Recently, Fanny Cornejo, PEN's Regional Coordinator for Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, joined me in Washington, DC to attend meetings with prospective partners, as well as participate in a behind-the-scenes tour at the Smithsonian's National Zoo.
Fanny and I visited the great ape building, which houses the gorillas and orangutans. Amanda Bania, Great Ape Keeper, introduced us to the zoo's orangutans and talked about their positive reinforcement training (the apes' participation is voluntary). This training involves asking the apes to present different body parts to monitor their health. The keepers check their chest for cardiac ultrasound, mouth for teeth inspection, ears for body temperature through a thermometer, and ask them to present their shoulder for voluntary injection.
We asked Amanda if her position as a keeper involved educating the public about primate conservation. Amanda said that the zoo's mission is to educate and inspire. She and her team give daily keeper talks, catered mostly towards students and families. These talks provide a platform for introducing the apes and sharing information about their captive welfare, behavior, and threats to their survival in the wild.
During our discussion, Amanda cited the following quote by Robert M. Pyle: "What we know, we may choose to care for. What we fail to recognize, we certainly won't." She said that this quote summed up how she felt about primate education.
When I asked Fanny about her experience, she replied, "My knowledge about great apes has been limited as a Neotropical primate researcher and educator, so I was excited to learn about gorillas and orangutans and see them up close and personal."