At Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center we provide sanctuary for chimpanzee orphans whose mothers were killed for the illegal bushmea trade. IDA-Africa also wages an extensive campaign to stop the killing of all apes through education and law enforcement. Gorillas and chimpanzees are the victims we are trying to help, but there are indeed many others.
One Individual Casualty of the Bushmeat Trade ...
Told by Dr. Kim ten Damme, Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center volunteer from Holland.
One day in September 2006 we are asked to confiscate an ill chimpanzee at a logging company in East Cameroon. Orphaned chimpanzees at logging camps are all too common. Loggers are slashing roads deeper into the forest. This provides access to poachers who kill gorillas and chimpanzees for the bushmeat market. They then take any traumatized orphans to sell as pets.
At Sanaga-Yong Center, it is our commitment to rescue chimpanzees from the illegal pet trade. And so after a 10 hour drive through rainy-season mud, we arrived at the logging camp. What I saw there was shocking.
A tiny emaciated baby gorilla (not a chimpanzee as we were told) was lying on the ground. She was so thin…nearly comatose, temperature extremely low, respiration very bad, discharge coming from her nose and eyes, body covered in ringworm and rope burns.
I gave her the medications she needed immediately; intravenous glucose, antibiotics, fluids etc. Ignoring the contagious ringworm on her belly, I put her under my shirt on my bare skin to warm her.
Baby gorillas are very susceptible to stress and she was far too weak to survive the arduous journey back to Sanaga-Yong Center. We decided that I should stay overnight with her at the loggers camp in the hope she would gain enough strength to travel.
A baby gorilla is emotionally dependant on her caregiver and cannot be separated from her for even a few moments as this causes enormous emotional stress. They are so fragile that the stress alone can kill them.
The first night was very strange. Trying to sleep on my back with a very weak baby lying on my chest was quite a challenge. Every two hours the alarm clock beeped. Time for checks, medications and feedings.
The next morning I was exhausted but happy she was still alive. She was so weak though. Sometimes she seemed to be a bit better, not strong enough to sit yet but exploring a little bit and holding on to my shirt with her little hands, looking at me with her beautiful big brown eyes. Then as soon as I dare to hope, she sinks away. Her difficulties breathing and overall weakness seem to get the best of her. It’s clear she is still way too weak to take her away from this place.
It is surprising how quickly you get used to having a baby gorilla on your body for 24 hours a day. Going to the toilet, taking a shower, getting dressed, eating your dinner - always with a baby on your arm. The second night feels like I have never slept without her.
The third morning she is still alive though not improving. Despite all medical, nutritional and nurturing support she continues to falter. She is not strong enough to drink from a bottle so I still feed her with a syringe. I try to keep a bit distant because I know her chances are slim, but I just can’t help falling in love with this beautiful baby.
Another night in the loggers camp. Although they are nice to me, it’s hard not to see them as the enemy. Their presence here is too destructive. Trees being cut, trails being made and so opening up even the most remote parts of the forest to poachers. Animals, including chimps and gorillas, being killed. It’s here where it all happens, one of the victims lying on my lap as proof.
On the fourth day she is slightly worse.
That night she is very bad, her breathing labored. I hardly sleep at all, but at some point I must have dozed off, because she woke me up with her little hands grabbing my face and squeezing it. When I opened my eyes I saw her gazing into mine, seeming to beg me for help. I was feeling so helpless. I so wanted to help but knew there was nothing I could do for her anymore except comfort her. That look in her eyes. I’ll never forget it…
She manages to survive the night, but that fifth morning I just don’t dare to think one minute ahead. She is still willing to drink, but her body is getting weaker.
Later that morning the look in her eyes changes. Then, in my arms, a heartbreaking struggle for air. Knowing the hopelessness of the situation I still go through the protocol of CPR. Respiration stimulation medication. Mouth on nose. Heart massage….
Although in both my private life as well as in my work as a veterinarian I’ve seen many animals dying, nothing has been comparable to this: our intense contact during her final days, the exhaustion, the love for this little friend, but mostly the bitterness for the situation into which this poor baby came. She was a witness to her mother being killed. Ripped out of the arms of her dead body. Tied with a rope that cut her flesh for weeks. Caged alone without sufficient food. So cold yet still having the will to survive….
She deserved so much better.
And she is just one victim of the bushmeat industry.