The Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre (TCRC) in the Congo first started caring for chimpanzees orphaned by the commercial, illegal bushmeat trade in 1992, nearly 20 years ago. Today many of the 161 chimps that the sanctuary cares for are adults and need a more natural environment to explore. In September this year the TCRC released the first six adult female chimpanzees onto Tchindzoulou Island. The island is 100ha of lush, dense forest, the perfect habitat for chimpanzees.
Today Keeper Sam and I had the opportunity to travel to Tchidzoulou Island to check on the chimps’ progress. We drove about 30 minutes from the sanctuary to a fishing village called Port Bas Kouilou, where a boat was waiting to take us to the island. The port was an interesting place. It was a Saturday so everyone was out enjoying themselves. There was a pub and even a cinema, which was basically an old broken down wooden shack. Today they were playing a Jean Claude Van Damme movie from the 80's and it was 150f to get in (30 cents AU). There were goats and chickens wandering past us searching for scraps of food on the ground, and endless blue and white taxis loading up with various things like bananas, wooden logs and water drums. They were so loaded up that the boot and often the doors wouldn’t close and the back end nearly dragged on the ground.
The half hour trip up river was beautiful, with lots of little villages scattered in amongst the thick forest along the rivers edge. I even saw an African Hornbill fly overhead.
As we approached the island we could hear the excited hoots of the chimpanzees. It was great to see all the hard work that Matt, Taronga Zoo’s Project Manager, had done earlier in the year. Matt worked with the sanctuary staff to build fences and facilities to accommodate the chimpanzees. It was even more incredible to see the chimpanzees, Kudia, Vitika, Silaho, Ouband, Tambikissa and Louise in their new forest home. They are now able to live in a semi-wild situation with their Jane Goodall Institute carers to watch over them and keep them safe. It is hoped that Motambo will be able to join them on the island when he finishes his quarantine period and once again be able to live as a chimpanzee, in the forest, where every day is a new adventure.
- Primate Keeper, Katie