I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary directly from the author a few months ago. As a chimpanzee enthusiast I was truly excited to read this book and right from the first page I was consumed with the way in which Westoll told the stories of these chimps with such compassion.
The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is the true story of several chimps that were rescued from biomedical research by Gloria Grow and who are now living in retirement at Fauna Sanctuary, located on her farm just outside of Montreal. Andrew Westoll, a journalist and former primatologist lived and volunteered at the sanctuary in the hopes of finding his next magazine article but what he ended up with was an amazing book.
His experience was not as glamorous as one might think. He put in his time shoveling excrement, heavy lifting, as well as being spit on and yelled at. He might have arrived at Fauna with the thought of creating instant relationships with the chimps, but what he ended up with, at least at first, was chimpanzee spit on his head. While reading the book Westoll explains that the chimps at Fauna have been through a lot and trust is not something that they have a lot of, particularly for a stranger. But in the weeks that Westoll was there he did see a change as the chimps began to not only trust him but play with him as well.
Throughout the book Westoll does not hesitate to remind us of how each chimp ended up at Fauna. In dictating the biography of each chimp he describes in detail the anxiety and mental fatigue that they are afflicted with after a lifetime of being experiment subjects in biomedical and toxicology studies. He shows us just how inhumane humans can be as he illustrates how these chimps were ripped from their mothers at early ages, thrown into experiments, shot over and over again with dart guns, injected with HIV, and forced to live in cages. The author also describes the kindness of Gloria and her staff and how on a daily basis with larger than life compassion they do all they can to improve the lives of these chimps who have suffered immensely that humans may benefit from pharmaceutical research.
The author tells us the chimps came to Fauna to live but that they are also there to die. But until that day they have a chance to live as chimps, something they were not given the opportunity to do during their service to medical science. It is most likely this keen observational skill and compassionate writing that lead to Andrew Westoll winning the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction on March 5, 2012.
I was most inspired by the stories of the chimps and the way Westoll was able to portray each resident at Fauna as a unique individual. Below I will introduce you to a few of them through some sketches I did while reading the book based on the photos by Frank Noelker. I could not possibly recommend more that you read The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary. You will witness the compassion chimps and humans share and wonder how any of these animals could ever be mistreated.
Tom: The oldest chimp at the Fauna Sanctuary and the only one born in Africa, Tom is the chimp ambassador of project R&R. It is their mission to end the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research and to help provide them release and restitution in permanent sanctuary. During his life in testing laboratories Tom was purposely infected with HIV. During his time at Fauna the author continually had dreams about Tom.
Toby: No one is sure where Toby was born but he lived his first 24 years in a zoo in Quebec, taught to act as a human child, wear clothes and eat with utensils. He still likes to wear bracelets and sun glasses from time to time but he also shakes his head continuously as a sign of stress and anxiety. Life for Toby at Fauna is not always easy being a bit of an outsider due to coming to the sanctuary later then most and from a different situation. He has had a few altercations with the other chimps once having a finger bit clean off of his hand.
Jethro: Probably the most popular chimp at Fauna the author lets us know “everyone loves Jethro”, he is among the youngest chimps at Fauna.
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 10, 2011)