Explained: Why three baby chimpanzees were kidnapped from a Congo sanctuary

Editor’s note: Great ape capture in the wild and trafficking for the exotic pet trade has been rising for about two years. Prices for the infants have also been rising, providing even more incentive to the traffickers to increase their efforts. This new twist to infant capture introduces an alarming development that hopefully will be nipped in the bud. This article summarizes the situation at the time of writing. It is not over yet.

This is the ‘first incident in the world’ where baby apes have been kidnapped for ransom. The abductors have demanded a six-figure sum and threatened to harm the chimpanzees if their demands are not met

FP Explainers September 26, 2022

Explained: Why three baby chimpanzees were kidnapped from a Congo sanctuary

Three baby chimpanzees have been kidnapped in Congo for ransom. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons (Representational Image)

In a first, three baby chimpanzees have been kidnapped from an animal sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The kidnappers have demanded a six-figure ransom to free the three baby chimps– Monga, César and Hussein, reported The New York Times (NYT).

“This is the first time in the world that baby apes were kidnapped for ransom,” Franck Chantereau, co-founder of the sanctuary where the kidnapping took place, told CNN.

The sanctuary – Young Animals Confiscated in Katanga (shortened to  JACK in French) in Congo’s Lubumbashi – houses 40 chimpanzees and 64 monkeys of 14 species that have been rescued from Congo’s illegal wildlife trade, notes NYT.

How did the kidnapping take place and why were the chimps targeted?

Let’s take a closer look:

The abduction

As per CNN, the kidnappers broke into the sanctuary around 3 am on 9 September and took away three of the five baby chimpanzees rescued by Franck this year.

His wife Roxane Chantereau, co-founder of the sanctuary, received three texts and a video on WhatsApp showing two baby chimpanzees moving across a dirty floor covered with tumbled furniture, as per NYT.

As the video panned across the room, the third chimp was seen standing on a dresser with her arms tied over her head.

In the three voice messages, the kidnappers threatened to kill the chimpanzees unless Roxane paid the ransom money. Further, they reportedly threatened to kill her and abduct her two children.

“They told us that they had planned to kidnap my children because they were supposed to come here on vacation. But they didn’t come so the kidnappers took these three babies hostage and demanded a large amount of ransom from us,” Franck was quoted as saying by CNN.

The kidnappers claimed to have drugged the chimpanzees and threatened to hurt the hostage animals if their demand was not fulfilled.

Explained Why three baby chimpanzees were kidnapped from a Congo sanctuary

The kidnappers have demanded a six-figure ransom to release the three baby chimps. Wikimedia Commons (Representational Image)

A few days later, Roxane Chantereau again received texts from the kidnappers warning that they will decapitate one of the baby chimpanzees and sell the other two to Chinese traffickers, Franck told NYT.

He stated they have not heard from the abductors for two weeks now which is “worrying” them.

He stated the authorities have taken the case “very seriously” and “consider the robbing of these babies as a security threat for the country,” NYT reported.

Franck said the sanctuary is unable to pay the ransom money, adding that if they heed the demand, this incident is likely to occur again in the coming months. Expressing apprehension, he told CNN there is no guarantee if the chimps will be returned even after the kidnappers are paid.

The authorities are also not in favour of paying the ransom.

Calling the abduction “inhumane and unnatural”, Michel Koyakpa, media adviser to DRC’s environment minister, told CNN, “we will not give in to this kind of demand”.

Koyakpa said the search is on to find the stolen baby chimpanzees.

Notably, Congo, which has a rich biodiversity, offers sanctuaries the same legal protections as national parks.

Sanctuary targeted earlier

In 2006, months after the sanctuary was opened, a group of people had broken in and torched the baby chimps’ sleeping place, leading to the death of two of the five apes that were there then, reports CNN.

While in September 2013, the sanctuary’s education center was targeted and set ablaze by miscreants, however, there were no fatalities.

Illegal wildlife trafficking

Illegal wildlife trade is not rare in Congo. It is the only country in Africa where all four great apes– chimpanzees, bonobos, western gorillas and eastern gorillas–  are found.

Congo has become a hotspot for wildlife trafficking.

The illegal trade of ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, and poaching of live baby chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos has become rampant in Congo amid increase in demand for primates in China, Pakistan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Franck told NYT.

Explained Why three baby chimpanzees were kidnapped from a Congo sanctuary

This is the first time that an ape has been kidnapped from a sanctuary in Africa for ransom. Wikimedia Commons (Representational Image)

However, this is the first time that an ape has been kidnapped from a sanctuary in Africa for ransom.

Franck said the buyers of these exotic animals are mostly rich people. He added that they do not understand the consequences of their action as to capture one baby, an entire family of up to 10 adults is killed by poachers.

Experts fear that if the kidnappers are not punished, there can be more kidnappings for ransom. “If they get away with this, these cases are going to happen over and over again,” Adams Cassinga, founder of Conserv Congo, a nonprofit group battling wildlife trafficking in DRC, told NYT.

He said the Congo government and global community must come together and send a stern message that such incidents will not be “tolerated”.


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