Ever since she was a very young girl, Sheri Speede knew she wanted to work with animals, but she had no idea how far her youthful aspirations would take her.
After earning her doctorate in veterinary medicine from Louisiana State University, she moved to the Portland area, and in 1988, became a partner in Pacific Veterinary Hospital. She also served as Portland Veterinary Medical Association’s president.
During her tenure as a partner at PVH and president of the PVMA, Speede realized she wanted to help the animals for whom no one would speak. So, in the mid-90s she sold her share in the veterinary practice to become a full-time animal activist. She took on the role of Northwest director for In Defense of Animals, advocating for victims of industrial agriculture, animal testing, and circuses.
As part of her role, Speede provided veterinary care to animals in wildlife refuges and sanctuaries around the world. 1997 found her traveling to Cameroon to care of captive chimps. While she may not have known it as she boarded her transcontinental flight, this was a trip that would change her life forever.
When she arrived in Cameroon, what she found was heartbreaking. Young chimps were being orphaned by the bushmeat trade, as their parents were killed to supply the affluent with an exotic delicacy. The juvenile chimps who weren’t simply left to perish in the forest were sold as pets or tourist attractions.
The conditions they were kept in were often grossly inhumane. Speede tells the story of Jacky, a nearly 40-year old chimp who had spent most of his entire existence in a cage smaller than the average prison cell. And, Jacky’s story wasn’t unique. During her first visit to Cameroon, Speede encountered many similar situations.
When she returned to Portland, she felt Cameroon calling her back. She couldn’t simply go back to living her life as usual, knowing how those animals were suffering on the other side of the world.
So, she established IDA-Africa, a branch of In Defense of Animals dedicated to ending the suffering caused by the bushmeat trade in Africa. When Speede returned to Cameroon, she opened the Sanaga-Yong Rescue Center, a refuge for chimps orphaned by bushmeat poachers.
She lived full-time in Cameroon for 13 years, and has written a memoir about the experiences she had during her time there, entitled “Kindred Beings: What Seventy-Three Chimpanzees Taught Me About Life, Love, and Connection.” Speede hopes her new book will shed light on the plight of these chimps, and will help people understand that our wild relatives have emotional lives nearly as rich and nuanced as our own.
[Photo Credit: lacsy.blogspot]