Mbebo has become great pals with Motambo over recent months. Motambo is a chimpanzee who came into the sanctuary with some of the worst injuries that our staff have ever witnessed. When Motambo first arrived, he was suffering from a broken collarbone, serious injuries to his left wrist and hips, injuries in his mouth and a severe case of tetanus which was causing him tremendous pain. Motambo spent the first 12 months recovering from his most serious injuries with La Vieille’s group, as he still needed to take it easy and had a fine fracture in his wrist that would take longer to heal. Once he was fit enough, Motambo was transferred to Mbebo’s group and they have been pals ever since. Each day, Mbebo’s group goes into the forest to play. Motambo, who is more cautious and unsure about leaving the enclosure than the other chimpanzees in his group, usually stays behind and refuses to join his friends on the walk across the grassland to the forest. This was fine with the caregivers; they are willing to let every chimpanzee progress at his own pace, but they still encouraged Motambo to join them. This meant that every day, Mbebo was torn between wanting to go with everyone to the forest or staying behind with his friend. Group 4’s daily forest walks are an important part of their education: not only does it provide them with enrichment and play opportunities, it allows them to learn about forest foods and to gain strength and stamina climbing and playing in their natural habitat.
Sometimes Mbebo would decide to go to the forest, then once he got there, would start crying to the staff, which they knew meant he wanted to go back to the enclosure and hang out with his friend Motambo! So the staff would have to walk back once again to let him spend time with Motambo. For the last two months, the caregivers have been working with Motambo to build up his confidence. Every day, they offer him the opportunity to leave the enclosure and walk to the forest with them and the other chimpanzees of Group 4. But last week, Motambo finally drummed up the courage to go with his friends to the forest! What a relief for Mbebo, who now has the best of both worlds. He can hang out all day with his best friend, and get to be in the forest with the rest of his group.
The time has finally come … Yoko has been transferred to Tchibebe Island! This was very exciting for all of the JGI staff at Tchimpounga. Yoko has required a different housing arrangement because he is very prone to escaping his enclosures. Kefan, his best friend, had left for the islands a few months earlier. To move Yoko to Tchibebe, JGI staff had to put him under sedation so that he could be placed in a transportation box to take the 13kms road journey, and then the 12km river journey, to reach the island. Once Yoko reached Tchibebe he was integrated with some of his old friends from Group 3. A few days later he was integrated with the rest of the group and was allowed to venture into Tchibebe’s forest. He seemed a bit insecure and fearful of the other chimpanzees, even though they were not bothering him.
Though he immediately took to being back in the forest and seemed very comfortable in this environment, Yoko has been spending all of his time alone and avoiding the others, which is unusual. We hope that little by little, Yoko will adjust to living in a larger community of chimpanzees. It must be a bit of a shock to go from with living with only three others to suddenly living with 20 other chimpanzees. Over time, we hope he will be as comfortable with his new chimpanzee family as he appears to be with the forest.
Kudia continues to adapt to life in her new home on Tchindzoulou Island. To ensure her safety and the safety of the other chimpanzees on the islands, JGI caregivers continue to follow and watch Kudia and her companions as they roam through the forest.
There are always three or four caregivers following the chimpanzees, who sometimes split up and go in different directions. Several times a day the chimps receive supplementary food, which is delivered by boat. The caregivers ensure that each chimpanzee receives their daily amount. The food is prepared at basecamp, which is located on the river bank opposite Tchindzoulou Island. When the chimps hear or see the boat departing from the basecamp, they know that meal time will not be far away!
Kudia and her friends still receive supplemental food from JGI staff every day on the island. Their daily diet consists of bananas, papayas, oranges, grapefruits, pineapples, watermelons, potatoes, peppers, cooked rice, soya mash and some vegetables. All of these delicious foods provide vitamins, proteins and the nutrition necessary to ensure that the chimps remain healthy and strong. Caregivers prepare all food carefully in the camp. Fruits and vegetables are washed one by one to avoid contamination with bacteria from human world. It is necessary to pay attention to this because chimpanzees are genetically similar to humans, and are therefore susceptible to contracting human diseases.
Once the food is prepared, the caregivers put it into plastic boxes and then on to a boat which travels through the Kouilou River to the riverbank of Tchindzoulou Island. Kudia waits impatiently and all of the chimpanzees grow excited for their meal, embracing and screaming as they anticipate receiving their treats. Kudia, while one of the youngest in the group, has managed to rise to a higher level in the hierarchy and so demands a lot of respect from her fellow chimps, who allow her access to the food before others who are lower in rank than herself.
Wounda and Kudia have become friends since they arrived on the island. Chamayou, who is the new head caregiver, gives each chimpanzee their portions of food. Sometimes the chimps check what is available first, and if they do not like what he is offering them, they will wait for the pieces they want! There may be for example papaya, bananas, watermelon and boiled sweet potatoes on offer. Kudia fills her mouth quickly with bananas while other chimpanzee push her aside to get closer to the food.
Once everyone has received their food, they relax and recline on the riverbank, under the shade of the trees. Tchindzoulou island is approximately 13 kms (8 miles) from the mouth of the Kouilou River, and by midday the offshore breeze travels up the river, providing a cool breeze for the chimps and staff alike. Wounda and Kudia rest on a large branch and groom each other, taking the time to carefully search for any dirt and debris that could be in their hair. Grooming is not only done for hygiene, it also helps create strong bonds between individuals.
Workers have started construction on the large dormitory for Tchindzoulou. This dormitory will be very large and is planned to accommodate up to 70 chimpanzees. Its footprint is 15 meters (45’) by 36 meters (108’). The presence of the builders on the island has created a lot of interest from the chimps. So much so, that the JGI team decided to send some of them over to Tchibebe to join the larger group there. Silaho, Tambikissa, Ouband and Ngaou have all moved sites and are now integrated into the Tchibebe group and are doing wonderfully. We plan to move all of the chimpanzees in the same way so that they can be at peace, while giving the construction team the freedom to work without worrying about chimps nearby in another enclosure.