Give Orphaned Chimpanzees More Room To Roam!

by Jane Goodall Institute

On the new sanctuary site of Tchindzoulou Island, the dormitory has been completed. This milestone will not bring great change to Yoko and his companions, who are already living on the island. So far this small group has had this giant island all to themselves, but from now on, they will have to share this space with a number of other chimpanzees who will begin arriving early in 2017. This moment will be crucial in the history of Tchimpounga. About one hundred chimpanzees will have the opportunity to enjoy the forested islands of Ngombe, Tchibebe, and Tchindzoulou.

This achievement has been the fruit of the support of the partners and donors of the Jane Goodall Institute around the world. Without them, these chimpanzees would remain in the rescue center's original facilities, which were too small to give every chimpanzee the room to play and explore that he or she needed.

Yoko, who is now one of the leaders of his group, will be challenged by other large males in who will arrive in the next transfers of chimpanzees. At the moment, JGI caregivers continue to take care of Yoko and his companions every day. Feeding them is important of course, but definitely presents a challenge. The caregivers have to approach the shore of the island carefully and dock the boat between two poles that are anchored to the bottom of the river. From there they are close enough to the edge of the water where they can unload the food for the chimpanzees, but far enough away that the daring chimpanzees, like Yoko, can’t jump in and steal all of the food for themselves. While he’s currently the alpha of the group, Yoko demands that he be first in line to receive food when it arrives. After January though, who knows if he will be able to continue making such demands!

In many of the chimpanzees who have moved to the islands, there is clear evidence that they are improving physically. Yoko is a perfect example of this. His body has now become quite muscular, especially in his arms and legs. His hair has become dense and shiny. His face is full of life and joy.

Zanaga on Tchibebe Island
Zanaga on Tchibebe Island

Zanaga is a female chimpanzee who now lives on Tchibebe Island with other chimps like Kefan, Kitoko, and Wounda. Zanaga is extremely intelligent, and is always discreet, quiet and observant. She tries to avoid conflict with other females, especially when times are tense, such as when the caregivers distribute food. Zanaga is fair when it comes to making sure that everyone has their share of food, but someone tries to steal hers she will defend her own share, surprising her  groupmates with her determination.

Kefan, the alpha male of the group, loves Zanaga, and protects her and treats her well. Sometimes when other males try to intimidate her, Kefan will arrive to defend Zanaga, lifting his body and ruffling his hair while swinging branches around trying to intimidate Zanaga’s aggressors.

Koukele is one of Zanaga’s best friends. They have been together for many years and have shared great adventures now that they are free to roam the island. Some mornings the two depart the group and go for a walk alone around the island to look for fruit. They also like to rummage through the rotten wood of a fallen tree to hunt for small insects. Chimpanzees are omnivores, and eat more than just fruits and veggies. They also eat other animals, including small monkeys.

Zanaga is a chimpanzee who has a knack for walking upright on two feet for long distances. This allows her to carry things with their hands and cross area’s that are flooded by rain. Caregivers often watch her doing this and think of the common ancestor that humans and chimpanzees shared once long ago.

Isabelle on Tchibebe Island
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.

Bailiele relaxes on Tchibebe
Bailiele relaxes on Tchibebe

When young Bailiele arrived at Tchimpounga in 2007, he came to a sanctuary full of young orphaned chimpanzees just like him. In that year, JGI took ten chimpanzee infants into care at Tchimpounga...many more than we usually see in an average year.

While this was a very challenging time for Tchimpounga’s staff, who had their hands full caring for 10 young chimpanzees who needed round-the-clock care, it was a wonderful time for Bailiele and the rest of the chimps. After the trauma of being taken from their mothers at such a young age, they now got to heal physically and emotionally with a group of peers to help them figure out chimpanzee society.

Today, Bailiele’s adventures are far from over. Not too long ago, JGI began the process of getting Bailele ready to move to Tchibebe Island, one of Tchimpounga’s new island sanctuary sites. Unlike his time at the main sanctuary site, on Tchibebe Bailiele will have a lush forest in which to roam and play with his fellow island chimps.

To help ease the transition, Bailiele was introduced to the island along with his friend Leki. Both chimps were able to explore the island at their own pace under the watchful eye of their caregivers. Bailiele was a little nervous at first, but soon calmed down enough to climb a few trees and reacquaint himself with a few old chimpanzee friends who have already been moved to Tchibebe. We at JGI are so happy that Bailiele will soon be able to call Tchibebe home!


Tabonga in his new home
Tabonga in his new home

Tabonga is one of the most recognizable chimpanzees being cared for at JGI’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo. This is because Tabonga, due to a hormonal disorder, lacks the hair chimps usually have all over their body. Tabonga’s nickname amongst Tchimpounga’s staff members is “Cousin”, due to his body being nearly hairless and the fact that he has a voice more resembling that of a human than most chimpanzees at Tchimpounga.

But not only is Tabonga an interesting looking fellow, he is also incredibly intelligent. This intelligence combined with Tabonga’s bold and mischievous personality can sometimes be a challenge for Tchimpounga’s staff! Always testing the limits, Tabonga loved to out-smart the fences of his enclosure. However, even when he would find a way to escape, he was easily convinced with some fruit to return home.

Sadly, during one of these escape attempts, Tabonga broke his leg. He was patched up by Tchimpounga’s veterinary staff and is now fully recovered. However, it was clear that Tabonga needed more space to explore.

Last month, Tabonga got his wish! He was moved to Tchindzoulou Island, one of three islands that are now expanded sanctuary sites at Tchimpounga. He was integrated with the other chimpanzees already living there, and now has access to explore and discover the lush forests of the island. Tchimpounga’s staff members are happy to report that Tabonga seems very happy in his new home, where he takes long walks through the forest with his friends, plays in the thick vegetation, and snuggles up in his own nest in the treetops at night. 


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Jane Goodall Institute

Location: Vienna, Virginia - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Brittany Cohen-Brown
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