From scared infants to thriving youngsters: moms make all the difference

Written By: Hanna Smit, JGI Canada
Category: Our Champions

At the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre, home to well over 100 rescued chimpanzees, Chantal watches over George, a young and increasingly rambunctious chimp, and another victim of wildlife trafficking.

Chantal has been caring for the most timid arrivals to Tchimpounga for the past 25 years. “When the babies first arrive,” she explains, “I sleep with them because they are sad and need love. I make sure that the baby does not have a fever or similar issues upon arrival and can explain the overall health to the veterinary team if treatment and follow up is needed.”

George cuddling with his adoptive mother, Chantal.

George suffered from terrible nightmares when he came to the sanctuary. He had been cruelly snatched from his mother by poachers and was traumatized by the experience. Chantal never left his side. Every time he awoke, she was there to quiet him, surrounding him with warmth and reassurance. As George’s adoptive mother, Chantal monitors his health, teaches him important chimp skills, including exchanging pant hoots, and offers a nurturing sense of safety.

Like Chantal, Antonette has also worked with baby chimps at Tchimpounga for many years and both women grew up in nearby villages. Antonette takes care of Vienna, orphaned, like George, by the illegal wildlife trade. Initially, Vienna would cling to Antonette, refusing to leave her side. With motherly patience, Antonette helped Vienna become more confident and independent. Today, Vienna is no longer scared to climb up trees and explore his surroundings.

Caregiver Antonette meeting Vienna when he first arrived to Tchimpounga.

Says Antonette, “As a mother myself, I already knew how to treat a baby, and I treated them like my children – I see that these chimpanzee babies are very similar to human babies.”

Because of their surrogate mothers, George and Vienna have successfully integrated into a group of young chimps at the sanctuary. The two are now the best of friends. Chantal and Antonette continue to teach them social skills, preparing them for eventual introduction to larger groups of chimpanzees and life on the sanctuary’s islands where many Tchimpounga chimps live in well-forested habitat.

Feeding time for the infant chimps!

“What I do is very important. I love my work and the animals,” says Antonette. Adds Chantal, “We must protect chimpanzees across the whole world because we are so similar to them.”

There are many ways you can support the mothers of Tchimpounga. Celebrate moms everywhere with a Mother’s Day e-card or become a Chimp Guardian for yourself or a loved one.