In Gabon, the long road from orphaned monkeys to the wild

Franceville (Gabon) (AFP) – The negotiation failed. In the car that is leaving, the faces are closed. Suddenly, a man appears and blurts out, “It’s good. Come and get your monkeys.” The owner of two small mandrills has given in, the Save Gabon Primate Association will leave with the two orphans.

In Gabon, a small Central African country covered almost entirely by rainforest, the mandrill is a protected species, like the gorilla and chimpanzee. The law prohibits hunting, capturing, selling or keeping.

However, their meat is still in demand and many families make them their pets, often babies that hunters keep to sell.

Sensitize, listen, persuade: Dr. Thierry Tsoumbou, a 34-year-old veterinarian, head of the association’s Rehabilitation project, has experience in exercise.

In Moanda, 700 kilometers east of the capital Libreville, he sat apart from the house with the owner of the two chucks.

A dozen men surround them, cautious and nervous.

“I came to get your monkeys because the law prohibits keeping them at home since 2003. Otherwise, the authorities will come and take them by force and you will have to answer”, he explains to the owner. Before starting a difficult negotiation:

“How much are you giving us?

– We don’t give money. This is for your own good and for the good of the animal.

– If you don’t want to buy it, we prefer to release it in the forest.

– They are no longer used to the forest. If you release them, they will die. And these animals can transmit serious diseases to you. Do you remember Ebola? The disease was transmitted to humans by monkeys. »

– “Aggressive and uncontrollable” –

“And the more they grow, the more aggressive and uncontrollable they become,” the vet tries.

The atmosphere is tense. The wife weeps hot tears, feeling that Lucien and Lucienne, as she named them, will soon escape her.

Meanwhile, the two chucks run around their playground: an open-air garage where the wreckage of trucks is. Teenagers chase them, take them in their arms, put them on their shoulders.

“It is also and above all for their good”, summarizes Mr. Tsuumbou: “They are not pets. They need to live in groups in the forest.”

“Leave! Or compensate us!” says the owner.

The vet obeys. Only the Ministry of Water and Forestry can order animals to be apprehended.

The offense is punishable by several months in prison and a fine of up to 10 million FCFA (15,500 euros).

Penalties are very rarely applied, but the threat is usually enough to convince. At the last moment, the owner of the chucks changed his mind.

The monkeys are taken to the Center for Primatology (CDP) of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research de Franceville (CIRMF), about 60 kilometers away.

So begins his long journey towards a hypothetical return to the wild.

– Preparation for reintegration –

Quarantine first allows you to determine if they are carriers of diseases (Ebola, Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, etc.).

So orphans learn or relearn, from animal caretakers, the behaviors of their species.

“Hello dears,” murmurs Dimitri Mboulou, head of the nursery, tenderly. He lovingly hands the bottle over to two small chimpanzees, whose mother was killed by poachers.

“I teach them to wake up to life, as if I were a little bit their mother,” she explains.

After the isolation phase, young people join their peers and discover the social relationships that cement their new group, essential for survival in nature.

The CDP houses 350 monkeys of nine species. Orphans rescued from poaching, primates rescued from animal trafficking and former CIRMF laboratory test subjects.

“Each year, more than 50 are retrieved without even looking, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” says Barthélémy Ngoubangoye, president of the association and head of the CDP.

“Their ancestors have always hunted, the inhabitants consider that there is nothing wrong with that and that the conservation of these endangered species is a problem for Westerners”, laments the veterinarian.

“When an individual buys a baby chimpanzee, he supports the massacre of his entire group, that is, about fifteen individuals”, underlines Pauline Grentzinger, a veterinarian at the Lékédi Natural Park.

In this sanctuary, very close to Franceville, the last phase of rehabilitation takes place: a semi-freedom regime where the animals are followed until their eventual reintroduction into their natural environment.

“You need a viable group, no sick animals, in an area that can be monitored, no poachers, no other groups of chimpanzees, no humans around,” lists Grentzinger. A very difficult bet, successful a few times in Gabon.


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