Supposedly everyone loves primates and simians. But few people test that hypothesis like Jake Owens. An environmental science Ph.D. candidate at Drexel University, Owens studies the ecology and behavior of drill monkeys (Mandrillus leucophaeus; closely related to the mandrills and baboons). Usually, that involves journeys to exotic places like Bioko, an island off Africa's western coast, where Owens crawls through snake-infested vegetation to collect monkey dung.
In 2010, Jake Owens had to survey an illegal bush-meat market in Equatorial Guinea, where African merchants sell meat from endangered primates. Amid the stench of rotting flesh, Owens took hundreds of hair and tissue samples from the monkeys for isotope analysis. Using this scientific data, Owens aims to locate poaching hot zones. "Most people at the market hated me or the effort to stop poaching that I represent, and they did not hide it well," said Owens in Popular Science magazine. The African merchants regularly swatted Owens with brooms, spat at his feet, and waved blowtorches and machetes to keep him away. The reward for Owens's perseverance? A mysterious month-long illness that caused his hair to fall out.
Humans eating the flesh of apes is a form of cannibalism. The Great Ape Project, founded in 1993, is an international organization of primatologists, anthropologists, ethicists, and other experts who advocate a United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Great Apes that would confer basic legal rights (life, liberty, and the prohibition of torture) on non-human great apes: chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. The Project has proven controversial. Some opponents argue that, in extending rights beyond our own species, it goes too far, while others claim that, in limiting rights to the great apes, it does not go far enough.