In an interview with the New England Primate Conservancy some years ago, Shirley shared, “I was originally planning a career as a college teacher, but my experiences in Thailand in the 1970’s set me on another path. I was shocked by the deplorable treatment of monkeys like the stump-tailed macaques and baby gibbons that I saw while in Bangkok. I knew I had to do something. It was the beginning of my journey. When I began my research, I found that illegal trading practices were depleting many of the world’s primate species and that no single organization was protecting all primates.”
In 1973, while still in Thailand, Shirley transformed her concern into action and formed the International Primate Protection League. In 1977 she established a gibbon sanctuary in South Carolina.
Shirley transformed the lives of dozens of gibbons by bringing them to IPPL’s sanctuary. First were four she had rescued while in Thailand. Others came from tourist attractions, inferior zoos, were kept as pets or spent horrific years in research laboratories.
In 1981 IPPL accepted its first gibbon from a research laboratory. Arung Rangsi was only two years old. He lived at IPP for another 37 years. Gibby, also a lab gibbon, turned 62 this year.
Shirley began working with a number of primate organizations in Africa, Asia, Central and South America and established an annual Small Grant program to assist them in their efforts to protect and save primates. Under her direction, IPPL provided additional financial assistance for emergencies that included, Ebola, fires, destructive storms, a brutal attack on a sanctuary, and COVID-19.
In 1990, IPPL held its first Biennial Conference bringing our Global Partners to South Carolina to meet with supporters and make powerful presentations on the work in their native countries.
Since 1979, Shirley has represented IPPL at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to secure increased protection for primates. Her last to attend was in 2019.
For ten years Shirley attended and made presentations at the Animal Rights Conferences. IPPL was also a sponsor of these national events.
As a result of Shirley’s persistence confronting international animal smugglers, she has gone undercover to investigate primate smuggling rings and laboratories, received death threats from illicit animal dealers, and been the target of groundless lawsuits. But that never stopped her.
For decades, Shirley’s dedication has known no boundaries. She has received worldwide recognition for her tireless efforts to protect the world’s primates including:
- At the Rio Earth Summit, in 1992, she was named a laureate of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global 500 Roll of Honor of Environmental Achievement.
- The 1998 Jeanne Marchig Award in recognition of her “practical work in the field of animal welfare…to bring about a more humane and compassionate attitude towards non-human primates.”
- The 2004 ChevronTexaco Conservation Award for her tireless efforts to make the world a safer place for primates.
- In 2007 she was nominated to be an Animal Planet “Hero of the Year.”
- In 2008, she received the first Caroline Earle White Award from the American Anti-Vivisection Society.
- The Order of the British Empire was presented to Shirley by Queen Elizabeth II at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in June of 2008 for her services to the protection of primates.
- In 2014 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her “many years of service to wild and captive primates worldwide”: by the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance.
- Shirley was perhaps proudest of the Dutch Police-INTERPOL Award she received in 1994 for exposing an international ring of primate smugglers.
Since 1974, Shirley has lived in the Brach Building on the grounds of IPPL’s headquarters and sanctuary. Here she was surrounded by Newfoundlands, Great Pyrenees, and other rescued dogs. Shirley also provided sanctuary for many Asian short-clawed otters who were retired from zoos. She took delight seeing the deer who also made IPPL’s property their home and made sure there were plenty of bird feeders around the Brach building where she could watch the “hummers.”
In the December 1992 issue of IPPL News, Shirley wrote: “It’s hard to believe it, but 1993 will be the 20th anniversary of the founding of the International Primate Protection League.
As Founder-Chairwoman of IPPL, I have now spent over half my adult life working to make the world a better place for nonhuman primates who share our world, and I intend to spend the rest of my life working on this cause!”
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