For a baby chimpanzee in the African rainforest, the world is only as big as a mother’s arms. So when that mother is suddenly taken, there’s a massive rush to fill the void.
The Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, United Nations Great Apes Survival Partnership and MONUSCO peacekeeping forces all had a hand in one such rescue of a two-year-old female chimpanzee Beni, named after the town in which she had been kept in captivity. It is believed that Beni’s mother was killed by bushmeat hunters and she was being kept illegally as a pet by a local family.
Chimpanzees as pets have zero chance of long term happiness and they are often tied in chains or kept in boxes when they have grown big enough to become a threat to the people around them. It was imperative for rescuers to get Beni to safety and into the hands of those who understand what a baby chimpanzee needs. Though the field rescue team was male, they got the fleeting chance to protect the young ones as only a mom can do.
A Quarrel Over Who Would Hold the Babies
The real clamor to assume guardianship over Beni began when she and another baby named Mbandaka arrived at the Lwiro Primate Center’s nursery ward. Although most of them are only babies themselves, within the nursery unit there was quite a squabble over who would get to hold the new arrivals.
“The other infants all fought over the new little ones and who would get to carry them around,” explains volunteer Rebecca Jones. “In particular, Lulinga (a 5 year old female) takes care of the new baby Mbandaka and carries her around on her back just like a mother chimpanzee would. She also sleeps with Mbandaka every night while Beni preferred to sleep with a human keeper.”
While there is excitement amongst the resident chimpanzees, the arrival of these new chimpanzees is met with a different mix of emotions from the rescue staff here.
“When a new animal arrives, there is no joy at all,” Andrea Edwards explains. “This infant has just lost its whole family to illegal trade. They are sick, depressed and very, very scared. Usually they have been with hunters, soldiers or middle men for several days or longer. Therefore they have not seen real food or water since this time. It can either be difficult to get them to accept these from you, or some babies are the opposite, they will become aggressive because they think you will try to take it away. When they realize you won’t remove the food and water, they become more settled. For the fist day or two, normally they do not like to be touched or held. Everything is a struggle. This is the hardest time. They are in cages when they should be in the forest with their family.”
The Harmony Fund is hosting Chimp Week on behalf of chimpanzee rescue centers in Congo and Cameroon. Learn about efforts to bring food, medicine and round-the-clock care to chimpanzees here.