Chimps recovering well after zoo ordeal

2009-07-24 00:00

HEALTHY food, warm sunlight, good company and wild times with other chimpanzees. That’s what two chimps are enjoying now after having left the Natal Zoological Gardens at Umlaas Road.

Readers who were distressed by The Witness report yesterday on the state of the chimpanzees found there, will be happy that for chimps Charles and Jessica, both approximately 25 years old, there is a happy ending and a brighter future.

Charles and Jessica are being cared for at Chimpanzee Eden in Mpumalanga near Nelspruit, after they left KZN in January.

In a report in April this year, Eugene Cussons, managing director of Chimpanzee Eden, alleged that Charles’s pale skin meant he was kept in a dark environment for an extended period of time with no access to direct sunlight.

“Hair was missing from his upper arms, which indicates the ‘picking’ of hair due to boredom … ” He added that Charles was also extremely aggressive at first, but said this could be due to the relocation and the introduction to a new facility and human keepers.

Cussons wrote that Jessica was found to be in a severely emaciated state. She had the signs of previous injuries, including three missing finger tips. “She had very little hair on her body and as for her psychological condition, she did not make any attempt to have contact with keepers for the first few days and refused to expose her hands to the keepers probably due to mistrust.”

Shockingly, staff at Chimp Eden estimated that her weight could not have been more than 25 kg; this is a mere third of what it should be at the age of 25.

In April, work was done on Charles’s teeth, as he showed discomfort with his canines whenever eating. His teeth, which were found to have been broken off as a result of blunt force, were repaired and he is no longer in pain. Although this may have been accidental, it would have caused chronic pain.

Cussons told The Witness yesterday that the chimps’ psychological and physical conditions have improved vastly.

Speaking of the emaciated Jessica when she arrived at the centre, Cussons said it was like “dealing with a Holocaust victim”.

Happily, Jessica has now put on 10 kg and has been successfully integrated into the infant camp, where she has established herself as the alpha female. “She now acts as a parent to the others. We hope she’ll put on another 10 kg in the next six months. She’s very happy.”

He said they battled to get Charles integrated into the adult group, and were now trying to acclimatise him to the infant group where Jessica established herself. As Jessica is the alpha female there, Charles needs to be accepted by her, so they are spending some time together each day getting to know each other.

“In the beginning, they wanted nothing to do with each other. Because of growing up the way he did, he had not learnt normal wild behaviour and did not understand the hierarchy structures.”

He said it was assumed that Charles was a circus chimp, but this has not been confirmed by Brian Boswell. Cussons alleged that Boswell ignored his request to share information about the chimps with himself.

“We are struggling to get him to the level he should be at, at the age of 25.”

He said a healthy chimp in captivity should live as long as humans.

The oldest chimp at Chimpanzee Eden is 59 years old.


Set on a 1000 hectare game reserve, Chimpanzee Eden is home to chimpanzees that have been misplaced from their natural habitat. The world renowned Jane Goodall Institute has made this tranquil venue their South African sanctuary and has committed itself to the rescue and care take of chimpanzees in need of refuge. Find out more, and read a blog on the chimps’ progress on Find out too how you can adopt a chimp.

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