Legendary primatologist Jane Goodall has reopened a Kenyan chimpanzee sanctuary, home to some old furry friends of hers. A thriving illegal wildlife trade is continuing to put chimpanzees under pressure.
On the foothills of snow-capped Mount Kenya lies Ol-Pejeta, a renowned 90,000-acre private wildlife conservancy. Here, world-famous primatologist Jane Goodall has re-opened the ‘Sweetwaters Chimpanzee sanctuary’, which had been closed down for renovation. Now, the rescue center will provide more room for new arrivals from Central and Western Africa.
Some of the 38 apes now at home here are well-known to Jane Goodall, so her visit included a cheerful reunion: Before arriving in Kenya 20 years ago, chimpanzees Poko and Niyonkuru had been under the care of the Jane Goodall Institute, where they recovered from horrific injuries from abuse at the hands of humans.
Here, Goodall's old friends are thriving. She was eager to see Niyonkuru, a chimpanzee, who has fought his way up the ladder to become the Alpha male, the leader of the group.
Wildlife trafficking on the up
According to Goodall, the illicit trafficking of chimpanzees has increased in Central and West Africa, particularly that of baby chimpanzees, which are "very cute and adorable", as Jane Goodall put it.
Although there are laws designed to protect chimpanzees and other animals, they are frequently ignored. The veteran conservationist said there has been a surge in the capture of infant chimps for the Middle East and China markets.
"We really have to work a lot harder. We do have to find a way of enforcing law in Central and West Africa and also do a lot to educate people in the Middle East and Asia about the fact that it's so wrong to take these chimpanzees and treat them as little play things," she said. In Asian countries, they are often treated as toys or pets. Later, they are abandoned when they become stronger than their owners.
According to the Jane Goodall Institute, between 2007 and 2012 about 150 chimpanzees were sent to China with false permits. Goodall said chimpanzees are still arriving in China and much has to be done to stop the illicit trade in wildlife.
Most dangerous enemy is man
The WWF says chimpanzees have already completely disappeared in four African countries, where previously there had been larger numbers, for reasons including deforestation and trafficking, as well as commercial hunting for bush-meat.
In Congo, Cameroon and other areas in Western Africa chimpanzees are still being killed for food, according to Ape Action Africa (AAA), while in Mefou, Cameroon, an estimated 3,000 gorillas are said to be butchered every year.
Goodall explained that some of the animals are trapped in snares by humans, who are hungry for bush meat. "They get caught in the snares that are set up. In the old days these snares were made up of vines which they could break, but now they are wire. So as the chimp pulls and pulls trying to get free, it cuts into the flesh and the noose gets tighter and tighter. Very many chimps who survive have lost a hand or a foot," she said.
Sanctuaries are a place of hope
Places like the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary are vital in ensuring the survival of the species. The sanctuary was founded in 1993 by Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Jane Goodall Institute.
A nostalgic Goodall explained that it brings her joy to see the chimpanzees thriving in social groups: "The chimpanzees have got older, I have got older but all my friends are the same, so it's very nice to be back," the 82-year-old primatologist said.
She noted that tens of rescued chimpanzees from Central and West Africa need such a place where they can live in peace and heal their wounds. "They can't be put back in the forests, sometimes they are kept in zoos and that is very miserable because these zoos in West and Central Africa don't have money and they don't really understand animals. So to put the chimpanzee in the sanctuary is the only option."
Conservation training is the key
The primatologist said the key to saving endangered animals lies in training the generation of the future to look after these them better than has been done before. During her stay in Kenya she also opened an education center to teach youth about conservation.
At the end of the visit, the Grand Dame of conservation insisted on having her friends all to her herself for a little while. She squatted to greet her old friend Niyonkuru with bananas, pawpaws and other fruits. As she handed out tasty gifts to the chimpanzees, her face radiated the joy of being reunited with some old friends after so many years.