It was 20 years ago that a game ranger brought a badly wounded young chimpanzee to the Zambian farm of David and Sheila Siddle, thereby laying the foundation of what has become the worlds largest chimpanzee sanctuary.
The Siddles ability to nurse that young chimpanzee nicknamed "Pal" back to health established a tradition of care, affection and respect that continues to this day. Over 100 orphaned chimpanzees now reside at Chimfunshi, thriving in ad-hoc social groups in free-range enclosures that span over 1,150 acres of jungle, savannah and fruit groves.
But Chimfunshi is not ready to stand pat. The sanctuary is gearing up for a major expansion project in 2003 that will include a pair of 150-acre family enclosures, a covered enclosure for habitual escapees, and a renovated quarantine compound.
In addition, Chimfunshi recently hosted its first international event, using the Chimfunshi Education Center to stage the Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance (PASA) 2003 Education Workshop from May 14 to 19. Conservation educators from sanctuaries across Africa attended the workshop, which stressed teaching skills, techniques, and a streamlined conservation message.
Chimfunshis 20th anniversary coincides with the introduction of the new website, special commemorative 20th anniversary merchandise, and foreign-language versions of In My Family Tree: A Life with Chimpanzees, the autobiography of Sheila Siddle.
Negotiations are also underway to win the release and transfer of chimpanzees from Qatar, Kenya, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Chile, among other nations.
The Siddles vowed long ago never to turn away a chimpanzee in need, and that promise remains true today. The only hope is that such commitment will no longer be necessary 20 years from now.
In 2002, Sheila Siddle published her autobiography, In My Family Tree: A Life With Chimpanzees (Grove / Atlantic) to widespread acclaim.