I think that everyone should take a look at these gorgeous drawings representing Women and their accomplishements in Science, by Rachel Ignotofksy - a fantastic illustrator and graphic designer. She also has a lil Etsy shop where she sells her prints here!!!


The True Comic Story About 3 Primatologists Who Changed How We See the World

Legend has it that in the 1950s, DC Comics concluded that the ticket to sure sales lay not with super-powered hijinks, but with gorillas: any comic with an ape on its cover was sure to outsell the ape-free issues. By that token alone, Primates, a new graphic novel by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks about the lives and work of three seminal primatologists, should be a smash-hit.

Primates tells the connected stories of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, known collectively as “Leaky’s Angels” in tribute to their collective mentor, archaeologist and paleoanthropologist Louis Leaky. Beginning with Goodall in 1960, each woman embarked on a long-term field study of a group of primates—Goodall, chimps; Fossey, mountain gorillas; Galdikas, orangutans—and, in the process, revolutionized not only the field of primatology but scientific perspectives on human evolution and the very definition of humanity.

Written by Jim Ottaviani and drawn and lettered by Maris Wicks, Primates draws from the diaries of all three scientists—as well as a slew of other sources detailed in a bibliography at the end to paint a compelling picture of their work and lives, deftly interweaving the three women’s stories in an account that’s equal parts biography and scientific history… 


I have always love collecting comic books, getting into a really good graphic novel series, heck, I even have binders full of the collectible cards…
But I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a graphic novel as much as I want this one.

On Harambe

I’m coming in late to this conversation because I wanted to take a lot of time to read and listen. I’ve watched the videos, listened to the news reports, read eyewitness accounts, and read responses by or spoken to zookeepers, exhibit designers, primatologists, attorneys, and dangerous animal response team members. Here is what I have for you: the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo was a tragedy. Once the child was in the moat, what had to happen could not have been prevented. Actions need to be taken on all sides to ensure that such a perfect storm of a bad situation can never happen again. I am glad the child is alive and I grieve with the zoo staff for the loss of their beloved and rare companion. I do not believe in continuing to point fingers and lay blame - those who deserve it are well aware at this point, and while it is natural and human to seek vengeance and justice it does no good to protect future children and future gorillas. So, with that said, let’s talk about what happened.

On the event:

Here is the best sequence of events I can piece together from eye-witness reports. The boy involved had mentioned he wanted to get into the water with the gorillas. His mother said no, but was also responsible for several other young children at the time. Another woman present at the scene noticed the boy after he had “flopped through over the fence” according to her social media post, and was crawling so quickly through the bushes towards the moat that the woman and her husband weren’t able to grab him. The mom, who had been taking a photo when her son left her side, was looking for him and was heard calling for him around when he went over the edge of the moat.

The Dangerous Animal Response Team (DART) - a fixture of any AZA accredited facility’s plan for any situation involving a dangerous animal - attempted to coax Harambe out of the exhibit. All three female gorillas on exhibit shifted out easily, but Harambe was unwilling to leave. As seen on the videos spread around the internet, over about the next ten minutes Harambe became agitated – quite possibly exacerbated by the noise from the panicked crowd – and began dragging the boy through the water of the moat by his leg and throwing him around. At times he stopped and seemed to pick the boy up, examining him, before rushing off again. He eventually climbed back up into the exhibit out of the moat, bringing the boy with him. The DART team made the hard call at that point to shoot Harambe to save the child’s life, and when the kill shot was taken, the child was held between the silverback’s legs.

On the choice to kill:

Nobody is happy with the DART team’s decision, but those intimately knowledgeable of ape behavior and management understand why it had to occur.

Gorillas are often considered the gentlest of the great apes, but they’re still capable of intense displays of aggression with very little provocation. They’re considered highly dangerous animals in the internal zoo classification system - on par with big cats and bears - and are always worked with in protective contact situations. They’re highly protective of their territory and their group and use their extreme strength and size to challenge any threat. Silverbacks deal with stress by strutting and displaying their strength - often by dragging vegetation, rocks, or other animals around.  

In the videos, we see Harambe standing over the child in the corner of the moat. He takes off suddenly, dragging the child across the moat by his leg before standing over him again. He picks him up carefully, examines him, repositions him… and then grabs him again for the next drag. The behaviors Harambe is displaying towards the child are not affiliative actions, they’re displays of agitation that are familiar to any veteran primate keeper. Just as wild their wild counterparts, the intimidation / threat behaviors of captive gorillas often involve dragging and throwing large branches or exhibit fixtures around to make noise and show off their strength. Harambe is obviously agitated, and it’s likely that it was exacerbated by the noise and intensity of the crowd. So he’s not trying to help the kid when he repositions him – he’s just getting a better grip.

A hard thing to say here is that, to Harambe, it’s likely the child in his exhibit was more a novel stimulus than something he felt any goodwill towards. Despite seemingly misguided claims from Franz deWaal and Jane Goodall (whose statements to that end have people all over the world shaking their heads), Harambe is not protecting the child. He’s not trying to kill him, either - if he was, the boy would have been dead in an instant. But that doesn’t mean the kid was safe. To Harambe, the child was a novelty - basically new enrichment - and then becomes useful for his displays as the screaming crowd sets him on edge. At this point, there’s no way to separate the kid from Harambe without risking serious injury to the child - he is not going to give up the most interesting thing to ever fall into his exhibit, and certainly not after being worked up into a frenzy by the reaction of the visitors.

Tranquilizing Harambe was never a viable option, unfortunately. It’s a really hard thing to accept. The sad news is that tranquilizers don’t work like they do in the movies – the animal never just slumps over, immediately asleep. The drugs take 10-15 minutes to work, and the efficacy of a dose is easily modified by stress or adrenaline. There’s a good chance that even if they did dose Harambe with a tranquilizer, it might not have worked completely - at which point you have to guess and use more and risk killing the animal.

Even if the DART team was able to dose Harambe correctly for his excited physiological state, being darted often elicits a violent reaction from animals. To some degree, this is a reaction to the pain and general unpleasantness associated with previous incidents of darting (normally vet visits). Another, less known fact is that the second stage of most anesthesia drugs taking effect is a ‘excitation’ phase – animals often become more animated for an incredibly short period before it begins to work. The zoo couldn’t risk Harambe hurting the child more as the drugs kicked in.

Another important factor to consider is that the DART team didn’t know if the child had internal injuries from either his fall from a height into a shallow concrete moat, or from his treatment at Harambe’s hands. It’s possible that their choice to shoot Harambe was influenced by the length of time it would take to reach and treat the child if they did not. 

On the controversy:

When a tragedy like this occurs, it’s hard for people to not ask who is to blame. There aren’t any clear answers, the ensuing debates are getting increasingly nasty. 

At first, everyone started crying negligence on the part of the mother. Some zoo staff certainly feel that way, considering how much of their working hours are spent forcing guests to follow the clearly stated safety regulations. Parents of small children, though, know how easy it is for a moment’s inattention to turn into something horrible. We don’t really know enough to say how long it took the child to get through the barriers while his mother was taking a photo. The Cincinnati police are reviewing the situation and the family and have stated that they’ll determine if charges should be brought against the mother in due time. 

Meanwhile, the USDA and AZA are investigating the Cincinnati Zoo side fo things. While the AZA investigation doesn’t have any legal standing, the USDA is finding out if the facility was in violation of the Animal Welfare Act at the time the tragedy occurred. 

The question of if the zoo is at fault for not having a more secure exhibit is a really hard one to answer. The photo above is from the Cincinnati Zoo’s Facebook page, showing the fence that the child crossed. It is not a huge barrier to an adult, but could easily be considered a substantial barrier (even without the hedge) to a child young too young to consciously understand why crossing fences is not okay. 

Now that this has occurred, there’s an obvious flaw in the safety of the exhibit that needs to be rectified- but let’s talk history. Gorilla World at the Cincinnati Zoo opened in 1978 and was one of the first exhibits of it’s kind. Moated exhibits became extremely popular in the late 20th century as public opinion pushed for exhibits where guests could see animals in naturalistic habitats without visual reminders of their confinement, e.g., fences, and can still be seen at many facilities across the country. This Gorilla World yard passed all USDA inspections for 38 years and the design adhered to all federal regulations for the containment of dangerous animals (such as primary and secondary containment). Millions of guests have passed in front of the exhibit in the four decades it has existed and there has never before been an incident. This leaves the Cincinnati zoo in a hard spot they did it by the book, and according to zoo safety rules nobody should ever go past that barrier  – but now it’s happened, and it ended horribly. The design of the enclosure definitely needs to be re-assessed - even if something works 99.99% of the time, if it fails horribly 0.01% it needs to be looked at. Nobody disagrees on that. Hindsight is always 20/20, though, and it’s hard to say if this should have been able to be prevented from ever happening. 

On what to take away:

There are a lot of conversations that this incident has engendered. None of them are easy. Some require zoological facilities to re-examine their exhibits for problem spots. Some require people to really consider what is appropriate behavior in a zoo and why the rules and regulations that people so often ignore exist. Everybode needs to do a little bit of navel-gazing so we can all move forward from here. 

Harambe turned 17 the day before he was shot. He was a valuable ambassador for a highly endangered species, named after a rallying cry in Swahili: ‘pull together’. We can look for vengeance after this tragedy, or we can learn from it. We need to do the latter to protect the children and the gorillas of the future. 

A friend said it best in a private conversation:

“As a former zookeeper, and a curator, exhibit designer, I have plenty of background on the subject. I know how dumb people can be around zoo exhibits. And I’m also extremely aware of zoo safety, almost to a fault. Fact is, given the things that have been happening in zoos the past few years, significant precautions need to be taken around exhibits (…) [and] there is a place where aesthetics and safety can coexist. People ARE dumb, but it’s more about ignorance than intentional stupidity. We as zoo professionals know exactly what our animals are capable of, but the general public really does not. We tune into to zoo tragedies every time they happen, but I’m betting most people still have no idea of any of the recent events over the past decade. It really is the duty of zoos to be safe and not rely on the assumption that visitors know how to be safe around very dangerous animals.  (…) That doesn’t make it okay, nor should we all blow it off as a simple mistake - it was a terrible mistake with tragic consequences. But rushing to a conclusion based on our emotions leads to witch hunts and mob justice. That won’t bring Harambe back, nor will it even make things better for other zoo residents. It’s just us looking to place blame and project our pain onto others. Instead, we should reassess zoo safety protocols, exhibit design, visitor traffic flow, and safety communication/education in zoos. That’s what we should be taking from all the recent tragedies in zoos - turning them into something positive to make zoos better, safer places.”

“Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans have been living for hundreds of thousands of years in their forest, living fantastic lives, never overpopulating, never destroying the forest. I would say that they have been in a way more successful than us as far as being in harmony with the environment.”

Jane Goodall (primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, UN Messenger of Peace, and overall beautiful ambassador of life on this planet)

Today is the inaugural celebration for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science!!! I’ve got to show my #primatepride for #JaneGoodall but there are so many inspirational #SciWomen, I can’t just pick one! #DianFossey #BiruteGaldikas #MaryAnning #RogerArlinerYoung #HedyLamarr #RosalindFranklin #MakeJemison… the list goes on #InternationalDayOfWomenAndGirlsInScience #WomenInSTEM #Primatologists #womeninscience #STEM #IOP #UN #genderequality #feminism Who are your faves?

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With language we can ask, as can no other living beings, those questions about who we are and why we are here. And this highly developed intellect means, surely, that we have a responsibility toward the other life-forms of our planet whose continued existence is threatened by the thoughtless behavior of our own human species — quite regardless of whether or not we believe in God. Indeed, those who acknowledge no God, but are convinced that we are in this world as an evolutionary accident, may be more active in environmental responsibility — for if there is no God, then, obviously, it is entirely up to us to put things right.
—  Pioneering primatologist Jane Goodall, who turns 80 today, on science, religion, and our human responsibility

Dian Fossey was an American zoologist, primatologist, and anthropologist who was known for her extensive study on mountain gorillas. She observed gorillas for 18 years in Rwanda and was staunchly against poaching; something that gained her many enemies. She lived among the gorillas, developed a tight bond with them, and dedicated her entire life to attempting to protect them. Sadly, she was brutally murdered on 27 December, 1985. She was discovered in the bedroom of her cabin which was located in the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda. She had been bludgeoned and chopped to death with a machete; many believe by poachers she had been tracking. The case remains unsolved.

Another illustration for my women in science series. Jane Goodall is a primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist and is the worlds top expert on chimpanzees.

Get one here at:



Jim Ottaviani returns with an action-packed account of the three greatest primatologists of the last century: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. These three ground-breaking researchers were all students of the great Louis Leakey, and each made profound contributions to primatology — and to our own understanding of ourselves.

Tackling Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas in turn, and covering the highlights of their respective careers,Primates is an accessible, entertaining, and informative look at the field of primatology and at the lives of three of the most remarkable women scientists of the twentieth century. Thanks to the charming and inviting illustrations by Maris Wicks, this is a nonfiction graphic novel with broad appeal.

There are many windows through
which we can look out into the
world, searching for meaning …

…Most of us, when we ponder on the
meaning of our existence,
peer through but one of these
windows onto the world.
And even that one is often misted over
by the breath of our finite humanity.

We clear a tiny peephole and stare through.

No wonder we are confused by the
tiny fraction of a whole that we see.

It is, after all, like trying to
comprehend the panorama of the
desert or the sea through
a rolled-up newspaper.

—Jane Goodall, Primatologist/Anthropologist (1924- ).

Check out our winter issue for “Unburdened by Theory” an excerpt from Carol Lee Flinders’ latest book that features Goodall: Enduring Lives: Portraits of Women in Action (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013).

On the runway for pt2 of #PrimatologistsOnPlanes #misadventures #asp15 #ontippytoes #thissaysalot #aboutmyrelationshipwith #mystaff

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Scientists are nerds.

You can tell who’s in Puerto Rico for the primatology conference vs the folks here for some school conference.

Primatologists dress in comfy pants, sturdy shoes, and look like Dr Livingstone.

The other conference has fancy clothes, impractical heels, hair done all nice, wearing suits (and trust me it’s tough not to “help” tbem and tie a better tie knot)…