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The Race to Save Our Endangered Relatives


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The Race to Save Our Endangered Relatives

If you follow news about the environment, you already know the more we produce, consume and power our lives, the more our forests, oceans and weather systems suffer, including our biodiversity.

For the past 20-30 years, chimpanzees, which are endangered, have experienced a significant population reduction which will continue for the next 30-40 years. Chimpanzees are like us in so many ways. Sharing more than 98 percent of our genetic material with them, we share more of our DNA with chimpanzees than with monkeys and other groups. Yet legal and illegal deforestation, as well as the pet trade and the bushmeat trade threaten their very existence.

A few days ago, Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina posted a video of a chimpanzee using an iPhone. While many viewers thought it was cute, most animal rights activists and primatologists, especially Jane Goodall, encouraged people to stop sharing the video.

"This is an awful portrayal of a captive live juvenile chimpanzee," the Jane Goodall Institute said in a statement about the video.

Young chimpanzees who are held captive, either as pets or for entertainment, had to first watch their mother get killed by poachers---usually falling out of a tree--- before becoming orphaned, usually chained, and transported after being sold to the highest bidder. Chimpanzees stay with their mothers until they reach sexual maturity, around 10 to 12 years old. The bond that is tragically lost after the mother dies is one of the most traumatic experiences for a chimp, as it would be for a human.

Jenny and Jim Desmond are an American couple who gave up their dream jobs in Kenya to care for 60 lab chimpanzees in Liberia after the New York Blood Center left them to die on an island without enough food or water. You can read more on the Desmond’s amazing journey the last few years here: and Jim Desmond’s recent discovery of the Zaire ebola strain here:

Having assisted in caring for the abandoned lab chimps, the Desmonds, a wildlife conservationist and wildlife veterinary, are now trying to save Western chimpanzees, who are critically endangered. Liberia has the second largest population of Western chimpanzees in the world and the largest intact habitat for the species. The Desmonds are currently fundraising for a chimpanzee sanctuary that will house the orphaned chimps, who cannot return to the wild yet. It will be Liberia’s first chimp sanctuary.

But ever since they arrived, the influx of orphaned chimpanzees has never stopped. It’s only increased. Jenny said at first, the country’s two civil wars and devastating Ebola outbreak contributed to the lack of development in the country over the years. One of the positive impacts, she said, has been that habitats and wild populations have been left alone in many locations. “However, with the upswing in economy and trust in Liberia’s future, development is on the rise. It is critical we develop sustainable and responsible activities rather than the opposite. Right now is a turning point for the country,” she said. 

While there are the Desmonds, the Goodalls, and the Merricks of the world doing amazing things to help sustain this species, what is everybody else's social responsibility? Are we doing enough? Cell phones are contributing to their endangerment, even toothpaste in some cases.

And what are government and corporations’ social responsibilities?

Who’s responsible for saving the chimpanzees and how?

To find out more about how you can donate to the chimp sanctuary in Liberia, visit:

For further reading:


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