On January 21st, 2007, our beloved Becky, one of the first three residents of the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, died from internal bleeding. The following is a tribute by Dr. Sheri Speede, Director and Founder of the Sanaga-Yong Center.
Tribute to Becky
1980 ~ January 21st, 2007
Already when we met in January 1997, your childhood and your adolescence had been stolen from you. But your penetrating, imploring brown eyes stared at me from behind the bars of your tiny cell, and I saw that you were surviving and curious and hopeful in spite of all you had lost. Confined and bored out of your mind for so many years, somehow you were still vibrant. Becky, your eyes grabbed my heart, and they never let go.
Like it was yesterday I remember you grabbing my long, white dress, pulling it into your cage, leaving me barely enough cloth to cover my behind, me pleading with you, you nonchalantly using the lovely cloth, along with a bottle of water I had given you, to clean your filthy cage floor, finally giving my dress back when you had bored of the game, in exchange for an apple. Then you pointedly turned your back on me, leaving me alone with my guilty freedom.
But we got you out of there Becky . . . finally. Finally on August 31, 1999, we freed you from that prison. We drove Pepe, Jacky, and you away in a gutted bush taxi, we humans squashed against the sides to make room for the three transport cages, because we had no money for a big truck and the roads were closed to big trucks anyway since the rains had come. Despite all advice, I refused to leave you in that cage at the hotel for three more months until the roads dried up. I knew that every single day counted for you, and that your fortitude deserved mine. And so we got disastrously stuck in the mud somewhere near the middle of our 18 hour journey. We exhausted humans waded knee-deep in muck pushing that taxi with all our might, while you three screamed your heads off from inside that rocking box until it finally bolted forward, leaving some of us sprawling belly-down. It was an illustrious start to your new life.
But dearest Becky – tough chick, sweet lady, flirt, goofy face-maker, lover of your comfortable “nest” made of an old tire where you slept for 7 ½ years, overeater of bananas, surreptitious plotter, cleaner of cobwebs, “sister” of Pepe and Jacky, mourner of Pepe, best friend of Dorothy, frustrator of pubescent boys, adoptive mother of Gabby who was the only one to ever share your food, matriarch and protector of little Luke, Lucy, Future, Emma and others – during your years with us at Sanaga-Yong Center I know you had a life that you cherished. And oh how we cherished you!
My friend and my inspiration, I will never, ever forget you. Rest in Peace.
Some folks are interested in making a donaton to IDA-Africa in honor of Becky. If you'd like to donate, click here and please reference Becky in your submission...thank you.
Since Becky's death Dorothy spends several hours a day
sitting near Becky's grave which is just outside the enclosure.
Becky and Emma
In January 1997, while providing veterinary assistance to the Limbe and Wildlife
Becky in a miserable cage
Becky at Sanaga-Yong with her friend Simon
Over the next eighteen months Sheri visited Becky regularly and brought her food treats and toys. When construction of the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center was completed in August 1999, Becky and her two caged neighbors: Pepe and Jacky, became the sanctuary’s first chimpanzees, and the initial occupants of a new five-acre forested enclosure. In 2004 they moved with their expanding family to a new, lushly forested 20 acre enclosure.
A Life-Changing Experience
by Claudine Erlandson (4-20-01)
Although there never was a dull moment at the project - ant invasions, snakes, Xmas Eve at the nearby village - two unforgettable events stand out in my mind.
While Dr. Speede was in the U.S. Caroline, a four-year old chimpanzee fell from a tall tree. We knew her arm was broken and drove frantically for twelve hours to Cameroon’s capital. After being stopped several times at police roadblocks, once at gun-point, we reached the Yaounde zoo where Caroline’s arm was set in a plaster cast. In no time she became a lovely little devil again, an escape artist with a knack for taking anything away from you that she could.
Our next emergency was worse. Becky, a twenty-two year old adult female chimpanzee developed a twisted large intestine, made more serious by complications caused by many years of deprivation and parasitic infection. Using the project’s satellite phone, Sheri consulted with Dr. Jim Mahoney, a New York chimpanzee specialist.
Abdominal surgery had to be performed immediately or Becky would die. It was 11:00pm and pitch dark in the forest. An open-air kitchen became our surgery room, the operating table was a large tree-trunk, and surgical instruments were sterilized in a pressure-cooker. Sheri worked all night long under a powerful flashlight, probing, untwisting and unraveling numerous internal organs, at times carefully removing abscesses. There was a lot of blood and we were all sweating in the jungle’s humidity. Eight hours later, an exhausted Sheri sewed the last stitch – Becky’s life was saved!
[Claudine Erlandson has returned to Seattle where she volunteers with numerous animal rights organizations.]
BECKY’S GREAT ESCAPE
Potential Disaster Avoided Thanks to Human-Chimpanzee Friendship
(Story from the 2005 Bush Telegraph)
On the morning of May 12, 2005, one of our caregivers at the biggest chimpanzee enclosure made a big mistake. While allowing the chimpanzees to move from the satellite cage to the forest, he forgot to close the sliding door in one of the overhead tunnels of the satellite cage, allowing Becky, a big adult female who has strong opinions about what she wants to do, to “escape”.
As caregiver Moudindo Joseph was cleaning the floor in the “humans only” hallway of the enclosure, he glanced up to find Becky standing beside him. He screamed! Becky screamed! Then she proceeded out of the satellite cage to make her great escape.
This was a very dangerous situation. If Becky had encountered
wild chimpanzees in the forest, she could have been killed. If she had entered our camp, she might have caused a lot of problems for us. If she had continued to the village, she could have hurt someone there or been killed herself. Becky is particularly choosy about the humans with whom she’ll associate. Volunteer Tamara Davy was alone in camp with the caregivers that day, and fortunately, she was in Becky’s favored group of humans. The two had established a good relationship in the preceding weeks. Tamara worked brilliantly with the caregivers to resolve this dangerous situation that could have ended terribly. The following is her account:
Becky carrying baby Emma
I was walking along the fence line with Dieudonne Akono, one of the chimpanzeecaregivers, when a loud exchange in the local language occurred between him and a caregiver near the satellite cage. He soon translated for me. Becky was in the forest, outside of the enclosure! My heart sank.
I made my way back to the big satellite cage, and then, with deliberate steps, I walked down a dirt track in the direction I knew Becky had gone, toward another satellite cage and forested enclosure. As I approached the enclosure, I saw Becky and dropped to my hands and knees. I started crawling toward her, keeping my eyes down and my vocalizations soft. Becky soon turned her attention from the chimpanzees in the enclosure to me. When I looked up into her eyes, I thought I saw a look of relief. Becky approached and placed her huge muscular arm around me. I started grooming her, trying to act casual. Soon I noticed that the door to an empty compartment of this satellite cage was directly in front of us. I called for the keys, thinking that one of the caregivers would throw them to me. Instead, Joseph approached us and made his way ever so slowly to the door. He opened it and Becky followed him through it. As her attention focused on Karmal, one of the juvenile chimpanzees who lives in that enclosure, Joseph quietly left and closed the door. The danger was over.
Later that day, Becky willingly entered a transport cage and was taken back safely to her own home, where her family welcomed her with open arms.