Book Cover

Voices from the Ape House

Beth Armstrong

312 pp. 6 x 9
35 b&w images
Pub Date: January, 2020

Subjects: Ohio

Imprint: Trillium

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  ISBN: 978-0-8142-5571-1
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Listen to Beth Armstrong on WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher

“Armstrong was in the forefront of exchanging experiences with other zoos around the world, developing a network of relationships that spread advances made in gorilla husbandry and zoo management.…Though the author's discussions of zoo management are … engaging, the most heart-touching material is found in the profiles of the gorillas. A pleasing gathering of distinct personalities and unique stories from the ape house.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Gorillas are also individuals, with unique quirks, personalities, and histories, and Armstrong writes about them with insight, intimacy, and heart in her lovely new memoir, Voices from the Ape House.” —Dave Ghose, Columbus Monthly

Voices from the Ape House is a powerful journey through a remarkable time in zoological history. Throughout, Beth Armstrong examines the unique relationship between animals and people—showing that there is so much more to be learned as we work every day to conserve these magnificent creatures.” —Jack Hanna, host of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild

“Beth Armstrong turns a revealing account of her career into a love song for an extraordinary species. She captures the poignant tension between the magic of interacting closely with gorillas in captivity and the desperate need to support them in the wild. Her intimate revelations beautifully demonstrate storytelling’s vital role in inspiring the next generation of conservationists.” —Dr. Richard Wrangham, author of The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution

“This heartfelt account of a zookeeper’s experiences in the company of gorillas testifies to the richness and rewards of human-animal coexistence. It is a must-read for all wildlife enthusiasts and certainly for budding zookeepers.” —Richard Johnstone-Scott, author of Jambo: A Gorilla’s Story

In this memoir, former zookeeper Beth Armstrong takes readers behind the scenes at Columbus, Ohio’s famed zoo to experience the complicated social lives of western lowland gorillas and the profound privilege of working with them. Bongo, Toni, Jumoke, and, of course, Colo—the world’s first gorilla born in captivity—were just some of the individuals who inspired and shaped Armstrong’s commitment to improving gorilla husbandry and to encouraging her zoo’s involvement in protecting gorillas in the wild.

Her recollections give readers a glimpse into the fascinating world of gorillas—the familiar gentleness of parents toward infants, power plays and social climbing, teenagers’ exuberance, the capacity for humor, and the gorillas’ grief as they mourn the death of one of their own. In the end, Armstrong’s conflicted feelings around captivity and her lifelong fondness for these animals helped shape a zoo program known for its dedication to gorilla conservation.

Beth Armstrong spent much of her life caring for and observing gorillas—first as a keeper and then as head keeper at the Columbus Zoo, 1982–1996. She became a passionate proponent and voice for gorillas in the wild—and many other species—as the first Field Conservation Coordinator at the Columbus and Brevard Zoos, respectively. She continues to promote the role of zoos in supporting fieldwork that actively protects great ape species in the wild.


List of Illustrations
A Note on the Text

Chapter 1        Ape House
Chapter 2        Childhood
Chapter 3        Clarity
Chapter 4        Primate Behavior 101
Chapter 5        Beginnings
Chapter 6        Chimpanzees
Chapter 7        Rebels
Chapter 8        Dispelling Myths
Chapter 9        Leadership
Chapter 10      An Extraordinary Year
Chapter 11      Construction
Chapter 12      Bongo
Chapter 13      Back to the Children’s Zoo
Chapter 14      More Primate Experience
Chapter 15      A Bigger World
Chapter 16      Apenheul
Chapter 17      Back to Gorillas
Chapter 18      Toni-Baloney
Chapter 19      Moments of Magic
Chapter 20      The Kitchen Table and Front Bench
Chapter 21      Humans and Gorillas
Chapter 22      Oscar
Chapter 23      Holidays
Chapter 24      Intrusions and Mistakes
Chapter 25      A Family
Chapter 26      Building a Gorilla Troop
Chapter 27      Creative Sparks
Chapter 28      Learning to Be a Gorilla
Chapter 29      Keeper Etiquette
Chapter 30      Bridgette, Bongo, and Fossey
Chapter 31      What’s in a Name?
Chapter 32      Everyone Has a Story
Chapter 33      Lulu—a Game Changer
Chapter 34      A New Life for Bathsheba
Chapter 35      Behind the Scenes
Chapter 36      Monumental Changes
Chapter 37      Rainy Days
Chapter 38      Storytelling
Chapter 39      Something Bigger than Us
Chapter 40      Friends
Chapter 41      Mosuba’s Road Trip
Chapter 42      People I Have Met
Chapter 43      Molly
Chapter 44      Saturday Nights
Chapter 45      Bongo and Fossey
Chapter 46      Mumbah and Pongi
Chapter 47      Social Beings
Chapter 48      Why We Do Conservation
Chapter 49      Teenagers
Chapter 50      Voices Past and Present

            Individual Profiles
            Gorilla Communications
            Mothers, Fathers, and Infants
            Recommended Reading