October 18, 2013

Kindred Beings - Sheri Speede

Title: Kindred Beings. 
What seventy-three chimpanzees taught me about life, love and connection
Author: Sheri Speede
Publisher: Harper One
Release date: 2013
Pages: 263


* As we walked to the Pajero, I stopped and looked back at Dorothy and Nama for a minute or so -from one to the other. Their loneliness and boredom were palpable. I tried to comprehend the aching, crazy-making frustration in such extreme confinement, but I could not even imagine the depth of despair that such a life must bring. How had they maintained their sanity? A painful, burning lump of fury formed and expanded in my chest and burned ma throat, seeking escape. I wanted to sob. I longed for the release that tears might bring, but my eyes were dry. Anything but effective action seemed self-indulgent. My aching fury was as trapped in me as Dorothy and Nama were trapped*

Enter a world of tender friendships, staunch loyalties, violent jealousies--and enduring love. As a child, Sheri Speede knew that she wanted to advocate for animals in any way she could. But it was not until many years after veterinary school, when she was transporting a chimpanzee named Pierre away from a biomedical facility as part of her job as a conservation advocate in Cameroon, that Dr. Speede discovered her true calling. She began to search for land for a forest sanctuary for captive chimpanzees that were held on chains and in small cages at local hotels.
Dr. Speede eventually founded the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, a forested home for orphans of the illegal ape meat trade. One chim- panzee, Dorothy, was rescued by Dr. Speede and her colleagues from a bleak existence imprisoned on a chain and forged a deep friendship with her. Dr. Speede explains how chimpanzees, like humans, are capable of a broad spectrum of emotional behaviors--both hateful and loving. Dr. Speede also candidly reveals her own struggles as a stranger in a foreign culture trying to adjust to rural African village life. And she admits that unlike Dorothy, she was not always kind, gentle, and forgiving.
Dorothy died of old age at the sanctuary, and a photograph of Dorothy's funeral, in which Dr. Speede cradled Dorothy's head while her family of chimpanzees mournfully viewed her body, went viral after being published in National Geographic. The world was surprised at the depth of the chimps' grief at the loss of their friend, but Dr. Speede was not. Through the chimps, she had come to understand the meaning of love, loyalty, and true connection.
While this is a compelling story about the emotional complexity of the chimpanzees she rescued and befriended, it is also Dr. Speede's story. Major events in her personal life, including love affairs, dangerous run-ins with criminals, and the birth of her daughter, unfold as the development of her primate rescue center runs parallel to her own development. Ultimately, Kindred Beings is a story of profound resilience, of both the apes and the woman who loved them.

Kindred beings will give you a different perception of primates, especially chimpanzees. In this amazing non-fiction book, Dr. Sheri Speede describes the numerous steps she had to take in order to protect this particular species of apes. Everything starts by her studying veterinary medicine in the US and realising that she needs more than that. As she is worried by the illegal bush meat trade in Africa, she decides to move to Cameroon to achieve her goal. There, she built the Sanaga-Yong Rescue Center, where abused and orphaned chimpanzees are brought in order to have a better life.
Readers will soon notice that Sheri Speede does not have a lot to start with; Africa is another world and the motivation which animates her is what makes her commitment so valuable and interesting. It is the sparkle which created this amazing story. From the first few lines, I was glued to the pages, expecting to see how each single issue was dealt with until the dream actually came true. The beginning takes place in the US, in rather familiar surroundings. As soon as we are taken to Africa, we discover a completely different culture which offers a strong contrast to the one we know. Without too many clichés or stereotypes, Sheri Speede gives us a good insight of this country and its differences with our occidental society.
As suggested by the title and the genre of the book, the aim is to share a – real – adventure and to raise the readers’ awareness of the problems faced by chimpanzees. Given that the author is a veterinarian, I had expected a lot of technical details – which are of course interesting, but not always understandable for non-specialists. However, I discovered with relief that it was not the case. We are given enough information to understand the challenge of such an important project, but not swamped with scientific comments which would make the reading difficult. Moreover, the writing style is simple and goes straight to the point. Short episodes about Sheri Speede’s private life are also told and all this guarantees a pleasant and balanced reading for anybody interested in chimpanzees and animals, but also for a much broader public.
I had the feeling that the primates were actually the main protagonists of the story: we get to know Jacky’s capacity as a leader, Nama’s sense of justice, Becky’s tendency to mischief, Dorothy’s affection... Through the pages, we discover that they are much more similar to us than we would have thought... and that they are truly an endangered species. As this was one of the aims of the book, I would say it is definitely a success.
Of course, chimpanzees are centre stage, but they are not alone. Sheri Speede is undoubtedly the most important person in building the sanctuary. There is however a number of other people who contributed to it. From America to Africa without forgetting Europe, we get to know many of them who have not much in common at first sight... except, of course, their strong love and admiration for chimpanzees and their desire to make the world a better place.
A delightful surprise awaits the readers. Added to the story, you will find two series of amazing pictures, one of which won a National Geography photography contest and was published in several newspapers and magazines around the world. It is a nice way of illustrating life at the Sanaga-Yong Rescue Center and gives us a more concrete idea of the main protagonists of the adventure.
Kindred Beings is a book that everybody should read. Whether you are interested in animals, in travelling and other cultures or in adventures which first seem impossible to realise, you will be seduced by this story of trust, love and friendship. At a crossroads between Africa, America and Europe, where cultures and languages converge, there is one aim: rescuing this wonderful species which shared our evolution processes for so long. I would like to sincerely thank author Sheri Speede for providing me with a copy of her book in exchange of my honest review.

Partnership with author Sheri Speede (founder of IDA Africa)
In Defense of Animals Africa IDA Africa
Organised by Bostick Communication


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