Meet the Chimps of Tchimpounga
More than 200 chimpanzees have called Tchimpounga home since the sanctuary opened in 1992. Over the years, the sanctuary took in an increasing number of chimps as well as mandrills and other rescued wildlife. So in 2013, Tchimpounga expanded to include three well-forested islands along the Kouilou River. These sites provide good habitat for the chimps, shielding them from external threats while allowing for ongoing veterinary care and monitoring.
Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center
The original sanctuary on the mainland provides intensive medical, emotional, and social support to rescued chimpanzees that arrive scared, sick and sometimes badly injured. Orphaned infants live here with their adoptive human mothers until they are strong enough to integrate into a troop. Some chimps will always live in this part of the sanctuary due to ongoing behavioural or health issues.
Some chimpanzees prefer human contact to chimpanzee interaction when they first come to the sanctuary. Such was the case for Amazon. Amazon always walked alongside her favourite caretakers rather than other chimps. While charming, this behaviour is not a healthy sign. Consequently, caregivers continue to coax her into playing with the other chimps in the forest.
As Amazon became increasingly socialized, she has formed a close friendship with Lemba, an older female. The two chimps can spend hours grooming each other.
Amazon also loves to run through puddles and play with mud when it rains!
Moboulou is a quiet, gentle alpha male. Without being forceful, he leads and manages the other adult males in his group. Moboulou loves grooming sessions – which means they can go on forever! – because they solidify strong bonds and alliances with key individuals in his group. He can spend hours playing with the younger males, tickling and chasing them.
Kabi is a brave and curious little chimpanzee, another rescue from the illegal pet trade. Because he is so young, his caregiver, Cristel, spends 24 hours a day with him, a warm and safe presence to help him heal from the trauma of his past. Thankfully, Kabi has become fast friends with Vienna and George, two chimps who are also very young. Every day is an adventure for the trio, although they never stray too far from their caregivers.
George had been kept as an illegal pet in Angola until he was rescued and transferred to the sanctuary. George is a most determined little chimp. He ventures out to climb trees before scrambling back to the safety of his caregiver, Chantal. Chantal’s hugs and soft voice comfort him at night when he suffers from nightmares allowing George to quickly fall back asleep.
Vienna was just over one-year-old when he was rescued and brought to Tchimpounga. Sadly, one of his thumbs had been amputated — no doubt the result of poachers killing his mother and taking little Vienna from her grasp. Caregiver Antoinette spends 24 hours a day with Vienna, making sure that he feels safe and loved in his new home. Once Vienna’s confidence grows, he’ll be introduced to the other chimps at Tchimpounga.
Lemba is a remarkable chimp. Having suffered a polio attack when young, her legs are paralyzed. Even so, Lemba manages to move through the sanctuary with surprising agility – and at an impressive speed. In fact, Lemba likes nothing better than to climb the highest platform in her enclosure and watch the caregivers prepare meals! When the food is ready, Lemba makes sure to let all the other chimpanzees know that their meals are on the way!
When Lounama was relocated to Tchibebe Island, it was clear that something wasn’t right. Staff kept a close watch on the chimp and, after a thorough examination, discovered that she had a faulty valve in her heart. Lounama received immediate treatment for the condition and is regularly monitored. When Lounama couldn’t return to Tchibebe Island, fate intervened: a little orphaned chimp named Falero arrived and was in desperate need of an adopted mother. Some staff say it was love at first sight! Today, the two chimps are inseparable.
Calamaty has spent most of her life at Tchimpounga. She was just four years old when she arrived in 1991. Calamaty is an unusually punctual chimpanzee. She seems to keep track of time and will grasp her caregiver’s hand to let him know when playtime is over. Her even-keeled temperament not only provides a sense of stability within her group, it also ensures that everything happens on time — especially dinner!
Benjamin had been kept in a cage for almost 15 years prior to his rescue. Because of his history of isolation, Benjamin is afraid of other chimpanzees and prefers the company of people. Eventually, he will be introduced to chimps with personalities that are similar to his own, and the team is optimistic that he will become more sociable and enjoy the freedom and space he has been denied for so long.
Petit Prince is anything but petit. In fact, he is one of the larger chimpanzees at the sanctuary. Some might think this would make him a good alpha, but he’s too easy going for the job. He rarely tousles with the other chimps, preferring to watch from a safe distance. When Petit Prince does need to blow off steam, he runs along the perimeter of the fence at full speed, slapping the ground as he goes — quite an impressive display!
Like many of the chimps at Tchimpounga, Falero had probably witnessed his mother’s death when he was just a baby. He was later found locked in a cage by authorities who brought him to the sanctuary. His caregiver, Chantel, was always with him offering comfort and protection. Eventually, Falero became accustomed to his new surroundings. When he was ready, the staff placed Falero with Lounama, a female chimpanzee that suffers from a heart condition. Today, the two chimps are inseparable, spending countless hours perched atop their jungle gym, grooming each other or having a good cuddle.
Tina was found all alone in the back of a pickup truck where she had spent weeks before her rescue. If our team hadn’t found Tina, she might still be suffering at the hands of humans. Today, Tina is regaining her strength and settling into a new routine: playing and bonding with the other infant chimps at Tchimpounga.
Tchindzoulou Island spans approximately 108 hectares, making it the largest of the three islands. Some of JGI’s most well known chimpanzees live here, including Wounda who famously embraced Dr. Goodall when released onto the island.
Kefan is a big, strong, charismatic chimp — a natural alpha. Rescued from the illegal bushmeat trade, Kefan initially needed some coaxing to integrate with other chimpanzees and make new friends. Today, he leads his group with kindness.
Wounda is JGI’s celebrity chimp thanks to the video of her release to Tchindzoulou Island in 2013. Millions of people have watched Wounda give Dr. Goodall a long and emotional embrace before heading into the forests of her new home. Today, Wounda has become an alpha female, and is enjoying island life with her son, Hope.
Gui is Tchimpounga’s miracle chimp! Gui’s mother, Golfi, has been living at Tchimpounga for 12 years. As with all the female chimps, Golfi was on birth control. Even so, she became pregnant and is a loving mother to Gui. All the chimps play with Gui and give him rides on their back — even the adult males treat him with care and play with him sweetly.
Lousingo arrived to Tchimpounga in a very small crate. When the sanctuary staff opened the crate they found a scared baby chimpanzee dressed in trousers and a striped red and white sweater staring up at them. Poachers had killed his mother and sold him as a pet. Fortunately, Lousingo has since recovered from his trauma. Even though he’s still a bit shy he enjoys life on Tchindzoulou Island.
Taken from his mother at a very young age, Jorly spent much of his life living in a small cage in a zoo. Having spent more time with people than chimps, Jorly had difficulty interacting with the Tchimpounga chimps. His caregivers did the best they could to provide comfort, but Jorly only came into his own when another chimp, Bernard, arrived. The pair quickly bonded and became best friends. Now Jorly feels at home on Tchindzoulou Island.
Mambou arrived at Tchimpounga emaciated and malnourished. He could barely move. Thanks to the excellent care Mambou received at Tchimpounga, this chimp is healthy and energetic and can play for hours with his friends. Although Mambou didn’t start out as the strongest male in the group, he is nevertheless thriving, and has begun to assert himself as an alpha.
Zanaga lives on Tchindzoulou Island with a troop of 24 other chimpanzees. She spends her days exploring the forest in search of wild fruits and insects. Sometimes Zanaga and her best friend Koukele roam the island together, only returning to the group in the evening.
An especially intelligent chimp, Zanaga will walk upright for long distances, allowing her to carry food across areas flooded by rain so that she can share the treats with her friends.
When Tchimpounga staff rescued Isabelle, they found a frightened and confused little chimp. However, it didn’t take long for her to develop a strong rapport with Jean Amie, one of our most experienced caregivers. Isabelle is very smart and sociable. She can make friends with anyone!
Even though she is one of the younger chimps in her group, Kudia is a trendsetter! Kudia decided to wash her hands and feet before mealtimes, and it wasn’t long before the other chimps in her group started to do the same. Kudia is good friends with Kefan, and sometimes she relies on him to get her out of trouble. Kudia loves to run and climb trees. When she is more settled, she watches the moving water of the Kouilou river and the boats that pass by.
Mbebo is happiest when he’s near his caregivers and his best friend, Mambou. Although Mbebo is a big chimp, he’s a baby at heart and is known for being quite mischievous! He steals food when no one is looking, and comically somersaults away with the prized fruit in his mouth. But after a full day of playful antics, Mbebo is ready for a cuddle, dinner and his cozy bed.
Luc is a very charismatic chimp. All the other chimps like to play with him! He can defuse conflicts and help others in his group get along better. Luc loves to explore, and his friends will follow him anywhere, no matter how far he wanders. Even so, Luc is not a leader. Instead, he plays an important role in supporting Wounda, the dominant female in the same troop.
Timi is one of Tchimpounga’s quiet achievers. He’s quick to solve problems, and other chimps in his group tend to follow his lead. With his calm personality, Timi avoids confrontations with more dominant males and watches fights from a safe distance. One of Timi’s favourite past times is bird watching! He sits very still, closely observing his winged friends fly about.
Like other chimpanzees at Tchimpounga, Kitoko was confiscated from a pet dealer by the Congolese authorities. He was thin and depressed when he came to Tchimpounga. But his caregivers worked hard to restore his strength and help him overcome his traumatic past. Kitoko eventually started to make friends, and before long he was so well integrated with his group, he became their leader. Kitoko will do anything for his friends even if it puts him in danger. Because of this endearing quality he has earned the respect of his fellow chimps.
The three islands together provide 100 times more forest for chimpanzees to roam freely. Approximately 30 chimps have been transferred to Tchibebe Island after careful consideration of each chimp’s personality, health, habits and social skills. This process has allowed for a strong community on Tchibebe where the chimps are thriving.
Before her arrival to Tchimpounga, Cherie lived in captivity with two other chimpanzees at the Brazzaville Zoo in the Republic of Congo. Cherie settled into her new home quickly. In fact, she was the ringleader of an attempted escape from her temporary enclosure. Cherie was eventually moved to one of the island sanctuaries where she has plenty of room to explore and experience the freedom she deserves.
From the moment Kimenga arrived at the sanctuary, everyone knew there was something special about him. Kimenga is a very intelligent chimp with impressive problem-solving skills. At an early age, and without guidance, Kimenga figured out how to use branches as tools to extract honey from the many honeycombs found in the forest at Tchimpounga. The staff are positive that Kimenga will be able to think his way out of any problem he encounters.
After living on Tchimpounga’s mainland site for many years, Kondi has been transferred to Tchibebe Island. Staff were confident that the transfer would suit his social and adaptable personality. It is amazing how quickly Kondi was accepted by his new group, and the chimp is now near the top of his troop’s social hierarchy.
Tabonga aka ‘Cousin’
Staff at Tchimpounga call Tabonga “Cousin” because he looks more human than ape. As a result of a hormonal disorder, he has little body hair. Tabonga also has an unusually human-sounding voice. This chimp is very smart and likes to explore the forest with his friends Ulengue, Zimbana and Nzounzou.
Tiki is Tchimpounga’s greatest escape artist. He is a wizard with tools and an extraordinary problem-solver; there has yet to be a fence built that can prevent Tiki from getting loose! Sanctuary staff were very happy for Tiki when he was transferred to Tchibebe Island where he is free to roam and enjoy the simple pleasure of climbing a tree to pick some fruit — with no fences in sight.
At five years of age, poor Motambo was suffering from some of the worst injuries staff had seen when he was brought to the sanctuary. After two months of around-the-clock care, Motambo was strong enough to integrate with other chimps. He enjoyed playing with the youngsters, acting like their big brother and ending squabbles. Today, Motambo roams Tchibebe Island with his friends, a healthy and free chimp.
Chimpi is one of the many male chimps on Tchibebe Island. Respected by the group, Chimpi has an important position in the group hierarchy and defends his position with strength and confidence. When the Tchimpounga caregivers carry out scheduled feedings, they always make sure that he is one of the first to receive fresh fruit. Everyone knows it’s best not to upset Chimpi!
Lufumbu has a middle ranking in his group’s current hierarchy and needs to actively maintain his social relationships and bonds with the most powerful chimps. Sometimes, when there’s a conflict, Lufumbu is at a disadvantage. As soon as things calm down, he is forgiving and tries to make friends with those who’ve hurt him. Socially, he’s a very smart and patient chimp.
Maku is a nervous and introverted chimp, and ranks low in the Tchibebe group hierarchy. Whenever the sanctuary caregivers come to deliver food to the island, they have to save some food aside for Maku – she’s scared of getting hurt by the other chimps, so she climbs up a branch and waits for everyone else to finish eating before descending to the feeding area. Maku needs to gain confidence and try to make more friends in the group; otherwise, she will always be in a submissive role. Despite this, Maku is a healthy chimp and loves roaming the island’s forests.
Ngombe has become a safe haven for chimps suffering some of the deepest emotional scars. Many of these chimps have been at the sanctuary since infancy, and have slowly recovered from the trauma of losing their mothers to poachers. Today, the Ngombe chimps have formed a strong and supportive troop on their island home.
Jeje might not be the biggest chimp in the group, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in personality. You might say he’s the life of the party — and all the chimpanzees want to be friends with him! Jeje enjoys playing with the other young chimps in his group. He also loved spending time with his adoptive mother, Lemba.
Once Jeje matured, he was transferred to Ngombe Island where he spends his days exploring the expansive forest.
When Anzac arrived at Tchimpounga she was missing part of one of her arms. But that hasn’t slowed her down one bit! Anzac climbs trees, leaps from branch to branch, makes leaf angels, and generally gets into mischief. Even a sand pile keeps her entertained! During her rare restful moments, she often sits by herself high up in a tree, gazing peacefully out at the landscape. Anzac is a brave and loving chimpanzee.
Kauka arrived at Tchimpounga sanctuary with Bailele, another chimpanzee who has become his closest friend. Both chimps live on Ngombe Island where Kauka is now the alpha male of his group, leading with a gentle touch. When conflicts arise in the group, Kauka remains calm and finds a way to maintain harmony among the chimps. He’s also been observed placing a reassuring arm around a distressed chimp, offering protective comfort.
When Ngoro arrived at Tchimpounga she was thin and unable to put on weight like other new arrivals. Staff decided some additional tests were in order and they soon discovered that Ngoro was suffering from gastric ulcers. Due to her fragility, they decided it would be best for her to live in a small group where she could manage her stress but still enjoy the company of other chimps. Ngoro is now living happily with her best friend Lemba in a peaceful environment.
Jack was locked inside a wooden crate when the staff from Tchimpounga rescued him. The crate had a small hole, and when a flashlight was shone through it, Jack’s little hand reached out for help. Jack was immediately taken to the Tchimpounga sanctuary. Gradually, Jack started to feel safe, and eventually joined a troop on Ngombe Island where he’s made new friends and enjoys the lush forest and fresh fruit.