Author and scientist Vanessa Woods provides an intriguing and humorous memoir of her experiences working with the Bonobo, an extremely-endangered ape found in the Congo. Although humans are most often associated with chimpanzees, little is known about the human relationship to bonobos, with whom we share 98.7% of our DNA. Woods brings the reader along on her journey of life, love and all the flung poo along the way.
Read an excerpt of the book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
I didn't always want to push my fiancé off a balcony. Twelve months ago I would have jumped off a balcony for him. But a lot can change in a year.
We met in Uganda at the house of Debby Cox, the founder of a chimpanzee sanctuary called Ngamba Island. Debby and I had been friends for years. I first met her when I was twenty-two and fresh out of college. I was volunteering for Taronga Zoo in Sydney when I heard about the chimp island she had started for orphan chimpanzees whose parents were killed by the bushmeat trade.
Part of Debby's conservation program was counting the chimpanzees in Budongo Forest. The world's biggest population of chimpanzees was in Congo, but they were rapidly being butchered and eaten. The Ugandans had traditional taboos against eating apes, and they had the second-biggest population. But no one knew how many chimpanzees were left or where they were. My job was to lead a team of Ugandans on a census, for which I had zero qualifications. Debby hired me only because the real primatologist got malaria and pulled out at the last minute.
Those were interesting times. It was 1999 and eight gorilla tourists had been hacked to death with machetes in Bwindi National Park. Their bodies were found covered in deep slashes, their skulls smashed to pieces. The 150 rebels who surrounded their camp were part of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and used the mountains as a base.
Debby wrote three days before I was supposed to arrive and told me it was too dangerous and I should cancel my trip, but being young and stupid I told her I didn't care about rebels and I was coming anyway. In return, Debby threw me into the jungle like a football and hoped I would come out alive.
I envisioned myself slicing through the foliage with my hair swept into a glossy ponytail and stylish smudges of dirt underneath my cheekbones. I would walk among forest elephants in the glittering sunlight. I would adorn myself with pythons and gain a reputation among the rebel warlords as some kind of goddess. Perhaps I would even find my own personal Tarzan whom I could take home and show the wonders of civilization.
All I found in the jungle were bugs and a lack of personal space. The vegetation pressed in thick and close, and hacking your way through it wasn't as easy as Indiana Jones makes it look. We barely even saw chimpanzees, and when we did, they screamed their heads off and clearly wanted to rip our guts out.
After four months, I was ready to get out but I didn't want to go home. So I started helping Debby with the education programs around the office.