Help Feed over 150 Orphaned Chimpanzees

by Jane Goodall Institute

Most days, Jeje is allowed to go explore a little patch of forest in the Tchimpounga reserve with the rest of his group, Group 4, and his Tchimpounga caregivers. However, when wild chimpanzees are seen in the forests near Tchimpounga, it isn’t safe to bring the little chimps of Group 4 out to play. Instead they play in their outdoor enclosure, which can be a bit boring for a boisterous chimp like Jeje.

Like a young child, Jeje sometimes resorts to annoying others to relieve his boredom. One day when the chimps were not able to go into the forest to play, Jeje’s friend Mondele decided to play a game where he attempts to keep an object balanced on his back for as long as possible. Mondele placed a small rock carefully on his back, and began to walk through the enclosure.

Seeing this, Jeje decided to create his own game; trying to knock the rock off of Mondele’s back. His tactics were kicking at Mondele’s feet and slapping the rock away with his hands. When Mondele finally had enough and turned to hit Jeje, Jeje cried out ... and then convinced Mondele to apologize to him!

Jeje then went off to play with his groupmates Alex and Antonio, who were busy digging a hole in the dirt. This game seemed to bore Jeje, and he started to walk away. Before leaving, however, he couldn’t help but look back and push Alex into the hole he was digging! Alex chased Jeje to get him back, but Jeje got away. Hopefully Group 4 is able to return to the forest soon, and Jeje’s friends can get a respite from his antics.


Anzac plays with her new "toy"
Anzac plays with her new "toy"

Young Anzac sleeps with her friends Willy, Sam and Zola. Since it's now the dry season in the Republic of Congo, overcast days and cool nights are made even cooler by the offshore winds that arrive in the dry season. Zola and Anzac hug each other for warmth. Their mothers are gone, and so the orphans have to help each other. Others, like Sam and Willy, prefer to make a nest with dry and soft grass that caregivers put in the bedroom. During the winter months, staff provides extra bedding to the younger and older chimpanzees, giving them blankets or towels to use in their nest to help retain more warmth.

In the morning Anzac and her companions go outside into the enclosure. They play a little while caretakers are busy preparing bottles of warm milk for them. The sun begins to rise on the horizon and the freshness of the morning changes the cold morning into a balmy day.

Every year, when temperatures drop, many chimps become vulnerable to flu viruses that abound in the human communities. Caregivers and the veterinary team conduct thorough monitoring of each chimpanzee, especially smaller ones like Anzac This year she has not yet been sick, although some of her companions have. The veterinary team administers most of their medicines orally, using a large plastic syringe to offer medicine directly into the mouth of each sick individual. Anzac managed to “steal” one from the vet team as they were giving Sam his medicine. Anzac is very fast and no one was able to recover the syringe from her. For Anzac, this syringe is a perfect toy to play with. She has great imagination, using it like a cup, as she refills the syringe barrel with water from their water fountain. This process is quite challenging, as Anzac has to put just enough pressure on the fountain to ensure it dribbles into the syringe, rather than spurts her in the face. She also has to block the end of the syringe, so she does not lose the water. She does this all with just one arm, as her left arm was amputated before she arrived to the sanctuary. Staff suspect that she may have either lost her arm in a snare or from a bullet wound during the killing of her mother.

Yet, even with this disability, she proves extremely skillful in the use of the syringe as a water vessel. The other, younger chimps come to watch, to beg for a sip from her novel “cup.”  But she pays them no heed; instead she remains focused on her new favorite toy.  Even when the caregivers take the younger chimpanzees to the forest with group four, Anzac hides her new toy in her mouth. She was so attentive of her new toy that, even the next day, staff could see her still playing with it.

Mambou, Alex and their other friend, Sammy
Mambou, Alex and their other friend, Sammy

Like humans, chimpanzees are incredibly social animals who form strong friendships that can last a lifetime. The chimpanzees living at the Jane Goodall Institute’s (JGI) Tchimpounga sanctuary are no exception, especially two young chimpanzees named Mambou and Alex.

Mambou is a popular, extroverted chimpanzee who gets along with all of the other chimps in his group. Mambou doesn’t seem interested in being the alpha-male even though he is one of the strongest of his group, but he does use his physical power to protect his friends … friends like his best buddy, Alex.

Alex is a boisterous little chimpanzee who tends to get himself into trouble with the other chimpanzees in his group, for example when he bites them out of frustration when they won’t play with him. When Alex bites the wrong chimp and is on the receiving end of some rough-housing, he cries out for help. Who comes to his rescue? Mambou, of course!

Not only does Mambou look out for Alex, he is also a big pushover when it comes to his best friend. Every morning, JGI caregivers give the chimpanzees their morning snack of delicious fruits like mangos and bananas. A bit greedy, Alex will gobble up his share and then run to Mambou, whining and showing Mambou the palm of his hand. Mambou will then break the fruit he is holding in half and give one half to Alex … displaying generosity not often seen in hungry chimpanzees!


Mbebo plays around at Tchimpounga
Mbebo plays around at Tchimpounga

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.


Anzac takes her medicine while a friend looks on
Anzac takes her medicine while a friend looks on

The rainy season has ended in Congo and the skies are covered with clouds almost all of the time. This has caused the temperature to drop and the evenings have become chilly and fresh. This is the season during which many of the chimps at Tchimpounga catch a cold, especially the younger chimps.

Earlier this summer, Anzac and the other youngsters in her group developed colds, which meant lots of runny noses! The veterinary team reacted quickly and isolated those who were ill to prevent them from spreading the illness to the others. Medication is provided by mouth, and if a chimpanzee has a fever it is sometime necessary to give them an antibiotic injection instead of oral, as it will work quicker.

When the infants have a fever, caregivers stay with them 24 hours a day to regularly check their temperature and keep the veterinary team informed of their condition. It is easy to give Anzac her medication because it is orange and tasty. The medicine is inserted into her mouth with a large syringe, and Anzac drinks it as if it were a tasty drink. The other chimpanzees watch carefully and await for their turn, looking longingly at the basket full of syringes. Two chimpanzees who are not sick still receive a syringe full of orange juice so they are not left out. Doing this helps avoid fights over who received a “treat” and who did not.

Coordination between the nurses and caregivers at Tchimpounga must be exact so that all chimps are well cared for. Caregivers are the people who spend more time with the chimpanzees than anyone else, so they are responsible for monitoring them for symptoms that might indicate that they are sick. When Anzac started showing her first symptoms of fever, the response of caregivers was immediate, warning the nurses who took immediate action to start treating her. This rapid response is vital because it can save the life of a chimpanzee, especially if they are very young.

A few days after of receiving her treatment, Anzac started regaining her vitality and returns to her normal play with the others. During her treatment time, Anzac was able to observe how the caregivers provide Lemba, her oldest roommate, with her physiotherapy. Lemba is paralyzed in both legs from contracting Polio. Her caregivers use a large rubber ball to help Lemba exercise her legs. Anzac also wanted to try out the new toy, but she wasn’t yet big enough so instead she just bounced off the ball. This of course has become a great game for Anzac, and now she waits until Lemba has finished her exercises and then the staff let her bounce around on the exercise ball!

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Organization Information

Jane Goodall Institute

Location: Vienna, Virginia - USA
Project Leader:
Brittany Cohen-Brown
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Vienna, Virginia United States