Tchimpounga Sanctuary is set atop a modest hilltop at the southern tip of the Tchimpounga Nature Reserve, which encompasses 525 square kilometres of marsh, savannah and emerging rainforest. While this might sound like the perfect location for a chimpanzee rehabilitation centre, the location has a few drawbacks. Chief among them is that the surrounding pockets of jungle are home to troops of wild chimps.
Last year, one of the young orphans, Cozanza, was attacked and killed while walking with his young friends and caregivers in a nearby forest. After that, the regular jungle walks at Tchimpounga were stopped, and the chimps had lost a vital piece of daily enrichment. But all is not lost. A few months from now, construction will begin on Tchimpounga’s future home, a set of three islands in the nearby Kouilou river.
This morning, we traveled up the Kouilou in a steel-hulled fishing boat to explore the new site. It is a beautiful, tranquil place. The islands are completely blanketed in thick rainforest, and as we floated past we reveled in the idea that soon the chimps of Tchimpounga might call these wild jungle islands home.
What’s more, if JGI has their way, small numbers of tourists might soon be paddling kayaks around these islands and being ‘greeted’ by the Tchimpounga chimps in the great trees along the shoreline. This moderate level of tourism might bring the sanctuary one step closer to being self-sustaining, a rare thing in the sanctuary world.
The first delivery of chimps to the Kouilou islands could happen as soon as October. Construction is supposed to begin there soon. And two Congolese eco-guards, Mboumba Gustav and Hyacinthe Loumba, are already on duty, keeping watch over the forest and the river, arresting anyone who is caught hunting or cutting trees in the reserve.
For now, though, the chimps have a pretty great home in Tchimpounga. After the islands, we returned for an afternoon of watching the newest orphans play together way up in the eucalyptus trees.
We also tried to teach Lemba to paint. As you can see at the top of this post, she preferred to eat the watercolours– “eating is always task number one for a chimp,” says Debby—but slowly she figured out what was expected of her. Debby painted Lemba's foot, the one she has regained full feeling in, and then pressed it to the page, leaving a bright blue footprint. This fall, Lemba’s footprint art may be sold at a fundraiser back in Toronto, to help raise money for the island move.