When Jane Goodall opened the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre in 1992 she knew she was embarking on an enormous undertaking. The orphaned chimps whose mothers had been killed would need to be cared for for the rest of their lives – and with a life expectancy of approximately 60 years, this represents a significant and long-term financial obligation for the Institute.
Many of her colleagues urged her not to get involved with these young chimpanzees. But for Jane, abandoning these animals was never an option. Her response was, “How could I turn my back on their outstretched hands, their pleading eyes, and their pathetic, malnourished bodies?”
Located within the JGI-managed Tchimpounga Natural Reserve in the Republic of Congo, Tchimpounga is currently the largest refuge for orphaned chimpanzees on the African continent. Inside its protected borders, and under the watchful eye of JGI’s caregivers, around 160 chimpanzees are being given a second chance at life. They thrive within the sanctuary’s forest habitats, socializing with other chimpanzees, overcoming the injuries and trauma they’ve suffered.
Tchimpounga today is much more than just a safe haven for chimps. It is also becoming a leading centre for non-invasive chimpanzee research. JGI is now collaborating with world-renowned research institutions such as the Max Planck Institute and Harvard University.
Through the study of chimpanzees at sanctuaries such as Tchimpounga, it is anticipated that researchers can obtain an accurate understanding of chimpanzee capabilities while supporting both welfare and conservation efforts.
JGI has been working to determine if and where suitable habitat exists for the reintroduction of some of the chimpanzees within the Republic of Congo. In 2011, after three years of planning and hard work, the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) successfully secured the land necessary to expand the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center (TCRC).
JGI expanded the sanctuary by building supplementary facilities on three islands in the nearby Kouilou River. The islands will offer the chimpanzees a much larger, natural setting where they can learn, grow and build social bonds in a secure environment.
The Institute is committed to expanding its facilities to ensure the physical and emotional well-being of the animals under its care, as well as the safety of JGI’s dedicated staff. With the cooperation and assistance of the Congolese government and other partners, JGI will relocate 60 of the largest and strongest chimpanzees from the existing TCRC site to Tchindzoulou Island, one of the three islands in the Kouilou River.
The facilities on the three islands will provide:
– Nearly 100 times more forest area for the chimpanzees enabling them to run virtually wild and free;
– A controlled setting where chimpanzees can have access to more natural habitat, but can be closely monitored, receive provisional food, and receive veterinary care, if required;
– A reduction in infrastructure costs and maintenance as the islands create a natural boundary for the chimpanzees, thereby minimizing the need for fencing and staff to operate and maintain the site; and
– Improved and safer viewing opportunities for local residents and visitors once future education and ecotourism elements are developed.
The first chimps were released onto the Tchindzoulou island in November 2012
Lastly, Tchimpounga is contributing to JGI’s community-centred conservation work. In Congo, JGI engages the villagers living in the areas adjacent to the sanctuary and reserve as partners, and is working to improve their livelihoods, access to education and health care.
Perhaps most importantly, when people visit our sanctuary they often for the first time come face-to-face with the humanity of chimpanzees. Local school children who are frequent visitors to Tchimpounga and participants in our educational activities, will grow up understanding the importance of protecting chimpanzees and their fragile ecosystems.
Many adults have also stated that after visiting Tchimpounga, they will never again look at these beautiful creatures in the same way. At the epicentre for the extinction crisis, JGI and Tchimpounga are working to change the hearts and minds of the people upon whom the chimpanzees’ survival depends.
Make a difference for these chimps, their care takers, local youth and conservation of chimps in the wild and become a Chimp Guardian today!