Over the past 50 years, our knowledge of and interest in the great apes has grown astronomically, helped along by researchers such as Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Frans de Waal. Yet, even as our fascination grows, the apes are on the brink of extinction in the wild. There are just 300 Cross River gorillas, about 700 mountain gorillas and 25,000 bonobos left in the wild.
In AMONG THE GREAT APES Paul Raffaele manages the exceedingly rare feat of visiting all the species and sub-species of the great apes in the wild - including the four sub-species of gorillas, the four sub-species of chimpanzees, the bonobos and two sub-species of orangutans - as well as checking on their captured brethren in zoos, research centers, and sanctuaries. His travels take him from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Sabah in North Borneo to Germany and the US. Along the way, the intrepid Raffaele is charged by silverback gorillas, threatened with assault rifles by rebel troops in the Congo and with machetes by thugs in a Cameroon forest. He witnesses bloody riots, scales almost vertical peaks in the Cameroon highlands and risks ambush by the genocidal Hutu rebels in both Rwanda and the Congo.
In lands torn by civil unrest and corrupt government, Raffaele examines how poaching, habitat loss, and wars are threatening to render all of the apes extinct in the wild.
Along the way, Raffaele speaks with the leading conservationists and researchers working to save and study the apes, including Richard Leakey, Takiyoshi Kano (bonobos) and Richard Wrangham (chimpanzees). And he checks out an ape retirement home in Florida as well as the Des Moines laboratory where Sue Savage Rumbaugh investigates ape/human communication with the super smart bonobo Kanzi.
But Raffaele also manages quiet time to give us intimate peeks at ape life. We watch little gorillas constructing sleeping nests just like their mothers or playing with their enormous but tolerant silverback fathers; orangutans making leaf umbrellas and chimpanzee females negotiating the tough demands of multiple, aggressive suitors. And we see the fascinating differences between the various apes up close: orangutans, the introspective loners; gorillas, laid back and largely undemonstrative; the bonobos, gleeful hedonists; and chimpanzees, the thugs, by far the most destructive and murderous with males forever fighting tribal battles over territory and personal ranking within the group.
An engaging mix of reportage, natural history and travelogue, AMONG THE GREAT APES takes readers on an exciting, moving, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic journey to experience the last great apes in their native habitats.