Review Time: The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary by Andrew Westoll

One of my goals this year is to read more Non-Fiction books, so when I heard about The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary by Andrew Westoll (HarperCollins), I knew it was a perfect choice for me. I love all animals but I have always had a really special place in my heart for Great Apes, including chimps. I ordered a copy from a great bookstore in Kingston, ON called A Novel Idea and was sad that I had to leave town before it arrived. Next time my boyfriend came for a visit, he brought with him my copy of the book as a surprise. I was so excited I danced around my room, hugging the book to my chest. Jess really does know that the way to my heart is through books!
Cover ImageFirst and foremost, when reading this book I advise that you have some tissue handy because you are going to cry. The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is about a champion of a woman named Gloria Grow who decides to turn her farmland into a sanctuary for chimps who have spent their lives in biomedical research facilities. While there, they were subjected to terrifying medical procedures, social isolation and depraved living conditions. The book is also a memoir detailing Westoll’s own time spent living at the sanctuary, immersing himself in the “retirement” life of the chimps and getting to know the people who have dedicated their lives to helping these animals find some dignity in their later years.
Above all else though, this book is about the chimpanzees themselves. It is their stories that really made me love this book and read it every spare second I had- including while waiting at the bus stop, frozen fingers be damed. Westoll vividly describes the horrors they knew as research chimps, the physical scars and ailments they bear after years of being experimented upon and of course, the psychological traumas that haunt them every moment (many of Fauna’s past and present residents display symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). However, the book really allows their resilience to claim the soul of the story. After years of being subjected to horrors that I couldn’t even fathom enduring, these amazing animals are capable of trusting, forgiving, loving and learning. Their story is an inspiration. I loved how Westoll expressed the unique personality of each and every one of these extraordinary animals; I felt a strong attachment to all of them as individuals. This is where that box of tissues comes in handy, not just because their stories are sad (and they are tragic) but because these animals are the strongest, most compassionate individuals I have read about in a long time. As Westoll himself writes, “They are better than us.” They really, truly are and that is what reduced to me to a tearful mess.
I could go on at length about the issues of vivisection and the use of animals, including chimpanzees, in research but I won’t.  Westoll does a superb job of expressing why using chimps (or any animal) for experimentation is horrible, but the residents of Fauna Sanctuary are the best advocates of all because they put faces, names and an incredible story of survival to the issue. I loved this book, I still think about it every day. Well-worth checking out.


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