Kenya 2010: We are the Ape Family

The physical similarities are unmistakeable. If you accept the premise that lions and tigers are cats or wolves and foxes are dogs, then it is no leap of faith to claim that chimpanzees and humans are apes... we just happen to be more naked than them.

While our posture, mode of communication, and diet may differ, our physical anatomy and biochemistry are remarkably similar. A comparison of genetic similarities between our two species suggest that there is no living organism more like a human than a chimpanzee or bonobo. In fact, our genetic code, which consists of over 3.2 billion base pairs (3,200,000,000 bp), has a 98.6% overlap with that of the chimpanzee. On average, 3,155,200,000 bp of our DNA is the same as the DNA found in the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes.  Either we are both apes or we are both humans... I’ll let you decide where you’d like to draw the line.
I begin here with a biology lesson to underscore the purpose of today’s thoughts. Chimpanzees are routinely hunted for bush meat, medical experiments, circuses, and pets. This cousin of ours is often extracted from the environment in which it evolved and is forced to live under inhumane conditions across the planet. Native to rainforests and savannas of East and West Central Africa, this closest living connection to our own evolutionary heritage lives under the threat of an ever-expanding human population. 

In 1993 the Kenya Wildife Service (KWS) and the Jane Goodall Institute negotiated an agreement with the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to establish a 250 acre chimpanzee sanctuary for orphaned and abused chimpanzees. The sanctuary was first established to provide a protectorate for animals trapped within the civil conflict that was occurring in Bujumburu, Burundi.

Today, the conservancy is home to two groups of chimpanzees separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River. These rehabilitated chimps live much like wild troops in their own native habitat. Unlike truly wild groups, Sweetwater’s chimps are offered food provisions, vaccines and routine medical care. To control the inevitable population growth, females are fed contraceptives to reduce fertility. While it is possible to see the chimpanzees during brief periods of the day, they spend most of their time in the woods and tree canopy. Living as far from human eyes as possible, these chimpanzees appear to view us with suspicion. They are rescued apes, they wear the scars of their captivity, and they appear to see their captors when they look at us.

It costs between $4000 and $6000 to support a chimpanzee in Sweetwater for one year. This conservancy survives as a result of government aid, the Jane Goodall Institute, and other non-profits. You can help support a chimpanzee at Sweetwater by “adopting a cousin”... we did. The Chimpanzee pictured on the right is Naika. Naika was abandoned by a circus, but now lives as the 3rd ranking female in her group.
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