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In other news …

September 30, 2008

In Memory of Dorothy
Sep 24, 2008

In Loving Memory of Dorothy

Between 3:00 and 4:00 pm on September 22, 2008 our sweet, sweet Dorothy died. She died from what appeared to be heart failure in a forested enclosure, surrounded by the chimpanzee family who loved her.

Dorothy spent at least 25 lonely years, and probably closer to 40 years, chained by her neck before a daily parade of people at an amusement park – people who thought it hilarious that she would beg for cigarettes and savor the butts they threw at her.  After the first ever armed confiscation of primates in Cameroon in May 2000, Dorothy enjoyed eight years and four months at Sanaga-Yong Center surrounded by people and chimpanzees who cherished her.

Dorothy was a kind and giving soul. Those of us who loved her, enjoyed many hours being groomed by her. Her long lovely fingers were patient and unwavering in their gentleness; only seldom did she bow her head and look up sweetly, asking for someone to groom her in reciprocation. I trusted her completely, and for some inexplicable reason, considering the harm done to her by humans, she knew that she could trust us.  Sanaga-Yong Center manager Agnes Souchal entered her enclosure recently and drew blood from Dorothy, with Dorothy’s permission.

Dorothy used gestures and sounds to communicate very effectively. “Come here.” “Give me that thing over there.” Give me that thing over there, NOW.”  “NO, NO, NO, not that thing, the other thing!”  “Open this door and let me in.” And my favorite, which fortunately was never applied to me: “Your presence is really annoying me. GO AWAY.” With a grunt and quick back flip of her hand, Dorothy communicated this last sentiment as succinctly as anyone ever could.

I believe that Dorothy loved her human friends, but the relationships that were most important to her, by far, were her relationships within her chimpanzee family. Dorothy was respected and loved by all in her family – perhaps most of all by Nama, her loyal friend who had suffered with her through some of those horrible years at the amusement park and who was rescued with her.

Nama sat beside Dorothy in death, touching her gently and not wanting to leave her side. Her son Bouboule, like most of the other chimpanzees, grieved openly. Alpha male Jacky fell on his back and screamed in distress, until he finally accepted the comfort of some of the others.

We had a funeral service for Dorothy and many people from the villages, including the high chief of our seven villages, came to pay their respects. No one seemed to wonder for a second whether a funeral service was appropriate for a chimpanzee. They walked to the camp from their villages after learning of Dorothy’s death, without being invited.

We buried Dorothy beside the enclosure where she lived and beside the tomb of her friend Becky. All the chimpanzees in her family came to watch and mourn with us. When we brought her to the grave site, they asked to see her again, so I took her body close for them to see her a final time. None of them left until the burial was finished.


Dorothy’s family gathers to see her body for a final time.


Bouboule watching the burial of his beloved Dorothy.

People from nearby villages paying their respects

Sanaga-Yong Center seems different today without Dorothy.  But we will go on and be inspired by her memory. We will work even harder to provide a good life for the residents who live here and for the protection of chimpanzees who still live free as they should.

Our dear Dorothy, we are better for knowing you, and we will never forget you.


PS.  In memory of Dorothy, we’d like to build a raised platform where people can climb up to see into the forested enclosure where Dorothy lived; a plaque inside the platform will tell the story of Dorothy’s life, so people will be inspired by her for as long as Sanaga-Yong Center exists.  We kindly ask for donations toward this memorial in honor of beloved Dorothy.

If you’d like to make a gift in Dorothy’s honor, please click here (include a note indicating the purpose of your gift) or send to IDA-Africa 700 SW 126th Ave., Beaverton, OR 97005.  Thank you.

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