In a landmark agreement with the Gambian government, Friends of Animals will help fund and support the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project, an island sanctuary located in the River Gambia National Park. It is home to some 80 chimpanzees, who live in relative freedom-without bars or cages-on three of the national park’s five islands.
Primatologist Janis Carter, who has worked with the national park’s chimpanzees for three decades, has been appointed the director, and will maintain the 1,500-acre, open-air sanctuary, while also working to protect the region’s habitat, provide local environmental education, and foster community development.
Many of the refuge’s chimpanzees were confiscated as orphans of parents killed by hunters for bushmeat or for zoos, the entertainment industry, or other forms of exploitation. Some were voluntarily relinquished by people who had unwisely tried to make them into pets.
Capturing young chimpanzees requires the killing of the mother and often other family members. Killing female chimpanzees with nursing infants reaps double gains for the hunter. The body of the mother is dried and sold for meat while the orphans are put on the commercial market. Only one orphan in ten survives the ordeal of transport.
But the chimpanzees in the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project now enjoy the national park’s gallery forest, woodlands, and swamp savannahs. The islands are also in the habitat of manatees, hippos, and highly endangered red colobus monkeys.
Friends of Animals’ support is crucial as it will ensure that the chimpanzees receive supplemental food for a complete diet and to prevent overstripping of the island vegetation by the chimpanzees. FoA will also ensure the health monitoring that is vital to the survival of these great apes.
The Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project established an environmental education program in the late 1980s to promote the survival of the chimpanzees and their habitat among local residents, and that initiative will continue under Friends of Animals’ partnership. The educational initiative has received financial support from the Netherlands Ecosystem Grant Program of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which will continue to provide the major portion of the funding for the next two and a half years.
Local schoolchildren take part in environmental education classes conducted by the CRP’s team of local instructors. Adult outreach is carried on through meetings that concentrate on local environmental issues. An education center will open in December.
Ecological conservation combined with employment for local people is important. So is the privacy of the island chimpanzees.
Tourism will be kept unobtrusive. While visitors in a boat might chance to view a curious chimpanzee at the edge of the islands, the emphasis is on respect for animals’ own ways of being, with activities such as birdwatching, hiking and cultural tours. A percentage of funds raised through tourism will be allocated to development and infrastructural projects for local villages in the vicinity of River Gambia National Park.
For three decades, this unique project has protected chimpanzees and their tranquil island homes. Recognized as the longest running rehabilitation project for chimpanzees, the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project is an inspiration to 20 other refuges throughout Africa. The future of the villagers is connected with the future of the chimpanzees, and the health of the land and waters. FoA is committed to a secure future for all.