Toto has just turned two! And, he has been in our care (specifically, under the care of Janis Carter of the Baboon Islands Chimpanzee Sanctuary in The Gambia) for almost two years. While captive apes are generally a year ahead of their wild counterparts in skeletal & physiological development, Toto seems to have gone above and beyond! He is almost as large as juvenile Fongoli chimpanzee Cy, who will be turning five this year!
While Toto's excellent health and large size will help him in some ways to adapt to a social (chimpanzee!) environment, he is technically still an infant. We are currently working with Senegalese authorities to determine Toto's next home, and this will be decided - hopefully - by the end of the year.
In preparation for Toto's next home, we have been taking him out "en brousse" (out in the field) almost daily when possible. He is quite the expert at tree climbing although he does often walk bipedally, most certainly because he is imitating his human caretakers! He has outgrown being able to associate with his feline companions - he is just too rough - and we are looking forward to being able to introduce him to other chimpanzees.
We plan on caring for Toto indefinitely if necessary - for example, if his permanent home will be in a sanctuary that either already exists or one that will be built. To that end, we will be introducing various fundraising campaigns, such as calendar sales (see photo of handsome Fongoli chimp Bo on a sample calendar page!). We also hope to use Toto's story to raise awareness about chimpanzees in Senegal, where most of the country's apes live outside of officially protected areas.
Given the increase in mining activity in this country, chimpanzees will inevitably come into contact with humans more frequently, and educating Senegalese and others on the complexity, intelligence and remarkably humanlike aspects of chimpanzee behavior will help prevent persecution of this species in an increasingly populous area. We think that Toto's story will resonate with people, and the opportunity to share his story via workshops and other ways is only made possible by the kindness of generous donors such as yourselves!
Good news on Toto's progress - he is still growing rapidly! He weighs almost 40 pounds now and is not yet two years old! He has been going out "en brousse" (into the wild) about twice a week to learn more about the environment into which he was born and to familiarize him with chimpanzee wild foods. He will be two years old in August, and this is the time around which we've scheduled our decision as to Toto's future.
After two years of age, it is possible for a young chimpanzee to live on foods other than milk. This means that, theoretically, Toto could go back to the group that he was born into - the Fongoli community of chimpanzees, the study group habituated to the presence of observers beginning in the year 2001 and continuing until today.
However, Toto would still need to be carried, protected and given food in some cases where it is too difficult for a young chimp to get access to a certain food. The hard-husked shells of the Baobab fruit, for example prevent young chimpanzees from accessing the fruit pulp, but this is a very important food source for chimps in Senegal. Even though Toto's older sister Aimee had been weaned when their mother Tia died, she was not yet big enough to reliably and efficiently process baobab fruits, and other chimps in the group shared theirs with her, especially the older adult males. Even though Toto is very big for his age (3 or 4 times larger than a wild chimp of the same age!), he would not be strong enough to access some foods, and he would need to learn many, many techniques when it comes to foraging for food on his own.
Another obstacle to releasing Toto into the wild concerns the influx of many more people into southeastern Senegal as part of the current "gold rush". Toto has much less fear of humans than even the best-habituated Fongoli study group chimpanzees, and this could be problematic for him. People coming to Senegal to look for gold do not necessarily have the same taboos against hunting and eating apes that the Senegalese have. Finally, in considering Toto's fate, we must consider most prominently the fate of the chimpanzee social group that he would be introduced to. We have consistently kept Toto as isolated as possible from humans other than a few caretakers. It is crucial to ensure that Toto would not introduce any diseases or illnesses to a wild chimpanzeee group that he contracted from living in close proximity to humans, as chimpanzees can acquire many of the same illnesses as humans, but they do not have the same immunity to them as we do.
With these obstacles in mind, especially the influx of people into Senegal as part of the gold rush, we have also come up with different options for Toto. These could include keeping him in a semi-captive situation such as you find with chimpanzee, gorilla and bonobo sanctuaries in various places in Africa. He will definitely be introduced to other chimpanzees, as this is perhaps the most important part of a chimpanzee's life (being social) after their basic needs have been met. We hope to be able to reveal our plan for Toto by the end of this year and start working to make it a reality. Currently, he is still living in Kedougou, under the care of Janis Carter and with his two "fathers", Ousmane and Pelel.
Without a doubt, Toto is a very confident as well as a strong and precocious young chimp - he did not go through the trauma that other ape orphans usually go through when they are brought into a captive situation. Toto was simply retrieved by humans he knew after his mother died and no other chimpanzees found him. We are all very intrigued to see how Toto's confidence translates into a social situation with other chimpanzees! Stay tuned for future updates!
I was lucky enough to be able to visit with Toto briefly at the beginning of January, when I spent a week at my study site in Senegal to see how things are going. We have a period in which we quarantine ourselves (for a two-week period) following international flights, so that I was unable to interact with Toto since the appropriate amount of time had not passed. However, I was able to visit him and observe him briefly as well as speak with his main caretaker. Of course, Janis Carter is his official caretaker, and he is constantly being monitored regarding his health and development.
Toto is now one year and four months old, and he is VERY healthy! In terms of size, he is the same size as the five-year old wild infant "Cy" in my Fongoli study group. This year, Toto will theoretically be able to survive on his own, by eating foods that wild chimpanzees do, even though infant chimpanzees in the wild usually nurse for around four years. Reintroducing Toto to his natal group or to another group in Senegal are definite possibilities that we have in mind for Toto's future, but there are also other possibilities, such as sending him to an established chimpanzee sanctuary or perhaps building a chimpanzee sanctuary in Senegal for the handful of captive chimpanzees in this country that are in the zoo in the capitol city of Dakar.
Toto is adept at climbing now and sometimes walks bipedal - likely because all of his role models in recent history have been humans! We hope to be able to soon introduce Toto to members of his own species but of course do not want to do so before he is ready. Given his rapid development, we are hopeful that he will be a dominant force in any group to which he is introduced! Without your kind contributions, we could not have taken in this orphan and cared for him as we have. Please stay tuned for more news of Toto's future!
Orphan chimpanzee Toto has just turned one year old, and he has been in our care for just under one year. He was orphaned at the age of 2 months after his mother died from a lethal snakebite and no other chimpanzees were in the area that could adopt him. With your help we have been able to assist with Toto's care. He is currently living in the town of Kedougou, Senegal, which is only about 10 miles from where he was born, in the Fongoli community of chimpanzees. He is in the charge of Janis Carter, who has a chimpanzee sanctuary in The Gambia (Baboon Islands National Park Chimpanzee Sanctuary), and his care is funded in large part by Friends of Animals organization, which works closely with Janis.
Janis has been caring for orphan chimpanzees in West Africa for more than 30 years, and Toto has 2 full-time caretakers, which means he is never alone. This is crucial for young chimpanzees, as they are never out of contact with their mother during their early years. In fact, if Toto were still with his mother, he would be nursing for another several years. We will likely have to keep Toto for at least another year, unless there is an opportunity for him to be adopted by a female that has lost her own infant & could still nurse Toto. We are constantly assessing the options available for Toto and are ready to act should an opportunity for him arrive. Toto is very healthy, being more than twice the size of a wild chimp his age, and he fortunately did not suffer the degree of trauma most ape orphans do when they lose their mother. Most infant apes are acquired after their mother has been killed, and they are kept in sub-standard conditions until they are fortunate enough to be confiscated by someone who can send them to sanctuary. Toto was of course traumatized by the death of this mother, but he was rescued soon after by humans he seemed to recognize (members of our Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project research team), and he was comforted for some time by his older sister Aimee who, unfortunately, could not have taken care of him given she was only 4 and a half years old herself.
We are very optimistic regarding the ultimate fate of Toto, and we could not continue caring for him were it not for the generosity of donors like yourself! Please follow the links provided to see some video of Toto as he explores wild plant foods for the first time and clips of him going out to "the bush".
Orphan chimpanzee Toto was rescued by Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project staff after his mother was found dead of a snakebite last November 2012. Toto was 2 months old at the time and would be dependent on his mother for several more years, minimally. None of the other chimpanzees of the Fongoli group found Toto that day, and it is unlikely he would have been adopted by a female of the group, as all healthy females had infants of their own. We are helping experts in the care of orphaned chimpanzees (specifically, the West African Chimpanzee Foundation) with the care of Toto and hope to provide him the best life possible given the tragic loss of his mother.
Since Toto is so young, he must still be fed milk but is also eating fruits such as mango and banana. Last week he was introduced to wild foods that are currently being eaten by members of the Fongoli group, in which he was born. He immediately tasted the fruit and spit out both fruit skins and seeds, which is exactly how the Fongoli chimps eat these same fruits. Toto is growing very rapidly given the healthcare he is being provided and he appears to be larger than wild chimpanzees of his natal group that are more than twice his age. This bodes well for Toto's ultimate placement, whether that will be in the wild or with other chimpanzees in a different type of setting.
We are planning on taking Toto out to "the bush" soon (or "savanna school" as we call it), as we made similar trips with him during the dry season. He is adept at climbing now and probably ahead of a chimpanzee his age in terms of walking independently. He already appears to be interested in 'displaying', which in chimpanzees often includes dragging and throwing objects!
Project Toto has benefited greatly from the generous donations of people concerned with the welfare of him and his brethren in Senegal and across Africa. Since it is possible that Toto may be in the care of humans for another year, we continue to raise money to cover the cost of full-time caretakers as well as food and medicine. Thanks to those who have made a difference for Toto!
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