Chimpanzee Orphans

The sad situation with Chimpanzee Orphans in Africa as reported by the Jane Goodall Institute

From the Jane Goodall Institute

At the turn of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of chimpanzees could be found in twenty-five African nations. Now they have totally disappeared in four. In five others the numbers of chimpanzees are too few for the species to survive. Only four countries (Zaire, Congo, Gabon and Cameroon) now hold significant populations of these apes and even in these remaining strongholds chimpanzees are gradually and relentlessly losing ground to the ever growing needs of constantly increasing human populations. Forests are axed for dwellings and for cultivation. Logging and mining activities penetrate ever deeper into the natural habitats, followed inevitably by human diseases (to which chimpanzees are susceptible).

Currently an Ebola epidemic is sweeping Africa causing hundreds of deaths in humans, chimps and other animals. Moreover, the dwindling chimpanzee populations become increasingly fragmented and genetic diversity is lost until, in many cases, the small groups of survivors can no longer sustain themselves. Chimpanzees are also hunted for food. Bushmeat is the term given to any wildlife hunted by people for food. In central and western Africa, the bushmeat trade has become increasingly commercialised. The international trade in bushmeat is huge. It can be found on menus in restaurants throughout Europe and is available in the UK if you know where to look for it. A knock-on effect of the bushmeat trade is that large numbers of infant chimpanzees are orphaned. They are captured and shipped off for the international entertainment and pharmaceutical industries, or for exotic pets to anyone willing to buy them. Even In places where they are not eaten, females are often shot, snared, chased with packs of dogs, or even poisoned so that their infants may be captured for sale to dealers.

The whole sickening business of capturing infant chimpanzees, for any purpose whatsoever, is not only cruel but also horribly wasteful. The hunters’ weapons are, for the most part, unsuitable. Shotguns are old, and the mother, while she may, if she is lucky, escape unscathed, is just as likely to be wounded. She may creep into the forest and die later of her injuries. Her infant will then, almost certainly, die also. Often infants as well as their mothers are hit, particularly when the weapon is an old flintlock stuffed with nails or broken glass. And sometimes other chimpanzees rush to the defence of the mother and her child - then they may also be shot

For the captured infant, this is the start of a succession of terrifying, new experiences. An infant chimpanzee will suffer in almost exactly the same way, emotionally and mentally, as would a small human child in similar circumstances except that, for the chimp, actual physical contact with the mother may be of even greater importance than for the human child. After that brutal separation, the infant must first endure a nightmare journey to a native village or a dealer’s camp. The captive, feet and hands often tied together with string or wire, is crammed into a tiny box or basket, or pushed into a suffocating sack. And, with each agonising jolt, cramped and chafed by the bonds of his/her new captivity, freedom, comfort and joy are left further and further behind

Many youngsters do not survive these journeys, for they receive little or no care and attention en route. Those that do survive arrive at holding stations in sorry plight. Many are wounded, all are dehydrated, starving and suffering from shock. Yet it is unlikely that they will find relief or solace, for the conditions that prevail at such places are typically grim and standards of care are atrocious. And so, as they await shipment to their final destinations, still more infants will die. Those who live must then face onward travel to different places around the world. Airports delays are common and there is seldom anyone to nurture the crated captives. Often, indeed their departure is illegal, so that the dealers involved, and those in their pay, do their best to conceal the nature of the cargo

It is surprising that any infant chimpanzees survive these experiences, yet, against all odds, some do like the survivors of concentration camps, these little chimpanzees show an amazing tenacity for life.

What happens to these battered survivors? Alas, all too often their lives will be so grim and wretched that it would have been better for them had they died sooner.

We are concerned, so far as this project is concerned, with those orphans who remain in Africa are bought as pets from markets or at the roadside. While they are still small they may be pampered and well cared for, but they grow older and bigger. No longer cute and adorable, easy to manage and fun to be with, they become a nuisance and a liability. They are strong and curious. They want to explore their environment. They climb the curtains, break anything lying around, raid the refrigerator, use unlock cupboards. Increasingly they must be disciplined and they resent punishment. They may throw violent tantrums and they may bite.

“Loving” owners may take steps to put off the day when they must part with their pet. Some chimpanzees have their teeth pulled out. One young female had both her thumbs amputated so couldn’t (so her owner thought) climb and destroy the curtains. But, finally, the chimpanzees have to go and by that time, when the youngsters are between five and eight years old, it is very hard for adjust to being chimpanzees -all their lives they have been taught to behave like human. What becomes of them?

Often there is nowhere for them to go. Captive chimpanzees cannot be released into the wild as they only know how to behave like humans. Moreover, chimpanzees are aggressively territorial – the only serious attempt to reintroduce ex-captive chimpanzees into the wild ended in disaster when the wild chimpanzees attempted to drive out the “invaders”.

Pet owners often used to send their unwanted chimpanzees to America or Europe. This is no longer possible because of international laws (Convention on Trade in Endangered Species - CITES) regulating the movement from one country to another of endangered species - such as chimpanzees. So these chimps may be put down, tied up on strong chains, or donated to local zoos. The problem in developing countries is that, even though intentions are good, funds are usually limited. Moreover, the keepers have their own families to care for, and chimpanzee fare is only too acceptable to small human children.

Today, it is becoming increasingly common for young chimpanzees to be confiscated by the authorities. These confiscations may occur within the country of origin, when chimpanzees are offered without the necessary permits. Or they may occur in a neighbouring country into which chimpanzees have been smuggled. What happens to these confiscated infants?

Again, the picture is grim. Many confiscated orphans die, so the Jane Goodall Institute has sanctuaries in Uganda, Kenya and Congo Brazzaville. These are places where infants can be nurtured, reintroduced to other chimpanzees and, when they are fit and strong, they are given the opportunity to lead reasonably full lives in spacious enclosures. A well conceived, well run sanctuary may serve an additional purpose - it can be combined with a conservation education programme that will make the local people aware of the problems and enable them to learn something of the nature and behaviour of our closest living relatives in the world today.

In Kenya, our Sweetwaters Sanctuary houses around three dozen chimps, mostly from Eastern Zaire and originally cared for in Burundi until the political situation necessitated the move.

In Uganda, our Ngamba Island and Nsadzi Island Sanctuaries are part of a unique project involving five international conservation groups. These islands also house around three dozen chimps.

Our Tchimpounga Sanctuary in Congo Brazzaville is the largest orphan chimpanzee sanctuary in Africa and is covered in detail elsewhere in this pack

There is light at the end of the tunnel for chimps and other endangered species in the wild. The situation is changing slowly with more and more African countries becoming aware of the plight of their wildlife and taking steps to secure its future survival.

The Jane Goodall Institute-UK, Orchard House, 51-67 Commercial Road, Southampton, Hampshire, SO15 1GG Tel: 02380-335660 UK Registered Charity: No: 327858

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