The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Saving Uganda's Chimpanzees At Island Sanctuary

WHAT: Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary

WHERE: Lake Victoria, Uganda

Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda is home to 44 chimps. Picture: MELISSA MATHESON

THEY share 98.7 per cent of our DNA but these chimpanzees are too smart for rollerskates and Michael Jackson.

The Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda was established in 1998 by Jane Goodall and co, including the Born Free Foundation and Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, who came together to purchase the 40ha island in Lake Victoria as a home for rescued chimpanzees.

Our transport from the capital city, Kamala, to the jetty at Entebbe is like an episode of Pimp My Ride Uganda.

The 4WD has been meticulously washed and polished (the sheen is gone within five seconds on the road courtesy of the red dust), the entire boot is a sub woofer, and the rear view mirror appears to be a DVD screen.

The driver is quite possibly a pimp, or at the very least a massive player. Amidst the insane traffic and overtaking on the wrong side of the road, he manages to flirt with a woman on the back of a motorbike.

This guy knows how cool he wants to be.

The 45 minute boat ride to the island is far more tranquil.

The captain introduces himself and his assistant with a gentle smile: “My name is Henry and he is Henry. We are both Henry.”

It is a rare chance to see the peaceful side of Uganda and get some fresh air.

Ngamba Island is beautiful; postcards don’t do this place justice. These chimps are spoilt.

Bruce is a keeper at the sanctuary and very passionate about his job. He knows the name of every one of the 44 chimps on the island and where they came from, even their favourite food.

But Bruce makes it very clear these animals are not for hugging or performing tricks and he has the utmost respect for them.

The chimps have 95 per cent of the island to do as they please. Considering these beautiful animals were once tortured pets, circus performers, or the victims of traps set by humans, they deserve to be spoilt.

They are fed four times a day along a tree top walkway were up to 25 people can watch them.

Some of the chimps make hand gestures and noises to request a piece of pineapple or avocado and their catching skills would put some international cricket players to shame.

The food that didn’t make it over the fence isn’t lost to these chimps. They collect long sticks to pull it in.

I can imagine how excited Jane Goodall must have been when she first saw chimps using tools in the wild. There is no doubting the intelligence of these animals.

The island can only cater for 50 chimps, so all the females have been given a contraceptive. But one of them worked her magic around it and delivered chimp number 44 at the sanctuary. The keepers named the baby Surprise.

Then there is The Fisherman, a chimp who watched a group of local fisherman illegally approach the island and decided to join them onboard. The men panicked and jumped out of the boat and into the water, leaving a chimp, who was afraid of the water, at the helm.

The Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust, which runs the island, has members travel around Uganda educating children about respect for animals and the importance of conserving the environment for chimpanzees.

Bruce explains as the Ugandan population grows, more and more forest is being cut down to make way for farmland to feed hungry families.

But he holds plenty of hope of saving the chimpanzee species and it is truly inspiring. I can’t help but regret not spending the night on the island (an option that looks surprisingly luxurious) or doing the long stay visitor program.


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