THE CHIMPANZEE CONSERVATION CENTER:
Rescuing and rehabilitating chimpanzees
The CCC rehabilitates orphaned chimpanzees who are victims of the pet trade and whose mothers and other family members have been killed for bushmeat. Upon arrival, chimpanzees often have serious health conditions that warrant 24-hour care and monitoring. The most common conditions include: skin and respiratory diseases, malnutrition and psychological disorders related to abuse and captivity. After the 3-month mandatory quarantine period, the chimpanzees are provided with the best possible living conditions based upon their age-specific needs. As chimpanzees grow older and integrate into peer groups, human contact is reduced in preparation for release back into the wild, when possible. As new members have often had little interaction with their conspecifics, they have not acquired the basic social and community skills that would have been learned in the wild. Rehabilitation is focused on “re-wilding,” which includes learning how to climb, forage, make nests and communicate with their peers. Without these skills, it is very unlikely that they would survive in the wild.
One of the main goals of the CCC is to, release adult chimpanzees back into the wild (when an appropriate release site has been identified). For the first several years of rehabilitation, orphaned chimpanzees go on daily bush outings accompanied by volunteers and a keeper. They are able to freely climb trees and learn how to forage for food and socially interact. While at the CCC, the older chimpanzees have access to large and secured enclosures where they are also able to climb trees, forage and socialize. While the release of chimpanzees is difficult and costly, organizations such as HELP Congo have successfully released more than thirty chimpanzees since 1996, many of which have gone on to give birth in the wild. Veterinary tests are performed prior to release to prevent the spread of potential diseases and other criteria are followed, as releases must meet the standards set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
On June 27, 2008, the CCC released its first group of chimpanzees in the Haut-Niger National Park. Another release took place in 2010 with the integration of two additional females with one offspring. Female chimpanzees are equipped with VHF collars and males with Argos-VHF, which allows daily remote monitoring via telemetry and GPS. The presence of CCC staff close to the release site ensures protection of the released group and other wildlife in the area. As of today, the released chimpanzees have successfully established their territory. A few females have been seen emigrating with wild chimpanzee communities, engaging in positive social interactions, and have given birth to 5 babies. As one of the objectives for the release of chimpanzees is to reinforce the wild chimpanzee population, interactions observed between the wild population and the released chimpanzees are encouraging!
Once released in the Haut-Niger National Park, the chimpanzees rarely see the CCC staff. While tourism is allowed within the park, the remote location and difficult access to the CCC sanctuary significantly limits the number of visitors per year. The released chimpanzees cannot be viewed by visitors.
Since 2004, in efforts to contribute to the conservation of chimpanzees via education, the CCC has conducted campaigns to inform local populations about the goals of and daily work at the center. Conferences and discussions are organized in villages within the vicinity of the Haut-Niger National Park and information is distributed via fliers, posters and stickers. Additionally, radio programs in local languages are broadcast throughout the country. Educational topics have included the importance of chimpanzee conservation and protection; awareness around illegal logging and poaching in the park; and the importance of the park’s conservation. As outreach has been well-received, new campaigns are being organized and conducted on a regular basis.
Since 2007, the project has also been working more closely with Guinean Government officials and local park authorities to protect the Haut-Niger National Park and the wild chimpanzees that reside within its vicinity.
Based on clear evidence demonstrating the crucial role of sanctuaries in conservation, Akatia is establishing a chimpanzee sanctuary in Cote D’Ivoire. The sanctuary will provide the necessary rehabilitation for orphaned chimps while acting as an education hub for primate conservation both locally and nationally. Improving the economic opportunities available to local communities is a key aspect of the project, as is decreasing the bushmeat trade and protecting the national park from exploitation to maintain its biodiversity. Akatia also provides consultancy to the National Zoo of Abidjan (that is currently the de facto animal rescue center) staff and helps care for primates currently held at this facility.