Recently, Sam and I were lucky enough to help with the release of four more chimpanzees on Tchindzoulou Island. Early on Thursday morning, Zimbana and Nzounzou were given a quick anesthetic so staff could complete the necessary health checks. After receiving clean bills of health from Rebeca Atencia, the sanctuary’s lead veterinarian, the chimpanzees were loaded into crates for our journey to Tchindzoulou Island.
Once we arrived at the island, we spoke with the care-givers there to find out where the six chimpanzees who had ben released in September were located. The care-givers distracted the six with food while we went to the other side of the island to release Zimbana and Nzounzou. The plan was to give the two girls time to become familiar with their new forest home before becoming aquainted with the others. Once released, Zimbana and Nzounzou flew out of their crates and straight up the nearest tree to take in their new surroundings. It only took a few minutes for one of the island’s residents, Silaho, to come see what was happening. The integration with Zibana and the others went well, however Nzounzou spent the night in the forest by herself.
On Saturday morning, two more females from Zimbana and Nzounzou’s group, Ngou and Tchivgna, were released on the island. Once out of their crates, the chimpanzees sought comfort from their care-givers. Ngou ran over and gave one of her care-givers a huge hug while looking around at her new forest home. The care-givers then walked both chimps into the forest to meet the rest of the group. The integration went extremely well, and later we were able to watch as all the chimps played together in the trees.During the week, the care-givers reported that Nzounzou was still spending time alone and hadn’t integrated with the group. The decision was made to move another chimp, Luc, to the island. Luc and Nzounzou were close friends back at the sanctuary and the staff thought he would offer comfort and support to Nzounzou. This strategy was a success. When Nzounzou saw Luc, she ran up to him and gave him a hug. Once Nzounzou saw Luc playing with the other chimpanzees, she became more confident and did the same.
There are now 11 chimpanzees living on the island. Once the second stage of the island construction is finished, many of the remaining sanctuary chimpanzees will be able to move to their new forest home and live in a large group just like they would in the wild. Yet, here on Tchindzoulou Island, they are safe from the poachers who took them from the forests years before.
- Taronga Primate Keeper, Katie