Remembering Steve Ross, Friend of Chimpanzees

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Dr. Steve Ross, director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and dear friend of the Jane Goodall Institute passed away April 2021. He was a tremendous advocate for the wellbeing of chimpanzees everywhere, whether in captivity or in the wild, and his expertise, wisdom, and compassion have helped countless captive chimpanzees to thrive in their new sanctuary homes. Steve’s work has touched the lives of many humans as well, as he inspired others to join him in defending our great ape cousins. His many years of unfailing dedication to captive chimpanzee welfare will continue to impact all those who care for them as he did, and he will continue to be sorely missed by all those who had the opportunity to know him. 

Before Steve’s passing, he and Lydia Hopper—associate professor and director of behavioral management at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine—co-edited a beautifully-illustrated collection of stories about chimpanzees, from the people who have worked to study and protect them: Chimpanzee Memoirs – Stories of Studying and Saving Our Closest Living Relatives. They reached out to a variety of chimpanzee experts, from veterinarians and field scientists, to conservationists and psychologists, and asked what drew them to chimpanzees. When and where did they first see one? How did seeing one affect them, in their careers and personal lives? What are they doing now to protect our closest living relatives? 

Foremost experts on chimpanzees contributed their inspiring stories, including our own Dr. Jane Goodall. As the woman who redefined our relationship to other animals through chimpanzees, it’s only fitting that she is featured in the very first chapter. She writes about the origins of her interest in chimpanzees, and her dream of traveling to the countries in Africa, from the time she read Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes as a young girl. She also writes about eventually getting to live that dream, when she traveled to Gombe, Tanzania in 1960. Jane has written many times about some of her world-shattering discoveries and experiences, but the story she tells in this memoir is different, focusing on what the chimpanzees taught her about motherhood as she studied them beside her own mother, Vanne. 

Jane’s story gets to the heart of our fascination with and relationship to chimpanzees, but it is only one story of many. By bringing together so many different voices and perspectives on these incredible, unique, and sadly endangered animals, Steve opened many more eyes to the wonder and passion that chimpanzees inspire in people from all fields and backgrounds. In recording these stories, they may have even inspired the next generation of animal behaviorists, primatologists, and chimpanzee advocates to create inspiring stories of their own. 

“The book is full of these life lessons that the various authors have gleaned from chimpanzees… if this book contributes to someone deciding to take on a lifetime pursuit to save a species, or study animals, then I think we will be very pleased.” – Dr. Steve Ross, in Conversation with Robyn Massey on Chimpanzee Memoirs 

Chimpanzee Memoirs – Stories of Studying and Saving Our Closest Living Relatives was published in May of 2022, and is available for purchase from 🔗 Columbia University Press. 

About Author

Kira is a Communications & Policy Assistant at the Jane Goodall Institute, where she supports the team in advancing public engagement with JGI's holistic programs. Kira graduated from Smith College in 2021, majoring in anthropology and minoring in art history, and during her time there she developed a deep interest in the field of anthrozoology. Her interests within this field are broad, and have led her to study elephant iconography in the U.S. and wildlife management in Tanzania. JGI's values and mission as well as the mindset of anthrozoology guide her work, exploring the interactions between humans and other animals in order to promote a healthier coexistence on this shared planet.