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Forum to examine sustainability and nonhuman primates

By: Linda B. Glaser,  Cornell Chronicle
Wed, 11/07/2018

Humans share 98.8 percent of their DNA – as well as tool use and systems of communication – with bonobos and chimpanzees. Yet human activity threatens these “next of kin” great apes with extinction. In “Apes and Sustainability,” a forum on Nov. 15, activists, scholars, scientists and humanists will explore new perspectives on preserving nonhuman great apes in sustainable ways. The event will be held in the A.D. White House’s Guerlac Room 4:30-6:30 p.m., followed by a reception. The event is free and the public is invited.

“The most straightforward and efficient route to understand ourselves anew is by exploring what we could share with our closest animal relatives. A sustainable future for us as human apes needs to include a heightened awareness of the trajectory of the other great apes,” said event organizer Laurent Dubreuil, a 2018-19 Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts fellow at the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. His fellowship project focuses on developing a posthumanist perspective of sustainability in human and nonhuman apes.

In addition to a panel discussion, “Apes and Sustainability” will feature a remote appearance by singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel, winner of six Grammy Awards and an activist for the rights of nonhuman primates.

The event will also premiere the first footage from the Ape Testimonies Project, which documents first-person narratives of people who have worked and lived with bonobos and chimpanzees and created strong emotional bonds with them. The project is co-led by Cathy Caruth, the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters in the Departments of English and Comparative Literature, and Dubreuil, professor of comparative literature, Romance studies and cognitive science.

The discussion will be moderated by Dubreuil. Panelists will include Caruth as well as Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, professor emerita of biology at Georgia State University and president of Bonobo Hope Initiative. Her research on chimpanzee and bonobo cognition and systems of communication opened up new paths for the comprehension of ape’s mental and affective life. The panel will also include Sally Coxe, president and founding director of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative, a nongovernmental organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that seeks to protect bonobos in their natural habitat through preservation of the rainforest and the promotion of sustainable development. Joining them will be panelist Robin Radcliffe, senior lecturer in wildlife and conservation medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who received the 2018 George D. Levy Faculty Award for his efforts to conserve great apes in the DRC through engaged learning.

The event is sponsored by the Atkinson Center, the Society for the Humanities and the Department of Romance Studies.