Update from Tchimpounga: What’s bothering Kungoulou?

Written By: Hanna Smit, JGI Canada
Category: Great Apes

The staff at our Tchimpounga sanctuary in Republic of Congo are bewildered. Kungoulou, an adult male living on the sanctuary’s Ngombe Island, appears to have adopted a position of self-imposed exile – a bit unusual for social animals like chimpanzees.

More than 70 chimpanzees have now been transferred from the mainland location to the island sanctuaries on the Kouilou River. The islands offer safety for the chimps as well as habitat very similar to what chimpanzees would experience in the wild.

All the chimps at Tchimpounga arrive traumatized and none has experienced surviving alone in the forest. When they first arrive to Tchimpounga, they quickly become accustomed to sleeping in specially designed dormitories. The dorms provide protection, and also allow caregivers to continuously monitor the health and wellbeing of the chimps, and assess the group dynamics.

Despite his experience with spending nights in the dormitory, Kungoulou has refused to return to the dorms at sundown as per the usual routine. Instead, he has gone to a remote part of the island where heavy rains have caused extensive flooding. Tchimpounga staff are surprised by Kungoulou’s stubborn demeanour, and are unsure why he has decided to stay away from his troop.

Kungoulou has isolated himself to a flooded part of the island, unusual as chimps don’t typically like spending time in water.

His caregivers have tried everything to tempt Kungoulou back, but he remains uninterested, preferring to wade around in the water instead. Meanwhile, the rest of his group on Ngombe Island are being kept inside the dormitory building for Kungoulou’s safety; if the troop were to locate him while out in the forest, they might attack him thinking he was an intruder.

For now, the staff continue to monitor Kungoulou and keep him company. Their hope is for the water levels to go down so that they can safely return Kungoulou to the dorms and gradually reintegrate him with the other chimpanzees.

Dr. Rebeca Atencia and a caregiver try to convince Kungoulou to return to the dorm.