The inspiration of Amandine Renaud, Primatologist
Amandine Renaud, founder and president of P-WAC, took a moment to speak with us about her life and inspiration. Find out what motivates this passionate primatologist and PhD student in anthropology, who is dedicated to great apes conservation.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
So many things! Environmentalist (I remember I was shouting after boys who were cutting branches off trees, because they were hurting them! I think I was 6 years old). I wanted to work with wolves and polar bears. I never understand how we could hunt such beauties. Astronomist, egyptologist because I was passionate about mummies, divinities and sacred cats. Veterinarian, ballet dancer, gymnast. Not sure about this order actually, but even at that age I wanted a passionate career, one close to nature.
As a primatologist, I actually get to be at least a few of those things. I climb trees, I dug up feces to see what fruit eaten, I’ve had to leap away to escape elephants. I really love this way of life.
Why and how did you get started in your field of work?
I don’t know where my passion came from. When people ask me this, they always refer to the Dian Fossey movie, “Gorillas in the Mist”. Maybe I first wanted to dedicate my life to primates when I saw her movie. But maybe I also saw her movie because I already wanted to take action like her! The only memory I have from her movie was coming away with the desire to be useful to animals, who I thought as my family. At twenty, I was working in finance, which taught me discipline and hard work, and allowed me to travel.
Then, at twenty-two, I went into the field for the first time, with chimpanzees. I became fond of chimpanzees because of a chimpanzee I encountered. This one opened my eyes to the world of primates, and taught me most of the things I know about primates. Not books, not people. Him. After this, I restarted my studies to become a primatologist. Later, my evolution studies instructor at Roehampton University, Professor Todd Rae (the kind of teacher you want to meet during your academic studies) made me ask more questions about human-primate relationships.
What inspired you to dedicate your life to primatology, and now to natural anthropology?
I started with psychology. What’s more natural than studying human psychology. After all, we are primates! During my first mission, I was studying reintroduced chimpanzees. My question was not whether they would survive once released (they are not to be underestimated), but instead “how” this kind of devastation of their population possible? How do we tolerate that animals suffer that kind of pain? There is an emergency to protect them, because we share a common ancestor, and to study them is to learn more about our origins, and their abilities, too. But, how can we just let this happen? They have the right to live, too!
“This is what inspires me: their right to live and to be free.”
I am not looking for more publications, for celebrity. And I do not understand why people talk about conservationists as “heroes”. I am not comfortable with this. This is not my leitmotiv. Primates cannot compete with guns, nor with the huge amount of money coming from the illegal pet trade. They need help. I do not understand how people can arrive on this earth and act like if everything was due to them, without any respect for life.
“Here is what inspires me: nature, primates, human and life.”
Regarding my PhD in anthropology of nature, I think it is of value to study people who live with the great apes, and see how they can live better through protecting their environment, in other words, safeguarding their own future. I chose this concrete topic of research: human-primate interaction, hoping that working on this topic will make a contribution to their fragile situation.
What’s a normal day like for you?
For now, my PhD and P-WAC. I am working reading, writing… And looking for funds for our project, P-WAC.
What’s been your favourite experience in the field? The most challenging?
One of the most emotional was when a new mother chimpanzee came straight down from her tree to introduce me to her baby. I did not even have the time to move when she was already placing her baby into my arms.
Most challenging? I would say living with poachers around and still being able to believe that human can be the solution to save wildlife! Hopefully, there are many magic moments in the field that give you the faith to still go on!
What are your other passions?
Mostly ballet dance. Even in the jungle, I made my own barre de dance. Incredible teachers gave me their passion, by teaching with their whole heart this such a difficult discipline.
If you could have people do one thing to help create a more sustainable future for other primates, what would it be?
We need to stop just imagining solutions. We need sustainable actions now. Since I was a child, I heard that primates were going extinct because of human activities. So what are we waiting for to act? Are we waiting for the last chimpanzees to be gone to say ‘well, as predicted, chimpanzees have gone extinct because of human activities.” I truly think that if more conservationists would act instead of meeting to just discuss suitable solutions within the next 10, 20 years, if the money involved in those meetings were to be invested in field work, then, they would have a chance to survive. We need more action and less time spent contemplating potential future actions.
Albert Einstein said: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” I think most people are aware of what is happening on earth. I just wish we would stop procrastinating, and saying that the pain of animals is too hard for us to see. We need stop lying to ourselves and pretending that it is someone else’s duty to change the world. Who are “other people”? Government? Government is us. People do not seem to understand the power they have to change the world. So stop closing our eyes. Open them and act. That would be a huge step.