I realize that the title of my blog probably makes some think that I’d be talking about non-human primates a bit more. But, despite the fact that I could be called an expert on them, I find it very difficult to devote much time or thought to these creatures that I love. It simply hurts way too much.
I went to Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) to study female cooperation among bonobos in 1996. I had to leave after a couple months, in part because a civil war was brewing (it continues to simmer). War is bad for any primate that’s unwittingly caught in the middle – for large monkeys and apes in Africa, it means an increased threat of poaching as well-armed mauraders move through their habitats. In Congo, a lot of the money that keeps the war going comes from coltan – essentially, people like us buying electronic gadgets.
So I changed my research topic to social learning in orangutans, and went to Sumatra in 1999. While I was there, one of the research sites where I lived was being logged illegally. I wrote letters and set up a website about it, but I wasn’t able to do much to stop it. I somehow managed to get through analyzing what data I had and get my dissertation done in 2004, and I haven’t really been involved in primate research since. The wounds just never healed right.
I face the pain from this every semester when I come to the place in the Introduction to Biological Anthropology classes I teach where I have to talk about my research and primate conservation. It’s always a hard week.
Now I’ve been asked to co-present on great ape conservation with some of my colleagues at Cabrillo College, so I’m facing it at least twice this semester. This also necessitated putting together some resources (though Renee found more of them) – I’ve posted those here: Great Ape Conservation.
I keep hoping someday this will get easier, it will hurt less so I can do more, but the news keeps getting worse. So I try to focus on the things I can do here, just simple stuff like changing the entire culture of consumerism that is driving the destruction.
Wish me luck!