GRASP and UN Peacekeepers Rescue Infant Chimpanzee in DR Congo

An infant male chimpanzee who contracted tetanus after being captured by poachers and suffered regular seizures as a result was airlifted to safety by United Nations peacekeepers this week in a transfer organized by the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP).

The chimpanzee, nicknamed “Sagesse,” which means “wisdom” in French, was delivered by a UN helicopter to the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Centre in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sagesse suffered such violent seizures that he was at one point reported to have died. His rescue and care were facilitated by Congolese wildlife authority (ICCN) veterinarian Dr. Kizito Kakule, who worked closely with GRASP to deliver him from the remote Pinga region — which is an area troubled by rebel armies and civil conflict — to the Lwiro sanctuary in South Kivu.

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) forces stationed in Central Africa are mandated to protect the region’s biodiversity, and often assist GRASP in the relocation of illegally trafficked great apes.

“Once again, GRASP owes a debt of gratitude to our United Nations peacekeeping colleagues,” said GRASP programme coordinator Doug Cress. “MONUSCO’s commitment to ensuring the long-term survival of DR Congo’s endangered species and their habitat mirrors that of GRASP, and we are pleased and proud to be able to work successfully together.”

MONUSCO maintains a force of approximately 20,000 troops and police in DR Congo. GRASP, which is based at the U.N. headquarters in Kenya, has worked with U.N. peacekeepers to relocate orphaned chimpanzees and gorillas to rehabilitation centres since 2011.

Many chimpanzee orphans, separated from their families and kept in deplorable conditions, succumb to their injuries and trauma. Although Sagesse was reported to have died midway through GRASP’s negotiations to bring him to a sanctuary, the envoy sent to recover the body found the chimpanzee to be alive — although his condition was grave and deteriorating quickly.

Sagesse arrived at Lwiro still in a weakened condition, and appeared to have lost the use of one of his legs due to the tetanus. He is receiving intensive veterinary care from the Lwiro staff.

At Lwiro, Sagesse will be placed in quarantine before being allowed to join the other 66 chimpanzees at the centre’s facility in Bukavu. Lwiro opened a four-hectare forest enclosure in 2014, and a new infant chimpanzee nursery facility in 2015.

Orphaned chimpanzees like Sagesse are representative of a larger problem of unchecked poaching in rural regions of DR Congo. Pinga, in particular, because of its remote location and frequent rebel activity, has been the source of a number of chimpanzee and gorilla orphans currently living in sanctuaries in eastern DR Congo.

In 2016 alone, Lwiro has taken in seven chimpanzee orphans, indicative of the continually growing problem of illegal trade in the region.

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