In June 2009, a young chimpanzee named Eslom became trapped in an illegal snare in the Ugandan forest. Unable to escape the trap that clung to his left arm, Eslom dragged the trap with him through the forest. A team of veterinarians tried to catch Eslom to remove the snare but they couldn’t reach him. Eslom quickly disappeared deep into the forest.
After about two months, Eslom mysteriously reappeared without the snare. (Since then, scientists have shown how chimpanzees work together to deactivate snares.)
In a 2011 international observational study I published with my friend and colleague Dr. Debra Durham, Eslom showed signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People who knew Eslom described how he became fearful, hyper-vigilant, avoidant, and socially withdrawn.
Eslom’s story was unique in some ways. In our study, we found that wild chimpanzees were far less likely to suffer from PTSD, Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or compulsive disorders, compared with their counterparts who survived the international primate trade or laboratory experiments. We found that 44% of captive chimpanzees had signs of PTSD, compared with less than 1% of wild chimpanzees, and 58% of captive chimpanzees suffered from Depression, compared with 3% of wild chimpanzees.
All of the wild chimpanzees with PTSD, Depression, anxiety, or a compulsive disorder had been subjected to human-wildlife conflict, in one form or another.
Unfortunately, conflicts between humans and chimpanzees living in the wild are not uncommon. Human encroachment into chimpanzee habitats increases conflict between humans and chimpanzees, and humans often respond by trapping and killing the chimpanzees. Sometimes, humans set snares in chimpanzee habitats to trap other animals such as bush pigs and small antelopes.
Like Eslom, Debra also has a unique story. She is an energetic anthropologist and primatologist with an infectious laugh. I have always suspected that Debra’s fun-loving attitude influenced her decision to study and work with monkeys and chimpanzees.
Because of her desire to work with nonhuman primates, Debra was originally drawn to working in a laboratory. However, her excitement about primatology quickly turned to sorrow for the monkeys she came to know and love. In the laboratory, Debra cared for monkeys who were taken from their mothers to be kept in solitary confinement and used in experiments. After seeing the ways in which the monkeys suffered, Debra became uncomfortable with her position in the laboratory and went to work for all primates everywhere.
Today, Debra is working to end sources of human-wildlife conflict – to prevent what happened to Eslom from happening to other chimpanzees.
Working with one of our study’s international partners, Chimpanzee Trust Uganda, Debra designed a compassionate micro-business program for women in Uganda. The project’s primary goal is to help protect humans and chimpanzees from conflict and conserve the forests.
And she is doing it with mushrooms!
Modeled after a Rwandan program, the Compassion in Action Mushroom Project (CAMP) is a green, nutritious, and sustainable microfinance pilot program designed to promote alternative sustainable livelihoods in conjunction with chimpanzee conservation.
One of the best things about Debra’s project is that it doesn’t hurt any people or animals. In contrast with other programs, Debra intentionally chose mushrooms because of her concerns about projects that supply goats and other animals to people. Unlike the mushroom project, “livestock” projects create problems for women and the communities they live in in the form of zoonoses (infectious diseases transmitted by animals), environmental degradation, and a labor burden shouldered by women – not to mention how bad it is for the goats and other animals involved.
As Debra noted: “Approaches that trade the lives of some animals for others, but expect a positive net improvement in the world don’t make much sense to my head or my heart. The science is in on this: more animal agriculture and more animal-based foods aren’t real solutions because they aren’t green, sustainable or healthy. That’s why I think it is so important to find and develop solutions that are smart and kind at heart, like CAMP.”
Just last year, Debra and her partners launched the program with a crowdfunding project and a small grant from a Well Fed World. It only takes $70 to get each woman started.
So far, the pilot program has helped 40 women start mushroom farms, and 29 of the independent farms have already succeeded. Debra and the CAMP team are now helping 10 of the women who are still working toward their first successful harvest. Though the women met some challenges at first, they have become enthusiastic champions of the project.
Now, if follow up plans are successful, CAMP and the Chimpanzee Trust will take on a bold plan to scale up the program to reach hundreds of women.
Talk about a win-win.
To learn more and support CAMP, go to https://campforchimps.com. You can learn more about Chimpanzee Trust and the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary online at www.ngambaisland.com/support.