The Story of a Chimp Confiscation
This is a highly abbreviated version of a much longer report of the confiscation of an illegally held baby chimpanzee. The full story was originally on the Great Ape Project (GAP) website.
On our return from Mouloundou to Yokadouma in South-East Cameroon, we stopped at a log-storage site where workers were having a meal - of primates. We were told that a baby chimp and gorilla were being held somewhere locally.
It was not difficult to find. The house was also a bar, with beer adverts outside. The Israeli owner was apparently on a prospecting trip to Central Africa. We later heard that he deals in gold, diamonds and ivory, and it seems that his Cameroonian wife has a sideline in ape orphans.
We were introduced to his wife, and ordered beer. We asked about the gorilla and chimp. She said the gorilla had died two days earlier and the chimp was in the back. She led us around the house to take a look.
The chimp was the most miserable creature I have ever seen. Very dehydrated - she said he had diarrhoea. He was also very depressed, holding onto himself with his arms clasped across his chest.
The lady was watching us through the window. I offered to give the chimp some medication and a meal of Cerelac. She resented the advice, saying she knew all about chimp and gorilla babies. She said she had had many, and that only last week she had refused a gorilla baby, who had severe injuries from shotgun pellets.
We set up our cameras and started taking pictures. As the first flash went off, the woman began to shout, saying we had to pay to photograph. A heated discussion ensued. The situation rapidly deteriorated, with a group of people gathering, and a drunken man shouting that we had better pay up or he would kill us right there and then. We eventually drove off with a lot of shouting behind us.
In Yokadouma, we decided to establish the legal status of the chimp. At the home of the local Ministry of Environment and Forests (MINEF) Chief, they already knew about us. The reception was frosty. They said they knew nothing of the chimp or the lady, and did not think anyone had a legal licence to keep such an animal. The Ministry has ordered that no individual can hold a great ape without a licence. At some US$ 400, no local person could afford this or would pay.
At our hotel, we faced an angry scene with the lady from the bar, a gendarme, some civilian officials and several onlookers. We went to the Police Station to record statements.
The lady's argument was that we had taken pictures without permission in a private home, and had disregarded the dignity of the local people and treated them like animals.
As our interrogation went on, I decided to file counterclaims. One was against the lady for illegally holding the animal, requesting that MINEF register a complaint.
Our difficulties continued, and next morning we met the local Gendarme Commandant. I asked to officially file my complaints by recording a statement. When he realised I was serious, he suddenly did a 180-degree turn, offering to confiscate the chimp.
He sent a man with our driver to establish the location. Upon the man's return, he said he would need a MINEF official to help, and to confirm that the lady had no permit. This was to be done at 7 a.m. the next day, so that we could leave for Bertoua.
The next morning, the MINEF official and a Gendarme went off in our car, only to return saying they had not found the chimp. I then insisted that I wanted to file my complaint, and if necessary we would fly in a lawyer from Yaounde to help. They went back, en route obtaining an order from the Chief Magistrate to break in if necessary. According to our driver, everything was locked when they got there. The doors were only opened when they started to use force.
They brought the chimp back to the Police Station. He was now in a soiled cardboard box, no longer able to stand up or even sit. We took him to the MINEF office to obtain a Transport Permit to take him to a sanctuary, should he live, which was very unlikely. We got the permit, with a P.S. saying that the chimp was indeed in a deplorable condition.
I climbed in the back of the car holding the chimp, ready to leave. But I was summoned back. A minor MINEF Official informed me that his bosses were very unhappy, that they had done a lot of 'extra' work and had got nothing out of it.
We were now desperate to leave Yokadouma, and paid CFA 10,000 as a tip. The lady had bought the baby chimp for CFA 5,000. If we had offered her double that to start off with, she would have likely been happy to get rid of this very sick infant.
The infant chimp looked like he would die on our trip to Bertoua. I gave him to Niklas, a journalist who was travelling with us, to hold. I did not want to go through the experience of the orphan dying in my arms.
However, the little guy recovered a bit, starting to eat and getting some strength back, with his fingers grasping ours.
In Bertoua I took him back, and he slept with me. We spent the second night in the bush, and Niklas agreed to take the chimp. Then the little fellow threw up several times, his body rejecting all the liquid and food we had got into him the previous day. He died the next morning at around 8 am.
We buried him behind the commercial hunting camp that we were staying in.
Karl Ammann, Nanyuki Kenya
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