One of the most profound experiences of my life was the death of a chimpanzee named Pablo. Pablo was a friend, and it was the first time that a chimpanzee that I had known personally had died, so it was quite difficult emotionally. But it wasn’t the loss that affected me most. Instead, it was the way the other chimpanzees in the group reacted that moved me so deeply. The day he died, I witnessed a chimpanzee funeral. And as far as I’m concerned, I saw the entire range of emotions that would be on display at any human funeral – confusion, grief, anger, denial, and, among the older laboratory veterans, even a wise and knowing acceptance.
The memory of Pablo’s death was evoked today when I read this tribute written by our friend Sheri Speede to a chimpanzee named Dorothy. The letter is touching, and it reflects the compassion that Sheri and the people at Sanaga-Yong bring to their work caring for orphaned and abused chimpanzees. But, similar to my experience with Pablo, what struck me most was the photo of Dorothy’s chimpanzee family watching her burial. I would challenge anyone to see this photo and not be moved.
Chimpanzees are like us in so many ways, as you can see from the photos and videos on this blog. But some of the similarities are so profound as to render the others insignificant. When I think of why chimpanzees deserve our compassion, I think of Pablo’s friends and family, and now, I will think of this photo.