Photo: A young chimp named Mayos and veterinary volunteer Ann enjoy a splash in a wading pool at the Limbe Wildlife Center in Cameroon.
NOTE: This is a guest post by Laura Simpson, Founder of The Great Animal Rescue Chase and the Harmony Fund.
When the rains fall inside the Limbe Wildlife Centre in the West African rainforest of Cameroon, flooding from the nearby river marbles through the sanctuary like paint on canvas. But the animals pay it no mind as they master the branches of the new climbing structure and have a good roll through the soggy grass down below. Rainy season, after all, is a natural cycle for gorillas, chimpanzees and other animals living here, and for them, the most powerful form of healing often begins in the mud.
Since 1993, the Limbe Wildlife Centre has been taking in victims of wildlife trafficking, the bush meat trade and the illegal pet trade. The animals come in from all corners of the forest, some with bullet wounds, broken arms or injured wings. In time each new arrival becomes acquainted with the softer side of human nature as a fleet of care givers and veterinary specialists work to restore them body and soul.
“Our baby chimpanzees just got a new climbing structure and a pool,” explains Assistant Project Manager Sofie Meilvang. “To begin with they didn’t really dare to use the pool, so we had to go in with them.”
But bathing with a chimp is not so bad after all, and frankly, it’s no surprise that these little ones need reassurance. Most, after all, are orphans. Primates are considered a delicacy in Central West Africa, so they are hunted for their meat. Because young animals are worth more alive, the babies are taken to be sold as a pet after their mothers are killed. It’s only through the efforts of agents at the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife that some are confiscated and taken to Limbe where rehabilitation is not only defined by the body’s ability to heal, but also the spirit.
“To measure recovery in body weight and mended injuries alone would be to miss half of the equation,” explains Daria Justyn, Vice President of the Harmony Fund, a USA based charity that helps sustain the work of the center. “Although the Limbe Wildlife Centre aims to treat and return the majority of patients back to the wild, the orphaned chimps and some of the others become lifelong residents and building them a proper home has nothing to do with measuring them for cages.”
Elaborate climbing gyms and cozy rest areas are standard quarters. The chimpanzees and gorillas form social ‘family’ units and they play, nurture and protect one another just as they would in the wild. If you stopped by for a visit on Sunday afternoon you might find mandrills napping in the sun while wooden crates are begin pried open to free hundreds of African Grey Parrots seized at the airport. Baby squirrels who had been thrown into a garbage can are being nursed with bottles, and down by the river, a crocodile is making her return to the river after weeks of recovery from her own captive ordeal.
Photo courtesy of The Harmony Fund.