VIDEO: A sanctuary in the Congo takes in orphaned chimpanzees

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, years of war have left many young Chimpanzees without parents or a family group.

For years that’s meant they’d be sold into the exotic pet trade or, perhaps worse, onto the bush meat market. But some of them have hope. Meet J.A.C.K, the sanctuary for Jeunes Animaux Confisques au Katanga, or the sanctuary for young animals confiscated in Katanga.

Among the orphan chimps at J.A.C.K., one has already achieved a bit of notoriety. Her name is Santa and she came to the world’s attention when he was pictured in a magazine tied to a soldier.

Saving Orphaned Chimpanzees

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“She was like a mascot because they believed she brought victory,” said Franck Chantereau, who runs the sanctuary.

Santa is one of about 16 orphaned chimps rescued and now staying at J.A.C.K. The long-term goal is to release a troop of them back into the wild once they’ve reached about 12 years of age. Meanwhile, J.A.C.K. has a group of older chimps that it hopes to release into the wild even sooner than that.

“Each one has his own story, a very bad story,” Chantereau said. “Amazing things. People crushing cigarettes on them. Burning them. They have suffered so much.”

Chantereau says when the chimps arrive at the sanctuary it’s difficult to even recognize them as chimpanzees; they’re usually starving and their hair is often missing because of abuse.

The two sanctuaries in the Congo, J.A.C.K. and another, help the Congolese government enforce decades-old laws against the capture, killing or sale of Chimpanzees from the rain forests of central Africa. Without the NGO’s help, the government would have nowhere to take injured and orphaned animals.

“Authorities just close their eyes to this problem because they don’t know what to do with the babies,” Chantereau said.

Caring for chimps isn’t easy. Much like human babies, they need constant attention. If they’re given another chimp’s bottle, they’ll let the whole sanctuary know.

But keeping the chimps fed and happy is actually a relatively simple, if time-consuming, problem to tackle. The bigger problem is figuring out how to successfully release the chimps into the wild.

Of the 21 chimpanzee sanctuaries in Africa, just two have successfully released chimps back into the wild.

“In the wild, there are between 20 and 100 together, so here we try to do the same. When you want to release chimpanzees into the wild, you need to release a group,” Chantereau said.

That should boost their odds of survival in the wild. But they also need to learn other skills. Like foraging. Every day the sanctuary staff hides food around the enclosure so they learn how to find food in the wild.

Success is critical, because J.A.C.K. is running at capacity. If chimps aren’t able to be released into the wild, Chantereau won’t be able to rescue any more animals.

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