JGI assists police with chimp rescue in Uganda

When the JGI staff in Uganda received word that a chimpanzee was being held for sale on the black market, they worked with police on a successful sting operation.

In late January, the staff of the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda were tipped off that a young chimpanzee had been captured and was up for sale for $1,000 (USD).

Despite the fact that it is illegal to kill, capture or keep chimpanzees in Uganda, seven chimpanzees have been killed in the last year alone. In most cases poachers kill chimpanzee mothers and capture their young to sell as pets. Or, they trap adult chimps to sell their body parts for traditional practices.

Chimps are particularly targeted by farmers who don't want them raiding their sugar cane or other crops. As more and more of Uganda's chimpanzee habitat is destroyed, this human-chimp conflict worsens.

In the most recent case, an area man stepped forward as an informant. He knew where the chimp was being held and had been in touch with the sellers, although the condition of the chimp was an unknown.

JGI staff and the informant talked with the head of the police department to organize a sting. As our JGI Uganda volunteer Mary-Louise Allen writes:

"Taking three police officers in their vehicle for back up, the plan was to visit the sellers and pose as exotic pet traders, not an unlikely story in this part of the world.

The operation involved the vehicle, with the three police officers, and one JGI staff member remaining in an adjacent town allegedly dealing with a flat tire. Meanwhile the informant and the other two JGI staff took motorbikes to the house where the chimp was being held. George, a Ugandan working for JGI, is experienced in this kind of operation and was playing the interpreter for the white female exotic pet trader.

Soon after the three arrived at the house, the sellers showed them the chimp. He was very young, about 1 1/2 years old, sitting in the corner of a dark, damp room, with bits of uneaten food thrown around, quivering, so scared of the men looking at him that his eyes were shaking. After seeing the chimp, the team started negotiating a price. The amount they agreed upon had to be confirmed by a phone call to the business partner - the other JGI staff member in the car with the police. The phone call was the cue to come with the police.

After a nervous 10 minutes of wondering if they had been found out, the trio was relieved to see a police car pull up. Several officers arrested the two men involved, and a JGI staff member retrieved the baby chimpanzee from its cell. He clung to his new-found friend with all his strength.

JGI has been working with the arresting officer and the Ugandan Wildlife Authority investigative team to ensure the matter is taken seriously. Part of this process entailed hand-delivering a copy of the Ugandan Protection of Wildlife Act to the arresting officer, who until that moment had never seen it before. As a result of the efforts of the Ugandan police, the Authority and JGI, the two men were issued a fine equivalent to one year's earnings.

It is likely the two men, who are sugar cane farmers, killed the mother. It is nearly impossible to retrieve such a young chimp from its mother without taking her life."

The young chimpanzee, now named Mac, made the five-hour journey with JGI staff to Entebbe without incident. He was handed over for a three-month quarantine to the Ugandan Wildlife Education Centre, but eventually will be taken to the nearby Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary. He will spend the rest of his life with other rescued chimps on this 100-acre rainforest island. Most importantly, he will have the chance to play, feel the sun on his back, and forge the social bonds so critical to his happiness.

JGI rescues many chimps each year and cares for them in a sanctuary in the Republic of Congo. If you would like to support our programs click here.



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