Sunday, September 2, 2012

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

For those of you who don't know, I have a biology degree.  My main ambition when I graduated from college was to work with primates.  I first saw bonobos in 2003 when I took Vertebrate Biology.  We took a trip to the Columbus, Ohio Zoo where we got to go behind the scenes in the buildings as well as speak to the different keepers.  We took about an hour and a half to observe the colony of bonobos at the zoo and then compare their behaviors to those of the chimpanzees.  Bonobos are generally peaceful and caring apes. I wished that I knew more humans who acted like the bonobos.  Chimpanzees and humans share some unfortunate behaviors like rape, murder and war.  I had the immense good fortune to see Eliot Schrefer at the Teen Author Carnival during BEA.  I was so excited about Endangered after hearing him talk about it that I made sure to get in line for a signed ARC.  This book did not disappoint!  Here is the Goodreads blurb:

The compelling tale of a girl who must save a group of bonobos--and herself--from a violent coup. The Congo is a dangerous place, even for people who are trying to do good. When one girl has to follow her mother to her sancuary for bonobos, she's not thrilled to be there. It's her mother's passion, and she'd rather have nothing to do with it. But when revolution breaks out and their sanctuary is attacked, she must rescue the bonobos and hide in the jungle. Together, they will fight to keep safe, to eat, and to survive. Eliot Schrefer asks readers what safety means, how one sacrifices to help others, and what it means to be human in this new compelling adventure.
I tore through this book over the course of an evening.  This book reminded me of so many things.  I remember being at the Cleveland Zoo once and sitting through the chimpanzee's Meet the Keeper time.  The largest male chimp held down a much smaller female chimp and raped her repeatedly over the course of the 30 minute question and answer period.  The keeper explained that it was an assertion of dominance and that the female would be fine.  It was one of their behaviors.  That small female had been hand reared by another keeper and taught to sign.  She asked the keeper for a cookie at one point during the talk.  I remember feeling so sad that an animal with such intelligence had such violent tendencies... so much like humans.  Neither animal is perfect, they are animals with animal behaviors.  Bonobos will attack other bonobos and humans when scared, stressed or threatened.  Jane Goodall has been one of my greatest heroes so I do love chimpanzees as well.  I just hate to see the parallels between humans and our ape relatives sometimes.  There is definitely a parallel in Endangered as it occurs in the war torn Congo where safety is tenuous at best.  The humans in Congo, like other places in Africa, have to worry about dictators taking over and civil unrest as warlords battle for control.  It is a scary situation for sure.  The bonobos are found in Congo and not many other places in the world (most are in zoos).  The bonobos are endangered and if war were to break out, it could decimate their populations and set back the conservation efforts of those trying to save them.  This book also touches on something very near to my heart, the idea of "saving" animals.  I've worked with rescue efforts before and the main thing that I have learned is that purchasing animals from puppy mills, unscrupulous pet stores or the black market is not helping.  You may keep one or two animals alive but you are feeding the system.  It hurts to leave these animals in bad conditions but legal avenues is the only way to bring about REAL change.  This is something that Sophie must learn when she takes responsibility for Otto, a young bonobo.  I've always liked animals better than I like most people so I've never understood how someone can look at a chimp or bonobo and not see the humanity in them.  Sophie doesn't at first either but Otto teaches her.  She also has to face the question of humans versus animals in another way.  While Sophie refuses to leave Otto to fend for himself, people ask why would you put him before all of the humans in need of help.  To me, the answer is simple.  If we work to save the environment and the animals in it, we are really working to save ourselves.  Humans can not survive on a planet that is unhealthy.  When animals thrive, so will we.  The great apes also give us the opportunity to examine what separates us from them and what humanity really is.  Are humans and apes so different?  Not really.  Look into an ape's eyes and you can see yourself in them.  I really feel like Eliot Schrefer has done something amazing and brought a story that needed to be told to the Young Adult audience.  Everyone should read this book.

You can find out more about Eliot Schrefer on his website.  You can also find out more about bonobos on the Friends of Bonobos site.  Click here to add Endangered to your Goodreads.  I give this book 5 Fairies and it is definitely on my best of 2012 list!

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