For Willy: Remembering a Most Compassionate Caregiver

Written By: Ashley Sullivan
Category: From The Field, Great Apes

With great sadness, we recognize the passing of a most compassionate caregiver, Willy, who worked at the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center. Willy made a lasting, meaningful contribution to Tchimpounga; he changed the lives of many of Tchimpounga’s chimpanzees for the better.

For many people, a typical workday begins with checking email or saying hello to colleagues. For Willy, the day started by greeting and feeding the eager, happy faces of orphan chimpanzees. Before starting at Tchimpounga as a caregiver, Willy was a fisherman. He said his work with JGI gave him a new perspective — “it made my soul richer” — as he learned more about the nature all around him and the importance of conserving the natural heritage of his country, the Republic of Congo. As his awe for the beauty and wonder of nature grew, so too did his compassionate devotion to the chimpanzees in his care.   

Willy prided himself in building relationships with the chimpanzees at Tchimpounga, emphasizing kindness, respect and gentleness. He took the time to understand their social structure and what each chimp needed so that he could give them the best possible care. Because nearly all the rescued chimpanzees have lived through traumatic events, each one has specialized needs and personalities, and Willy took this aspect of his job seriously. As we have learned through Dr. Goodall’s and JGI’s ongoing research, this level of patience and understanding is critical to a chimpanzee’s recovery.

Willy was also clear about how to address poaching and the illegal trade in chimpanzees. When asked about issues such as hunting or the poverty that contributes to illegal trafficking of chimpanzees, Willy pointed to his work and that of the sanctuary as essential solutions. His own story demonstrated this truth. His job at Tchimpounga brought in much needed income as well as health insurance for Willy and his family. He also candidly discussed the important role the sanctuary plays in supporting the local economy by employing people from the village and purchasing local produce. But above all else, Willy loved the chimpanzees and connected with them on a profound level.

Willy inspired the people around him to act with empathy and goodwill. We mourn the loss of Willy, whom we remember with fondness and respect for all he gave and all he was. We will miss Willy very much as will the chimps he so lovingly took care of.

You can support the work of the staff of Tchimpounga and the rescue and rehabilitation of chimpanzees by becoming a Chimp Guardian today here.