I never thought I would be writing a blog from the Republic of Congo, but this is where I will call home for a few months.
Sam, another Taronga Keeper and I survived the 28-hour journey from Sydney to Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo. Staff members from the Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center (TCRC) were at the airport to meet us and drove us the last 40 kilometers from Pointe Noire to the Sanctuary where we will be staying.
As we drove into the Tchimpounga Nature Reserve, the Institute’s Debby Cox (a former Taronga Keeper) pointed out a large patch of forest where more than150 wild chimpanzees live. We then drove further up the hill to the Sanctuary base, where we were greeted with the sound of pant-hooting, which is a distinct chimpanzee call. The Sanctuary is home to 161 chimpanzees, the majority of whom have been rescued from the illegal commercial bush meat trade.
The first chimpanzee we met was “Motambo,” a five- year old who arrived at the Sanctuary two weeks ago. Motambo means “snare” in the local language, Lingala. Motambo was confiscated off a boat in Brazzaville and was critically ill with tetanus. His muscles had seized up and he was having regular convulsions. He also had a deep wound on his wrist from where he had been caught in the snare. In addition, he was missing a lot of teeth, probably from trying to free himself. Motambo also had a deep wound around his waist from where people had tied him up on the boat.
After a week-and-a-half of intensive treatment, Motambo began to improve and, with each passing day, he is slowly recovering, though his life will never be the same. Luckily the authorities were able to charge three of the people from the boat with illegally possessing an endangered animal. On our second night here, Motambo climbed up and sat between me and Sam. Motambo then put his hand up to my mouth and turned and did the same to Sam. This gesture is a friendly greeting in chimpanzee. It is incredible to me just how resilient these guys are and how strong their will to survive is. But it is even more incredible that they are still able to trust humans after what humankind have put them through.
Lately, Sam and I have been taking turns looking after Motambo at night. For the first month after new chimpanzees arrive at the Sanctuary, they have to be quarantined from the other chimps. Chimpanzees are very social primates and don’t do well if they are left on their own, so during this time they have to have human care 24/7. We each take turns staying with him to wake him from his nightmares and reassure him until he’s calm enough to go back to sleep.
I look forward to watching Motambo’s progress over the next few months. Hopefully, one day he will be able to go back to the forest, but until that time comes the Jane Goodall Institute will continue to lavish him with TLC.
Primate Keeper Katie