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Sierra Leone News:Tacugama Sanctuary a refuge for orphaned chimpanzees

Chimps at Tacugama

Chimps at Tacugama

If the 75 chimpanzees housed in Tacugama Sacntuary could communicate with us, each would have a sad story to tell. They are all orphans, most of their parents having been killed for meat by poachers. Due to their irresistible cuteness, the orphaned chimpanzee babies would then be taken by humans as pets and deprived of an upbringing with members of their own species. They’re brought to Tacugama Sanctuary to heal, and if all goes well, one day return to the wild.
The sanctuary maintains a strong network to find abandoned and pet chimps, spreading the word throughout the community to report abandoned chimps to the sanctuary.
Once the chimps arrive, rehabilitation happens in a few stages. First is quarantine, which happens in a collection of cages near the entrance to the sanctuary. This is one of the few places in the sanctuary where chimps are kept behind bars. To prevent the chimps from bringing in disease that could infect the others, they are held for 90 days. When Awoko reporters visited, there were four chimps in quarantine. They screeched at the arrival of unfamiliar humans.
One recent arrival, named Lucky, was supposedly found on the Bo-Kenema highway. Moses Kappia, head of care staff at Tacugama, finds this story unlikely. More plausible is that whoever reported the chimp didn’t want to attract too much attention or scrutiny, he said.
From quarantine, the chimps are transferred to bigger cages with other chimps, so they can form social networks. “On the whole, it’s a very, very slow process,” said Kappia. Chimps are very territorial and reluctant to accept strangers, and because these chimps have been raised among humans instead of their own kind, they’re not used to other chimps. How long they stay in this area depends on the chimp or the social group that’s formed. Kappia said.
Once the chimps form a social group, they’re transferred from the cages to an open assessment area where they’re free to roam around, practice their climbing skills, and play.
The assessment area is an enclosure covered in black netting. An observation platform above is further protected by another layer of net. Chimps have sometimes thrown rocks at visitors, Kappia said.
A fight over food broke out in the enclosure. Chimps screeched and ran around excitedly, at one point surrounding one member of the group and raining blows on her.
“They have that habit of jungle justice, where they’re going to fight, the strongest always survives,” Kappia explained.
The enclosure is set up for assessment purposes, to observe fights such as these. Staff can intervene if the conflict gets out of hand. The enclosure is also designed for the staff to get to know the personalities of the chimps  who tends to be a bully and who gets picked on. This way when the chimps are eventually moved to the wider area with forest cover, the staff can have a better sense of how personal dynamics will play out.
Female chimps at Tacugama are sterilized with implants to prevent the population from getting out of hand. “We don’t want to release our chimpanzees into the peninsula forest, then people take advantage of the number…walk into the forest and look for bush meat,” he said.
Throughout the rehabilitation process, staff minimize human contact with the chimps, so that they will learn to be self-sufficient for when they are eventually released into the wild, and into a more normal life.
By Chetanya Robinson
Thursday July 28, 2016

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