Supporting the new Tchimpounga Chimpanzees Sanctuary, Tchindzoulou Island, Brazzaville, Congo
Project location: CONGO, Brazzaville
Project start date: January 2013 - Project end date: June 2013
Project number: 2012-104
Beneficiary: The Jane Goodall Institute
For the past 20 years, the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) has worked tirelessly to ensure the well-being of orphaned chimpanzees confiscated by the Congolese authorities in their efforts to stop the illegal commercial bushmeat and pet trades. They are cared for at JGI's Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center (TCRC), the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in Africa.
Established in 1992 with a protocol accord signed in partnership with the Congolese government, the TCRC is located 35km north of Pointe Noire, within the 18,000 acre (73km²) Tchimpounga Natural Reserve in Congo (which is also managed and operated by JGI). TCRC provides sanctuary for chimpanzee orphans, all victims of either the illegal bush meat or live animal trade. Over the past twenty years, 192 chimpanzees have called Tchimpounga home. Originally designed to provide sanctuary for 30 chimpanzees, JGI is currently caring for over 155, many of whom could rely on JGI for the rest of their lives - up to 60 years. It is absolutely critical that JGI expand its facilities for the physical and emotional well-being of the animals and the safety of the dedicated staff (42 people).
The current facilities as per the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) minimum standards are suitable for housing no more than 88 individuals. Currently, out of the 155, there are 142 individuals being housed within these facilities. The ability to expand to provide suitable facilities no longer exists at this site. Therefore, JGI worked with the Congolese government to expand the Tchimpounga Natural Reserve from 73 km2 to 523 km2 to include three islands in the Kouilou River: Tchindzoulou, Ngombe and Tchibebe.
JGI recently acquired the three uninhabited islands on the Kouilou River which is adjacent to the TCRC and within the expanded Tchimpounga Natural Reserve. With the cooperation and assistance of the Congolese Government and other partners JGI is now working to create an expanded and improved long-term site on these islands for the chimpanzees where they can continue to be cared for and given the chance to thrive and live happier lives in conditions reflective of natural chimpanzee habitat. JGI's long-term vision for the expanded TCRC also includes opportunities to educate local residents on environmental issues, and to generate tourist revenue which will assist in funding ongoing TCRC operations, and boost the local economy.
Each year, Tchimpounga is under attack from grass fires that are lit by local villages near or inside the reserve. Often these fires arrive at the sanctuary. On average, the staff at Tchimpounga will fight up to 10 fires each dry season, trying to protect the forests and the sanctuary from these fires.
Last October, JGI worst fears were realized when the fires completely engulfed Tchimpounga. The fire arrived on the west side of the sanctuary, near all the staff accommodation and first raged through the Base area of the Sanctuary.
Moving the larger chimpanzees to the new islands is our best option for ensuring their safety.
The three islands that have been acquired offer an ideal relocation and expansion site, with the following benefits:
• a more natural environment for the chimps to thrive in;
• improved security for both chimpanzees and humans, since chimps do not swim;
• a decrease in infrastructure costs and maintenance, since chimps can use the natural trees to build nest and entertain themselves with climbing and games;
• improved access and viewing for visitors with the development of an education and tourism element.
Most importantly, JGI will be able to provide a higher standard of captive care than the current site allows. The old site will be retained as a quarantine area and staging area for those chimpanzees deemed suitable for release back into the wild, a long-term goal of JGI.
This phase of construction is largely completed, though work on the fenceline and completion of the food preparation building is still to be completed. One enclosure was completed end of September and this has allowed us to move 6 adult females to the island. Workers continue to work on the other enclosures and buildings, though progress is now slow due to the rainy season commencing.
The original site is no longer suitable for these orphans. A new site, on 3 islands in the Kouilou River has been identified. It is planned that the Institute, with the co-operation and assistance of the Congolese Government and other partners will create an improved long term site on these islands for the orphaned chimpanzees that cannot be released back into the wild. The construction phase of the new island sanctuary will take 3-4 year to complete depending on funding availability.
To ensure the security of staff and chimpanzees, JGI needs to purchase a second smaller boat, six passenger boat, that can help with monitoring of the islands, and supply trips. Cost of care for the chimps is higher than if back at the old site, due to the need to transport supplies by boat 3 times a week and maintain the same number of care staff as if caring for a group of 30 individuals. JGI currently has two caregivers and a vet technician staying on the island caring for the 6 new arrivals.
There is urgent need to
• purchase the boat and engines in November
• and to ensure support for the chimpanzees over the next 6 months.
• Purchase life Jackets for all staff working on the islands is essential to ensure staff safety.
• Purchase backup energizers for the electric fence to ensure the power to the fenceline for all our enclosures is always secure. These energizers allow JGI to recharge the batteries from a generator, rather than being completely reliant on solar. Now that we are into the rainy season, loss of sunlight is an issue in retaining enough energy to maintain the fencelines at the voltage levels they require.
This project received a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation.
The new site will have the capacity to house up to 115 chimpanzees. Along with the old site, this will bring JGI's capacity to house individual chimpanzees up to 200 comfortably and within standards set by PASA. The official decree for the expansion of the reserve occurred in May 2011. The new island sanctuary will also provide an opportunity for ecotourism in the Kouilou Region as well as an educational opportunity to local residents. Patrolling will always be an essential part of the project to ensure sustainability to the whole plan. With no security people, chimpanzees and the fauna of the island would be at risk.