William & Mary

A Possibility for Life's Work

Kessler helps "save the chimps."

  • Joseph Kessler Presents Summer Research
    Joseph Kessler Presents Summer Research  Ten weeks volunteering with Save the Chimps was an unforgettable part of Joseph Kessler's Monroe Scholar project. Joseph presented his work at the Celebration of Summer Research sponsored by the Charles Center.  Photo by David F. Morrill
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Working in a kitchen and providing back scratches may not seem all that scholarly, but it certainly was an unforgettable part of Joseph Kessler’s freshman Monroe Scholars project. A native of Vero Beach, Fla., Kessler ’10 spent two weeks volunteering with Save the Chimps, a non-profit organization in Florida dedicated to rescuing chimpanzees who have been locked up, sometimes for decades, for biomedical research purposes.

With more than 100 chimpanzees on location, and more arriving periodically, Save the Chimps welcomed Kessler with open arms last summer and put him right to work.

“I prepared meals, occasionally got to scratch chimps’ backs with a piece of garden hose, and smiled for the happy primates at peace at the shelter,” Kessler explains. “I was even lucky enough to witness a group of 40-year-old chimps stepping outside for the first time in their lives, which was incredible.”

Kessler credits classes taught by Professor of Anthropology Barbara King as inspiration for undertaking the project. “Her passion shown through,” he says. “Any time you can learn from an expert in their field is an amazing opportunity.”

During his time with Save the Chimps, Kessler discovered complicated beings far removed from popular comic stereotypes found in films. “They all have their unique personalities and favorite hobbies, favorite toys, and favorite foods,” he explains.

Kessler says he was surprised how rewarding the mostly menial work felt — even on days where he didn’t directly see the chimps. “It was enough just knowing that these were unique individuals who — if they could — would thank me for it.”

Considering a double major in linguistics and anthropology, Kessler may eventually make primatology his life’s work. “I had an amazing time working with Save the Chimps, and I’m sure I’ll have an amazing time doing my upperclassmen Monroe project,” he says. “I’m very, very grateful to the people who made that available to me.”