Isabelle on Tchibebe Island
Isabelle was originally bought by a military person in Dolisie who purchased her from the bushmeat market sometime around 2006-2007. He was not aware at the time that it was illegal to do so. He then brought Isabelle to his home in Pointe Noire, keeping her in his backyard.
In 2008, the Isabelle’s owner died, and his wife, realizing she could no longer take care of this chimpanzee, contacted the wildlife authorities to ask if they could take Isabelle away. This was before the Jane Goodall Institute’s country-wide public awareness campaign in Republic of Congo and before wildlife authorities had begun their efforts to diminish illegal possession of protected species. The family was very lucky because the wildlife authorities were very lenient on them.
The authorities contacted the Jane Goodall Institute’s staff at Tchimpounga and asked if we could rescue the chimpanzee. Our staff arrived, to find a very frightened and confused young chimpanzee. Luckily for her, our staff are very experienced in handling chimpanzees and it was not long before Jean Amie, one of our key caregivers for infants had created a strong bond with Isabelle.
After her initial quarantine period, she was slowly integrated into the youngest group. Isabelle is one of those chimps that the staff believe is special. In fact, many staff members treat her as if she is a human. In the local cultural belief system in southern Congo, they believe when someone dies, that they transform into a chimpanzee. For many staff members, they truly believe Isabelle is such a chimpanzee. She is very intelligent, she is very gregarious, but did not always act like other chimpanzees in the beginning.
Because of Isabelle’s good social skills, she was selected to live with another chimpanzee, Podive, for two years, while he was recovering from an illness that meant he had to be isolated from other chimpanzees. Since we never leave a chimpanzee alone, the staff decided Isabelle would be the best companion for Podive.
Then, finally, Isabelle had the opportunity to join other chimpanzees on Tchibebe Island. Again, because of her excellent social skills and very intelligent manner, the staff felt she would adapt well to the new group and provide the stability it needed with additional females in the group. As expected, Isabelle adapted perfectly to her new environment and community. She gets along well with everyone. She is very social and with her intellect, who knows, in the future she could become a key female leader of her community.