BOOK REVIEW: The Chimpanzee Whisperer by Stany Nyandwi w/ David Blissett

I Am Stany: The Life and Loves of a Chimpanzee WhispererI Am Stany: The Life and Loves of a Chimpanzee Whisperer by Stany Nyandwi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: February 22, 2022

These are the memoirs of a man who made a career from his ability to read and interact with chimpanzees. However, lest one expect a Gerald Durrell-style book filled with amusing animal anecdotes and witty lessons on how to build a zoo, one should note that Stany Nyandwi faced poverty and many a tragedy in his life that make this animal-interest book also a human-interest story from cover to cover. [Note: There are many chimpanzee stories and insights into how sanctuaries and reserves are run, but they are interspersed with visceral tales of calamity and sorrow.]

The book tells of Stany’s youth in Burundi, a country that would fall into a vicious civil war as he came of age and then got the first job that might pull him out of brutal poverty (into regular poverty,) working as a laborer at a chimpanzee sanctuary. It wasn’t long before the sanctuary had to be shut down because of the dangers of the war between Tutsis and Hutus. Because his work ethic and talent with chimps had begun to show, he was offered jobs first in Kenya and then in Uganda. Traveling with the sanctuary chimps would separate him from his family (a wife and children, not to mention his parents and siblings) during the worst years of the war, leading him down a self-destructive path for a time, but then things seem to improve. Always when one thinks his life is settling into a healthy stability, there’s a spanner into the works. Yet, the author keeps finding the bright side, and being saved by that positivity and his gift for working with chimpanzees, a gift which makes him a man in demand despite his lack of education or resources.

This book is an emotional roller-coaster ride, but throughout we are saved by the author’s indefatigable positivity and humanity – perhaps, the traits that allowed him to get along so well with the chimpanzees. I’d highly recommend it for all readers.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Stationary Ark by Gerald Durrell

The Stationary ArkThe Stationary Ark by Gerald Durrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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If you’re like me, you have mixed feelings about zoos and aquaria. On the one hand, it’s an awe-inspiring experience to see the mighty, ferocious, and odd creatures that don’t make it into one’s backyard (for those who even have yards.) On the other hand, one has to wonder whether the creatures on display are as miserable as one would be in their shoes. (i.e. Figurative shoes. I do know that other animals don’t wear shoes… Except for horses… but I digress.)

In this book, Gerald Durrell examines the question of what makes for a zoo that’s good for the animals as well as for its human visitors. Most of us are sophisticated enough to realize that straight-up anthropomorphization (projecting human thought processes onto animals) isn’t a sound way to get to the bottom of an animal’s experience. Animals seem much more resilient than humans, but they aren’t infinitely tolerant. While one can’t conduct a “zoo resident satisfaction survey,” there are means by which to gain insight into the animal’s state of well-being, including: its health, its appetite, and its sex drive / reproductive success.

Durrell had the experience of opening a zoo, and was himself dismayed by what he saw at many of the zoos he visited. In some cases, they were designed for optimal viewing but didn’t give adequate consideration to the well-being of the animals. However, some zoos genuinely tried to act in the best interest of the animals, but they missed the mark by projecting human thinking onto animals–instead of examining the evidence for what conditions positively (or negatively) impact the animals’ health, appetite, and sex drive.

This short book (less than 150 pages) consists of seven chapters. The first chapter presents the challenges Durrell went through in trying to open a new and different kind of zoo. Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 6, respectively, examine the issues that must be taken into account with regards to enclosures, feeding, mating, and sick animals. Obviously, these chapters don’t cover the entirety of the subject in detail, but rather combine generalities with a few interesting (and often humorous) examples from specific species. Chapter 5 gets into the challenges of keeping records in a zoo that isn’t just about entertainment but is also focused on conservation and education. The last chapter sums up Durrell’s arguments for how Zoos can be of benefit to animal species other than humans.

There are no graphics, notations, or bibliography. It’s not that kind of book, but is rather an extended essay. It does feature both humor and insight in good measure.

I’d recommend this book for those who want to better understand what features of a zoo are good (or bad) for the animals, and how zoos might be restructured to advance their roles in conservation and education.

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