13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Indianapolis Prize Finalist: Christophe Boesch is known as the champion for chimpanzees

The Indianapolis Prize recognizes the world’s leading animal conservationists.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — The Indianapolis Prize recognizes the world’s leading animal conservationists.

This year’s finalists include Dr. Christophe Boesch, known as the champion for chimpanzees. He’s spent most of his life fighting for their survival.

“The chimpanzees are our closest living relative," Dr. Boesch said. "They look sometimes so incredibly similar to us, and they behave like humans. They don't always look like humans, but they behave, they use tools. And so there is a fascination because when you look at chimpanzees, you look at the behavior of the chimpanzees, you somewhere see something about us there.”

Early in his career, his biggest challenge was finding chimpanzees in the jungle.

"There is no path. There is nowhere. You can lose your way in a second, and so we were really concentrated in first understanding the area, finding our ways, trying to understand where the chimpanzees are roaming. So, the first sights were glimpses," he said.

Dr. Boesch has studied their behavior, including how they use big stones to crack nuts.

"I had Brutus who was for me the ideal big, old, experienced chimpanzee male who can hunt perfectly, who's adopting baby orphans, who's sharing meat and who is violent when he needs to be. And he's very generous, and very cooperative, and playing with kids without any inhibition," he said.

Dr. Boesch said local farmers, logging companies, and hunting are the biggest threats to chimpanzees. He believes creating new national parks will help the critically endangered chimpanzee population in West Africa.

“And so I would really like to make a plea, not only we need to conserve the chimpanzees, we need to research on new community of chimpanzees if we really want to understand what humans are,” said Dr. Boesch.