Anyone who knows me knows about my unfathomable passion for primates. I could talk your ear off all day about the social structure of orangutans, the gibbon’s complex form of communication, and the weird ways chimpanzees copulate – ask my friends – they are probably sick of it hearing it already. The driving force for my passion lies in the deep disparity I feel when I learn about biomedical testing (<– double edged sword, I know), habitat destruction from palm oil plantations, and illegal poaching for the bushmeat trade.
While conducting research on the chimpanzees at the Oregon Zoo, this sweet male by the name of Jackson touched my finger through the glass. It was a quick moment, but when our eyes met, I felt crushed, guilty, and ashamed of what we have done to these highly-cognitive creatures.
When I contemplate my future, I hope to teach, to inspire, and most importantly- to always challenge and inquire about the unknown. One day I will be a professor, and I will do all of the above while subsequently satisfying this passion I have for primates. Maybe I will do this by teaching Primatology, maybe I will teach Evolution, or maybe Animal Behavior. Maybe all three – why not dream big?
Current issues regarding the most severely endangered apes tear at my heart and pull me with a desire for a life dedicated to doing something, anything, to feel like I’m making the slightest difference. Whether that “something” is donating money to conservation efforts, spreading awareness by just speaking (or blogging) about it, or searching for a face-to-face opportunity to get involved – I am driven towards a Jane Goodall/Dian Fossey type of life.
No judgements allowed: I have been known to secretly feed apples to captive chimpanzees. This was the first time I got to see a primate use sign language to communicate. Within moments of seeing an apple in my hand, she signed to me that she wanted it.
It’s been quite sometime since I’ve jotted down my thoughts and inspirations here, but today’s motivation has been brought to you by Virunga, a National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Virunga is near and dear to my heart because it is the only remaining natural habitat for the world’s last 800 mountain gorillas. Not only am I protective of this place because of that devastating fact, but Virunga is also responsible for a plethora of biodiversity including 22 species of primates and more birds and mammals than any other national park in Africa. And to top it all off, my beloved eastern chimpanzees also call Virunga their home.
Virunga has been declared a World Heritage Site since 1979 by UNESCO, but for some people, this is solely a title. Corruption bears no mercy. Especially when it comes to the British oil company, Soco. Recently, this company has been under tough scrutiny for its persevering activities in oil exploration, seismic testing, and future plans for oil drilling in east Congo. Original plans for oil exploration were maintained around the borders of Virunga, but when power and money were seen growing on the trees in the National Park – Soco acted. The depths of the illegal operations, payments made to the armed rebel forces, and the unimaginable violence the park rangers face while trying to protect the national park are outlined in the upcoming documentary, Virunga.
Virunga paints a haunting picture of how deep corruption buries its roots. It is gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, and at the same time, inspiring. But don’t trust only my words, trust the prizes this documentary has won so far in the US, Canada, and Belgium. Please, please, PLEASE watch Virunga, Netflix is making it available in the United States on November 7th.
Thank you, Orlando von Einsidel, for opening our eyes to a world we could never see from our homes, learn about in our schools, or read about in our books.