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'Jungle Book' Life Awaits Child of Great Ape Researchers

By Justin Breen | April 12, 2013 7:57am

LINCOLN PARK — It's safe to say Skye Richard Morgan won't have a typical childhood.

The soon-to-be-born Skye will be the first child of renowned great ape researchers Dave Morgan, a conservation fellow with the Lincoln Park Zoo, and Crickette Sanz, his wife of 3 ½ years.

The couple spend about half of the year in the St. Louis area, where the baby boy will be born — likely next month — and Sanz is a physical anthropology professor at Washington University.

About a year into his life, the baby will go with his parents to their other residence — a makeshift camp in the Goualougo Triangle in the otherwise uninhabited Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the northern Republic of the Congo.

"It's really enriching to see a new culture," said Sanz, 38, who has known Morgan, 44, since 1999 — after he "wooed her with videos of chimpanzees and gorillas." She has lived with him in the Goualougo since 2001.

Skye's future African playground is one of the last places in the world to see truly wild chimpanzees. Morgan said there are about 500 roaming the protected land, not to mention about 1,000 western lowland gorillas.

Sanz said a few leopards "circle our camp", and the couple's "bathtub" is a nearby waterway inhabited by snakes and a dwarf crocodile they've named Cash.

However, the big cats and crocs aren't the most dangerous inhabitants.

That distinct honor goes to the several thousand elephants that live in the Goualougo and surrounding areas.

"We have three to four contacts with elephants a day, and that's a concern," said Morgan, who described a time when he stopped a charging bull pachyderm by throwing a hard book at his head.

"It stopped and ran away," Morgan said.

Morgan, who also works with the Wildlife Conservation Society, started the camp in 1999 as a place to research great apes. Although the site is not equipped with Internet, it does have tents, tarps and five laptops run by solar power.

"I've been to some far-reaching places, but where Dave's office is in the Congo, that's taking it to a whole new level," said Morgan's best friend, Pete Prinzi, the head strength coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It's absolutely incredible," said Prinzi, who noted Morgan has been fascinated with apes since he watched a neighbor's pet spider monkey as a child. "The mental strength to endure being in a remote area for that long is impressive."

The locale is so isolated that the nearest village is a seven-hour walk away through paths carved by elephants and a swamp with water that goes up to travelers' chests.

About six months pregnant, Sanz recently made the voyage with Morgan out of the jungle so they could return to American soil.

"It was time for Crickette to get out," said Morgan, who carries a type of bear spray, but never guns, while he travels.

Sanz said it was out of the question for Skye to have been born in the Congo. The infant mortality rate there is about 7 to 8 percent, while the nearest pregnancy doctors are hundreds of miles away in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville.

"And six-month immunizations [in the U.S.] were a must, too," Sanz said.

Sanz said several of the Congolese people who work at their camp, as researchers and animal trackers, have named their children after her and her husband.

And it was clear Thursday that Sanz was missing her wildlife oasis.

"People have been asking us for many years why we don't have kids, and they've even asked us to adopt some of their kids," Sanz said. "We hope [Skye] will enjoy several aspects of the Congo, and the people there are waiting for him."