JGI and Holtkamper: Helping Save Chimpanzees in Uganda

By Dr. Peter Apell, Veterinarian & Programs Manager for the Jane Goodall Institute-Uganda.

JGI’s Dr. Peter Apell

Thanks to a recent donation from Holtkamper, the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is now able to care more effectively for injured chimpanzees in Uganda.

Though chimpanzees are not commonly hunted in Uganda, the snares and “mantraps” intended for other forest animals have been a major source of injury and death for chimpanzees in the country.  Chimps have been severely injured, lost their limbs, and even died from these devices.  Currently, more than 25 percent of the chimpanzees living in Uganda’s forests have snare-related injuries. 

In addition to the Institute’s work to remove snares, promote alternative livelihoods for poachers and raise awareness about snares’ impact on chimpanzees, JGI is working to free and provide medical attention for chimps caught in these devices. Over the past four years, the JGI veterinary intervention team has rescued 12 wild chimpanzees from mantraps and snares. 

Despite JGI’s work, the great distance between chimpanzee habitat and medical clinics has posed a challenge to the rescue and treatment of injured chimps found deep in the forest. The forest is not an ideal environment for clinical procedures, especially when conducting surgeries, and it’s often difficult to move chimpanzees to proper medical facilities, which can be as far as 300 kilometers away.

Due to a generous donation of a tent trailer from Holtkamper, JGI’s ability to care for injured chimpanzees found in the forest has greatly improved.  The donated Holtkamper tent trailer has been modified for use both as a camping tent and mobile veterinary clinic. The tent allows for the treatment of chimpanzee injuries in a safe and sterile environment and will go a long way toward ensuring that proper medical care is provided.

Peter and the JGI veterinary team treat an anesthetized, injured chimpanzee in the Holtkamper tent trailer.

Already, the tent trailer has proven an invaluable asset for the care and treatment of injured chimpanzees. On August 16, 2010, JGI-Uganda received a call about an injured chimp living in a community garden in Busingiro, a village on the outskirts of the Budongo Forest in western Uganda. The Busingiro community members told JGI that the chimpanzee was first sighted in the morning a few days earlier by a local woman. According to Mr. Adama Vincent, a JGI field assistant, “The woman arrived at her garden to plough her potatoes only to find a chimpanzee lying on the ground among the vegetables. When the chimp saw the woman approach, he painfully sat up and stretched out his hand as if begging her for help.” The woman brought the chimp a banana and when the community was made aware of the chimp’s presence, they contacted JGI for help.

In an area where friction has often existed between chimpanzee and human populations, the community’s efforts to help the sick chimpanzee is a testament to the effectiveness of the Institute’s work to promote an understanding of and good will toward chimpanzees. 

Budongo Forest is Uganda’s largest tropical rainforest with a population of approximately 600 chimpanzees. Occasionally, chimpanzees leave the forest in search of food on community land adjacent to the forest. The raiding of crops by chimpanzees has led to conflict between the humans and chimpanzees.

Over the past four years, JGI has conducted extensive awareness campaigns in communities surrounding the forest. JGI has also provided training in skills such as bead and basket making and financial support to promote alternative livelihoods in rural communities.  For example, the Institute helped establish an ecotourism site, which provides a source of revenue and employment for the local community.

In most cases, JGI’s work has led people to become more enthusiastic about and supportive of chimpanzee conservation, and has demonstrated that people can live alongside wildlife while developing sustainable livelihoods.

It is likely because of this increased tolerance and understanding that the woman living outside the Budongo Forest did not harm the chimpanzee she found in her garden. Instead, the JGI veterinary team responded to her call and conducted a successful rescue and treatment intervention. The veterinarians set up the Holtkamper ‘folding field shelter’ at the edge of the forest close to where the chimpanzee was found. The veterinarians then darted the chimpanzee and evacuated him to the mobile veterinary unit where he was given symptomatic treatment and samples were collected for further investigation. The rescued chimpanzee’s health has significantly improved. He is still under close monitoring and observation by the JGI veterinary and field assistant team, but he has returned to the forest.

In her book The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior, Dr. Jane Goodall notes that some male chimpanzees become more solitary in old age and in sickness. This may explain why this particular old male was alone in the community garden. The good news is that chimpanzees in Uganda no longer have to be alone when ill. Thanks to the donation of the Holtkamper mobile veterinary unit, the JGI veterinary team will be able to access ailing chimpanzees, even in very remote forests, and provide much needed medical care under proper clinical conditions.


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