Intrepid Saudi mountain climber and humanitarian visits Sweetwaters sanctuary: makes plea to stop chimpanzee trade

Raha Moharrak is not only a unique person in the Arab world, she is unique anywhere. She is the first Arab and youngest woman to have conquered the summits of the highest mountains in all seven continents – the Seven Summits – including Mt. Everest and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Speaking about her impressive success, she said: “I really don’t care about being the first, so long as it inspires someone else to be second.”

“I really don’t care about being the first, so long as it inspires someone else to be second.”

Raha was bitten by the adventure bug at an early age growing up in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. Her father, a successful entrepreneur originating in the poor south of the country on the Yemen border, allowed the headstrong young girl to pursue her interests and gain a good education. She has a degree in Visual Communication from the American University in Sharjah and is now pursuing an MBA at the Synergy University in Dubai, where she works as a graphic artist.

“I am an adventurer first and a graphic artist second,” she told PEGAS. But after learning of her travel schedule how she finds time to work is a mystery.

But adventure is not Raha’s only pursuit – she also seeks worthy projects to support. She picks each project carefully, ensuring that the cause she supports is a worthy one.

As part of her many interests, a concern for animal welfare led her to join the Middle East Animal Foundation in Dubai. A partner and friend of PEGAS, Debbie Lawson, also a MEAF member, introduced Raha to PEGAS’s work, which immediately raised her interest and curiosity. She decided to visit Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary to learn more about the plight of great apes and the illegal exotic pet trade that threatened their survival in the wild. She thought that perhaps she could help in raising awareness about the issue, which was little understood by the world.

My coincidence, a documentary filmmaker that PEGAS was working with from the U.S. was planning to visit Ol Pejeta at about the same time. PEGAS thought bringing the two together could result in producing an effective public service announcement (PSA). It worked out, and Colin Sytsma, the filmmaker, and Raha came together at Ol Pejeta in March 2018.

As many visitors do, Raha fell in love with Manno, the adorable young chimpanzee that PEGAS helped rescue and relocate from a private zoo in Iraqi Kurdistan to Sweetwaters in late 2016. Manno seemed intrigued with Raha and in an instantaneous meeting of the eyes a bond was forged between the two.

“He has these beautiful amber eyes. I can’t fathom how somebody could see that, shoot the mother, … and send the baby off to someone to purchase….”.

“He has these beautiful amber eyes,” Raha said. “I can’t fathom how somebody could see that, shoot the mother, … and send the baby off to someone to purchase….”.

PEGAS hopes that Raha’s message is listened to and heeded, especially in her part of the world where great apes are such popular pets.

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