Category Archives: chimpanzee

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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Bo and Bella arrive from Guinea Bissau

It all started on 18th January, 2016, over two years ago, when PEGAS received an email from Gregg Tully, Executive Director of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance.

Gregg asked, “Can you help with this case?”

Attached was an email from Maria Joana Ferreira da Silva that began:

“My name is Maria Silva. I am a post-doctoral researcher working in Guinea-Bissau.

 There is a huge crisis in Guinea Bissau of captive chimps … that live in horrible conditions and need to be rescued.”

PEGAS received confirmation from Richard Vigne, CEO of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, and Dr. Stephen Ngulu, manager of Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, that they would be happy to receive chimps from Guinea Bissau.

Maria Joana informed us that there was one particular chimpanzee, named Bo, who was ready to go. Bo had been seized by the authorities from a man who was trying to sell her after killing her mother for bushmeat. She was being kept at Cufada Lagoon National Park. They thought she was about three years old.

Bo, now around four or five years old, has spent the last two years at the Cufada Lagoon National Park waiting for relocation to Sweetwaters.

Bo has received many visitors and likes humans, but now she will have to learn how to be a chimpanzee.

Following on that initial email some hundreds of them ensued, along with Facebook and WhatsApp messaging and Skype calls, involving dozens of people – Maria Joana, Guinea Bissau national parks and CITES people, the Guinea Bissau European Union delegation (they had generously offered to cover transport costs), Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Department of Veterinary Service staff, Portuguese volunteer veterinarian Pedro Melo who took bio-samples from Bo, Hank Nephuis of the Biomedical Primate Research Centre in the Netherlands which analyzed the samples and issued a health report, and many other supporters who helped out in various ways.

PEGAS was at the center of this maelstrom of communications, which was hampered by the fact that Internet service in Guinea Bissau was spotty and the country was experiencing considerable political instability during this period, not to mention language difficulties (Guinea Bissau is Portuguese-speaking).

Later on another young chimp was added, Bella, a shy and sensitive female who found herself in the same painful situation as Bo – orphaned victim of bushmeat hunting and target of the exotic pet trade.

Bella, perhaps three years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Due to various causes it took ages to obtain the CITES import permit, the
veterinary import permit, then the CITES export permit and finally the veterinary certificate of good health two days before shipping. PEGAS would like to thank in particular:

Maria Joana Silva, who pushed the rescue and relocation from day one to the successful conclusion.

Ms Aissa Regalla, Coordinator of Species and Habitats in the Instituto da Biodiversidade e das Áreas Protegidas (IBAP) (Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas), the Guinea Bissau wildlife service, who helped obtain the necessary paperwork.

Aissa Regalla of IBAP came to care a lot for Bo.

Pedro Melo, wildlife veterinarian, who flew to Guinea Bissau from Lisbon to take the samples needed for the veterinary tests, and who supervised the shipping from Bissau to Dakar and then ensure that the crates got onto the Kenya Airways flight from Dakar to Nairobi.

Helena Foito and Carla Da Silva-Sorneta, European Union Delegation.

Fai Djedjo, Guinea Bissau CITES Focal Point.

Richard Vigne, Stephen Ngulu and Samuel Mutisya of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, who were kept busy writing letters and emails for all of the permits and shipping documents required, and who carried out the transport from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Ol Pejeta.

Ramat Hamoud of Airfreight & Logistics Worldwide, who handled the complicated clearing of the chimps at the Nairobi airport.

After more than two years of work, Bo and Bella finally touched down on Kenyan soil at 5:13 a.m. on 26th April, 2018. Karibuni Kenya!

Here are a few photos of the arrival and transport to Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

KQ 513 landed at 05:13 carrying Bo and Bella across the African continent.

The entire trip, with transit in Dakar, took 18 hours.

I arrived at 06:15 at Kenya Airways cargo to find no one there, except two sleepy staff, who knew nothing about any cargo arriving from Guinea Bissau. Luckily I had the Airway Bill scan on my phone to show.

While the staff were checking their computer for information on the chimp crates, I walked out into the cargo area and found the crates right there a few meters from the office door.

Some time later Stephen Ngulu, Sweetwaters manager, arrived with Dr. Rashid, the airport veterinarian. KQ Cargo would not allow Dr. Ngulu to take possession of the crates without a letter from Ol Pejeta authorizing it. Richard Vigne, CEO, was in New York, so his deputy Samuel Mutisya rushed a letter to KQ Cargo by email.

Ramat Hamoud, the clearing agent, arrived later and began the laborious clearing process. We took the chimps to the airport animal holding facility for the veterinary formalities.

The doors were opened so we could see how they were doing (I actually peeked earlier in the cargo shed).

Bo offered me his finger, first touch!

Bo looked in remarkably good spirits after what must have been a tiring and confusing experience. And it wasn’t over yet.

Bella was a bit more subdued, but she came around later and became quite friendly. Her face had the clear color of a Central African chimp.

Bo had a mango to celebrate her arrival.

Bella had no food left in her cage, so I went to a nearby cantine and found the last three bananas. Bella scoffed two in no time, I gave the other to Bo.

After more than seven hours in the airport we left for Ol Pejeta. Ramat was still doing paperwork, but they let us leave.

The chimps didn’t arrive at the Ol Pejeta chimpanzee quarantine house until 5:30 p.m.

Unloading at the quarantine house, directed by Joseph Maiyo, caretaker supervisor (man in hat).

In the upper left hand corner of the crate tops you can see ‘Bo’ and ‘Bella’ marked

Clean straw for sleeping nests had been put in the rooms.

Bo checks out his new home.

While Bella munches bananas, Bo watches from the window. We hope they will get to know each other through the window.

The team, very happy to have new guests at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

Bo and Bella will now enjoy five-star accommodation for the next three months in quarantine. Once out, we hope that they will be introduced easily to the New Group. They will join Manno, the young chimp rescued from a private zoo in Iraqi Kurdistan and brought to Sweetwaters on 30th November 2016.

Report on Manno’s Integration

 

This is an edited, fascinating report prepared by Dr. Stephen Ngulu, Head – Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary/Ol Pejeta Conservancy Wildlife Veterinarian, recounting how Manno was integrated with the New Group. Chimpanzees are very territorial in the wild and each troop, or community, defends its home range against other chimpanzees to the death. A community does not easily accept a new unknown member, and in the wild strangers are more likely to be chased off or killed. The two communities of chimpanzees at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary (SCS) were formed artificially from rescued individuals or small groups, but today they simulate closely troops in the wild.

Manno is a four-year old male chimpanzee rescued from a private zoo in Iraqi Kurdistan. He lived there alone for about three years with no companionship except for humans, therefore he learned nothing about chimpanzee social behaviour. When Manno arrived at SCS the night of 30th November, 2016, staff knew from previous experience that it was going to be difficult to introduce him to the New Group, especially as there was a transition of alpha males going on, where two adult males were fighting one another for dominance and leadership of the community.

Manno adjusting to his new sleeping quarters after arrival from quarantine

Manno was moved from the quarantine facility on 31st March and was put into the new chimpanzee house to begin integration. The first few days were a nightmare as he was nervous, restless and terrified. His fear subsided over the months that followed. He was gradually introduced to foster mothers. Progress was initially slow but we witnessed amazing success after we switched foster mothers [Akela to Jane]. Manno has since been completely accepted by all 14 chimpanzees in this particular group. Below is a brief week by week account of the integration process. [Some uneventful weeks have been omitted – Ed.]

31st March-6th April, 2016
Manno was transferred from the quarantine and kept separately. Akela was brought into a cage diagonally adjacent to Manno`s. He was observed to be curious albeit afraid to get close to touching distance of the separating half wall and grills. Lots of interest from Akela. No aggressive behaviour from this female was observed.

7th-13th April
Akela was moved to a cage immediately adjacent to Manno’s, interest was shown from both parties. Eye contact was established through the window grills but no physical contact.

14th-20th April.
Manno was moved to the main sleeping cages where the partition between the two was complete grill. Immense interest expressed by the foster mother Akela. Manno observed to be fearful.

21st- 27th April
Akela and Manno were put into same room. Akela made countless attempts to initiate friendship with Manno, spreading out both her arms and legs being a gesture to invite him to come closer, but Manno ignored her and would always run away whenever she tried to approach.

28th April-4th May
Akela continued trying all possible ways to attract Manno but no contact was observed. However, during feeding Manno would get closer to her with the gap between them being less than a meter.

5th-11th May
Akela succeeded to groom Manno’s foot briefly as he was feeding but he pulled away when he realized she was doing it.

12th-18th May
Akela was separated from Manno and Jane was brought in the adjacent cage, Manno avoided her, keeping a safe distance from the partition grill. Manno was put through an electric fence awareness training. This was done by fitting a mesh in the exit tunnel with a voltage of 4.2 kv. After close to ten minutes he came through the door and accidently touched the mesh getting a mild shock, he went back in the room for 5 minutes, came back through the tunnel but this time avoided touching any wires. [A grilled passageway connects the sleeping quarters with an outdoor fenced area. The fence is electrified to discourage escape. – ed.]

Jane was on the opposite side of the mesh and was clapping and doing some raspberries sounds to attract Manno`s attention but he avoided her, although at times he came closer but didn’t allow any contact at all.

On the 17th, both were put in the same room with an access to the tunnel, Jane positioned herself on the doors touching Manno anytime he came through the door, after close to four hours Manno got closer to Jane and remained when she touched him. Jane hugged him and engaged in active play/grooming for one straight hour; Manno observed to be extremely happy during this interaction.

The first touch between Jane and Manno.

19th-25th May                                                                                               Jane slept in the same cage with Manno for the first time. Bahati was moved in the adjacent cage to Manno, after a couple of minutes she groomed him as he sat close to the bars separating them. Jane was separated from Manno since she exhibited jealous behaviour when Bahati was interacting with him; this was meant to avoid the two fighting over him leading to a redirected aggression towards him from either of the females.

Bahati was introduced to Manno and immediately they engaged in active play for two hours taking breaks in between to groom him, after two hours together Jane was allowed to join but did not show any signs of aggression towards Bahati or Manno.

26th-30th May-                                                                                            Both females (Bahati&Jane) continued taking turns to play and groom Manno. He always ran to Jane for comfort when other chimpanzees were displaying and would be cuddled and groomed. The second electric fence training for Manno began this time in the tunnel that lead to the small enclosure, this was also meant to prepare him to be out in the small enclosure as well as seeing other chimps more with just an electric fence between them.

Akela joined them; she continued her efforts to befriend Manno and finally managed to touch and groom him briefly, this being a big step for Manno to trust her at last. The three females continued to interact with Manno. The next course of action was to allow the four Chimpanzees to have access to the exit tunnels that lead to the small enclosure.

The females took turns grooming Manno, here is Akela, the foster mother Manno initially rejected.

7th-  13th June                                                                                         Manno, Akela, Bahati and Jane remained in the tunnel while the access to the small enclosure was prevented by an improvised electrified mesh, which he (Manno) didn’t touch.

They spent a lot of time playing in the tunnel.

14th – 20th June                                                                                       Manno was for the first time allowed to access the small enclosure after the electrified mesh was removed. For the first day he completely refused to join the females into the enclosure, until Jane carried him on her back. They engaged in active play chasing each other around bushes. Tess was put in a cage adjacent to Manno’s, she tried to touch him through the bars but he avoided her.

21st – 27th June                                                                                               Tess (female) was introduced to Manno and in the beginning he avoided getting close. Whenever Tess made a move to approach him he ran away, but with time he gained courage and got closer to her, but no contact was observed.

28th – 3rd July                                                                                        Physical contact was established between Tess and Manno. She carried and groomed Manno a lot. Joy (female) was put in a cage adjacent to Manno’s and she tried to initiate play with him, but to no avail.

4th  – 10th July                                                                                                     Joy was introduced to Manno’s cage, she showed no signs of aggression, and after a couple of minutes she approached him touching him gently. They hugged and kissed each other. They sat on the sleeping platform where she groomed him for some decent time.

18th – 31st July                                                                                                   A lot of interaction was observed between Manno and the females (Tess, Joy, Jane, Bahati and Akela) all taking turns to play with him.

Manno has bonded with Jane and prefers to sleep with her.

1st  – 7th Aug                                                                                                    Chipie (female) was put into a cage adjacent to Manno’s, he was displaying aggressively towards her due to her small size, but she was so friendly putting her arms through the bars to touch him and was introduced to him on the fourth day when they both hugged each other with, Chipie grooming and carrying him a lot.

8th  – 21st Aug                                                                                                      Dufa (female) was put in a cage close to Manno, he displayed towards her, but she was very calm putting her arm through the bars patting his back gently, both played through the bars. Dufa was put in same room as Manno, they both engaged in active play immediately but Bahati was very protective pulling Manno away from Dufa.

21st Aug – 3rd Sep                                                                                     Amisero (female) was put in a cage next to Manno, she showed no interest in him in the beginning. She was physically introduced to him on the seventh day in his cage. Manno kept a distance and avoided her every time she approached. After some time Manno gained courage and approached Amisero, who tickled, groomed and carried him around the small enclosure.

Manno has become a favourite for grooming.

4th  – 10th Sept                                                                                             Niyonkuru (recently dethroned Alpha male) was put in a cage next to Manno, he was a bit aggressive towards the females but was calm after some time. He put his arms through the bars to touch Manno but Dufa went in between and tried biting Niyonkuru in what looked like protecting Manno from Niyonkuru’s unpredictable aggression.  

5th  – 11th Sept                                                                                             Niyonkuru was reintroduced to all the females before physically introducing him to Manno. This was done to calm him down after a spell of separation. He was a bit aggressive towards some, but after time he calmed down.

12th –  18th Sept                                                                                       Niyonkuru was introduced to Manno while he was in the company of all the females. This took place with the exit to the small enclosure opened to enable Manno to have an escape route in case he was attacked. Food was scattered in the small enclosure to distract Niyonkuru. Manno at first avoided him, but as Niyonkuru was foraging he approached Manno while stamping the ground with his foot and chased him in a playful way, but he (Manno) ran away.

25th Sep – 1st Oct                                                                                          Niyonkuru was playing a lot with Manno and was seen carrying him a few times. Roy (male) was put in a cage adjacent to Manno; he (Roy) started tickling him through the bars. We Introduced Roy to Manno while he was in the company of all the females, they immediately engaged into an active play that lasted close to ten minutes.

2nd  – 8th Oct                                                                                                  Romeo (male) was put in a cage close to Manno’s. Romeo was afraid of the females and avoided getting nearer, but was introduced to Manno while in the company of Akela, Jane and Bahati. Manno and Romeo immediately started chasing each other around the cage. Uruhara (male) was put in a cage next to Manno, and although he put his arms through the bars in attempt to touch and groom, Manno stayed away.

9th  – 14th Oct                                                                                                       We introduced Uruhara to Manno in the cage, but the door to the small enclosure was left open. Manno was in the company of all the other chimps except Kisa and William, the last two who had not yet met Manno. Manno stayed away from Uruhara, but a few minutes later he (Manno) approached Uruhara and started to play with his legs. They both went out in the tunnel where they played continuously for ten minutes.

William (the new alpha male) was put in a cage next to Manno. During this period Manno was for the first time released in the big enclosure with all the other chimps, except Kisa and William. He was very excited, all the females followed him all the way carrying him when he was exhausted.

Manno was finally released into the big enclosure (Manno circled in red) where he could interact with the whole community.

15th – 21st Oct                                                                                                    William (alpha male) was introduced to Manno while he was together with all the other chimps, except Kisa. All was calm and Manno was in the tunnel being groomed by Joy, when William tried walking towards Manno. Joy called an alert and all the females ganged up and attacked the alpha (William). [This is why the females were introduced first to Manno, in the hope that they would form a protection sisterhood from aggressive males. It worked. – Ed.] William was later seen to interact positively with Manno.

Kisa was put in a cage next to Manno, he initiated a play with him through the bars, and in the beginning Manno stayed away only to join him later where they tickled a lot. Kisa was finally physically introduced to Manno in the house with the door leading to the small enclosure wide open; this was meant to give room for Manno to escape when necessary. They started playing, immediately chasing each other through the tunnel and resting for a grooming session.

Manno is a normal part of the troop now after a year of integration.

Conclusion 

Manno’s Integration can be described as a process that was devoid of negative drama, aggression and rejection. This kind of positive integration can be largely attributed to Manno’s tender age and the valuable experience of the sanctuary staff in terms of their understanding of resident chimpanzee behaviour, group dynamics and social structure.

We expect that as Manno continues to grow and bond with his new family, he will sooner or later be exposed to group confrontations and dominance fights between the other males. Such scenes will obviously be a new thing to him and he may choose to get involved without suitable prudence. It is in such circumstances that he may occasionally get injured/bitten, but this is expected in any chimpanzee troop.

Manno enjoying a banana, so much better for him than the sweets and cigarettes given to him in the Duhok Zoo.

Update on Manno

Manno, the chimpanzee rescued from a private zoo in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing extremely well at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The last update was on 1st June, which saw Manno integrated with three females, Jane, Akela and Bahati. The integration is being conducted in a small enclosure next to the sleeping quarters. A barred corridor connects the sleeping quarters with the outdoor enclosure.

Greeting Manno in the barred corridor that connects the sleeping quarters to the integration enclosure, Bahati looking on.

Since then Manno has made friends with all of the other females in the New Group, eight in all. More importantly, three adult males have now accepted Manno – the former alpha of the group, Niyonkuru, Romeo and Roy. Roy and Romeo are good friends and now they are trying to include Manno in their bromance alliance. Manno is still afraid of Niyonkuru, a rather imposing chimpanzee whose name means ‘God is the highest’ in Kirundi, but Niyon, as he is called, has accepted Manno. Niyon was confiscated in Burundi when a trafficker tried to sell him to the Jane Goodall Institute! Not a smart move by the trafficker, but it saved Niyon from the pet trade.

Akela even lets Manno ride on her back, like a good foster mum should

The next male to be introduced will probably be Kisazose, or Kiza for short, who also came to Sweetwaters from Burundi. He was confiscated from a Congolese trafficker and arrived at Sweetwaters in 1994 as an infant, ill and undernourished. After him will come Uruhara, a favourite of Jane Goodall’s, seen with her in a well-known photograph of them hooting together.

Jane Goodall with the photograph of her and Uruhara hooting.

Uruhara today, living up to his Kirundi name, which means ‘bald’.

Last but not least will be William, the current alpha male of the New Group. He is aggressive and strong. If William accepts Manno then the little guy from Kurdistan will be home free and he can be released into the main area, which includes a lovely spot on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro river with towering acacia trees. It will be wonderful to watch Manno mix freely with the whole group in natural interaction. There could still be moments of danger for him, however, from the large males, so hopefully Akela and other large females can protect him.

Manno has gone from living with people in Iraq…

… to living with his own kind in Africa.

New Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Liberia

Jenny and Jim Desmond arrived in Liberia in 2015 with a big job to do – overseeing the care of the 66 chimpanzees abandoned on six Marshall Islands by the New York Blood Center. They had come from Kenya where they had been assisting in looking after monkeys at Diani Beach’s Colobus Conservation, where the PEGAS project manager first met them. Within weeks of their arrival in Liberia, the government would be adding to their workload by bringing them orphaned baby chimpanzees who needed sanctuary, amongst them Guey and Sweetpea, which PEGAS had helped rescue from appalling circumstances of captivity.

Guey, found in appalling circumstances

Sweetpea was caged up by a Chinese woman who had tried to sell her

Liberia has a maximum of 2,000 wild chimpanzees remaining in its forests, made up of the critically endangered Pan troglodytes vera, the highest level of threat of extinction on IUCN’s Red List. The fact that these great apes are critically endangered doesn’t stop poachers from illegally hunting them for their meat.  The baby chimps, orphaned when their mothers are killed for their meat, are then sold as exotic pets.

Chimps rescued from the illegal exotic pet trade in Liberia are brought to Jenny and Jim Desmond with Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP).

Before the Desmonds arrived in Liberia, the government turned a blind eye to the illegal chimp trade because authorities had no place to put chimps confiscated from their captors or new “owners.” Because the Desmonds have experience rescuing and rehabilitating great apes, authorities began to bring them babies – some just weeks old.

Jenny Desmond shows care and affection for orphaned chimps

Jim Desmond, a qualified veterinarian, looks after their health care

Baby chimps rescued by LCRP are raised by surrogate mothers until they are old enough to be integrated with a group of juveniles who no longer need around-the-clock attention.

The Desmond’s use the Liberia Institute of Biomedical Research grounds for their temporary sanctuary, not ideal for raising orphaned chimps. Ironically, LIBR was the institute that conducted research on the Marshall Island chimps for so many years. Jenny and Jim are therefore now looking for land in a nearby forest to build a proper sanctuary with all of the facilities needed to care for the chimps, including an infirmary, overnight housing for the babies, a kitchen, offices and housing for caregivers and volunteers. Now, they need to raise money for the LCRP in order to build the sanctuary.

PEGAS has adopted Sweetpea as a small contribution towards her upkeep.

People wishing to help LCRP can adopt a chimpanzee on their website

Jenny Desmond points out that providing sanctuary for rescued chimps is only part of their mission. One of their biggest priorities is using the sanctuary as a platform to educate the public about the importance of conserving chimpanzees in their natural habitat. “We’ll know that our efforts are having an impact when we stop receiving chimps,” said Desmond. “Our ultimate goal is to not need to exist at all.”

Please follow Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCR) on Facebook and Twitter.

Research on lab chimps is over. Why have so few been retired to sanctuaries?

On 12th June, 2015, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service classified chimpanzees as Endangered, effectively ending biomedical studies on them. Two years later only 73 chimps have been moved to sanctuaries, leaving almost 600 still caged up in research facilities. They say there is a problem with finding space to house them all. Ol Pejeta Conservancy can help, the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary can take 30 right now, if anyone is interested. There is potential to accept many more.

This article published in Science , authored by David Grimm, explains the issue.

A chimpanzee waits for lunch at the National Center for Chimpanzee Care in Bastrop, Texas. (Photo: Shelby Knowles)

Hercules and Leo are only 11 years old, but they’ve already come close to retiring twice. The two chimpanzees, born and raised at Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center, became lab animals at the State University of New York in Stony Brook in 2011. There they shared a three-room enclosure, where scientists inserted small electrodes into their muscles to study the evolution of bipedalism. In 2013, they were the subject of an unusual legal gambit. An animal rights group sued to declare the pair legal persons and retire them to a Florida sanctuary, but the effort failed.

Two years later, Hercules and Leo returned to New Iberia, where they mingled with other chimps in outdoor domes with ladders and ropes. But retirement to a sanctuary, where they could climb real trees and have more room to roam, again seemed imminent: The U.S. government had just effectively ended invasive work on chimpanzees, and many observers expected all lab chimps to move to sanctuaries in short order. Yet today, Hercules and Leo, along with nearly 600 of their kind across the country, remain at research facilities. It’s unclear when—or whether—they’ll leave.

In the past 2 years, only 73 chimps have entered sanctuaries, and the slow pace has heightened tensions between the laboratory and sanctuary communities. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Labs have dragged their feet, sanctuaries haven’t expanded quickly enough, and the government itself didn’t have a concrete plan for retirement, despite setting the process in motion in the first place.

Chimps freely roam around an artificial termite mound at Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana. (BRANDON WADE/AP IMAGES FOR THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES)

The biomedical community has spent years defending the use of chimpanzees in research … instead of figuring out how to retire them,” says Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who has studied chimpanzee behavior at sanctuaries around the world. “Now we’re scrambling to do something about it.”

Some labs have argued that their animals would be better off staying where they are. Retirement to a sanctuary is a “silly decision,” says William Hopkins, a neuroscientist at Georgia State University in Atlanta who has studied chimp cognition at research facilities for decades. “I don’t think that’s really helping the chimps, and I think it’s going to take a really long time.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, acknowledges the delay. “We share others’ frustration,” says Deputy Director James Anderson, whose division of strategic initiatives oversees the NIH Chimpanzee Management Program. “But we’re moving as quickly as we can for the safety of the chimps.”

For advocates of Hercules and Leo, and hundreds of other chimps stuck in limbo, that may not be quick enough.

Ambling into retirement

Movement from lab facilities to sanctuaries has been slow. (G. GRULLÓN/SCIENCE; (DATA) CHIMPCARE.ORG,OTHER SOURCES)

What to do with all the chimps?

The U.S. government has been in the chimpanzee business since 1960. That year, Congress created a national network of primate centers to conduct research on these animals—some bred in captivity, most taken from Africa. The country stopped importing wild chimps in 1973, but 13 years later, when the AIDS epidemic created a demand for humanlike models of infection, NIH launched a chimp breeding boom. By 1996, 1500 of the apes lived in research labs, an all-time high. Some were owned outright by NIH, whereas others belonged to universities, foundations, and companies.

Just 4 years later, the government began talking about retirement. A law passed in 2000 created a national chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana. The nonprofit sanctuary’s founders, who had worked with chimps in laboratories, felt that the highly intelligent animals—who, like humans, use tools, have some form of culture, and live in complex social groups—deserved to live out their lives in a setting designed wholly around their needs.

NIH got on board, pledging up to 75% of the cost of lifetime care for its chimpanzees that entered the refuge. (Other sanctuaries take privately owned research chimps.) But labs themselves decided whether the apes were ready for retirement.

That changed in 2013, when—in response to an Institute of Medicine report that concluded most invasive studies on chimpanzees were unnecessary—NIH announced it would phase out support for this type of research and retire most of its chimpanzees. Then in 2015—2 years ago today—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified all U.S. chimps as endangered, effectively ending biomedical studies on them. NIH followed by declaring that all of its approximately 300 chimpanzees would be retired, though it gave no time frame. Experts assumed that the remaining 340 or so in private hands would follow suit.

Since then, however, only 51 government chimps and 22 privately owned chimps have entered sanctuaries—a pace far slower than anyone had anticipated. “Large numbers are still languishing in laboratories,” Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D–CA) complained to NIH head Francis Collins last month at a congressional hearing. Collins said his agency was committed to chimpanzee retirement, but that the process had been “challenging.” “Realistically,” he said, “it’s going to take us several more years.”

The reasons are complex—and contentious.

Where are all the research chimps?

Fewer than half of all former research chimps now live in sanctuaries. The rest are still in scientific facilities.

G. GRULLÓN/SCIENCE; (DATA) CHIMPCARE.ORG, OTHER SOURCES

Sanctuary struggles

On a sweltering day in mid-June, a group of about 20 chimpanzees emerges from a small forest and crowds around an artificial termite mound filled with applesauce and Kool-Aid. They seem to be negotiating over the food: Some scream, some wave their hands, and some climb 20-meter-tall pine trees to avoid the ruckus. When everyone has had their fill, a few disappear back into the forest, while the rest take refuge from the heat in nearby cooling rooms.

Such a scene, which took place at Chimp Haven last summer, buoys the sanctuary community: It’s a picture of what life can be like when chimpanzees are free to roam and interact with each other on their own terms. Not every sanctuary can offer what Chimp Haven does, but many are trying.

One is Project Chimps, a new 95-hectare sanctuary among the wooded hills of Morgantown, Georgia. The nonprofit organization made headlines last year when it announced it would take all 220 of New Iberia’s chimpanzees—including Hercules and Leo—within 5 years, in the most ambitious chimp retirement ever attempted.

Perhaps too ambitious. Construction has gone more slowly than expected, and Project Chimps has taken only 22 of New Iberia’s apes so far, rather than the 60 it agreed to accept by now. And although the sanctuary hopes to eventually give its animals access to the surrounding forest, they now live in enclosures that aren’t much different from the domes at New Iberia: three “villas” with indoor-outdoor areas for climbing and swinging.

Some say the slow pace and exclusive contract blocked other sanctuaries that could have taken some of New Iberia’s apes. Project Chimps Co-Founder and President Sarah Baeckler Davis left the organization last month, although the sanctuary would not comment on the reasons.

Funding also has been a challenge. Like other sanctuaries, Project Chimps relies on a mix of grants and public donations. Interim President Ben Callison says it will cost about $6.4 million to build new facilities, not to mention the expense of providing food, toys, and veterinary care for the apes; other sanctuaries spend $16,000 to $20,000 per chimp per year on those costs. That could mean more than $3 million in annual expenses for Project Chimps once all New Iberia’s animals are in residence. But New Iberia has only agreed to contribute a one-time payment of $19,000 per chimp, with no funding for lifetime care.

Other sanctuaries are scrambling to raise cash as well. Even Chimp Haven, which has an agreement to take all NIH chimps and so has some guaranteed funding during their lifetimes, pays for all construction out of its own pocket. Accommodating the 250-odd NIH chimpanzees still in research facilities could cost $17 million, says the sanctuary’s president, Cathy Spraetz.

Transportation is another bottleneck. Only four to 10 chimps are typically moved at a time because they can be aggressive and must be housed in individual cages; sanctuaries also prefer to keep them in the same social groups they lived in while at the labs. Once at a sanctuary, chimps are typically quarantined for a couple weeks to make sure they have no transmissible diseases. Keepers then sometimes carefully ease them into larger groups, but reintegration isn’t always easy. (When Hercules and Leo first returned to New Iberia, they didn’t get along with the females they were housed with and had to be resocialized with a group of young males.)

Transporters also have to be mindful of the health of the apes, many of whom are geriatric and have been injected with hepatitis and HIV. “They’re very social and sensitive animals,” says NIH’s Anderson, who notes that many suffer from diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease. “Retirement has to be done in a safe way, because we owe a lot to these chimps.”

All this slows transfers. The largest one on record—when Save the Chimps, a nonprofit sanctuary based in Fort Pierce, Florida, accepted nearly 260 chimpanzees from a private New Mexico lab—took almost a decade and cost $5 million.

“Primadomes” housing chimps at New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. (FRANCOIS VILLINGER/NEW IBERIA RESEARCH CENTER)

Retire in place?

But retirement has been a long time coming, and critics say lab facilities should have prepared for it. Duke University’s Hare notes that a 1997 National Research Council report recommended a breeding moratorium, concluding that chimps had not proved as useful as expected for biomedical research. “The writing has been on the wall for 20 years.” Yet, Hare says, labs continued to insist the animals were needed, preventing sanctuaries from launching fundraising and construction. “It’s created a huge challenge for the sanctuary community,” agrees Save the Chimps Executive Director Molly Polidoroff.

Now, after the government has concluded the animals are not necessary for research, some labs still insist chimps are better off staying put. Neither the National Center for Chimpanzee Care (NCCC) at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Bastrop, Texas, nor the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico—which together house the 257 government-owned chimps not in sanctuaries—would speak to Science for this story. But NCCC Director Christian Abee told the Houston Chronicle in 2015 that half of his chimps were geriatric and not up to the stress of transport. He has advocated for retiring the animals at NCCC, citing their bond with the facility’s experienced care staff (and vice versa), as well as NCCC’s outdoor treehouses and playgrounds, which aren’t much different than those at some sanctuaries.

Some labs housing privately owned chimps agree. “[Our researchers] strongly believe the chimpanzees currently in our care are in the best possible environment,” Lisa Cruz, a spokesperson for the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, which houses 81 chimps, told the Chronicle in the same story. “Just because it’s a sanctuary, doesn’t mean it’s better for the chimp,” says Georgia State’s Hopkins. “Prove to me you’re making their lives happier.”

Proving happiness is a tall order. Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta says the small group housing found at many research facilities, with closely spaced geodesic dome habitats, “is a stress-causing design” because it forces chimps to hang out with, or at least see, animals they may want to avoid. De Waal says NCCC is as good as it gets for research chimps, but still doesn’t compare to facilities like Chimp Haven. “Whether the chimps are happier [at Chimp Haven] than elsewhere is another question,” he says. “They certainly look less agitated.”

NIH’s Anderson says his agency remains committed to transferring its animals. “They’re receiving great care at [NCCC], but we’ve made a commitment to move them to a federal sanctuary, and that’s a path they’re taking.”

Still, some say NIH, too, has lagged. A 2016 Government Accountability Office report found that the agency had not developed a clear plan for the transfer or effectively communicated its plans to lab facilities. Anderson says his agency needed time but now has a concrete plan. It will begin with the Alamogordo center, which now houses 126 chimps, before moving on to the 131 at NCCC. “We think a 10-year time frame for retiring all of these animals is realistic.”

A “villa” at the Project Chimps sanctuary in Morgantown, Georgia. The sanctuary hopes to eventually allow forest access. (PROJECT CHIMPS)

The waiting game

For the chimps in private hands, money rather than a government commitment may shape the future. With research funding no longer available and overhead payments from NIH dwindling, private facilities like Texas Biomed and Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, which houses 47 chimps, will have less and less financial incentive to keep their animals. Perhaps they’ll even help pay for sanctuary retirement. Or so people in the sanctuary movement hope.

Financial pressures were certainly at work in New Iberia’s decision. The research center’s director, Francois Villinger, says he sees the appeal of retiring his chimpanzees where they are, noting his facility’s large outdoor play areas and social groups of apes that have been stable for years. “When the Project Chimps staff came down here, they were surprised by how good the conditions were.” Yet New Iberia could no longer afford to pay for hundreds of chimps not being studied, he says, and did not want the public relations headache of keeping the animals.

He says New Iberia will do whatever it can to ease the transfer to Project Chimps. “It’s a beautiful and ideal property,” he says. “We just want to make sure they succeed.”

Project Chimps remains optimistic about the agreement, too. Financially, the sanctuary is now “solidly in the black,” says interim president Callison, and should have room for up to 100 chimpanzees within a year. The final phase of construction, slated for next year, should be able to accommodate the rest, he says. “It’s a balancing act between getting them out as quickly as possible and giving them the best environment,” he says. “We want to grow smart.”

He hopes the arrangement will serve as a model for other lab-sanctuary partnerships. It took many years to build trust with New Iberia, he says. “After decades of being on opposite sides of the issue, we’re finally working together.”

In the end, not all research chimpanzees will make it to a sanctuary. Dozens die every year from old age and illness. But, if all goes according to plan, youngsters like Hercules and Leo should live to move to Project Chimps. Indeed, says Villinger, they should be on their way in a few months.

Update on the Iraqi Kurdistan chimpanzee Manno

Manno arrived in Nairobi from Erbil, Iraq, the afternoon of 30th November 2016. His rescue and relocation took exactly one year from the time PEGAS heard of Manno to the time of his arrival, giving some indication of the difficulty in rescuing and relocating chimpanzees across national frontiers.

Manno was released from his 4-star quarantine room at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on 31st March 2017. Many people were there to witness his transfer to the sleeping quarters of the New Group, where his introduction and integration process would begin. Manno remained in good spirits through it all and charmed all onlookers with his sweet disposition and amusing antics.

Manno could swing around to get exercise in his quarantine room

Dr. Edward Kariuki, KWS veterinarian on left, and Sweetwaters sanctuary staff carry Manno out of quarantine on 31st March

Manno’s transport crate, the same one used to ship him from Erbil, Iraq to Ol Pejeta, is loaded onto a small pickup truck.

Manno looks out with curiosity, “What’s going on?” he wonders.

A herd of elephants greets Manno’s transporters on the way to the New Group sleeping quarters.

The New Group sleeping quarters, where Manno will go through his introduction process.

No one was more charmed and happy to see Manno come out of quarantine than Spencer Sekyer, a Canadian ex-school teacher who brought Manno’s plight to the attention first of Jane Goodall, and then of Ol Pejeta Conservancy and PEGAS. Spencer flew all the way from Alberta, Canada, to see Manno’s release from quarantine and enjoy an emotional reunion with ‘the little guy’, as Spencer affectionately calls Manno.

Spencer greets Manno, whom he had not seen since early December.

Spencer first encountered Manno in late 2013 while volunteering at the Duhok Zoo, near Mosul in Iraqi Kurdistan. Manno probably arrived in Duhok about July 2013 from Syria and was the only chimpanzee in the zoo. The zoo owner dressed him up in children’s clothes and he generally had free reign to run around and interact with visitors. At night he slept in a small cage, except for the last few months when he was taken into the family home of a Syrian refugee zoo worker. Manno became part of the family.

Manno spent the last few months before he departed Duhok sleeping with Abdul Abde and family, a Syrian refugee who worked at the zoo.

The first step was to find Manno a foster mother, as she would constitute the foundation of a Sisterhood Protection Society, as it were, to shield Manno from aggressive males when eventually he would be introduced outdoors into the full group. The Sweetwaters team, led by Dr. Stephen Ngulu, Manager, and New Group supervisor David Mundia, first tried Akela, a docile senior female who had previously fostered Jane, one of five chimpanzees seized at the Nairobi airport in 2005.

Akela and Manno were first kept in cages with an empty cage in between, so that they could get used to seeing one another. Akela showed interest in Manno, but Manno showed only fear of Akela and of any other chimpanzee. He did not know what these strange, hairy creatures were, and their hooting and screeching frightened him, especially at evening feeding time when all the chimps were brought into the sleeping quarters. For the first four years of his life, Manno had only known human primates and he had worn clothes like them.

Akela

The males in particular eyed Manno with suspicion, but his young age and small size signalled that he posed little threat to the dominance hierarchy. The cage Manno lives in looks bleak, but he is there for his protection. If he were released into the group without a lengthy habituation process, the males would kill him instantly as a foreign intruder.

After a couple of weeks, Akela was put into the cage adjacent to Manno, as she showed no signs of aggression towards him, only of curiosity. Jane, who spends a lot of time with her foster mother, showed even more interest in Manno, so Stephen Ngulu, manager of Sweetwaters sanctuary, on the advice of David Mundia, added Jane to Akela’s cage. Manno continued, however, to reject their attempts to touch through the cage bars and he kept his distance.

The team felt confident enough that Akela posed no danger to Manno, so she was introduced to his cage in early May. Manno ran away from any attempts made by Akela for physical contact. Finally on 13th May, Akela was switched with the much younger Jane, who is about 13 years old. Again, however, Manno would evade any attempts at contact by running away and swinging around the cage bars.

The PEGAS manager just happened to be at Manno’s cage watching on 18th May when the breakthrough occurred. Jane was making repeated attempts to touch Manno and he kept scampering away.

Manno was sitting on the wood platform set against the wall and Jane was on the floor, looking up at Manno. She slowly raised her arms and placed her hands on the platform, just at Manno’s feet. He watched. She gently touched his feet, then reached up and touched Manno’s head. Manno did not run away, but took Jane’s hand and went into a crouching roll off the platform, falling right on top of her. They started playing!

Manno’s first voluntary touch with another chimpanzee. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eodzZRoWIOc

Jane ran off with Manno chasing her. They spent a good part of the rest of the day chasing each other and play wrestling. Now Manno and Jane are like brother and sister.

Manno and Jane chilling together (Photo: David Mundia)

Stephen and David then reintroduced Akela to the cage and Manno accepted her. In late May they introduced Bahati, which means ‘luck’ in Kiswahili, so Manno now has his own little family. Bahati is a female from Burundi who arrived at Sweetwaters in 1996 at the same time as Akela. They were both victims of the illegal pet trade, so share something in common with Manno and Jane.

Manno with his new family – Akela, Jane and Bahati. (Photo: David Mundia)

For the first time in his life Manno is being groomed, a fundamental aspect of social life. Manno is learning to become a chimpanzee.

For the first time in his life Manno is being groomed, a fundamental aspect of social life. Manno is learning to become a chimpanzee. (Photo: David Mundia)

I asked David Mundia on 31st May how Manno was doing. David replied, “He is the happiest chimp ever.”