Letter to New Sudan (newspaper published in Nairobi)
re: Rescue of Sudanese Chimp Orphans
Southern Sudan has still some patches of forest and according to the director of Southern Sudan Wildlife there are still three areas with small populations of chimpanzees. Actually, the schweinfurthii subspecies was typed from specimens which were collected in Southern Sudan.
In March of 2003 I was contacted by a lady working for UNICEF in Yambio Southern Sudan, stating that there were 4 orphaned chimps (2 at Yambio and two with Mission people at Nimule) which needed a new home). As far as her two chimps were concerned she had been in touch with various parties and sanctuaries discussing an evacuation but nothing concrete had been accomplished. She was about to go on a long leave and expressed doubt that her two chimps would still be alive upon her return.
We then diverted one of our aircraft from Northern Congo via Southern Sudan to pick up the two in Yambio. I arranged for another aircraft to fly Annie Olivercrona from Sweetwaters to go to Nimule to pick up the other two. All four were meant to go to a well known chimpanzee sanctuary in Zambia. However Zambia in the end was not able to secure the import permits and so they ended up at the Sweetwaters chimpanzee sanctuary in Northern Kenya.
Then in October Annie told me of another 7 orphans at Yambio needing to be picked up (there was also talk about a baby leopard). I expressed my concern that something was not right. In all my time working on bushmeat and ape issues I had never come across a situation of 7 orphans ending up in the same place at the same time. While it is occasionally possible to get officials to carry out a confiscation, generally the word of such action spreads very fast and any other known chimps or gorillas tend to disappear overnight. It was also clear that these chimps could not all come from Sudan and that they most likely had all come in from the DRC. Being familiar with the Azande people living along the border and their means and techniques of hunting it was also clear that producing these kind of numbers of orphans, in such a short period, meant something had drastically changed in the supply/demand characteristic. (No geographically limited population could sustain this kind off take for long and as such this had to be a recent phenomena.)
The border area in question is only some three hundred kilometers east of our project area, where we have signed up three cheferies, buying their coffee at above market prices, in return for them stopping all the poaching of protected species. One such indicator, in our contract, is the appearance of any chimp orphans in any village. As such we had done an inventory of any existing orphans in the border area and as a result had a very good idea on how often chimps were hunted in the past and how often orphans ended up in villages. Therefore what was happening a few hundred kilometers further east was of great interest and concern to us.
In mid November we sent our head tracker and investigator to the Sudan border on a motorbike. I briefed him on the chimps which had been air lifted out of Sudan in the last 8 months and the possibility of some demand for orphans existing in or near Yambio. I asked him to talk to hunters and traders along the border and find out what he could about where these chimps came from and who hunted them and why. As long as there are still elephants in the area most commercial hunters concentrate on them, with the return per elephant being in the region of some U$ 250 whereas a chimp carcass would only fetch about a dollar or two.
When he returned he stated that he had interviewed two "agents": one a Sudanese by the name of Jon B. the other a Congolese named Banakos who informed him that they had already supplied four chimps to a white lady in Yambio. They stated they received U$ 50 per chimp. They also added that there were two more gents in the area doing the same thing for the same lady. They asked our man to bring any orphan he could and they would pay him some U$ 20 on the Congo side of the border.
When talking to the hunters he also established the earlier mentioned facts: The main commercial hunters were still mostly after elephants. The chimps were still hunted with the traditional Azande cross bow and poisoned arrow of which pretty much every adult male seems to have one. Chimps heard in fruiting trees are easy targets. The hunters surprise them and making a lot of noise on the ground they ensure they stay in the trees. The hunter can then pick a mother with an infant and wait for the poison to take effect which takes about 10-20 minutes until the mother falls out of tree. (When chimps are hunted with the 00 shot gun shells then the chance is very high that any baby clinging on to its mother will also be injured or killed by one of the 72 lead balls in these shells.)
Presenting the findings of this first investigative mission to the various parties involved created some controversy concerning accuracy. In April this year we sent back another party to the border area who this time found the Sudanese trader John B. who essentially confirmed all the above in a video taped interview.
I have very little doubt that the new demand pattern for chimp orphans on the Sudan side of the border resulted in additional hunting pressure on the DRC side of the border and the killing of chimps.
The transfer of the orphans across the border then clearly infringed on the CITES convention to which both nations are signatories.
None of this part of the story was told on the CNN or BBC pieces which went around the world when the second group of orphans were transferred to Kenya.
I do feel some lessons need to be learnt from the above and my suggestion would be that as a first step the Pan African Sanctuary Association (which includes all the major establishments dealing with orphaned\chimpanzees and gorillas) introduces a system where 'chimp donors' are asked to sign a statement to the effect that they did not pay for the ape in question (and if they did that they accepted the implications and would not do so again). This is something I also neglected to do when she asked for help with the first four chimps, assuming I was dealing with a party with some common sense. In addition any 'donor' should provide detailed information on how he or she ended up with the ape. Based on this the sanctuaries should accept the responsibility , if necessary, to follow up on any solid lead and try to assess and then deal with the more fundamental issue: Who was/is hunting the chimps and for what reason?.
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