My Adventures Among Wild Chimpanzees:
Learning Lessons from our Closest Relatives
by John Crocker
The author, an MD, works in a family medical practice. Much earlier as a college student, he had the opportunity to spend eight months in Gombe, as a student field assistant for Jane Goodall\’s chimpanzee research. This book is in three parts: the first tells of his experiences in the Gombe forest: following the chimps to take notes on their behavior while also learning about a very different culture among the local Tanzanians. In particular he was very intrigued by observing the parenting styles of different chimpanzee mothers, and how their offspring fared. Leaving was very difficult, and so was completing medical school. He often drew on his memories of the time in Tanzania to help himself focus, relax or more closely connect to his surroundings. The second part is mostly about how the time at Gombe influenced the rest of his life. How he applied lessons he learned in patience and being in the moment, to everyday challenges. Particularly how he applied what he\’d observed about innate primate behavior, to understanding the needs of patients he treated, and of his own children. Finally, in the last section he writes about returning to Gombe over thirty years later, with his own grown son, to visit the research area again. A few of the chimps he had once followed through the forest were still there: Frodo and Freud all grown up themselves. He made connections again with a local guide who had been his close friend and companion during his original stay, and visited his home village. He reflected on many things that had changed in Gombe over the ensuing years, on how the trip affected his son’s view of the world, and their own relationship. He also tells, many times through the book, of what it was like to know the famed Jane Goodall, to sit and have conversations with her, to participate in a small way in her research.
Having read In the Shadow of Man and a few other works by Jane Goodall when I was an impressionable teenager- starting my lifelong love of reading nonfiction about wildlife studies- I was already familiar with the chimpanzee study, and recognized the names of many, and some of the stories about them recounted here- especially Fifi, daughter of Flo. It was something of a treat to revisit all that in a new way through the eyes of Dr. Crocker.
Some things really struck me. The account of when Crocker climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with his friend- unprepared, other than renting boots. He noticed on his return thirty-six years later, a distinct decline in the amount of snow on the summit (this time viewed from the airplane). Another was about a night he decided, as a young man working in Gombe, to sleep in a chimp’s nest. He thought it would give him a feeling of peace and connection to the animals, but instead it was uncomfortable at best, even frightening. This was just mentioned briefly in the beginning of the book, recounted in more detail later when he relates how he told this story to his young sons, who (touchingly) added their own details with later retellings.
In whole, it\’s an interesting and inspiring book, with lots of reflection and thoughtful lessons learned. I\’m glad I read it.
Borrowed from the public library.
Rating: 3/5 269 pages, 2017