PaJoe’s mother was killed for the bushmeat trade. He is the latest addition at Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP), the country’s first chimpanzee sanctuary and conservation centre, run by Jim and Jenny Desmond.
Local law enforcement officers confiscated PaJoe near Sapo National Park after receiving a tip-off.
“His story reflects the worst side of the illegal wildlife trade,” says Jenny Desmond, founder of LCRP. “PaJoe’s seller was bragging about her illicit business ventures, confident that nothing would happen to her, despite breaking several national wildlife laws.
“PaJoe arrived malnourished, with a broken arm and extremely depressed. After three weeks in our care he finally started displaying some normal chimpanzee behaviour,” Desmond says.
LCRP has recently seen an influx of young West African chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus), and Desmond attributes this not to an increased demand in bushmeat, but to the effectiveness of local law enforcement.
“Chimpanzee confiscations have dramatically increased and reports are coming in from far and wide.
As education and awareness spread this number should start to drop,” she says. There is already a stigma in the local dried meat markets that chimpanzees are ‘too human’ to be eaten.
That being said, “Liberia has a rampant bushmeat trade and a by-product of this is the pet trade,” Desmond continues. “There is a huge market for Liberian-caught chimpanzee meat in Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire, where wild populations have been depleted. There is also a market for chimpanzees in the entertainment and pet industries in China and the Middle East. We believe there are many other chimpanzees in backyards, and we will eventually find them,” says Desmond.
“However, the 2014–2016 West African ebola outbreak led to many illegally held chimpanzees being killed due to fear of transmission.”
“When a chimpanzee is kept as a pet, it almost never ends well for anyone involved,” says Desmond. Chimpanzee mothers supply round-the-clock care for their young. Infants cling to their mothers 100% of the time, and for this reason humans make substandard mothers. By the time a chimpanzee is two years old, it is strong, energetic and difficult to manage. At this point they are often tied up or kept in a cage. LCRP is currently caring for 40 chimpanzees.
“Many of the orphans arriving at LCRP are severely neglected, and often victims of physical and emotional abuse,” says Desmond. “Some of them have suffered irreversible damage.” When orphans arrive at the sanctuary, they are rehydrated, quarantined, offered veterinary treatment, and given 24/7 care and nurturing. Once given a clean bill of health a chimpanzee is introduced to other orphans. Currently there are three groups at various ages and levels of recovery. “Personality plays into the recovery process,” says Desmond. “A more outgoing chimpanzee will jump into my arms and never leave, whereas shy individuals take a lot longer.”
Each year, it costs between R70 000 and R100 000 to care for a single chimpanzee.
No LCRP orphans have been returned to the wild yet, but there is hope. Unlike most West African countries, Liberia still has vast areas of prime chimpanzee habitat.
“Reintroduction is not something to be taken lightly and is a very complicated process,” Desmond cautions. “Disease, viable habitat, proximity to humans and wild chimpanzee territories are all
things to consider.”
• 7 000: The estimated West African chimpanzee population in Liberia, the second-largest West African chimpanzee population worldwide.
• Seed dispersal: Ecological services offered by chimpanzees to forests.
• Chimpanzee strongholds:
South-eastern Liberia: Sapo and Grebo-Krahn national parks, and the Krahn-Bassa Proposed Protected Area.
• Characteristic chimpanzee behaviour: Nut-cracking, tool use and specific hunting methods.
• Four subspecies: West African chimpanzee, Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, central chimpanzee, eastern chimpanzee.
– Information provided by Dr Annika Hillers, country director of Wild Chimpanzee Foundation
Written by Georgina Lockwood
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