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Visit to Tchimpounga Sanctuary

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

By way of background, Tchimpounga was created in 1992 for housing 25 orphan chimpanzees who had been living in dire conditions in two area zoos. Today it is the home of over 145 chimpanzees in different age groups. More importantly, with the government of Congo outlawing ownership of wildlife, the Sanctuary is the only outlet for confiscated animals to be taken after being rescued .The existence of the Sanctuary encourages local authorities to enforce these laws and help care for the confiscated animals.

We have been supporting the Sanctuary for several years by providing funds for both feeding the resident chimpanzees as well as funding the research being undertaken to reintroduce the chimpanzees to the wild. Upon learning of Jane Goodall Institute’s (JGI) success in securing three islands from the government of Congo to update and expand the Sanctuary in a more secure habitat, we decided to accompany Jane Lawton, Executive Director of JGI Canada, her husband Tom and author and freelance writer Andrew Wescott, on a visit to the Sanctuary.

For more on Andrew’s trip to Tchimpounga, check out his recent article in The Globe and Mail.

We were privileged to have the opportunity to interact with five baby chimpanzees, tour the Sanctuary and observe its operations. As well, we met with the acting director, Debby Cox, who is currently managing the Sanctuary while the permanent manager is on maternity leave. We also visited the three islands the future home of the Sanctuary.

Baby chimpanzees

Chimpanzees

Baby chimpanzees

While the present Sanctuary provides an adequate home, it was clear, even in the short period we visited, that the Sanctuary suffers from overcrowding and outdated equipment. This came as no surprise and has been the main reason for JGI’s desire to relocate the chimpanzees to a more habitable environment as well as securing the government’s approval for the three islands on the Kouiloe River. The islands, which are now continuously monitored by two resident guards, are being prepared for the relocation of the Sanctuary. This is anticipated to take place within the next twelve months.

Kouiloe River

Guards

JGI’s approach to protecting the chimpanzees also involves community education, increasing awareness of the importance of conserving wildlife as well as the general environment, particularly among children. We attended the graduation ceremony at the community school near the Sanctuary, participated in serving lunch and presenting awards to the graduating class.

 

We were very impressed with the efficiency of the operation of the Sanctuary. This is entirely due to the extreme dedication of all members of staff to the well being of the chimpanzees. Their patience and perseverance in making the operation a success, under very challenging conditions, is to be commended. The move to the new habitat, as well as progress with the reintroduction program, will prove pivotal in enhancing the effort to save the chimpanzees. The reintroduction program is the only long term solution to the chimpanzee orphan problem. Executing this program properly, to ensure their safety and survival proves to be costly as it involves monitoring the released chimpanzees for a long period of time – upwards to ten years. Despite the cost, the reintroduction program is essential and worthy of significant support.