AFTER decades working as a primatologist, Cassandra Rowe knows chimpanzees.
She knows how to recognise growing tension in the group, how to train them to communicate, and that chimps are ticklish like humans (but they’re the most dangerous captive animal, so don’t try it at home).
But one thing she is particularly familiar with, is their mischievous, forward-thinking behaviour.
"I remember one chimp I worked with,” Ms Rowe said, “He was kinda like the cocky bloke at the pub."
After he spotted a delivery of bananas in the very out-of-bounds kitchen, "he waited until I left, got two sticks of bamboo and jammed them together [to make the pole longer]," and hooked them.
He proceeded to eat all 13 or so bananas, before returning the plastic bag to Ms Rowe, guilt free.
Her love for primates hit young, after a trip to the zoo with her grandmother.
"When I got to the chimps, I just wouldn't leave," Ms Rowe said, drawn to their funny, intelligent and human-like behaviour. "I decided then and there, that's what I was gonna do."
Her work has taken her around the world. From Peru to India, Sumatra to the UK- she’s even lived onsite in a monkey zone at Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre.
She claims not be Australia’s answer to Jane Goodall (“those are some big shoes to fill”), but she has met her. “I was able to help organise a youth summit, and bring her to Australia…I’d love to be able to make as big a difference as she has.”
It hasn’t all been fun and games, taking Ms Rowe serious work to get to where she is today. “It’s a 24/7 gig, with heavy manual labour, and work in all weather conditions. It can be horrible, dirty work, and if you lose an animal you just have to get on with it the very next day.”
There’s also potential for danger, something Ms Rowe knows from her time working in an Australian zoo. “We had nine lions get out of their enclosure, and my manager and I had to get them back in.” With no vehicle or stun gun access and malfunctioning radios, that is.
It’s not enough to stop her thinking she’s got the best job out there. “It’s because I can make a difference...
“It doesn’t matter where in the world [the primates] are, I will help them.”
A proud Darug woman, Ms Rowe will be in Ballarat next month as a mentor for STEM workshops aimed at Indigenous girls, hosted by Fed Uni.