Siddle, Sheila 1931–

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Siddle, Sheila 1931–

PERSONAL: Born 1931; married David Siddle (a rancher and conservationist).

ADDRESSES: Home and office—Chimfunshi Ranch, Chingola, Zambia, Africa. Office—Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, P.O. Box 11190, Chingola, Zambia, Africa.

CAREER: Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, Chingola, Zambia, Africa, cofounder, 1983–. Former cattle rancher.

AWARDS, HONORS: Jane Goodall Award, 1995; special commendation, Nedbank Mail and Guardian Green Trust Award, 2000; Global 500 Award, United Nations Environment Programme, 2000; Audi Terra Nova Award nomination, 2001; named to Order of the British Empire, 2001.

WRITINGS:

(With Doug Cress) In My Family Tree: A Life with Chimpanzees (memoir), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: In her 2002 memoir In My Family Tree: A Life with Chimpanzees, British-born conservationist Sheila Siddle recounts her efforts to establish the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, an animal sanctuary located in Zambia, Africa. Siddle and her husband, David, owners of a 10,000-acre cattle ranch who had lived in Zambia since the 1950s, were widely known in the region for nursing sick animals back to health. On October 18, 1983, a game ranger brought a badly injured chimpanzee to the Siddles' home; with their help, the chimp, nicknamed "Pal," made a full recovery. "By electing to help a single chimpanzee," wrote Doug Cress on the Science in Africa Web site, "the Siddles' farm suddenly became the repository for dozens of injured and unwanted chimps from all over the world, forcing them to convert their cattle ranch into the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage." The chimpanzees, which are often rescued from poachers and smugglers, share the sanctuary with a variety of other animals, including monkeys, parrots, tortoises, and a hippo. "They just keep coming and coming," David Siddle told Cress. "Our policy is to never turn away an animal in need, but it's staggering just how many chimps we get—and how many others we probably never hear about."

Along with providing urgent medical care to the chimpanzees, the Siddles also give the animals survival lessons. According to Donald G. McNeil, Jr., writing in the New York Times, "Jungle skills are something that Dave and Sheila Siddle teach their … chimps: how to poke tasty termites out of a log, which fruits are avocados and mangoes and which are poison—that sort of thing. They wish they could return their charges to the wild. But that will not be possible until Chimfunshi owns enough wilderness for chimps to teach chimps." To that end, the Siddles have greatly expanded the orphanage; as Cress noted, "by fencing large tracts of their property with 10-foot electrical wiring—and purchasing another 15,000 acres from a neighboring farm—the Siddles have made Chimfunshi the largest area ever set aside for captive primates."

The pair has received a number of honors for their work, including the United Nations Global 500 Award, yet they remain humble about their mission. "Maybe it's the similarities between chimpanzees and humans that are important—not the differences," Sheila Siddle told Cress. "We really aren't that far apart. All I know is that these chimps have given Dave and me far more than we can ever repay."

Reviewing Siddle's account of the couple's experiences, In My Family Tree, Library Journal contributor Beth Crim wrote that the author "offers many warm and insightful stories of the chimps' intelligence, courage, and personality," while a critic in Kirkus Reviews stated: "If the orphanage has but a fraction the warmth and gentleness of Siddle's voice in this story, then the word sanctuary would fit well. Beautiful acts, elegantly rendered."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Siddle, Sheila, and Doug Cress, In My Family Tree: A Life with Chimpanzees, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2002.

PERIODICALS

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2002, Beth Crim, review of In My Family Tree, p. 135.

Library Journal, April 1, 2002, Beth Crim, review of In My Family Tree, p. 135.

New York Times, February 4, 1998, Donald G. McNeil, Jr., "Humans Answer Call to Be Their Cousin's Keepers," p. A4.

ONLINE

Chimfunshi Web site, http://www.chimfunshi.org.za/ (May 10, 2005).

Science in Africa Web site, http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/ (February, 2002), Doug Cress, "Chimfunshi Story."