Point of view: A sheltering embrace

While traveling in Africa in 1999, I met up with conservationists in Uganda for a trip to the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Lake Victoria. The island, supported by a consortium of wildlife conservation organizations, provides a place for chimpanzees to live in peace after having been confiscated from human owners who had kept the great apes as pets. While cute as infants, the highly intelligent chimpanzees grow up to be strong and, sometimes, aggressive. Often, then, they end up in cages, shackled with chains, or worse.

I accompanied the chimps and members of the sanctuary staff on a walk through the lush island forest. Rain poured down as we hiked along the paths, following the chimps. The rain became so heavy that we were forced to stop under some dense trees that provided a bit of shelter. Stany Nyandwi, one of the most dedicated chimpanzee caretakers, sat close to one of the chimps to give her comfort and cover. She didn't like the rain, and he was going to do whatever he could to make her feel better. The engulfing hug from Stany and a gentle touch from the chimp showed their bond. For me, the moment seemed to bridge the divide between humans and their closest living relative on the planet.

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