Kate Mara Opens Up About How Working With Rescued Chimpanzees Changed Her Life

Kate Mara says her life was forever changed after she and her sister Rooney Mara traveled to Liberia in 2018 to meet a group of rescue chimpanzees.

"Once we had the opportunity to be face-to-face with these incredible animals, there was just no turning back," she tells PEOPLE.

The A Teacher star and animal rights advocate, 37, went to Liberia in 2018 to learn more about the work of Jim and Jenny Desmond, the founders of Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection in West Africa. The organization oversees the care of rescue chimps who were previously used as lab animals or were the victims of the illegal bushmeat and pet trades.

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Mara, who welcomed a daughter in May 2019 with fiancé Jamie Bell, distinctly remembers her first encounter with the chimps.

"They're very similar to human babies. At first, we made sure to really give them their space and let them come to us until they were ready to explore," she says. "But what was really spectacular was when we went back two years later, they immediately remembered us. Which is outrageous. That would never happen with a human baby. It just goes to show how spectacular these animals are."

The work being done at the Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue can now be seen on BBC America’s Baby Chimp Rescue. The show’s third episode, "A New Beginning", premieres on Dec. 19 and features the rescue's team caring for 38 baby chimps. It also shows the orphans having their first taste of life in the forest.

"Baby Chimp Rescue really shines a light on our friends Jim and Jenny Desmond, in Liberia," says Mara. "You see the struggles and also the incredible moments, where these chimpanzees, who were really left with nothing and about to die, end up thriving under their care. I just think it's a very inspiring thing to see, and I hope that everyone will watch it."

Adds Mara, "Hopefully, when people see these chimps, it will inspire and teach them about these animals . . . and then it opens their eyes to all animals in need."

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