Written By: Hanna Smit, JGI Canada
Category: Great Apes
On September 3, 2018 the staff at Tchimpounga sanctuary received an unusual call from their partners at Project for the Application of Law for Fauna, Republic of Congo (PALF).
An adult male chimpanzee had been seen wandering through the streets and marketplace in Dolisie, a town not too far from the sanctuary. Local residents immediately called PALF to help rescue the animal, and some recognized that the chimpanzee had escaped from the home of a high-ranking Colonel in the Congolese army who kept the chimpanzee as an illegal pet. PALF, in turn, notified the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center.
The Tchimpounga team responded immediately, quickly loading the car with the necessary equipment and starting the journey to Dolisie. As they drove, staff experts hastily arranged the permits required to transfer the chimpanzee to Tchimpounga and quickly tried to find out as much information as they could about his situation. They learned that the chimpanzee was named Benjamin and that he had been reared in captivity. They also discovered that PALF had tried several times to persuade the Colonel to surrender the chimpanzee, without success.
Despite the rushed departure, the group from Tchimpounga was too late. People working for the Colonel had re-captured Benjamin and he was back in his cage on private property. Disheartened, the team contacted the authorities in a desperate attempt to give Benjamin a new life at Tchimpounga. To everyone’s surprise, the Director General of the Ministry of Forestry, Sustainable Development and the Environment granted permission to the group from JGI to enter the Colonel’s property and remove Benjamin!
Staff from Tchimpounga sanctuary inspect the cage where Benjamin had been kept for more than a decade.
When they arrived at the Colonel’s villa, there was Benjamin, hunkered down in a small cage in the garden. This had been his “home” for 14 years. Benjamin was calm as the team administered sedatives and loaded him into a transport crate for the four-hour journey from Dolisie back to Tchimpounga – his new home.
Currently under quarantine at Tchimpounga, Benjamin is in good physical health with a calm and gentle demeanor. Due to his history of isolation, he is afraid of the chimpanzees he can see from his enclosure, and it will take a long time before Benjamin can adapt to a larger group. Gradually, he will be introduced to chimps with similar personalities to his own, and the Tchimpounga team is optimistic that he will soon socialize and enjoy the freedom and space that he had been denied for so many years.
Since Benjamin’s rescue, the Ministry of Forestry, Sustainable Development and the Environment have filed a complaint against the Colonel, prosecuting him for the unlawful detainment of a protected animal. Thanks to local media coverage of Benjamin’s ordeal, this sends a strong signal that no one is above the law, and that wild animals should never be kept as pets.