2 dollars for an orange – Saving Juma, Ezo and Congo
by Lois Guchu and Christine Anne Berger
For those of us, lucky enough to witness chimpanzees in their natural or simulated environments, we find ourselves fascinated by their human-like behaviors. Little do most of us know about the peril that the chimpanzee population faces. Stories about the dwindling populations of larger-size animals like elephants and rhinos make the news routinely, but the plight of these iminutive creatures that smile, laugh, and cry rarely makes headlines. In 1960, more than one million chimpanzees inhabited forests across Africa. Those numbers have dwindled to somewhere between 50,000 and 250,000.
Today many governments seem to be adopting policies in favor of wildlife conservation. Some countries have highly trained law enforcement components dedicated to wildlife protection. Although such measures have not managed to put a complete stop to poaching and other activities that endanger wildlife, they have contributed greatly to slowing it down. Almost 200 countries have joined Swiss-based CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The members commit to adhering to the international agreement that aims at ensuring that the international trade of animal specimens does not threaten their survival. Many of CITES member countries are in Africa. Still, chimpanzees remain on the brink of extinction.
Dornier 228 being prepared for a rescue mission during the late hours in Yambio on August 9, 2017.
In addition to other factors, two heartbreaking reasons chimpanzees are an endangered species are illegal animal trafficking and bush meat smuggling. Poachers attack and kill entire families of chimpanzees. The adults are harvested as bush meat and the babies that survive are sold as pets. Poaching is illegal across Africa, but curtailing the practice remains a challenge for local wildlife protection forces because of the amount of money people pay for the bush meat as well as for the live babies.
Human society has been chiefly responsible for the plight of chimpanzees; thankfully, humans are also the solution. Today, primate rescue rehabilitation centers and sanctuaries are growing across Africa. Established ape organizations, like the African Apes Foundation, routinely take on challenging rescue tasks, while operating with few financial resources. These organizations often rely on donations and grants to fund the purchase of equipment or to train staffers, such as caretakers. Collectively, rescue and rehabilitation centers care for hundreds of apes and monkeys.
For rescued primates, their new life of freedom begins something like an action-adventure movie. Firstly, the law enforcement agents must legally confiscate the primates from their captors. Secondly, a rendezvous with a highly skilled pilot, caretaker and the proper paper work must be organized in order for the mission to be a go. In addition, a hospice or sanctuary also needs to be readied to take care of their new members on arrival. Rescue flights often operate in potentially dangerous areas as many primates in jeopardy are held in zones where environmental or political disturbances can erupt unannounced.
Director General of Wildlife Kuol Mayen Mading (center left, white shirt), Wildlife Authority Senior Advisor Alfred Akwoch (center left with tie) and Chief CITES officer Khamis Ding (center right with blue shirt) arriving from Yambio with rescued chimpanzees Juba, Ezo and Congo in Juba, August 10, 2017.
When the Wildlife Authorities in South Sudan, for example, need to coordinate a rescue mission they call organizations like the African Apes Foundation to help in organizing the extraction of the primates. Sometimes it also works the other way around. It can be that the African Apes Foundation finds chimpanzees in need of rescue. When this happens, they call Wildlife Authority Senior Advisor Alfred Akwoch and Chief CITES officer Khamis Ding, both based in Juba, to help organize the legalities of confiscating the animals. It is important that rescue organizations function lawfully through the legal channels of the Wildlife Authorities and never pay for the chimpanzees so as not to encourage poachers. The South Sudan Wildlife Authority Senior Advisor Alfred Akwoch and Chief CITES officer Khamis Ding have always been and are still extremely supportive of chimpanzee rescue missions. They also have a very high success rate of placing the rescued chimpanzees in well-established sanctuaries thanks to the African Apes Foundation.
Recently Alfred and Khamis became aware of three young homeless South Sudanese chimpanzees in a potentially dangerous zone. Their names are Juma, Ezo and Congo. The three displaced boys lost their families due to poachers. Alfred and Khamis needed support and funds to rescue them so they called “Annie.” Her real name is Ann Olivecrona but she says, “everyone just calls me Annie.” Annie is a Zoologist based out of Kenya and is the director of the African Apes Foundation.
Annie is a networker par excellence. She organized all the necessary governmental approvals with Alfred and Khamis and then called on Graham Walsh, also known as “Twig.” Twig volunteered without hesitation to fly the mission with one of the Kasas Dornier 228s. He had been on several chimpanzee rescue missions before with Annie. They once saved a chimp named Marco from Yambio in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and more recently he flew Annie and four chimpanzees from Rumbek, South Sudan to Uganda. Annie says, “He has been a rock for us. Twig knows South Sudan like the back of his hand and therefore he can get in and out safely.” She continues, “It is impossible to drive the chimps as South Sudan is a conflict-ridden area, which is why we need the Dornier 228.” Twig is also one of the founders of Kasas Limited, a Nairobi-based charter airline that specializes in operating across varied, and often perilous, terrain.
“One of the first rescue flights I made with Twig convinced me how valuable the Dornier 228 is to our rescue missions. In fact, I remember how we practically mowed the grass with the Dornier 228’s propellers on what served as our landing strip, just so we could land!” Annie asserts, “Our goal on these missions is to fly in and then fly out with our precious cargo as fast as possible. The Dornier 228 is immensely helpful because we can rely on it for successful flights, even in unexpected operating environments, where practically no runways exist, where there is limited to no logistic support, and at times, where there are highly fluid political climates at work. The aircraft’s large, square-cut cargo door is an added plus, as it allows us to load the chimps in their crates as fast and as easily as possible, creating less stress for the animals throughout the rescue mission,” explains Annie further.
Kasas Limited co-founder Paul Antrobus, emphasises, “The rescue flights are all about speed and safety, for the chimpanzees and the flight crew, and we rely on the Dornier 228 for it all. We are also aware that the Dornier 228 can fly at low altitude, ensuring that the rescue chimpanzees can breathe easily as they’re taken to safety.”
Life for orphaned chimpanzees is fraught with challenges even after they are rescued. Experts believe that chimpanzees cling to memories of their lost loved ones. Building trust is a main focus for the rescue center caretakers. Rehabilitation is a long process. It may take years for a rescued primate to be well enough to begin a new life on his or her own in a sanctuary.
In response to this challenge, Annie must find sustainable solutions and funds for transport, lodging, medical, caregiving needs and more. In the case of saving Juma, Ezo and Congo, Annie asked her friend Ivo van Haren who manages the Acacia Lodge property in Juba. Acacia Lodge, owned by friend Stuart Herd, now provides a safe and playful home for the three chimpanzees.
Ivo and Stuart built houses and playgrounds especially for the “children.” The chimpanzees are just 3 and 4 years old and because they were orphaned they have no one to learn from. The keepers’ job to raise the three boys will be a dedicated one. The chimps are safe now but they need lifelong love and care. A chimpanzee can live to around 50 to 60 years old. Juma, Ezo and Congo love oranges and an orange in Juba is expensive, costing $2.00 each.
Director and Founder of African Apes Foundation Ann Olivecrona.
Human population expansion is slowly infringing upon natural habitats. This is the central issue posing a threat to the lives of chimpanzees and other primates. “In Africa, the population is growing faster than on any other continent,” reports the Jane Goodall Institute, an organization dedicated to the welfare of primates.
Besides population growth, the accompanying economic activities, such as logging exotic hard woods or commercial farming, have drastically diminished chimpanzee habitats. These activities deplete the soil of the minerals needed for trees to flourish, and forests fail to regrow fast enough to replace these primates’ natural home. Chimpanzees share 98% of human DNA: Consequently, they are at risk and prone to succumb to many of the same diseases that adversely impact humans, such as the Ebola virus.
Also of note is that chimpanzee populations do not grow quickly. Females have single births once every five years, which is why the population continues to decrease.
The effort to save these beautiful creatures is not a local, but global effort. The members of the African Apes Foundation do not take a salary so every cent donated goes directly to helping save chimpanzees and even buying them oranges. Helping people like Annie, Alfred, Khamis and Twig make a difference, akes a difference. One difference they made is successfully saving the life of three little chimpanzees on August 10th, 2017 but there are still more chimpanzees who need help. If you would like to help Annie’s African Apes Foundation (www.africanapes.com) buy things like $2.00 oranges, medicine, crate permits and flights, please contact her or simply donate electronically.
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