Tchimpounga: A Safe Place for a Second Chance

Together with our friends around the world, JGI is working for the day when chimpanzees can live in the wild without the threats of illegal trafficking and hunting.

Until that day comes, there is Tchimpounga.

For nearly 25 years, the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center has provided life-saving rehabilitation and sanctuary to sick, malnourished and injured orphan chimpanzees rescued from markets and homes by local authorities in the fight against wildlife trafficking and poaching in the Republic of Congo.  

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CHIMPANZEES AND HUMANS SHARE 98.6% GENETIC MATERIAL – THEY ARE OUR CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVES. WE HAVE LEARNED THAT WHAT WE SHARE WITH THESE BEINGS EXTENDS FAR BEYOND OUR DNA.

Located in Pointe Noire within the Tchimpounga Nature Reserve, this safe haven was established in 1992 through an agreement between JGI and the government of the Republic of Congo. Today, it is the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in Africa, with a commitment to its residents for life. Above and beyond the sanctuary’s operations and maintenance, the work of Tchimpounga plays a critical role in supporting law enforcement efforts to reduce illegal trafficking of great apes. Because no matter how many laws we make, they can’t be enforced unless there is a safe place for the chimpanzees who are rescued in the process.

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chimpanzees receiving care from JGI staff at the Tchimpounga sanctuary

hours of care provided by JGI's staff at Tchimpounga sanctuary each year

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hours of care provided by JGI's staff at Tchimpounga sanctuary each year

public awareness billboards installed across Republic of Congo in major population centers

A Day In the Life

Today, more than 150 chimpanzees live at Tchimpounga, where they are given at second chance at life by the staff of 52. If there is such a thing as an average day at this remarkable place, it is filled with activity, interaction and caring.

The chimpanzees live here in eight age-related groups. Older chimpanzees have access to outdoor enclosures, where they can socialize with each other as they explore natural habitat together. Younger chimpanzees can make trips into the forest to swing from trees under the watchful eyes of caregivers. Such outings are important steps in readying young chimpanzees for possible reintroduction into the wild. All return for the day’s third and final meal of fresh fruits and vegetables and a safe night in spacious enclosures. Staff members, many of them local, provide routine, rehabilitative and veterinary care, maintain housing, and care for the areas that allow the chimpanzees to be chimpanzees.

Island Sanctuaries: Better By Nature

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In 2008, we began looking at three islands within the Reserve for the natural protection they provide: Tchibebe, Tchindzoulou and Ngombe. We plan to transfer 100 chimpanzees to live in this much more natural forested environment—with 100 times more forest to roam in—while still receiving care from Tchimpounga’s veterinary staff and caregivers nearby. The waters of the Kouilou River provide a natural barrier to keep them safe from wild chimpanzees, bushmeat hunters, encroaching development and other threats. Looking forward, the islands’ undisturbed forests will provide a wealth of food and habitat to support healthy, secure living in a near-wild environment for the chimpanzees we release. These islands are another advance in providing sanctuary that is as close as possible to life in the wild.

Three answers to trafficking

We know there is no single solution to ending all the threats to Africa’s great apes. But there is a holistic solution that weaves together sanctuary, law enforcement and education in close cooperation with local communities. Through Tchimpounga, we provide the essential sanctuary that law enforcement needs for a safe place to bring confiscated chimpanzees, who often arrive traumatized and injured.

We also work to engage the community with aggressive education and awareness campaigns on the laws protecting great apes and the value of conserving them and their habitat. The very good news is that, since we launched our awareness campaigns across the nation, confiscation rates of orphaned chimpanzees have dramatically decreased. In the Point Noire and Kouilou region, which previously accounted for 23 percent of all confiscations, there have been none at all. Still, with a life expectancy of about 60 years, many of the chimpanzees currently living in the sanctuary will be around for at least another half century. And so will Tchimpounga.

Photo credits on this page, top to bottom and left to right: JGI/Fernando Turmo