Debby Cox currently serves as the Jane Goodall Institute’s (JGI) technical advisor supporting various program areas, particularly in the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Since 2009, Cox has helped JGI’s country directors within sub-Saharan Africa develop programs to alleviate the threats to chimpanzee survival.
A native of Yanco, Australia, Cox has devoted her life to saving chimpanzees and their habitats. Growing up, she dreamed of working in Africa. Cox became a veterinary nurse and moved to Sydney were she initially worked with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) before securing a position at Taronga Zoo.
In 1990, Cox traveled to Gerald Durrell’s Wildlife Trust on Jersey in the Channel Islands, United Kingdom. While there, she spent six months training and working on the conservation and breeding of endangered species.
After spending six months volunteering for JGI in Burundi, Cox returned to co-manage the Institute’s programs in the war-torn country. In January 1995, Cox, along with colleagues, successfully negotiated a deal with the Government of Burundi to relocate a number of orphaned chimpanzees to a safe sanctuary in Kenya.
After leaving Burundi, Cox assumed the role of executive director of JGI-Uganda. Cox worked diligently with a wide array of Ugandan government officials and private donors to create what has become the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It took Cox and other key associates only two years to raise the funds, to build a state-of-the-art facility, and to move 19 chimps who had previously been housed in sub-standard conditions to the sanctuary.
In the intervening years, Cox not only increased the numbers of chimpanzees rescued and transferred to the Ngamba sanctuary, she helped make the sanctuary one of the top tourist destinations in Uganda. Concurrently, she developed, designed and implemented a livelihoods program with women in the surrounding communities based on the production of handicrafts that are now marketed in the United States and Europe, as well as to sanctuary visitors. In 2004, JGI handed over management of the Ngamba sanctuary to the Ugandan staff that Cox trained.
During the same time period, Cox helped establish several programs in Uganda that directly addressed the threats to chimpanzee survival. These programs included snare removal and intervention initiatives, and standardized health and welfare protocols related to wild chimpanzee tourism in Uganda. Cox also established programs to improve management of protected areas, including the training of guides, establishment of forest education centers, and the integration of environmental education curriculum in primary schools. Other initiatives included the construction of schools and the improvement of health clinics in communities living near chimpanzee habitat. By 2009, Cox was able to hand over leadership of the unique team she created during her 14-year tenure to a Ugandan executive director.
Cox, who received her masters in science from Australia National University in 2004, is a founding member of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) and was a driving force behind its creation. She continues to be a member of the alliance’s steering committee.
Today, Cox is an integral part of the management of JGI’s Tchimpounga Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo. Her work at the sanctuary includes supporting the site’s expansion to three nearby islands and working on a reintroduction program for some of the juvenile females currently living there.
Photo Courtesy of Frederic Moix