"Kindred Beings: What Seventy-Three Chimpanzees Taught Me About Life, Love, and Connection," by Sheri Speede, is a story about Speede’s transformation from a local veterinarian to founder of the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon, Africa. Dr. Speede once practiced in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, prior to relocating to the west coast, where she co-founded In Defense of Animals-Africa. Visits to Cameroon sealed her commitment to saving chimpanzees after witnessing how captivity affected three adults housed in cages outside a small hotel. Later, Pepe, Becky, and Jacky would be the first three she and her team are able to relocate to the Rescue Center.
Dr. Speede shares her struggles gathering resources and support, working within the cultural and political boundaries in the area she'd chosen for her sanctuary, and acquiring help, either volunteer or paid. Skilled labor was extremely difficult to find in her remote location, so training was essential. Resources were negotiated for or donated, and from time to time, chance brought people into her path who offered help. As Dr. Speede introduces the animals to the reader, one can’t help but urge her along in her quest to create a safe haven for these mistreated, abused, and orphaned animals.
Dr. Speede shares how she builds trust with the animals, even those thought of as dangerous, by participating in mutual grooming and sharing treats. She describes mischievious Becky, who was not above “borrowing” items left in her reach that have to be bargained for to be returned. She describes how Jacky, once thought to be insane, becomes the strong, wise leader of the group after he is acclimated to the Center. She writes how friendships among animals previously separated by the bars of steel cages grew, and their joyful reunions and introductions to other animals. Dr. Speede isn’t unrealistic in her portrayal of the chimpanzees. She has no illusions about their strength and unpredictability. Chimpanzees are not pets. Her foundation provides animals an opportunity to be safe while educating the population against poaching and hunting.
"Kindred Beings" is evidence of Dr. Speede’s commitment to positively affecting the lives of these animals and the community in which her sanctuary is home. It’s a moving story, but it hasn’t ended yet. It is ongoing in Cameroon, on the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center sanctuary. You can learn more about Dr. Speede’s work at the Rescue Center's website.
"Kindred Beings" was published by HarperOne in 2013.