For My Father:
Nov 21, 1934 - Mar 24, 2010
Created in Germany
Survived the Holocaust
Raised in New York City
Lived in California
Defeated by cancer
"I went to the woods because I wished...to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
- Henry David Thoreau
A Tribute to Charlie:
While working in Guinea in 2009, I had the privilege of making the acquaintance of a young male chimp named Charlie. Like the rest of the chimps at the sanctuary, Charlie was an orphaned victim of the black market pet trade. After his family was killed by poachers, he was sold, then confiscated by authorities, and ultimately arrived as a baby to our sanctuary. When I arrived I was magnetically drawn to him. His infectious personality and quirky charms lured me in. We spent hours together in the forest every day for 6 months.
Charlie was fearless. Being the youngest and smallest of the adolescent group of chimps, his social ranking was near the bottom of the group hierarchy. The older chimps always liked to bully Charlie because they knew he had no alliances with older stronger chimps to protect him. But bullying him came at a price. Charlie would relentlessly pursue any chimp who fucked with him, no matter how out-matched he was. If you hit Charlie, he would hit you back. And I loved that about him. He also demanded to be the leader of the pack every day when we would take the whole group out for walks in the forest. Of the 15 chimps being led into the forest, he was always in the front pole position.
I am now living back in San Francisco and have not seen my friend for quite some time. Today I opened an email from the vet who works at the project in Guinea. The news she delivered from across the Atlantic destroyed me. Charlie attacked the wrong snake. The spitting cobra won the battle. Without access to anti-venom, the staff worked on Charlie for 6 hours. His nervous system could not handle the highly poisonous neurotoxin. Just before midnight, in the arms of the vet staff, Charlie died.
In the end, Charlie's fearless nature got him killed. He lost the Darwinian struggle to stay alive and reproduce. The equatorial forests of Africa have one less chimp roaming its soil. Charlie is back in the dirt of Mother Africa, buried near his enclosure in camp. I had hoped one day in the future to be able to come back to Guinea to visit my friend Charlie and witness his rise. He had all the traits of becoming a dominant male. I had no idea that any future visit would be to see his grave.
I wanted to share my relationship with my friend Charlie with you because I want those I care about to know what he meant to me. My hope is that you will come to understand that, unlike any other species, great apes have that ancestral connection to us which will forever bind us together. No one, human or animal, should ever be forgotten. Charlie was a special chimp and my intent here is to honor and celebrate his short life with you. I had the unique privilege of spending 6 months of my life with Charlie and I am much richer for it. I am under no such delusions that my brief presence in his was equally rewarding, although I pretend to believe it to dilute the pain.
Wishing you farewell adds another scar on the heart. I will never forget you Charlie. See you on the other side, my brother. All my wounded love.....Michael
[stories and pix of Charlie can be found here in my Guinea journal; see May 18, June 15, & July 21 entries]