Women’s Speaker Series: Professor Sarah Dunphy-Lelii


Little Flower was overjoyed to welcome Sarah Dunphy Lelii this past week as a part of our Women's Speaker Series. Ms. Dunphy-Lelii is currently a professor at Bard College in New York and is the daughter of Mr. Ralph Lelii, who works in our Success Center. On Monday, January 11th, the entire Little Flower community joined Professor Dunphy-Lelii in an hour-long Zoom session as she discussed with us her six-month research fellowship studying chimpanzees in Uganda. Prior to her experience in Africa, Professor Dunphy-Lelii had studied Chimpanzees twice in captivity, both while she was receiving her education.  


It was these experiences that inspired her to work with these animals for a 6-month sabbatical. Professor Dunphy-Lelii explained to us that it is especially difficult to find Chimpanzees to allow humans to follow them. The section of the National Park she called home in Western Uganda was the only place humans could go, so this was an especially unique experience for her. While there, her and her colleagues spelt in tents, only covered by small overhangs. Each morning, her and her colleagues would wake up at 5:45 am so that they could be out observing these Chimpanzees by 7:00 am, just before they wake up. Her days were mostly filled with hiking through the forest and observing these chimpanzees in their communities, as they would dedicate  about 9 hours in the forest each day. They also operated with electricity or running water, relying on the natural water around them. 


 It was fascinating to hear about her experiences, including the close notes she took on this specific Chimpanzee community each day. They even named and identified many of the monkeys. Whether it was Jackson, Richmond, or Dizzy, the characteristics she found in each monkey made it seem like they were human. From the power structure in their communities, to the way they rely on communication and interaction, there were many human similarities to be found. We were all really inspired not only by the amount of data information she had collected during her time in Uganda, but also the dedication she displayed in getting there. As someone said, she is real life Jane Goodall. While Professor Dumphy-Lelii no longer works with Chimpanzees every day, she has not lost her interest in these magnificent creatures as she keeps the door open for a return to Uganda in the future… Just “not in the rainy season.” 

All photos taken by Kevin Langergraber.