Creating new worlds for Liberia’s abandoned chimpanzees — Photographers Without Borders

Chimpanzees are more like their human cousins than most people imagine. More like us than the New York Blood Centre – who has abandoned 66 chimps in Liberia after 30 years of biomedical research – would like to acknowledge. They are almost identical in their emotions, their need for companionship and care, and behaviour. And that’s why wife and husband team Jenny and Jim Desmond will be spending a year of their lives caring for the colony on the ground in Liberia. While experiments on the great apes ceased a decade ago, funding for their ongoing care was finally cut this year. The situation chimps faced on their own has been described as disgusting – especially given the species’ extreme intelligence. Jenny Desmond says the group was “retired” in 2006, and sent by the New York Blood Centre to an island without natural food or water sources. Feeding was provided every other day, but that wasn’t enough to prevent the deaths of many members of the group. The Humane Society of the United States has since stepped in, alongside a coalition of 30 other welfare organizations, to provide a nutrient-rich diet. They are also funding the Desmonds’ trip to Liberia this October when they will tackle a more long-term strategy for care and rehabilitation. “We hope to immediately implement some on-the-ground changes such as twice-a-day feedings, better birth control, vet care and some basic chimp rescue strategies,” Jenny Desmond says. “Over the next year, long-term plans include improvements and ongoing care for the chimps on whom the research was conducted, help for illegally-held captive chimpanzees throughout Liberia, improved law enforcement, and working with both local and international partners on the establishment of conservation awareness and education programs for the country as a whole.” Photo by Jenny Desmond There are also hopes for the development of another, larger island for the abandoned chimps, a haven that would also be available to additional apes confiscated by law enforcement in the future. Jenny and Jim – both wildlife conservationists – have a long-standing affinity with chimpanzees, a relationship that began with a chimp orphan named ‘Matoke’ in Uganda in 2000. Two-year-old Matoke came to the Desmonds severely dehydrated, malnourished and terrified. He had been confiscated from people who had been keeping him as a pet after his parents fell victim to the bush meat trade. “Chimpanzee orphans have almost always been witness to the murder of their mothers and other family members, kidnapped, chained up and kept in squalid conditions before getting to a sanctuary setting. They require round-the-clock care, just as a human child, living, eating, playing, sleeping with caregivers until a time at which they can be integrated into a group of other previously orphaned chimpanzees.” Photo by Jenny Desmond In the wild, chimpanzee babies stay with their mothers for up to five or six years and often remain in the same families for life. After the Desmonds helped Matoke through a three-month recovery and quarantine period, they were able to slowly reintegrate him into a chimpanzee sanctuary where he thrived and became Alpha Male of his family. Since then, the pair have cared for multiple chimpanzee orphans and adults and have worked with a number of different sanctuaries and animal welfare organizations. They’ve already spent time working with the chimps in Liberia, where they were able to bear witness to their remarkable transformation once the Humane Society became involved. “In the month we were in Liberia working with the dedicated local team already on the ground, we saw an extremely significant change in the chimpanzees’ body condition, weights, and most important, behavior. It was thrilling to see the chimps choosing which foods they preferred and relaxed when the boat approached.” If all goes to plan, they will help pave the road for the abandoned chimps’ full recovery and the creation of a place where they can live safely and well. “We are dedicated to protecting them in the wild and helping those forced into captivity to lead happy, fulfilling lives.”

Source: Creating new worlds for Liberia’s abandoned chimpanzees — Photographers Without Borders

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