A few weeks ago I returned from my first trip to Africa since before Covid! It was really good to be back out there on the ground visiting some of the projects we support.
This time I went to DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Malawi and finally Zimbabwe. Located on map below just FYI. I have quite a lot to report on so for ease of reading I have decided to do separate blogs. The first being DRC…
DRC – DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to many species of beautiful wildlife including chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, okapi, antelope, wild dogs, hyenas, lion (although very scarce) & cheetahs, to name a few. More than half of Africa’s wild chimpanzee population lives in the DRC.
As many of you will know, I have traveled fairly extensively and to some pretty remote parts of the world, but to date, I can honestly say that DRC is the harshest country I have ever visited. Not only because I witnessed some of the most horrendous examples of wildlife exploitation, but also as on entry I needed a fixer to get me through security at the airport – and it was even more difficult getting out! Anyway, thats another story for another day….
JACK – Primate Sanctuary
The first project I visited in DRC was JACK Sanctuary a primate rehabilitation centre founded in 2006 by two amazing people (husband & wife team) Roxanne & Franck Chantereau. They are 100% committed to the project, and to wildlife conservation in general, and until very recently, they specialised in the rescue and rehabilitation of chimpanzees.
OAT was introduced to JACK in 2020.
You may remember from one of my blogs last year that we were approached by Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) to help construct urgent sanctuary facilities to accommodate 33 primates. They had been taken from the wild in DRC by illegal wildlife traders and were in the process of being trafficked to the far east, when the operation was intercepted by the authorities in Zimbabwe. The primates were indigenous to the DRC and if there was any chance of them being returned to the wild, they needed to return to their country of origin. After being confiscated, a number of wildlife organisations in Zimbabwe, including the Tikki Hywood Foundation (another of OAT’s beneficiaries), attended to their urgent physical wellbeing.
OAT agreed to fund the construction of high quality primate enclosures at JACK sanctuary in DRC to accommodate them on their return. Sadly not all of the primates survived the incredibly stressful ordeal, but 29 of the 33 pulled through and eventually made it home and are now undergoing rehabilitation at the JACK sanctuary. It will be a long journey, as they are young and vulnerable and don’t have the safety of their family troops they were taken from. However, over time they will form new troops amongst themselves and the team at JACK have every intention of getting them back in to the wild where they belong, so they will be returned to their natural habitat in due course.
I was very chuffed to be able to meet some of these rescued primates during my visit.
I was also privileged to be able to take part in an actual primate rescue during my visit. Since JACK took in the first primates from Zimbabwe, word has spread and they are now a port of call for all sorts of primate rescues. An example of this occurred whilst I was there. One morning Roxanne received a call from the authorities saying they had confiscated a young male vervet money and wanted JACK to come and collect it. This monkey had been tied to the side of a lorry, next to the diesel tank. This is common practice in DRC. Drivers buy these monkeys on the black market and use them to deter anyone from stealing fuel from their vehicles / trucks whilst they are sleeping or absent. Such a sad existence and witnessing this in action bought tears to my eyes. I took part in the rescue and was able to gain the confidence of the monkey quite quickly during our journey to the sanctuary. They deiced to name the monkey Dave – such a honour.
Two weeks after I returned from my African trip, JACK have been involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of 19 more primates confiscated from traders intercepted in country. OAT have since awarded a further grant to JACK to help increase their capacity for these primates and no doubt many more that will come their way in the future.
As previously mentioned, JACK sanctuary was initially established in 2006 to rehabilitate chimpanzees. They are currently home to 47 chimps and the sanctuary provide them with the best possible environment. All enclosures have water and they are fed twice a day with good quality fruit and vegetables and they also provide them with enrichment to keep them mentally stimulated.
Conserv Congo is the second project I visited in DRC. The organisation was founded by Adams Cassinga (featured above) in 2006. After studying journalism in America as a young man, Adams returned to DRC to follow his passion to protect wildlife in his home country. He is recognised by his Government and works closely with them in their efforts to combat the illegal trade in wildlife, be that for trade in body parts e.g. horn, ivory, skins, as well as live primates and other exotic species for zoos, circuses and pet collectors etc. Adams is based near to Kinshasa (the capital) and his organisation employs over 40 people across the country. His ambition is to triple the size of his team to significantly increase his impact on the trade. Considering the extremely hostile working environment, Conserv Congo’s successes are extremely impressive and they are a well known and respected organisation.
OAT has supported them for a few years now on various wildlife rescue / confiscation missions and in fact Adams was significantly involved in the Zimbabwean rescue mission and works collaboratively with JACK, Tikki Hywood Foundation and other such organisations on a very regular basis. Funds received are mainly to cover the cost of undercover investigators and the cost of rescuing and transporting confiscated wildlife to sanctuaries when traffickers are intercepted.
Adams is an exceptional human being and his work is nothing short of awesome. His life story needs to be told one day and is worthy of a book and / or a movie!
The pictures below say it all – victim to rescue thanks to the collaborative work of Conserve Congo and JACK 🙏