Image: Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP)

I recently had the absolute pleasure of chatting to someone who inspires me every single day and is one of the reasons I am on the journey I am lucky enough to be on now. Of course, it is the wonderful Jenny Desmond from Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection. You may have seen the blog post where I first wrote about the work LCRP do, but it was such a lovely opportunity to collaborate once again to write about the threats faced by our closest living relatives, chimpanzees.

Image: Scout, LCRP.

If you follow my blog, you will know I am not one for listing complicated facts and talking ‘at’ you. I want to engage and share my passion and excitement for the world around us. So, this time, I want to take you on a journey, and it is going to require a little bit of imagination on your part. It won’t be an easy read, but it is so important that we are aware of the realities that are occurring every day. Let’s go.

Image: LCRP

Imagine this is you. You are a newborn chimpanzee. You are just days old. Your eyes are still getting used to the light that pours through the forest canopy. You blink several times, staring up at the sun, everything still slightly blurry. A shadow appears, blocking the bright rays from the sun and you see a familiar face looking into your eyes. You see her clearly and you know who she is, she is your mother. She is your warmth, your protector and your life source. You know her smell and the feel of her fur as you cling to her chest, fingers gripping tightly to it as she holds her arm around you, offering further safety and protection to you, her precious baby.

As the days pass, you get to know your mother and her daily routine. Waking up from your treetop nest, fingers still clinging to her warmth, she collects food to sustain herself as you suckle milk from her breast, your life source. There are others around you, you can see, smell and hear them. Sometimes they are loud, calling out in excitement, anger, frustration, but those sounds are comforting. They are the sounds you heard in the womb, and you know this is where you belong. Though sometimes those sounds can become overwhelming, you have your mother to protect you and keep you secure and safe.

You are a few weeks old now. You don’t have teeth yet, the strength to support the weight of your head and neck is still developing but you can see, you can hear, you can cling to your mother, your warmth, your protector, your life source. You will stay close to her for many years, learning from her and others around you the skills you will need to survive and thrive as a wild chimpanzee. Through watching her, you will learn to collect food for yourself, through play you will learn how to interact and form social bonds, through observation you will learn how to navigate the dangers of the forest. But there is one danger from which you cannot protect yourself.

Image: Jake Brooker

More days pass by but one day feels different. There is tension in the air you have never experienced. Your mother’s body feels different, her usual alertness seems to intensify, and you feel her anxiety rising as you press your face into her chest, feeling her warmth, hearing her heartbeat. The heartbeat that gave you life, warmth, protection. Suddenly the tranquility of the day is disturbed as the forest erupts in loud shrieks of anger and fear from those around you. You’ve never heard them like this before. You feel the fear from your mother, and you cling tighter to her chest, the only place you have ever known. Your mother is now joining in the echoing chorus of danger cries, leaping up and down on the branch, high up in the tree. There is a new noise now, sounds you’ve never heard before. These are the voices of humans, which you’ve never seen before, approaching you. You can see them, hear them, your mother continues her panicked screams as they approach. She senses danger, she knows they are not friendly visitors to your home. You trust her instinct.

There is a deafening crack which breaks through the tense air, and you feel a heavy jolt and your mother’s calls are stifled. You feel an unfamiliar burning, sharp pain as something hits your tiny shoulder. You don’t know what is happening, but you are scared. Still clinging to her chest, you feel her losing her balance and beginning to fall from the high branch. You fall together quickly, she doesn’t reach out to break the fall, she cannot. As you tumble together through the air, you feel pain as sharp branches rip past your skin. It hurts. You’ve never felt pain before today, you are scared. Your mother hits the ground, and you continue to cling to her. You can still feel her warmth, smell her smell, but you can no longer hear that familiar heartbeat. The heartbeat that gave you life. The humans are walking towards you now as you cry out for your mother. But she doesn’t respond. You scream louder, willing your mother to open her eyes and pull her arm around you, holding you closer to her chest and letting you know you are safe. But she doesn’t. She doesn’t open her eyes; her body feels different now. The humans are close, you feel one of them putting their large hands around your tiny body and pulling you away from your mother, your warmth, your protector. You desperately try to cling to her fur, but they are stronger than you. As you look back you see another human picking up her lifeless body and carrying her away. You cry louder but no one is listening to you. As you are carried away you wonder what fate awaits you, you don’t know where you are going, all you know is you can no longer feel her warmth, her protection, your life source.

This is a fictional retelling of the story of how this chimpanzee named Poppy came to live at Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection. But this is not just a story, this is something that has happened and is happening regularly across chimpanzee populated areas. Babies torn from their mother’s protective grasp whilst the mothers are murdered and used for bushmeat, the babies sold into the illegal pet trade. I didn’t write this to cause upset, I wrote this to tell you what is really going on, the heartbreaking reality. But there is good news and we can help! Through the work of people like Jenny and Jimmy and the other incredible staff of LCRP, who selflessly dedicate their entire lives to protecting chimpanzees who have fallen victim to the bushmeat and pet trade, babies like Poppy get a second chance at life. At LCRP, chimpanzees who find their way into the loving arms of the carers are given the chance to receive the emotional and physical support required to grow and develop as they should, as chimpanzees. With the help of LCRP, Poppy and other chimpanzees can smile again.

Image: Mary Beauty, LCRP.

What can we do to help?

  • Click here to donate directly to LCRP and help them to raise much needed funds to maintain the sanctuary and provide a safe home for chimps like Poppy.
  • Read this brilliant article by the Ape Alliance about why images of primates on social media can be so dangerous.
  • Share this with friends and engage them in the conversation to spread awareness. Together we can make a change.

*LCRP Disclaimer: Chimpanzees are not and should not be pets or forced to live with humans. The chimpanzee orphans at LCRP’s sanctuary in West Africa are victims of the bushmeat and illegal pet trade. Their mothers were tragically killed by poachers and require around the clock care. Thanks to the dedicated caregivers and staff, the orphans are being rehabilitated so that they will be able to thrive with others in a natural and safe environment when they’re older. Please support LCRP’s mission to rescue chimpanzees in need and keep wild chimps wild

Image: Jake Brooker