Debbie Lee Wesselmann



“This was the problem of being a famous experiment: you couldn’t escape it. Every trait, every choice was forced into a funnel of perception and came out in the same steady stream of clichés.”

From Captivity

Dana Armstrong is no ordinary primatologist. In the 1970s, she was the little blond girl with a chimpanzee for a sister, a participant in her father’s psychology experiment that sought to narrow the divide between species. Now, decades later, the black-and-white clips of Dana bathing, learning sign language, and throwing tantrums with her “sister” still flicker in classrooms across the country. Dana wants nothing more than to forget them, but as director of a chimpanzee sanctuary in the woods of South Carolina, she cannot escape.

Dana arrives at work one morning to discover that the worst has happened: someone has vandalized the buildings and opened the cages, setting loose a group of particularly dangerous chimpanzees. She mobilizes her staff to capture the missing chimps before they can injure the local citizens or be killed themselves. The sanctuary is already on precarious ground, and if it fails, the chimps—some infected with HIV, some survivors of experimental surgeries, some rescued from roadside zoos—have nowhere to go. The sanctuary is all they—and Dana—have left.

As Dana scrambles to determine who was responsible, pressure mounts from all sides––from local protesters; from animal rights groups; from the university that oversees the sanctuary; from an old nemesis bent on destroying her; from journalist Sam Wendt, who seems attracted to Dana one moment but exposes her vulnerabilities the next; from her brother, Zack, an overgrown child who shares her past even as he sabotages her future. As political and personal tensions rise in the human world, the chimpanzees have their own crises, events that Dana, more than ever, cannot afford to ignore.

Listen to a podcast of the author reading from Captivity

Read my blog entries about chimpanzees, animal welfare, and the politics surrounding them:

Washoe:  An Extraordinary Mind

The Property of None

Why Cle Elum Matters:  Rescuing Chimps From Biomedical Testing

What is it about chimpanzees?  Why some people love them and others find them disturbing.


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Copyright 2007, 2008 by Debbie Lee Wesselmann