Rehabilitating Chimpanzees in Uganda

The hunter makes his way along a road driven deep into the forest by a multinational logging company. He sees his prey, fires his gun, and a fully-grown female chimpanzee falls to the ground. He will butcher the chimp’s body and sell it to whoever is buying – another victim of the lucrative trade in commercial bushmeat. The hunter will also grab the orphaned baby chimp that huddles by its lifeless mother to sell illegally as an “exotic” pet.

This tragedy is being repeated day after day in parts of Central and West Africa. The bushmeat trade is booming, the international demand for exotic pets has never been greater, and time is running out for the last of the great apes.

The Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda was established in 1998 to provide orphaned chimpanzees with a safe haven and to implement a comprehensive approach to chimpanzee conservation, from snare removal projects and education programs to eco-tourism and chimp habituation projects.

The Ngamba Island sanctuary is managed by the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT), a partnership of six trustee organizations committed to the welfare and conservation of wildlife – IFAW, the Jane Goodall Institute, UWEC, UWA, UWS, and ECOTRUST.

Currently home to 47 orphaned chimps, Ngamba Island Chimp Sanctuary is an uninhabited, densely forested island of about 40 hectares (99 acres), situated on the equator in Lake Victoria, 23 kilometers (14 miles) from Entebbe, Uganda. The island is large compared to most wild animal sanctuaries and provides a safe, nearly natural environment for the chimps.

The latest additions to the chimpanzee family in Ngamba are four infant chimpanzees (Cocoa, Minni, Sarah and Medina) rescued from the newly-formed nation of Southern Sudan. The all-female chimpanzees – all females – are orphans of the bushmeat trade and believed to have been smuggled into Southern Sudan from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Trust manages the sanctuary, coordinates numerous subsidiary and complementary projects, and covers virtually all aspects of chimpanzee conservation, including education and outreach projects, wild population censuses, and ecoturism.

In 2010, the Trust continued to improve and upgrade the facilities at the sanctuary. Another compartment was added to the holding facility to give the chimps more room. A new corridor leading from the holding facility to the forest was opened to the chimps and a new solar freezer to store blood and other samples in the veterinary clinic was purchased. An IFAW grant was recently used to buy one of two new speed boats that help with the vital transport to and from the island.

Although chimpanzees are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), as well as Ugandan and other national laws, they are still seriously threatened by illegal poaching for the exotic pet and bushmeat trades, and from expanding logging and agricultural activities.