Vienna: Stolen from a Mother

Written By: Hanna Smit
Category: Great Apes

Earlier this year, a phone call from the Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Water and Forestry alerted Dr. Rebeca Atencia, the director of the Jane Goodall Institute in Congo and head of the Tchimpounga sanctuary, that a baby chimpanzee had just been confiscated. Preparations were made to welcome the new chimp, who would be transported from Niari, a mountainous and biodiverse area of the Congo, to his new home in Tchimpounga. This baby chimp was going to have a second chance at life. His name is Vienna.

The day Vienna arrived at Tchimpounga was the same day a JGI Global meeting was taking place in the capital city of Austria. Dr. Rebeca Atencia decided to commemorate the international collaboration of JGI offices around the world, and thank them for their support of the sanctuary, by naming this baby chimp Vienna in acknowledgment. Upon his arrival, the team of Tchimpounga caregivers learned that Vienna had been rescued from someone who had paid less than six dollars for him. The veterinary staff quickly realized that Vienna was very young – only slightly more than a year old – and were shocked to discover that one of his thumbs had been amputated, likely by the machete that killed his mother.

Many of the chimpanzees taken in by the sanctuary have been rescued from Niari and have made the same journey to safety. Despite government efforts and interventions throughout the country, poaching is still a significant issue in the Congo and chimpanzees are killed or caught in traps to be sold for the illegal bushmeat or pet trades. These illegal practices are heavily contributing to the declining numbers of great apes in the wild, with one UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report estimating that a minimum of 22,218 great apes have been tragically lost between 2005 and 2011 – either sold, killed during the hunt, or dying in captivity. Chimpanzees comprise 64% of this staggering figure.

Although Vienna’s wound has already healed over into a scar, the pain of losing his mother remains apparent. Antonette, the JGI caretaker assigned to welcome and care for Vienna, explains that each time she gets up from her chair, Vienna becomes nervous and starts to cry. It is clear that he has serious abandonment issues, and has become very dependant on Antonette, clinging to her tightly. To calm and comfort him, Antonette squeezes him tightly against her chest, which helps quiet him and makes him feel secure.

Not wanting to be left alone, Antonette wraps Vienna in a cloth against her back as she does other tasks, as African women often do with their babies. As Antonette prepares fruit and milk, Vienna sleeps, calmed by the warmth of her back and the beating of her heart. Vienna doesn’t like to drink milk from a syringe or a bottle and has been a bit picky about food, wanting to just eat his favourite fruit: grapes. Antonette patiently encourages him to expand his diet, introducing him to more options little by little. Antonette and Vienna spend 24 hours a day together, ensuring Vienna feels safe and loved, and when they sleep in the same bed at night she replicates what his mother would have done: she wakes in the middle of the night to give Vienna a bottle of warm milk.

Once Vienna’s confidence grows, and he becomes acclimated to his new home, he’ll be able to meet other rescued chimpanzees who reside in the main Tchimpounga sanctuary site. By introducing him to a community he is sure to have the support and love to become a dynamic adult chimp!

Places like Tchimpounga are critical to ending wildlife trafficking, and Vienna is able to have a second chance thanks to the generous support of our donors. Please take a look at the Holiday Gift Guide and see how you can support Tchimpounga and the chimpanzees this holiday season.