Baby Chimp Orphaned by Bushmeat Trade in Africa, Airlifted to Safety by IFAW

Thursday, April 4, 2002
Yarmouthport, MA
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org) today announced that its Global Emergency Relief Team has successfully completed an international rescue mission to save a young, orphan baby chimpanzee from the Central African Republic (CAR) after he was found badly beaten and abused, and being kept as a pet in the capital city of Bangui.
The chimpanzee, nicknamed “Commando” and of the sub-species Schwienfurthii, is roughly two years of age, based on dental development, but due his poor state of health is so severely stunted in growth, that rescuers initially estimated him to be four months old. Poachers had killed his mother to fuel the growing illegal bushmeat trade, leaving him orphaned.

The African Rainforests and Rivers Conservation (ARRC), a U.S.-based conservation group working in CAR, initially removed the young chimpanzee from its abusive and illegal owner. He was found with his bottom teeth knocked out, scabies, lice, worms, a severely bloated stomach, and was given a 40% chance of survival.

IFAW’s Global Emergency Relief Team was contacted by ARRC and made urgent plans to transport the injured chimpanzee to Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in the world, in Northern Zambia, and where he can receive the long-term care needed.

“IFAW did not have to think twice before taking action to save this chimpanzee,” said Sarah Scarth, IFAW Global Emergency Relief Team Leader. “The bushmeat and illegal pet trade go hand in glove and are the greatest threat to the extinction of man’s closes relations, the great apes.”

Chimpanzees are native only to equatorial Africa and they once roamed in millions in 25 countries in the west and central parts of the continent. They are now extinct in four countries, close to extinction in five others and if hunting continues at present they may actually become extinct within the next 20 years. The total wild population is estimated at less than 200 000.

The biggest threat to the continued survival of the great apes -- a descriptive term that include chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos -- is the commercial trade and illegal hunting for bushmeat.

Additionally, an exploding human population and the destruction of natural habitat, have all contributed to the devastation of the great ape populations and other species. Commercial logging, often involving international companies, and agriculture have opened up previously inaccessible areas of the forest to hunters.

Commando began his journey to safety in Bangui and was then flown to Zemio, CAR where noted great-ape conservationist Karl Amman offered to transport him via a private charter to Nairobi. In Nairobi, Commando was met by IFAW’s East Africa Regional Office team, and IFAW consulting veterinarian, Dr. Nthethe Raditapole, who accompanied him on his final leg of his journey to Chimfunshi. At Chimfunshi, Commando will grow up with other chimps and will eventually be integrated into a family group and live a life as near to one in the wild.

Sheila Siddle, the co-founder of the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, said they were delighted that Commando had joined them, but added, “The sad truth is that Commando is just one of the many orphaned chimps out there that needs a home. Until human beings stop cutting down forests and killing chimps for meat, babies like Commando will always need our help.”

Chimfunshi was the only sanctuary in Africa able to offer the chimpanzee a home, as all others have been forced to close their doors to new orphans because they are operating at capacity, due to the huge number of chimpanzees orphaned each year by bushmeat poachers. In eastern Zemio district of CAR alone, more than 100 adult chimpanzees are estimated to be poached in the area each season. The young are captured and sold as pets, and when they get too big to handle, are often also killed for bushmeat.

Bushmeat, particularly the slaughter and consumption of primates, poses a public health risk not only to local communities but, potentially, to the rest of the globe as the sad trend for such exotic ‘delicacies’ grows.

“Because of the close genetic relationship between humans and great apes, diseases are easily transmitted across species,” said Jo Fielder, IFAW’s Global Emergency Relief Team veterinarian.

“HIV is thought to have entered the human population by this route and the World Health Organization has linked recent Ebola outbreaks to the slaughter of chimpanzees. Previously only isolated communities were infected but as carcasses are transported longer distances and increasingly into urban areas the threat of widespread infection increases dramatically,” she added.

IFAW has called for the bushmeat issue to be addressed at the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August and September 2002.

To learn more about IFAW’s Global Emergency Relief Team and Bushmeat campaign visit www.ifaw.org.

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