Two chimpanzees that spent the past year living behind a supermarket in Kinshasa were airlifted by United Nations peacekeepers on 24 August to a permanent sanctuary in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in a joint effort between the Congolese wildlife authority (ICCN), Gorilla Doctors, the Lwiro Centre for Primate Rehabilitation (CRPL), and the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP).
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) in DR Congo flew the chimpanzees directly from Kinshasa to Bukavu in an Antonov An-26 cargo airplane that was returning from an aid mission. The U.N. support turned a 1,000-mile journey over extremely difficult roads into a smooth three-hour flight.
The chimpanzees - a five-year old male nicknamed "Kin" and a three-year old female nicknamed "Shasa" - were confiscated following the intervention of DR Congo's Minister of Environment. They will join the 55 resident chimpanzees at the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Centre and be integrated into natural social groups.
"As always, GRASP is extremely grateful to the MONUSCO officials who made this transfer possible," said GRASP coordinator Doug Cress. "MONUSCO's willingness to offer its resources and expertise on behalf of endangered great apes underscores its deep commitment to protecting the Democratic Republic of Congo's natural heritage."
U.N. peacekeepers have operated in DR Congo since 1999, and the current force includes over 20,000 military, civilian and judicial personnel authorized to help stabilize the region.
The U.N. has previously airlifted orphaned gorillas and chimpanzees in Central Africa on behalf of GRASP's conservation initiatives, including an endangered Eastern Lowland gorilla on 27 May that had been orphaned by poachers. The 2013 GRASP report, Stolen Apes, estimated that a minimum of 2,972 great apes are lost from the wild each year in Africa and Asia through illicit activity.
Kin arrived with injuries to his right hip, most likely sustained when captured from the wild by poachers.
"Having been in captivity for well over one year, these chimpanzees will require extensive rehabilitation," said Lwiro director Carmen Vidal. "They will be housed within our chimpanzee groups at the CRPL, once their one month quarantine period if completed. The CRPL also works in collaboration with the IUCN with regards to the Conservation Action Plan for the Kivu Landscape and as such has the long term goal of reintroduction of wildlife into their native habitat."
INSTITUT CONGOLAIS POUR LA CONSERVATION DE LA NATURE (ICCN) is DR Congo's wildlife authority. ICCN has a legal mandate to enforce the conservation laws that are designed to protect DR Congo's flora and fauna.
LWIRO PRIMATE REHABILITATION CENTRE (CRPL) was established by the ICCN and the Centre de Recherché en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN) in 2002 to provide long-term care to animals confiscated from poachers and illegal traders. The CRPL houses 55 chimpanzees and 75 monkeys, representing more than 10 different species.
GORILLA DOCTORS - which was formerly known as the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project - works in East Africa to monitor the health status of both Mountain gorillas and Grauer's gorillas and guard against disease outbreaks and transmission. The organization was the brainchild of gorilla expert Dian Fossey, and was founded a few weeks after her murder in 1985.
GREAT APES SURVIVAL PARTNERSHIP (GRASP) is a unique alliance comprised of 98 national governments, research institutions, United Nations agencies, conservation organizations, and private supporters working to protect great apes and their habitat in Africa and Asia. For more information, please visit www.un-grasp.org