Ten days ago we received a call from a businessman living in Freetown saying he had two chimps at his home that he wanted to handover to Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. We arranged to go and see him to get a better understanding of the situation and found two female chimps around 6-7 years old being kept in terrible conditions.
Our first sight…
Although we are not totally convinced about the story we got from their keeper, it appears that he acquired the chimps several years ago while on a hunting trip into the centre of Sierra Leone and had kept them ever since in the central section of this small outbuilding. When they were smaller they were given some occasional freedom to roam the compound but as they grew bigger and less controllable that freedom disappeared. They had clearly not left their confines for a long time from the pile of lorry wheel hubs stacked against the gate. Sadly there was a similar pile filling the floor of their prison. He claimed to be an animal lover but wanted to handover the chimps as they were costing him too much to take care of. It would have been difficult for any neighbours to detect the presence of the chimps as the walls of the compound were tall and a noisy generator seemed to be running constantly.
Bala reasssures the chimps
The man seemed to have no idea that his was one of the cruelest captivities. We were at least satisfied that he had contacted us to rescue the chimps rather than any other possible outcome. We quickly made plans for the removal of the chimps and so last Saturday we returned with Willie, Pastor and Dr Sorn (Dr Rosa is taking a well earned break) to sedate them and bring them to Tacugama.
Last moments of cruel captivity
Whilst preparing to remove the chimps we spoke to one of the staff at the compound and he confirmed that they had been there at least three years and that their names were Sunny and Blackman. He seemed to care about them but had no control over their circumstances. Before long they were darted with sedative and we set about the task of releasing the door to their cell. It had clearly been a very long time since the door had moved and it took crowbars and a lot of force before we could enter.
It was a foul environment with an accumulation of faeces, old food and litter lying between the wheel hubs. It was amazing that Sunny and Blackman were not in a worse condition.
Pastor, Dr Sorn and Willie prepare to transport the chimps to Tacugama
Within the hour we were back at Tacugama and Sunny and Blackman were coming round from their sedation to find themselves in a very different environment. They now have the space to relearn how to use their legs for walking and to enjoy stretching and playing comfortably.
Blackman (left) and Sunny recovering from sedation
Now is the time we have to watch Sunny and Blackman very carefully. Very often chimpanzees who have lived in stressed conditions of captivity demonstrate an amazing resilience to their environment. We have witnessed chimpanzees who have survived terrible ordeals suddenly deteriorate in health once they reach sanctuary, their bodies seem to realise that they no longer need to fight as they are in a safe haven and their immune system appears to relax. (How many of us get sick once we go on vacation after a stressful period at work?) The girls will spend the next three months together in quarantine under careful observation.
Sunny and Blackman’s home for the next three months
We’ll be looking to rename Blackman in the near future with a more fitting name – watch the blog as we learn a bit more about her to help us with a name.
It continues to be disheartening as we work to educate people in Sierra Leone that chimpanzees do not make suitable pets to see adverts such as the one below from more “developed” nations:
“Cute baby chimpanzee monkey for sale in nevada, $1000, Publish Date:June 22nd, 2009, Item Price: $1000, Location:nevada
Product Details:Cute baby chimpanzee monkey for sale
We raise only English Chimpanzee and can devote all of our time and knowledge to our chimpanzee, ensuring you the best chimpanzee available from champion bloodlines. All Chimpanzee are checked by a veterinarian before going to their new homes, and are current on all vaccinations and dewormed. all our chimpanzees come with a veterinarian certificate of health, pedigree and a one-year health guarantee. if there is any body out there willing to buy an English Chimpanzee get back to us for more information and pictures.”
At least the law protecting chimpanzees exists in Sierra Leone, while enforcement remains the problem. What a shame that where law enforcement can be more effective, the laws don’t exist……