1. Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary; Pointe Noire, Congo
2. Lola ya Bonobo, Bonobo Sanctuary; Kinshasa, DR Congo
3. Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary; Entebbe, Uganda
Sanctuary and researcher collaboration benefits everyone.
The Wild Infant Problem
Wild bonobos and chimpanzees are critically threatened. While Africa struggles to develop economically, the remaining unprotected bonobo and chimpanzee habitats are being destroyed and the apes living within are killed.
The only surviving bonobos and chimpanzees from such populations are infants who are taken off dead mothers to be sold as “pets” within Africa or on the international black market. The trade of these infants then fuels the demise of other wild ape populations as some try to profit by obtaining and selling more infants.
Most infants die within days of capture, but those that survive face a difficult life. “Cute” babies of both species are wild animals and can never be tamed – inevitably leading to extreme psychological and physical abuse when owners can no longer manage them (i.e. apes quickly learn to bite people).
The Sanctuary Solution
Goverments in Africa have created laws banning the capture and sale of bonobos and chimpanzees. Sanctuaries were created to offer lifelong care to those individual bonobos and chimpanzees that were confiscated as a result of such laws. (PASA - The Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance: http://www.pasaprimates.org)
Without sanctuaries laws protecting wild apes from capture 1) could not be enforced and thus would do little to stop the trade of live infants or 2) would require euthenizing confiscated apes.
Today there are 17 sanctuaries in 12 countries. Together they provide lifelong care for over 1,000 wild born apes and economic benefit to many Africans. The majority of these sanctuary apes are infants and juveniles.
The Aging Lab Problem
Largely due to expense, most great ape laboratories outside the United States have been closed. For most researchers laboratory expenses and administrative requirements have proven insurmountable. For example, the high cost of improving aging facilities for innovative long or short term projects that do not focus on human health is prohibitive.
Remaining U.S. centers only house chimpanzees with no possibility for comparisons between ape species. The three commonly recognized chimpanzee subspecies have not been maintained as separate populations so that subspecies comparisons are not possible. Laboratory populations consist almost entirely of adults and are quickly aging due to a ban on breeding since 1997 in facilities receiving U.S. federal funding.
The majority of chimpanzees in laboratories were reared and live in environments that do not resemble those where wild populations live and evolved . Most live in simple concrete cages using the decades old design of Robert Yerkes – a design produced before any studies of wild chimpanzees had been conducted.
Sanctuaries for Solutions
There are 17 sanctuaries in 12 countries each with populations ranging from 20-120 apes. Sanctuaries manage apes at a fraction of the cost of laboratories. This means relatively small grants for all types of non-invasive work can accomplish a lot. Thus, innovation is aided since, for example, it is easy to remodel workspace for short or long term projects.
All ape species (including the largest population of captive bonobos in the world – with over 40 individuals!) are represented in sanctuaries. Subspecies as a rule are maintained as separate populations so that all three chimpanzee subspecies can be compared. While breeding is controled, the majority of individuals in sanctuaries are infants and juveniles.
Day enclosures for large social groups offer apes large tracks of tropical forest that can be as large as 40 hectares (100 acres). This means apes you will study are reared and live in environments highly similar to those for which apes evolved to thrive mentally and physically. Thus, the housing standards arguably exceed anything that exist outside of Africa.
Learning from sanctuary apes benefits both sanctuary and wild apes
People better protect what they understand
A new ethical standard can be set for work with captive apes
Researchers are another resource to ensure the welfare of sanctuary apes
Behavioral research provides an additional form of enrichment
Since 2004 researchers from all over the world have been working with PASA sanctuaries. Duke University, The Max Planck Institute for Evolutonary Anthropology, Harvard University, St. Andrews, Kyoto University are among those carrying out successful research programs at sanctuaries.
Sanctuaries recognize the importance of learning about their captive populations through non-invasive techniques that can enrich or improve the lives of their animals. This includes studies of chimpanzee behavior, cognition, disease, morphology, physiology and genetics.
Continued success will depend on whether future researchers approach sanctuaries respectfully, with a collaborative spirit and genuine interest in ape welfare and conservation. If they do, sanctuaries will become the worlds finest resource for improving our understanding of the great apes in the decades to come - to the benefit of all!