Growing up I had a gypsy like lifestyle, one place and then another and another. It made me adventurous and social, while at the same time private and introverted. While consistency was rare, one thing that was always a constant in my life has been my relationship and appreciation for the natural world.
As a young girl I was very fortunate to have had someone like my gramma apart of my life. She was constantly rescuing animals. Squirrels, pigs, snakes and one time to my horror, a Madagascar hissing cockroach. It made loving animals as natural as breathing and taught me empathy even for the ones that gave me the hibby gibbies.
Even before I was old enough to be consciously aware of having a purpose, I always knew it was going to revolve around animals. When I was in the fifth grade, I wanted to know every animal on the planet, I wanted to learn everything. I bought a notebook and everyday I began to fill it in as I combed through the dictionary page my page, writing down every single mammal. I filled the entire notebook. My passion only grew and I found myself dreaming about National Geographic explorers hiking through the jungles and discovering new species. I would tear the pages from the magazines and cover every inch of my walls with apes and monkeys, exotic cats and bats, elephants and rhinos. Every creature was fascinating to me.
In 6th grade I found the book Gorillas in The Mist and it made such a drastic impact on me emotionally. While most kids at that age would be traumatized by the brutal murder of the gorillas and Dian Fossey, it only fueled my desires and made primates, specifically great apes even more intriguing. I wanted to help our great apes just as the Leaky Angels where doing. They were superheroes to me.
By the time I was a senior in highschool I had already attended five highschools and I kind of lost myself a little bit. I went to college and I studied many things but my love for animals was always what I came back too. After earning a degree in Intercultural Communication I jumped back to my passion and I studied Primatology. At that moment I knew that it didn't matter what I went through in life or where I was, my purpose was and always would be making a difference for animals.
While gorillas where the species that made the most impact on me as a child, orangutans were the species that made the most impact on me as a young adult. I was very fortunate to have a mentor at the time who taught me everything about orangutans in ways that were impossible to learn from a book. We studied and worked with them for years. I established relationships with them and they taught me more about myself and our world than other experience I've had. Even to this day there is nothing that has touched my soul as much as an orangutan.
I fell in love with their species and found them to be exceptionally beautiful. And while I would sometimes be criticized for anthropomorphizing the orangutans, I found it nearly impossible not too! I saw their abilities for communicating not just amongst each other but with humans. They experienced every emotion in ways eerily similar to ourselves, they used tools and had superb problem solving skills. I have countless stories depicting their unique personalities, some that will make you laugh and some that will make you cry. They are in so many ways almost human.
Discovering this, I have tried to spread as much awareness for Great apes as I can. Orangutans, chimps, gorillas and bonobos, they are all incredibly important to our planet and to learning about ourselves and what it is to be “human”.
2017 is a new year and my hope is that working with dedicated organizations, individuals and companies like Shongolulu will inspire people to fight for our planet and be the change that is desperately needed. I will never give up or stop advocating for the organizations on the ground working tirelessly to save these precious lives. Giving up is not option because we cannot afford to fail. Together we can save them if we act now.