Monday, October 6, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

What in the world are you guys doing in Congo?

We’re actually doing a few things! I’ve been hired to manage a chimpanzee halfway house -- an interim sanctuary set up out in Aketi (northern Congo) while we wait for a larger sanctuary in Kisangani, DRC to be finished!

UPDATE UPDATE The chimpanzees will no longer be going to Kisangani, but are scheduled to be flown out of Aketi, to eastern Congo and the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center. For more information, check out this entry

I’m also working on my thesis with Columbia University -- studying the effects of gold and diamond miners flooding remote regions next to chimp-inhabited forests. It’s primarily disease-oriented, and it involves me interviewing lots of miners, villagers, and taking faecal samples from all of them, and the chimpanzees they live next to!

What’s the deal with all of these chimpanzees? Are they pets?

No, they are not pets! Any photos you see of chimpanzees on this site are of orphan chimpanzees we’ve had to confiscate from hunters and poachers and other people in Congo.

Although chimpanzees are “protected” by law here, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a HUGE country with not a lot of infrastructure, and chimpanzees are hunted voraciously here! Baby chimps are typically kept after their mothers have been shot and killed, and the hunter will try to sell it to cafés or to white people who believe that they are doing the right thing. For a real story of an orphan confiscated at our sanctuary, check out this entry.

Most of these baby chimps die, because in the wild, they are completely dependent on their mothers and their new “owners” have no idea how to care for them! Often their “care” is cruel -- and the orphans are chained to poles, fed very little, and languish alone until they die.

Our halfway house attempts to keep these chimpanzees alive, since chimpanzees are very endangered! The sanctuary attempts to mimic the forest life of the chimpanzees -- they are fed much of the same food, and we have trained caregivers who work as surrogate mothers for the chimpanzees.

Importantly, the chimpanzees can play with one another like they would in the forest, and spend most of the day in the trees, looking for food to eat!

I saw some pictures of a chimp in your house!

Orphaned chimpanzees, once confiscated, are often incredibly sick. Sometimes these illnesses are mild, and other times they can be caught not only by the other chimpanzees, but by people too! Chimpanzees and humans share 98.7% of their DNA, so diseases can be shared between the two species as well!

Anyone who has ever worked in a daycare center can tell you that little kids give each other diseases just as easily too!

It becomes very important, therefore, to quarantine each chimp before it is introduced to the sanctuary. During this period, the chimp must live away from the others. In our case, quarantined chimps lived in our house and we became their surrogate mothers during the quarantine period.

No, our house is not very much like a chimpanzee environment, but we still acted as surrogate mothers and, after 4-6 weeks, if the chimpanzee has exhibited no signs of serious illness, he or she can be introduced to the others at the sanctuary.

I will admit that we took a LOT of photos of the chimp quarantined in our house during the month of November/December, but I will reiterate that that chimpanzee is now in the sanctuary with the others.

Chimps are cute! I want one as a pet! Where can I get a chimpanzee for sale?

I think most people who work in the business can understand the chimpanzee’s appeal to outsiders. Sure, they’re cute and small when they’re babies, and chimpanzees’ intelligence gives a deeper and more profound connection to its “mother” than perhaps your gerbil Moe.

But people who want chimpanzees as pets don’t understand some crucial things: most importantly, that chimpanzee “pets” aren’t just sold in your local pet store. The pet trade in chimpanzees, a very rare and endangered species, fuels a horrible cycle of murder and abuse. Chimpanzee communities would never just “give up” an infant, and to take one from its mother you would have to kill its mother.

You certainly can’t say that for a dog or a cat.

Ever been to an animal shelter and seen all of the dogs for adoption that are around 7-9 months old? These dogs were given up by their owners because they became too unmanageable.

Chimpanzees become incredibly unmanageable too, and a LOT sooner. They are amazingly intelligent, mischievous, and, as they get bigger, VERY strong and very dangerous. An adult chimpanzee is 4-5 times stronger than a strong man, and even a juvenile chimpanzee could bite your fingers right off. Or worse!

Entertainment chimps that you see in the movies and on television are typically very young chimps, have been electrocuted to “train” them, and usually have had their canine teeth removed. It’s another cruel industry that I believe fewer people would support if they really knew the evils behind it.

I have a question about a photo/entry you posted! I don’t understand something!

Please, before you go assuming that I fry up chimpanzees and eat them for dinner because I posted a photo of a frying pan, email me.

I usually post pretty detailed explanations of what the photo is of, and I don’t think anyone who reads the blog regularly can say I’m not verbose.

But, if you’re still confused, or alarmed, or alarmed and confused, email me.

laura DOT darby AT gmail DOT com

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