Why I Became an Ape Advocate
When I was a little boy, two of my favorite things were animals and drawing. At my mom’s house, one of the walls in my bedroom was entirely corkboard. I filled it with my drawings of animals. My grandmother and mom would take us to this little toy store in Ward Parkway Mall in Kansas City where they had these amazingly crafted animal miniatures. Every animal you could think of. Before Sim City or Zoo Tycoon were even thought of, we were building imaginary zoos using these miniatures, cardboard paper, crayons, scissors and old-fashioned ingenuity.
Those days were pure. Which is how I feel about animals — they are pure.
Animals aren’t judgmental bundles of stress like we humans. You don’t see animals hold their breathe like we do. Well, except the ones who need to go underwater. Humans hold our breath because we aren’t in the moment, occupying the space in our heads instead of the space we physically occupy. Animals don’t do that. They aren’t thinking about dinner reservations for Saturday, picking up dry-cleaning or what they need to do to get a promotion. Animals just live! They are out there in nature doing this thing called life without overcomplicating it. That’s partially why they inspire such happiness in us. They bring us back to the present, whether we are playing with our dog or marveling at an eagle soaring overhead.
Again, I’ve always loved animals, but in the hustle and bustle of life (it’s been years since I had a dog), I lost much of my connection to that passion. Until recently.
It was a strange combination of events. A period in my life calling me back to positivity, activism that was more universal and less polarizing than just 24/7 politics. Robin Williams died, and I remembered his beautiful meeting with Koko. She had humanity and a sense of humor! I watched War for the Planet of the Apes at the theaters and was blown away. I read the New York Times investigative report: “Smuggled, Beaten and Drugged: The Illicit Global Ape Trade.” I became reacquainted with the work of Dian Fossey through a National Geographic miniseries. After seeing Gorillas in the Mist at the age of 11 or 12, I’ve always looked up to Fossey. Next, I was reading about Jane Goodall again (excited to see the new doc on her, Jane).
My interest level started as a baby silverback rolling down a jungle mountain. By the time it reached the foot of that mountain, it had become a full-grown gorilla. It was an awakening; with my heart beating its figurative chest, King Kong style, refusing to back down from the challenge.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention journalist Yashar Ali and his elephant advocacy as a social media influencer. That really inspired me. After reconnecting with the world of our primate cousins — chimps, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans, really our closest non-human relatives — I wanted to try to have a similar effect on people advocating for apes via tweets and other means. My girlfriend’s parents also steered me in this direction with advice (they are wise). These animals are bright, playful, emotive and capable. In some ways, they are more humane than us humans. Reading about them being slaughtered and trafficked during this time of rediscovery felt like a call to action.
Now I am trying to take that action. What does that look like? I really don’t know. Right now, I share inspiring and uplifting footage and stories about the great apes, while also amplifying conservation causes aimed at helping these species. I adopted a silverback gorilla named Iyambere from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (pictured above). Not all that pricey for getting to support a 400-pound hulk. I plan on taking Jane Goodall’s Masterclass on Animal Behavior and Activism. I’ve even talked about going to Rwanda or Uganda to see gorillas in their environment. Or helping former US lab chimps find sanctuary here in the States. Lots of possibilities.
Thank you all for following and supporting me on this new-ish journey. If you have any advice on how I can help I would love to hear it.