Behind the Lens: The Grieving Chimps

The November issue of National Geographic magazine features a remarkable image of chimpanzees at a rescue center in Cameroon watching the burial of one of their own. Since it was published, the photo and story have gone viral, turning up on websites, in newspapers and on TV shows around the world. National Geographic writer Jeremy Berlin interviewed the photographer, Monica Szczupider, who was working as a volunteer at the rescue center when she took this photo, and who submitted the picture to National Geographic’s Your Shot:

On September 23, 2008, Dorothy, a female chimpanzee in her late 40s, died of congestive heart failure. A maternal and beloved figure, Dorothy spent eight years at Cameroon’s Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, which houses and rehabilitates chimps victimized by habitat loss and the illegal African bushmeat trade.

After a hunter killed her mother, Dorothy was sold as a “mascot” to an amusement park in Cameroon. For the next 25 years, she was tethered to the ground by a chain around her neck, taunted, teased, and taught to drink beer and smoke cigarettes for sport. In May 2000, Dorothy–obese from poor diet and lack of exercise–was rescued and relocated along with ten other primates. As her health improved, her deep kindness surfaced. She mothered an orphaned chimp named Bouboule and became a close friend to many others, including Jacky, the group’s alpha male, and Nama, another amusement-park refugee…

For more of the story, go to NGM Blog Central here. here.

Photo by Monica Szczupider, National Geographic magazine