Chimp My Forest

A baby gorilla orphan and keeper in Ape Action Africa, PASA sanctuary, Cameroon.

The forests of Africa are falling eerily silent. Every year, thousands of chimpanzees, gorillas and other endangered African primates are killed or captured from the forests, some for meat and others to be sold as pets. Most are lost forever.  But the lucky ones –the babies, orphans and abandoned young ‘uns – come to PASA.

Baati & Sambe at Sanaga Yong PASA Sanctuary.

Pan African Sanctuary Allliance is an organization of 18 rescue and rehabilitation centers across 12 countries in Africa that care for thousands of orphaned apes and monkeys, and stand as a bulwark against extinction of man’s closest relatives. Founded in 2000 to combat the ravages of deforestation, illegal hunting and logging, human encroachment, and disease on Africa’s primates, PASA sanctuaries hold 850 chimpanzees — more than three times the number in all the zoos in North America — in addition to 100 gorillas and over 3,000 other primates.

Feeding a spot-nosed guenon at CERCOPAN sanctuary in Nigeria.

But PASA is more than just animal rescue. PASA’s greatest contribution may lie in reintroduction, where many of these incredible apes and monkeys are returned to the forests — with proper protection — to resume their natural lives.

PASA vets examine a patient.

It’s expensive and exhausting work, involving health screenings, radio tracking, ensuring forest safety, and working with local communities to protect the animals. And then there’s the emotional wrench (as any parent could tell you) of having to let go of the ones you’ve loved and raised. So why take the risk (and incur the huge expense) of taking these primate orphans back to their woodland home?

A baby bonobo gets a bath

Well, PASA has found that once you put primates back into the forest, everything else comes back, too. As a flagship species, when the chimps and other primates come back, almost immediately the elephants come back, the butterflies, birds, monkeys, frogs and snakes come back – and all those animals together make the silent, empty forest healthy again. It sounds like a Raffi song, but it’s a fact.

While many experts believe primates may cease to exist in the wild within 50 years, according to Doug Cress, Executive Director of PASA, the situation is far from hopeless. “Reintroducing primates can undo decades of bad work in the forest, almost from the minute you put them back in. So the bang for the buck you get with reintroduction is almost incalculable.”

Bolo in Limbe PASA sanctuary, Cameroon.

Whether primates are reintroduced to the wild or stay at the sanctuary for life, there’s a lot involved in raising these wickedly smart young rascals. (The chimps love to steal wallets and watches, and can pick a lock, just by listening to the clicks, in a matter of minutes.) With a staff of two in the United States and 500 managers, keepers and wardens in Africa, PASA orchestrates a complex series of capacity building workshops, law enforcement programs, conservation projects, environmental education initiatives and habitat restoration plans. And PASA expects 2 new sanctuaries to join its ranks this year.

Who's happier?

That’s a whole lot of new babies on board. And as we all know, it takes a village to raise an kid. So let’s be that village. To join me in filling the forest back up with life and supporting PASA, click here.