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Jessica Ney: Education is the key

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Jessica Ney is an animal behaviorist. She is in charge of the daily tours at JGI Chimp Eden, as well as administering the volunteer program they run and conducting behavioral research at the sanctuary. She has a BA in animal behavior, ecology and conservation, and a masters in animal sciences. Following her passion for animals to Africa, she took up guiding at Kruger National Park. Despite her academic accomplishments, guiding was a welcome alternative to working in an office in her native Germany. Whilst working at Kruger, Jessica was offered the position she now holds at Chimp Eden.

“When I first came to South Africa, I was not expecting to work with Chimpanzees. They don’t occur here naturally – they are tropical animals, so I never thought I would get the chance… but I love my job. Watching them [the chimps] go through rehabilitation is the highlight for me. When you first see them, they are this beaten little animal that has lost its personality. A few months later, their personality begins to shine through and eventually they behave completely like a normal animal. It’s amazing. It’s hard, but I wouldn’t trade it for any other job.”

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Chimp Eden employs a ‘hands off’ approach to rehabilitation. While Jessica holds a handling permit, the sanctuary tries to keep contact with the animals to a minimum. In the evening when the chimps return from their 17-acre enclosure, she will sometimes stroke them through the bars in the night rooms. This ensures the chimps remain familiar with human contact, easing the administration of medical care. “[Having contact with the chimps] is not in their interest… I think they’re actually much better off grooming, playing and cuddling one another than they are being cuddled by me.”

As the interview progressed and Jessica described the various stories of how the apes came to be at the sanctuary, it became clear that the plight of the chimp is much worse than first observed. It seems that the celebrity status surrounding the chimp is directly responsible for the species’ popularity in illegal trade and capture. All of the animals at Chimp Eden were rescued from a captive scenario, where they were either forced to perform in nightclubs, entertain guests at a restaurant, or in the case of Nikki, kept as humanized pets.

Just like the Handshake, Jessica’s solution to the apes’ dilemma is education. “Education needs to start in all countries of the world. It’s not just the chimp – it’s other great apes and other animals that are endangered for the same reasons. With chimps, the countries of origin need to be targeted. The people there are often very poor and it’s the poacher that must be observed – most likely he will have no form of education, he probably cannot read or write, which instantly rules out the chance of him having the nice life of a lawyer or something like that. In a country like that you have little choice. The illegal animal trade will support his wife and kids at home, and as long as the western world is still buying these products, it will continue. People need to be educated that their new teak table is responsible for destroying the chimp’s habitat. People don’t see the connection – they just like the table. They don’t see that it’s dripping in blood.”

Jessica explained that education needs to start everywhere, simultaneously. Teaching poor children to read and write will elevate them from the necessity of poaching and illegal trade, giving them a chance at a better life and a secure future. At the same time, the west needs to be educated on a completely different level. As long as people are happy to watch chimps be exploited on television, or buy furniture made from the destruction of the chimp’s habitat, the problem will continue. If the demand is stopped, the supply will follow. The blame lies equally in the poacher’s hands for catching the animal and the customers for demanding it.

Together with the educational tours that Jessica conducts, and the Roots and Shoots initiative run by JGI, education is certainly high on the agenda. “I think what you guys [The Great Primate Handshake] are doing is great. It’s exactly what I always talk about which is education. You’re recording different people and educating people, which is the way forward. I think you can get the word out. Plus it’s very commendable that you are run by volunteers. I think that digital media has the power to effect real change in conservation; instead of spreading the word to four people in front of you, you’re spreading the word to millions.”

George Tyson

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  • Simon A

    Great article, keep em coming…

  • moiramckinney

    Very impressive article about Jessica Ney and the need for education.
    Well done handshakers. You are obviously much valued.
    Where have you been all week ?

  • Nicole Cook

    Thanks for your dedication to our chimpanzees Jessica!

  • Roger Mallins

    Judging by the amount of TV in the UK devoted to this subject (BBC etc)digital media plus the volunteering is the only way forward.
    An excellent article!!

  • Dee

    Ah, Jessica-your voice has beseeched many for the chimps’ future welfare. Thank you so much for speaking out on their behalf. If every person reading this would take the time to share it with their many friends, it could make an impact! When people become of aware of the effects their WANTS will make on these animals, they also then are held to a higher level of responsibility, for with knowledge responsibility is spawned. Keep up the good work!

  • dan

    jessica seems devoted to all the chimps, especially when ABU had his heart-attack and died. I enjoy the show, but jessica needs more airtime!! Chimp Eden needs a female or two on the show, jessica is my pick, she is absolutely drop dead, a beautiful woman…She carries herself like a lady should on camera. I hope one day to find a woman 1/2 as beautiful as her. See you on Planet Green! midwest guy from Indiana. Dan

  • http://www.mytoplinks.info Tonette Shilleh

    Education is unquestionably a vital field, because everything in the world depends upon education. I saw that on a website someplace — a non-profit organization in the Philippines. Teachers gives their very best at their craft (the majority of them, anyway). But there are several who seem to have a gift to inspire. My high school world history teacher was one particular. She had lived in China as a growing up. When she taught in Rockville, Maryland, you could possibly feel the wisdom of all her experience. She didn’t have us memorize dates. That has been the first truly great thing I had heard from a history tutor. What she said next took the subject several magnitudes higher in value. She wanted us to know the motivations of history — the deeply visceral, human issues with what can otherwise be a deadly dry subject. Jaime Escalante of “Stand and Deliver” fame, dared to dream big. Calculus for the typically dropout crowd? Pushing them to go on to college? Wow. And I’ve this publication called, “Calculus Made Easy,” by Sylvanus P. Thompson, first published in 1910. It’s been through a wide selection of printings all for making a simple subject simple. What are we able to do to create more teachers who inspire world-changing excellence? Einstein once said that imagination is a lot more important than knowledge. Knowledge can present you with the building blocks. Imagination may take you to the stars. Don’t our kids ought to get better?

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  • Mseifert5644

    I really like you and the work you do.  you are so kind, sensitive and gentle.  A wonderful role model for the world

  • Tom Donaldson

    Jessica does nspiring work at Chimp Eden. This is a worthwhile project and well
    deserving of support.

  • AirForceMed

    I support the rehabilitation work done at Chimp Eden and despise the use of wild animals as pets or entertainment. However, I take issue with the drastic conclusion that my table is “dripping with blood”. Education is key to conservation. Making people feel guilty for owning products breeds resentment. Wood products in the US are primarily made from sources specifically grown for that purpose. It’s disingenuous to blame Western societies while dismissing third world countries who actually eat primates & is the primary reason that chimpanzees are endangered.

  • ann

    I really miss the tv program. Your ability to relate to the chimps is inspiring and I hope you are still there. ( Abu must have been a great chimp and I was sorry to see him die.)

  • TanToes

    I was beyond sad on many levels to find out that Chimp Eden program was only in old rerun phase by the time I saw it first. Shame on Animal Planet for not continuing it while seeming to invent wothless programs. The channel has BARELY ANYTHING on about animals. Bring back Chimp Eden…with Phillip, Jessica and Eugene and his father…we miss you all. We miss the whole gang of the other stars as well.
    To more than agree with Jessica, the buyers of such as a teak table are MUCH more guilty than the poachers. They create a hideous market.

  • Harry

    Hi. I think you guys at Chimp Eden are awesome. Why is the show not taping anymore? It’s infuriating watching old shows over and over again. Jessica, Eugene, Phillip: Keep up the GREAT work.