Guinea: The difficult battle to save chimpanzees from poaching

GEO.fr: How many chimpanzees have you already taken care of?

Celine Danaud: Over one hundred chimpanzees have been cared for at the Center de Conservation des Chimpanzees en Guinée (CCC) since its inception in 1997. We currently have 61 chimpanzees looking after the sanctuary.

Since 2008, 19 chimpanzees have been released into the wild and rehabilitated in the Haut-Niger National Park, which is considered a high point for the conservation of the subspecies found in Guinea, the Verus chimpanzee. Of all the chimpanzees rehabilitated since 2008, we currently have 7 wild-born baby chimpanzees in the released group that are still monitored by telemetry.

Among the 4 subspecies present in Africa, the Verus chimpanzee is currently an endangered species that, according to the IUCN, has been considered “critically endangered” since 2016.

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Rehabilitation of poached chimpanzees in the wild is an extremely complex exercise due to the special conditions of the species, the situation of these poached young animals, which are now without landmarks, and finally the availability of large territories. Demographic pressure and industrial activity lead to the reduction of forests and thus viable territories. Without territory, no rehabilitation is possible! Today, the CCC is the only sanctuary in Africa that performs releases in the middle of nature.

What are the steps to reintroduce a chimpanzee into the wild?

First of all, it takes years of hard work and patience!

The first stage is a quarantine of 3 months after their arrival, where we put the chimpanzee baby on its feet again, both physically and mentally.

At this age, the chimpanzee is usually stuck in its mother’s stomach all the time, so quarantine involves putting you in touch with a surrogate mother (our caregivers) to help the young animal feel valued, teach it the basics of life, and the basics of life. communication (such as de-lice). The healers will, for example, mimic chimpanzee vocalizations to encourage him to walk and eat, or to encourage him to move away from danger.

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The second phase, the “school of the forest”, is the integration into a social group of young chimpanzees, which will gradually be introduced to him. The animals go out into the bush all day, accompanied by trainers who will continue their learning. Social skills and the notion of hierarchy are beginning to take up more and more space.

Arriving in adolescence, the only thing that interests the chimpanzee is to go up in the hierarchy. He provokes the healers much more and is not interested in going out into the woods. We continue the rehabilitation program in large wooded enclosures (1 or 2 acres) and integrate it into larger social groups. The goal is for it to detach itself from man and find its place.

The center’s teams will then identify the people who do it best and rehabilitate them at the point of publication.

Guinea: Rescued from poaching gives birth to a female chimpanzee in the wild

Is poaching still very much present?

Yes, Guinea is also a hub for pet trade in West Africa. Like many other species, baby chimpanzees are captured to be sold on the international market as pets. Pet trade is the third largest traffic in the world behind drugs and weapons. We have seen many exits of baby chimpanzees to China, particularly facilitated by the presence of a port in Guinea, which amplifies illegal exports, but also to countries like the United States, where it is legal to own a chimpanzee.

Due to the slow reproductive system, the chimpanzee population declines faster when they are victims of poaching. It is estimated that out of 10 baby chimpanzees captured, only one survives the conditions of its capture, not including all the adults in the group that were killed during its abduction.

Poaching can also be associated with problems with conflicts over territory or food between humans and animals. The less forest there is, the closer the animals are to cities, the more this encourages conflicts with humans and also the transmission of human diseases that are fatal to the species.

After all, Guinea is still the country with the largest population of Verus chimpanzees, reinforcing the importance of our missions in the field and urgent action!

What are the physical and mental consequences that chimpanzees suffer after poaching?

In terms of physical sequelae, it is mostly malnutrition, skin problems, lead bullets. Some chimpanzees are deliberately abused and arrive with a broken arm, cigarette burns, an exploded jaw.

This was the case with one of our pensioners, who before his arrival at the sanctuary had been captured and tied up in a hotel. His opponents made him drink and smoke to distract tourists. When he managed to escape, they fired 7 bullets into his body.

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At the psychological level, we very often observe a huge loss of morale, a great deal of grief and a distrust of people. For the most part, baby chimpanzees arrive in a state of shock after seeing their mother killed or even eaten. As a social and very intelligent animal, this type of trauma inevitably marks.

Did an animal or a rescue mark you?

I am thinking of Léonie, a young female chimpanzee who arrived in an intensely depressed state and who did not try to cling to us at all. Quite rarely at this young age, because primates generally need to be reassured and seek contact quickly. At the same time, she also had this physical motor problem due to a cord that was stuck near her brain. Only antibiotics kept her in check. After months of struggle, we found a French neurosurgeon who agreed to come to the sanctuary voluntarily to operate on him under difficult conditions, in the middle of the forest and without electricity. Léonie survived this operation and is now fully integrated into a group of adult chimpanzees. It’s a big win for our team and for this woman who had, let’s face it, a small chance of survival.

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