I never thought I would write these lines. Guga was my eighth child. Unlike the previous ones, who were human primates, he was the only non-human. However, for me, there was no difference, perhaps because of his fragility, because of the dangers he faced every day in a brutal and unjust human society, he required more protection and care.
Two months ago, he came almost crawling to meet veterinarian Juliana Kihara and succumbed to a disease he didn’t understand, one that was destroying his body internally. Possibly a pancreatic tumor was undermining his defenses and strength, but he was a fighter. Born in a zoo, illegally sold a few days after birth, torn from the care of his natural mother. He found us. We had never lived with a chimpanzee. We had a Rescue Center in the town of Sorocaba, in the state of São Paulo, with small primates and birds.
We went to get him from the city of Curitiba, 400 km from São Paulo, on an amazing journey along a road that was always under constant construction, and brought him to our home in São Paulo. At that time, we lived in an apartment, but we were already planning to move to a house in the city of Itu, 90 km from São Paulo. We hired someone to take care of him during the day. Vania and I had two children entering adolescence who also needed care.
Guga was three months old when we rescued him. We had no idea how to raise a non-human primate, but he quickly forced us to cross that false barrier erected by Primatology and became one of us.
Our intention was for Guga to live with us in the new house, in a gated community in Itu; it was a total madness. We quickly realized that he was a stranger in a nest with many dangers around him. That day we decided to take him to the Rescue Center in Sorocaba, and thus, the Great Primates Sanctuary was born, which now houses 50 chimpanzees and over 200 beings of other species, being a worldwide reference in the care of Great Primates.
When I learned of the illness, I went to him. He came almost crawling and placed his head on my legs, as he did when he was a baby and didn’t want me to leave him alone. That’s when I realized Guga might be dying, something I never imagined possible. That strong, active being, almost human in his presence and attitudes, was fatally struck by a banal and absurd illness. His blood glucose level exceeded 800; a human would have already died.
His mother, when she arrived at the Sanctuary years ago, was already mortally wounded, possibly a cancer, a metastasis from a deeper one, was developing in her mouth and, in a few weeks, horribly took her life. Perhaps Guga carried that terrible genetics in his body.
Thus began the fight against the silent enemy, which from the deep interior of his powerful body, undermined and destroyed him. He was an exemplary patient, trusting us, the veterinarians, the caretakers. We isolated him and set up intensive treatment; however, he was already losing his strength, infections arose in regions of his body, he fought as he could, helped us, took all the medicines, underwent constant analysis, allowed his blood to be drawn, and underwent all the necessary procedures.
Days ago, they called me; he could no longer move his left leg, it was the beginning of the end. He no longer moved, crawled, tears dried in our eyes and continued to flow in our minds. It was a nightmare that I never imagined having to go through. He fought in every possible way; we anesthetized him and investigated his body through images. Dr. Walton Nosé and his assistants came from São Paulo to examine his right eye, which had a dilated pupil. The disease had not yet affected his retina and did not require a more specific treatment. Later, we noticed that blood began to flow from his intestine; he cleaned himself with a cloth. That’s when we started staying with him 24 hours, to help him as much as possible. All his blood was lost, weakening him, with nothing we could do. One of his testicles was infected, forming an abscess, and we managed to contain the infection.
Last Sunday, amid the turmoil that shakes the whole of Brazil, and we even found ourselves isolated due to a strike by fuel transporters, Guga squeezed my hand while sleeping next to him and left this world, which we no longer understand.
Guga was the founder of the Great Primates Sanctuary. Everyone knew he was fighting against death. The unusual movement for a Sunday alerted all his companions that the leader’s fight was coming to an end. Silence fell upon his brothers, whom he had helped save from certain death at the hands of human neglect.
May Guga rest in peace! We will never forget you!
Dr. Pedro A. Ynterian
Secretary-General, Great Ape Project International