Many years ago, and what almost seems like another life-time ago, I was a studious anthropology student on a mission on becoming the next Jane Goodall. My days were filled with Austrolopithicus Afarensis fossils and primate studies, my afternoons cleaning up gibbon poop, and my evenings serving Starbucks coffee. A meager financial picture, indeed. But what are gibbons, you ask? And why would I subject myself to cleaning up the feces of such an animal for free?
As an anthropology student pursuing the idea of becoming a professor of anthropology (because what else was I going to do with such a degree?) I decided it would be a terrific experience to work with the lesser-known ape, the gibbon. Mostly found in Thailand and Southeast Asia, the gibbon is an arboreal ape, meaning it lives in the trees, and is quite a bit smaller in size compared to its distant cousin the orangutan. Most gibbons are tan or brown/black in color with exceptionally long arms. Their adorable faces make them appear huggable, but wiser individuals know better than to hug a wild animal.
My intern experience consisted of feeding the gibbons, the more enjoyable activity, and cleaning their cages which could be daunting with them swinging over my head. I thought that this experience would prepare me for my future sabbatical work in the forests of Indonesia studying apes. What I didn’t know was that my time was valuable and my future wasn’t heading in the direction I thought it was. Yet interning for a good cause made me realize that sometimes donating time and energy on beliefs can foster a more complete appreciation for nature or things you love and that money isn’t always the motivation behind the goal.
Did I become the next Jane Goodall of the Gibbons? No. After a year of interning with the gibbons, something happened. A few terrifying moments in their enclosure, with one in particular showing aggression through displays of howling and teeth baring, I lost my nerve and realized I wasn’t as brave as I thought I was. My life after college quickly morphed from college student to corporate worker. A more stable financial picture, but not as enjoyable. After a few career changes, I finally fell into something I enjoyed, had flexible hours, and allowed me to be creative.
Volunteering for a good cause is still on my radar; of course I haven’t quite decided what I feel most strongly about, but I have a few ideas in the works.
Thanks to First Gen American for such as terrific topic- apes!