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Where We Work

Erin Connelly, a PBE graduate student, created a video of her fieldwork in Panama. Watch the video here:

Sandra Casti is currently the Assistant Manager in charge of chimpanzee welfare, volunteer supervision, and on-site finances at Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue (SY), located in the Mbargue Forest in Central Cameroon, Africa. She volunteered at SY from January-June of 2016 and returned as part of the management team in February 2017. She agreed to an interview in 2017.

What academic experiences were most important with respect to your acquiring your current position?

I was fortunate to intern at CWU’s former Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI) during its last summer in operation. CHCI taught me how to identify and interpret chimpanzee behavior contexts, which helps me make decisions here everyday. My time as an intern and volunteer caregiver at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest (CSNW) taught me how to safely and respectfully interact with adult chimpanzees in captivity. I used CSNW’s volunteer guidelines to create a training manual for SY’s six-month volunteers. The knowledge and experience I gained while volunteering at CSNW is present in every chimpanzee interaction I have here at Sanaga-Yong.

The thesis-writing process strengthened my self-discipline and perseverance. I use these skills to meet the many unexpected challenges that come when operating a sanctuary with limited access to resources, personnel, and funding.

What life experiences were most important with respect to your acquiring your current position?

Discovering where my passions lie and abandoning my comfort zone.

What advice would you give to undergraduate and graduate students interested in entering the field of sanctuary work with primates and/or other animals?

Volunteer as much as you can! Take classes on non-profit management!
Get out there and learn by doing! Travel! Ask questions!

What do you love most about your job?

The unbounded resiliency of chimpanzees, the sounds of the forest, and the short but oh so sweet mango season.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Language barriers (I am often lost in translation), cultural differences, and supervising humans.

What do you think will be the most pressing professional needs in your field in the coming decade?

Protecting the forests where non-human animals are struggling to survive and thrive is of utmost importance today. Individuals in our field need to work alongside foreign governments and local populations to create forest protection programs. We need to acquire skills to build cross-cultural relationships that establish trust and understanding.

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