Meet Lemba, Mambou and Mbebo


LembaLemba was confiscated with the assistance of HELP Congo and local wildlife authorities. Lemba was severely malnourished because of a heavy parasite infestation.

Lemba is a very calm and gentle chimp. While her drooping ears give her a sad look, she is actually one of the happiest chimpanzees at Tchimpounga. She loves all her caregivers and is a favorite with everyone-human and nonhuman alike!

At the end of 2010, a polio epidemic hit Pointe Noire. Much to the surprise of the sanctuary’s management and staff, Lemba succumbed to the disease, despite the fact that she had been vaccinated in the past. She was vaccinated with the killed polio virus, not the live version. Apparently, it was not foolproof.

When she first fell ill, the veterinary team thought they would lose her. Today, however Lemba’s upper body is close to normal, but sadly, she has yet to recover the use of her lower limbs. However, Lemba’s disability does not seem to deter her. She has found other ways to move around and has an incredibly strong upper body.

Story about Lemba told by Rebeca, Veterinarian and Director at Tchimpounga:

When they found her, Lemba looked very tired and Rebecca also felt very tired of finding yet another baby chimp to rescue. Lemba means “I am tired”. Right from the start Lemba was a very sweet and a dependent little baby, always clinging to her keepers, but she was not that lucky and Rebeca told us her story:

“She arrived at the time when all people in the Republic of Congo, including the keepers at Tchimpounga, needed to get a polio vaccination. In order to prevent the keepers transmitting the polio virus to the chimps, all the 152 chimps at Tchimpounga were vaccinated as well, but it came too late for Lemba. First, she got fever, and then one by one both her legs and arms went numb. However, she stayed in a good mood and smiled all the time. The veterinarians asked me whether they should put her to sleep because they expected her to be lame the rest of her life, but I had heard of a treatment of paralysed limbs used on people being successful in some cases: to stimulate each limb every day might bring back some life in them. Every day, Lemba’s fingers, arms, toes, and legs were massaged by the keepers. After 15 days, they saw one finger moved. Maybe they saw it wrong… no, it really moved! After 20 days, one arm moved again; after 3 months two arms, and then one knee, and then the whole leg moved again. Only the last leg remained lifeless”.

Today, Lemba learned how to walk with the help of her arms and she is excellent in climbing trees. She is a very happy chimp and actually is quite dominant in her group!


MambouMambou was originally confiscated and taken to Brazzaville Zoo. Unfortunately, during his time there he contracted a severe case of Candida, which is caused by an overdose of medication. Candida often results in death. Mambou was unable to eat or drink orally, so all nourishment had to be administered via intravenous fluids for three weeks. The veterinary team’s constant care and attention saved him.

Today, Mambou continues to live up to his name, which means “trouble” in the local language. He is constantly getting into mischief! He is a very active, happy young chimp who enjoys playing all day long. He plays with everyone, including the dogs.

During a recent fungal infection in the nursery group, Mambou was separated and kept with Lemba because of his past illness. While with Lemba, Mambou had the run of the sanctuary, keeping the staff on its toes all day long. He is full of mischief, but also full of love. He enjoys being hugged and carried by anyone willing to offer.

Story about Mambou told by Rebeca, Veterinarian and Director at Tchimpounga:

Mambou means “problem” or “trouble” : his condition was life threatening when he arrived at Tchimpounga. He was exhausted, apathetic, totally dehydrated and had a severe parasite infection. When the veterinarians considered giving up, because it looked as if they could not help him to stay alive, Rebecca and the other caretakers decided to fight for his life.

“We gave him intravenous food and little by little he started to recover. After one month of daily intensive care, he was unrecognizable. He is a very active, happy young chimp who enjoys playing all day long. Today, he continues to live up to his name, which means “trouble” in the local language. He is constantly getting into mischief! He plays with everyone, including the dogs. The dog, Tango, is his best friend and he tickles Mambou’s belly with his nose while Mambou laughs nonstop.”


MbeboMbebo was originally confiscated in Brazzaville by law enforcement authorities with the assistance of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Aspinall Foundation’s program (PPG). He was held for a short time in Brazzaville Zoo until Dr. Ken Cameron from WCS offered to escort him to Tchimpounga.

On arrival, Mbebo was in good physical condition and weighed 5 kilograms. Tests indicated that, like most new arrivals, Mbebo had several intestinal parasite infestations that needed to be treated.

Mbebo was given his name by the Tchimpounga staff because of his habit of relaxing his lower lip, which makes it droop and gives him a constant perplexed look.

He is dynamic, active and curious, and wants to explore new places and things. He is always on the move and makes life difficult for his caregiver (Antoinette).

Mbebo has some interesting tool-use behavior that we have not seen in the other infants. This leads us to believe that he observed his mother using tools and that he is mimicking her behavior. Mbebo is also fairly good at recognizing wild food plants.

Story about Mbebo told by Rebeca, Veterinarian and Director at Tchimpounga:

Mbebo means “lip” and his protruding lower lip clearly decided his name. He was confiscated in Brazzaville at the market when he was one year old. All chimps need to stay in a separate area to make sure they are not sick (otherwise they might transfer a disease to others) when they arrive at Tchimpounga. “He ended up in a temporary cage together with two brothers, Makasi and Leki. They came along well and played together” says Rebeca.

“One day, however, they managed to escape when a student had not closed the door properly. We found the cage empty and all of us immediately started looking for the three baby chimps, because it was really dangerous for them to be wandering off by themselves. We found the two brothers rather quickly walking on the path towards the forest, but no sign of Mbebo… It was getting dark and we still had not found Mbebo. Being worried about the little baby chimp but too dark to look any further, I returned to the cage and sank down on the floor. I was feeling exhausted and very sad. Suddenly, I heard a little noise and just saw a box next to me moving … and out came little Mbebo to touch my arm. It was as if he comforted me, but probably little Mbebo just was glad to see someone ! “

He cuddled up on her lap and Rebecca put him back in the cage without any problem. In fact, he had probably been hiding under the box all along! Today, he has become a real explorer!

Photo credits: (hero image) Science Museum of Minnesota, (other) JGI

The Jane Goodall Institute does not endorse handling, interacting or close proximity to chimpanzees or other wildlife. The rescued chimpanzees seen in thess photographs and videos are cared for by trained professionals at JGI’s Tchimpounga sanctuary.