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Kindred Beings: What Seventy-Three Chimpanzees Taught Me About Life, Love, and Connection [Hardcover]

Sheri Speede

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Book Description

25 Sep 2013

Enter a world of tender friendships, staunch loyalties, violent jealousies—and enduring love.

As a child, Sheri Speede knew that she wanted to advocate for animals in any way she could. But it was not until many years after veterinary school, when she was transporting a chimpanzee named Pierre away from a biomedical facility as part of her job as a conservation advocate in Cameroon, that Dr. Speede discovered her true calling. She began to search for land for a forest sanctuary for captive chimpanzees that were held on chains and in small cages at local hotels.

Dr. Speede eventually founded the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, a forested home for orphans of the illegal ape meat trade. One chim- panzee, Dorothy, was rescued by Dr. Speede and her colleagues from a bleak existence imprisoned on a chain and forged a deep friendship with her. Dr. Speede explains how chimpanzees, like humans, are capable of a broad spectrum of emotional behaviors—both hateful and loving. Dr. Speede also candidly reveals her own struggles as a stranger in a foreign culture trying to adjust to rural African village life. And she admits that unlike Dorothy, she was not always kind, gentle, and forgiving.

Dorothy died of old age at the sanctuary, and a photograph of Dorothy's funeral, in which Dr. Speede cradled Dorothy's head while her family of chimpanzees mournfully viewed her body, went viral after being published in National Geographic. The world was surprised at the depth of the chimps' grief at the loss of their friend, but Dr. Speede was not. Through the chimps, she had come to understand the meaning of love, loyalty, and true connection.

While this is a compelling story about the emotional complexity of the chimpanzees she rescued and befriended, it is also Dr. Speede's story. Major events in her personal life, including love affairs, dangerous run-ins with criminals, and the birth of her daughter, unfold as the development of her primate rescue center runs parallel to her own development. Ultimately, Kindred Beings is a story of profound resilience, of both the apes and the woman who loved them.


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“Kindred Beings is both an engrossing African adventure and an inspiring story of how an animal activist has devoted her life to chimpanzees. This fascinating book will forever change how you see chimpanzees-and how you feel about the importance of safeguarding their places on our planet.” (Dr. Marty Becker, "America's Veterinarian")

Sheri Speede chose to make a difference in the lives of Jacky, Nama, Dorothy, and dozens of other apes, which says as much about Sheri’s commitment as the chimpanzees’ inner strength. Sheri ultimately emerged triumphant, perhaps for one simple reason: humanity is not restricted to human beings. (Douglas Cress, program coordinator of Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP))

In Cameroon, Dr. Sheri Speede has enabled law enforcement to fight wildlife trafficking by establishing an excellent forest sanctuary where rescued chimpanzees get care and love. Without facilities like hers, animals would suffer lives of abuse or move on in the sordid international trade. Read this book! (Dr. Shirley McGreal, founder of the International Primate Protection League)

Sheri Speede’s powerful story shows the reader the broad range of personalities seen in chimpanzees, with complex emotional needs, a rich social fabric, and self-awareness. It opens our eyes to the reality that all animals have emotions, and it pleads for an end to animal abuse. (Marilyn Kroplick, M.D., president of IDA-Africa)

About the Author

Sheri Speede, a doctor of veterinary medicine, collaborated with the Cameroon government to found the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, a forested home for orphans of the illegal ape meat trade. With Edmund Stone, she established In Defense of Animals-Africa (IDA-Africa) as a division of IDA International and as the U.S. base of support for the work in Cameroon. Between 1998 and 2011 she lived in Africa full-time; currently, she divides her time between Africa and Portland, Oregon.


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bright light on the dark continent 17 Oct 2013
By D. Steadman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I would suggest that this book be re-titled "Mission Impossible"! Having worked at a small sanctuary for chimpanzees in Central Africa for just a few months, I can attest to the enormity of the task undertaken by the author in a part of the world where accomplishing a simple task is a difficult challenge. Creating a sanctuary "from scratch" in a desperately under-developed country while battling poverty-driven corruption, crime, disease and ignorance at every turn, is surely a project of great magnitude.
Using every ounce of her energy and wits, Dr. Speede somehow managed to surmount the many obstacles in her path..including a lack of building materials, adequate roads, skilled labor..not to mention the inevitable culture clashes that often made her unpopular with the locals, to say the least!
Armed with few resources other than her strong will and sheer determination to rescue five captive chimps cruelly kept as 'tourist attractions', the author had to dig deep into her soul to find the strength and means to succeed. Over the course of those first bumpy years, she managed to build trusting relationships with local leaders which provided an essential support team for the sanctuary benefiting both the chimps and the villagers as well.
Clearly, Sheri Speede is one of Margaret Mead's "thoughtful, committed citizens (who) can change the world". Read this book now and be filled with inspiration!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read this book, and make a donation to IDA-Africa 11 Oct 2013
By Glenda York - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Sheri Speede founded the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon as a home for orphans of the illegal ape meat trade. This is the story of how one little girl who loved animals found her true calling in a forest sanctuary in Africa as a committed animal activist and rescuer. It's an adventure story, because after all she was a stranger in a foreign culture trying to adjust to African village life--and it's a love story, because through the chimps she helped rescue she came to understand the meaning of love, loyalty, and true connection.

As a child who knew that she always wanted to grow up and advocate for animals in some way, she took the traditional path at first by choosing a veterinary career. But soon after beginning her veterinary career she was moved by the plight of three adult captive chimpanzees on display in three small cages located on the back side of the Atlantic Beach Hotel. Captured as infants by poachers they had been in captivity most of their lives. Her sadness at the smallness of their lives haunted her and she was determined to see them released from their torment.

Though it took her some time to actually fulfill the promise she made to them to free them, she was eventually successful and established her sanctuary in the Mbargue forest. In this book, we see the development of Dr. Speede's personal story alongside the emotionally complex stories of the chimps she befriended. We come to know and love these "kindred beings" just as she does. When one of the rescued chimps (Dorothy) dies from old age at the sanctuary, we mourn too. The photograph of Dorothy's funeral (in which Dr. Speede cradled Dorothy's head while her family of chimpanzees mournfully viewed her body) went viral after being published in National Geographic. The world seemed to be surprised at the depth of the chimps' grief at the loss of their friend. Dr. Speede wasn't, and we weren't either after reading this powerful story of these personalities that are so similar to humans.

Dr. Speede has spent her life battling ignorance and apathy and evil trying to end animal abuse and the suffering they endure at our hands. This compelling story of her bravery and determination to safeguard their well being is uplifting and inspiring. How fortunate our planet is to have people like Dr. Speede who are determined to live their convictions out in their daily lives sometimes against overwhelming odds.

Dr. Speede is founder and Director of In Defense of Animals-Africa, an organization that is well worth your support. Read this book. Make a donation. It is important that this extraordinary work continue.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saving the Chimpanzees of Cameroon 6 Oct 2013
By al hainisch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Kindred Beings reads like a mythical hero's journey. The reluctant hero (Dr. Speede) leaves all that is familiar and safe to pursue a quest for something magical in a strange and foreboding land--in this case the creation of a sanctuary for the abused chimpanzees of Cameroon. Like most such journeys she faces a multitude of trials and tribulations along the way, from defiant owners of captive chimpanzees to thieves who attack Dr. Speede. And then there is the rain, mud, mosquitoes with deadly diseases, local villagers needing life-saving intervention, and a race against the clock to save chimps in dire straits.

Like a classical myth, our hero Dr. Speede is aided in her quest by people who seem to magically appear when obstacles block her progress, from colorful expats to wise village folk to a generous ophthalmologist.

Dr. Speede's intense interactions with the chimps, from her first meeting with Dorothy and Nama to her sad farewell to others, allow the reader to vicariously experience what our hero has learned when it comes to life, love and connection. This is a book that will reward the reader with untold riches, a fitting end to a mythical journey.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story that will touch your heart 25 Sep 2013
By Dad of Divas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This was the type of book that keeps you engaged from beginning to end. As someone who always was intrigued by Dr. Jane Goodall and all she did with the primates that she worked with, I loved reading this and found that the journey that Dr. Speede took was both exciting and touching to the heart.

This is the type of book that will motivate and inspire and you get to see the depths of commitment of one person to step in for chimpanzees that truly need her. I loved reading about the sanctuary that she set up and the courage and compassion that she showed through much adversity.

The book is a compelling read and I found that as quickly that I began, the book seemed to be done. Through this book the reader is taken on the journey along with Dr. Speede, and along with her you will learn and grow in so many ways to become an even stronger advocate for what Dr. Speede is trying to do.

A wonderful book for all readers!

*I received this for review - all opinions are my own*
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book 22 Sep 2013
By erh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Kindred Beings is a wonderful book! Proving that one person with a dream can make the world a better place, Sheri Speede's book is inspirational, heart-warming, and a page-turner. She describes the deplorable conditions in Cameroon where she finds "hotel chimpanzees," filthy, chained at the neck, malnourished and utterly deprived of contact with any other living thing. Seeing past the warning signs to stay away, Sheri befriends them. She feels, sees and hears their desperate plea for help; and she answers it. She promises to come back and free them; to give them "a better story." She doesn't go home to her veterinary practice in Portland Oregon and surrender to reason, letting the plight of the chimpanzees ebb away. Instead she sells her practice and heads back to Cameroon, with her companion Edmund Stone, and begins a crusade to create a forest sanctuary for these and other dreadfully abused chimpanzees. Hers is a story of unyielding determination, undeterred by the countless obstacles they face, from truck swallowing mud and malaria to enraged chiefs bent on thwarting her. It is truly against all odds that Sheri does rewrite the story for those chimpanzees, literally, personally, freeing them from the bonds that have tethered them to tiny plots of hard concrete for as many as 40 years and transporting them to a new home in the forest. And from there the story broadens to include the indomitable spirit and strength of those chimpanzees who, out of the hell of brutal captivity, thrive in the newfound freedom of Sanaga Yong, their forest sanctuary home.
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