Winner of the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
“Andrew Westoll is a born story teller: The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, written with empathy and skill, tenderness and humour, involves us in a world few understand. And leaves us marvelling at the ways in which chimpanzees are so like us, deserve our help and are entitled to our respect.” – Dr. Jane Goodall
Fourteen years ago, a special family of chimpanzees were rescued from a research lab and sent to a rural sanctuary where they could be cared for and loved. For the indomitable Gloria Grow, looking after thirteen great apes is like presiding over a maximum security prison, a Zen retreat, an old folks’ home, and a New York deli during the lunchtime rush. But she is first and foremost creating a refuge for her troubled charges, a place where they can recover and begin to trust humans again.
Hoping to win some of this trust, journalist Andrew Westoll spent months at Fauna Sanctuary as a volunteer caregiver. Here he vividly recounts his adventures in the chimphouse and the heart-wrenching histories of its residents. He arrives with dreams of striking up an immediate friendship with the legendary Tom, a father figure to the rest of the chimps and Gloria’s greatest teacher. Instead, Tom haunts Westoll’s dreams. Gradually, though, the rest of the ‘troop’ warm toward Westoll. He befriends Binky, the resident practical joker; Sue Ellen, whose favourite fashion accessory is a beaded necklace; and Chance, who picks the hot peppers off her pizza.
Through Westoll’s eyes, we witness the chimps’ remarkable recovery firsthand. Simple things like establishing friendships, nurturing alliances, grooming one another, and playing games of tickle-chase are all poignant testament to the capacity of these animals to heal — and learn how to be chimps again.
“Generous and deeply affecting. . . The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is many things: a tribute to an often-misunderstood creature; a study of a gutsy woman determined to protect the species; and a keen inquiry into man’s ambivalent relationship with his nearest relative in the animal kingdom.” – The Walrus
(photo: “Toby” © Frank Noelker)