As the Executive Director of the Jane Goodall Institute in the Republic of Congo and head veterinarian at the Tchimpounga sanctuary,  Rebeca — who was recently awarded her PhD having successfully defended her thesis in chimpanzee physiology — is nothing short of a hero to more than 150 rescued chimps.

Rebeca, whose partner Fernando and their two children Carel and Kutu also live at the sanctuary, has dedicated her life to rehabilitating chimpanzees, often orphaned because of illegal hunting. Typically, the chimps are terrified, malnourished and depressed when they first arrive. Rebeca assigns each chimp to an experienced caregiver who acts very much like a surrogate mother, providing the little chimps with the love and care they need to regain a sense of security, confidence and zest for life.

Often, the first step for Rebeca is gaining the chimpanzee’s trust. Once that bond is established, it can last a lifetime.

On one occasion, for instance, Rebeca was conducting field research when she came across a group of chimpanzees.  The alpha male began to show signs of aggression towards her, and it was clear to Rebeca that she was in danger. Suddenly, Kutu, a chimpanzee Rebeca had cared for in the past, emerged from the bush and stood by her side, effectively protecting Rebeca from the alpha male — an encounter that also demonstrates that chimpanzees have long memories, are very intelligent, and have a great capacity for empathy.

Photo credits: Fernando Turmo/ JGI

The chimpanzees depicted in this photograph are rescued, not wild, and are cared for by professionals at Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre. Dr. Jane Goodall and the Jane Goodall Institute do not endorse handling, interacting, or close proximity to chimpanzees or other wildlife.

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