot through the bars of the cage to show Shelia. When Donna had a thorn in her foot, Rita was first on the scene, placing her hand on Donna for reassurance as she prodded the tender area.

In 1990, Jane Goodall contacted the Siddles, asking if they could take another chimp. Milla had been a barroom attraction at an Arusha hotel in Tanzania. They arrived in a single-engine plane with a UK vet. Jane and the vet rode in the back of the truck on a pile of sugarcane , wrapping blankets around Milla’s cage to keep her warm. Milla “went one better: She pulled the blankets through the bars and wrapped herself in them.”

Ngamba Island Chimp Sanctuary

Milla was discovered in a meat market in Cameroon when she was a very tiny baby, tethered alongside the body of her dead mother, and was bought by a very generous British couple, who brought Milla to Kenya and looked after her as their own child until she was about five years old. When the Brit couple had to leave the country, they left Milla with caretakers in Arusha, where she was introduced to the bar lifestyle, smoking and drinking.

Shelia’s description of Millla’s adjustment to Chimfunshi is tremendously emotional—she eventually  integrates, retaining her curious habits of walking upright on two legs, and carrying her blanket with her everywhere. Milla found several uses for her blanket—once flicking it through the bars of the cage to hit a dog who had his nose in the chimps’ food. She would also flick peacocks or geese if they were out of reach. Once she filled her blanket with six sweet potatoes, two guavas and an orange. She neatly folded the corners up and made the blanket into a small parcel so she could pick up her meal and find a quiet place to eat away from the other chimps.

When Billy the hippo arrived, Shelia could no longer be surprised at the evolution of her life and purpose.  Local hunters had killed the mother, and at 10 days old, survival in the wild would have been impossible. The crowd that had gathered has inflicted several wounds and severe gashes on the baby with sharp sticks. With little guidance on how to care for a hippo, Shelia and Dave bravely attempted to help her thrive. In three months she weighed 330 pounds and followed Shelia around like a dog, wagging her stubby tail. Most of the older chimps were terrified of Billy, but she grew incredibly fond of The Infants—Trixie, Diana, Doc, Zsabu and Violet. Billy adopted the chimps as her own and nap beside them or  would be found “gazing happily at them through the wire mesh.” The chimps would slap her hide playfully, pull her ears, and jump down from the trees onto her back.

Billy also became attached to the dogs at the sanctuary. She would mimic their behavior and grab automobile tires like chew toys, flinging it around as the dogs did with their smaller toys. Her closest companion was Gretchen, a Rottweiler who she slept with at night. When Gretchen died in her sleep Billy was inconsolable. She kept nudging Shelia, begging her to do something to revive her friend, Gretchen. For two days Billy refused to eat or take milk and “kept a silent vigil near the kennel.” In her lonesome state, Billy broke into Shelia and Dave’s house three times looking for comfort.

Then there was Ole, a tiny barred owl who had fallen from his nest. For two months he’d swoop tentatively around the livingroom of Shelia’s house, test-driving his new found wings. Ole soon learned how to dive bomb their dinner plates as well, grabbing fried eggs and currant bread to eat from the safety of his curtain rod perch. Eager that he return to the wild, Shelia left all the house windows open, and Ole took short flights to neighbouring trees, always returning to the safety of the house. His longest sojourn was three nights, and then the days between his visits stretched even further with only rare appearances around their house.

Billy eventually discovered his wild instincts too, and when Shelia finally successfully coaxed him into the Kafue River she was like a porpoise. Shelia lured her further into the water while she sat in a boat (nervous of crocodiles, otherwise she would have been in the river herself). Billy soon established a pattern of roaming, joining other hippos in the Kafue, feeding and courting with them as she should.

Not all of the animals that arrived at Chimfunshi survived, and the stories of abuse are tragic. More often though, hope is renewed in chimps like Leben and Choco who arrived from the Tel Aviv Zoo. When they first arrived they were both sullen and unresponsive and “clung to each other like magnets. Only when a visitor from Israel spoke to them in Hebrew several months later did they spring to life and begin hugging one another and laughing out loud. It turned out that they spoke Hebrew, not English.”

In 1995, Sheila and Dave bought a neighbouring farm , a 13,000 acre property. The thick jungle, fruit groves and open grassland would allow the chimps to establish territory, and roam as they would in the wild. It would be the largest area ever set aside for captive primates. “It wasn’t freedom—we knew that—but in a world where chimpanzees are hunted for meat and forests are decimated daily, it was probably as close to freedom as any of our chimps might ever get.”

When it came time to release the chimps into the acreage, Sheila was only able to focus on one chimp, Pal.  Nobody thought Pal would survive, and his scars and droopy lip reminded her of how he arrived 18 years before, desperate, with his face split open and broken teeth.

“My heart was in my throat as I placed a hand on the sliding metal door and peered into Pal’s cage. I leaned in close. “I promised you this,” I whispered. “Now off you go.”

Before Pal rushed off with the others, Tobar and Spencer, he turned to look back at Shelia. He was “staring straight into my eyes. And maybe it was my imagination, but for just that magical second, I believe he was thanking me.”

In My Family Tree is a remarkable book that reminds us of how moments that seem accidental can change the course of our lives. Thank you to the Shelia and Dave Siddle for their unswerving determination to provide a safe haven for orphaned and abused chimps (and even a darling hippo) to frolic and thrive.

David Siddle died  in June 2006, at age 78. “We shall miss David terribly, of course, perhaps no one more than I,” said Sheila Siddle. “But we must keep working for the chimps. We must make sure they are well cared for. That’s what David would have wanted.”

More about Chimfunshi:

Ngamba Island Chimp Sanctuary:

Where I’ll be in July (J.A.C.K., Congo):

And, for more info about the woman who introduced the world to the plight of the chimpanzees:

Categories: Into and Out of Africa, On My Bookshelf | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cat Crap Coffee, Bird Dung Facials and Nibbling Fish Therapy

Tess, dreaming of cat shit coffee

Tess, dreaming of cat shit coffee

If you missed the cat shit coffee craze of five years ago, it’s back, and better than before. Even Dr. Jane Goodall is backing the Vancouver-based Doi Chaang Coffee Co.’s newest product because it’s organic and sustainably collected from the wild. At $500 a pound though, it may be cheaper to fly to the Doi Chaang village in Northern Thailand to scavenge for your own.

The cat crap brew that is the cat’s meow again is a product of the civet cat. When someone put two and two together, meaning civets & coffee and barf & poop, a beautiful thing was discovered. Civets eat the beans and pass them, creating lucrative stooping and scooping for the entrepreneurial Akha Hill tribe of Doi Chaang. Even regurgitated beans (cat barf) are collected and marketed as “spat” coffee as opposed to “passed” coffee.

Unfortunately, the Western popularity of civet crap coffee resulted in many of the wild civets being captured and caged to maximize profits. Apparently the civet-passed coffee has been around for decades, but only appreciated in Asian markets.  As reported in “Brother, can you spare $500 for coffee?” (The Vancouver Sun, May 23, 2009) hunky Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy detected “honey notes and a deeply mellow chocolately earthiness.”  Online food sites suggest bright and fruity flavour profiles for the litter box coffee. Deeply mellow chocolately earthiness? Really?

The civet coffee buzz can only lead to one thing: a really expensive crappacinno.

It seems like everyone is cashing in on shit lately. The swanky Shikuza Spa in New York is promoting a Geisha Facial which uses traditional and natural Japanese ingredients, like dried bird droppings, or uguisu no fun (and I didn’t even make that up). This spa treatment gives a new meaning to “getting shit-faced.” Somehow, some Geisha with waterproof mascara discovered that nightingale droppings could be used to remove make-up (I would love to know how exactly this discovery came about. Hmm, this soap and water just isn’t working. I know, that big pile of bird droppings on my window sill, I bet that’ll do the trick!). The Shizuka Spa website even suggests that this same Geisha noticed that the droppings helped “to brighten, heal and retexturize the skin due to natural enzymes and guanine, which imparts a pearly luster to the skin.” After all those years of dedicated Clearasil and Oxy Medicated Cleansing Pads use.

Pearly luster? I say save your $180 for the 60 minute facial, side-step the $500 pound of coffee and buy a flight to Mexico. Blast that potentially pearly porcelain luster with UV rays and H1N1. More than 20 coastal Mexican hotels have launched a “flu-free guarantee” this month in response to the Swine Flu that has drastically reduced the number of tourists tanked on tequila. With this guarantee, if you catch the H1N1 virus while vacationing (and obtain a blood test to prove it), you can get your next three vacations for free. As of May 17th, the virus had infected nearly 6,500 people worldwide, so odds are good. Besides, Mexico is generally associated with diarrhea anyway, what ‘s a little touch of the Swine Flu?

Real Resorts, AMResorts and Karisma’s El Dorado and Azul hotels (Cancun and Mayan Riviera) are participating in this promo for travel until December 20, 2009. If you are a winner and test positive for H1N1 within five days of departure you will be magically granted three return stays (valid for one traveler and one companion), one per  year.  This is an exceptional deal, provided you don’t die.


A Tang in my brother Dax's aquarium, not involved in any spa treatments

A safer bet that doesn’t involve cat or bird droppings would be a visit to Malaysia’s Sampuoton Spa. Flipping through a copy of Elle at lunch last week, I was sucked into the “ELLE HOT 100 List” that suggested an alternative beauty fix for dry, winter skin. Branding itself as the first “fish-therapy designer concept spa,” Garra Rufa fish from Turkey will nibble at your dead skin cells. The fish are intelligent too—they will only eat the dead and infected skin cells. Kindly, while snacking, the fish emit an enzyme that “prevents the fast development of cells on the skin.” The hour long treatment is inviting. Who wouldn’t want to slip into a thermal pool filled with Garra Rufa fish? I’m thinking NIGHTMARE, but the Sampuoton suggests that the treatment is relaxing, and you will only feel a mild tickling sensation.

When I visited the site to read more about this seemingly horrifying treatment I clicked on “The Fish” page. Here I learned that the Turkish Garra Rufa fish is actually from the carp family, is known as the “Doctor Fish” by working professors (not sure who they are referring to in that statement), and outside medical circles, the fish is better known as the Reddish Log Sucker. I can see why they decided to incorporate the more exotic Latin fish reference. Who would want a Reddish Log Sucker to eat their dead skin cells? The Garra Rufa Doctor fish, well, that fish has credentials and sounds smart.

The site wisely appeals to those searching for Zen and balance. “Recreation and Nature return. People may realize harmony between human and nature while playing with the fish in the pool while reaching the goal of promoting health recreation.” Who plays with fish? I had Sea Monkeys as a kid, and they were a scam. The comic book adverts said you could teach the smiling Sea Monkeys to play baseball. Yeah, right. This alone discourages me from playing with Reddish Log Suckers who have been eating  the garbage off people I haven’t even met. And, if these Doctor fish are so awesome, shouldn’t they be in every public pool and hot tub? Imagine the dead skin available to those hungry nibblers. What a fantastic surprise for unsuspecting YMCA swimmers too as they feel the odd tickle while doing laps and later learn that the Suckers are providing a beauty treatment while they exercise.  Sampuoton Spa goes even further—“after an hour of the fish nibbling session the skin becomes elastic, smooth and gives a healthy shine and a feeling of freshness.”

Civet crappacinno?

Civet crappacinno?

For feelings of freshness I use Dove green tea and cucumber deodorant and give my skin a healthy shine with eight glasses of water and a daily bowl of oatmeal. But, maybe I’ve fooled myself all these years by not trying to achieve the pearly luster of a Geisha by smearing bird shit on my cheeks. I willingly drank and ate fecal matter when I was in Africa which was just foolish. Now I know that a refined palate only chooses spat and shat civet coffee beans.

I guess the spa I work at has a long way to go. We thought clients enjoyed aromatic blends of citrus, lavender and eucalyptus. Tomorrow I’m going to submit a proposal to my boss about creating a Canada Goose Dung Facial and a Coast Mountain Crow Crap body wrap. If that goes successfully, I’m going to gather wild scat in the ravine behind my house and see what shit works best for removing tomato sauce and red wine stains. If the nightingale droppings helped the Geisha with her make-up removal, I bet bear poop studded with blueberries is good for something.

Tall, skim spat coffee

Tall, skim spat coffee

Categories: All Things Spa-like, Things with Fur and Feathers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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