Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Taking Back Aketi

Life continued on in its path while we were away, soaking in the forest and enjoying the untouched wilderness.

Unfortunately, the wilderness in Aketi wasn’t so lucky.

We discovered while we were gone that a hunter in Aketi had killed a chimp mother (along with an agile mangabey mother) and had brought both the baby monkey and the baby chimp back to Aketi to sell.

Seba and Dido had taken video of this baby, who seemed barely out of his mother’s grasp, and his inadvertent new mother - a young hunter, gaping stupidly at the camera with his fancy necklace, and we watched with horror as the young hunter manhandled the chimp like it was a ragdoll.

It was awful to watch, but it did strengthen our resolve to confiscate the baby. He seemed healthy enough, which was encouraging.

We walked to the town, taking a circuitous side route to the hunter’s house to try and stymie the attempts of the children to follow us, screaming and laughing.

We still had a posse by the time we arrived to find the previously healthy chimp from the video, languishing on the floor of a hot hut, tied to a stick and looking sickly and close to death.

What a horror, and a shock to see such a deterioration. The situation had suddenly gone from bad to worse, and we really needed to find a way to convince the owners that he wasn’t chattel, to be sold or traded, but that he was a sick baby who was going to die.

They had wanted to sell the chimp for $70US, but perhaps fortuitously, the hunter wasn’t home. We talked to his wife, who agreed that the chimp had gotten sicker in the last two days, and we told her we would give him medicine and food and that her husband could come and talk to us at the house when he got home.

But in the interim, we would take this chimp, named Aketi Kigoma, back to the house with us. At this point, Adam had picked up little Aketi and they were clutching one another tightly, so I can’t imagine Adam would have allowed us to leave Aketi there to tend to later either!

We walked back, trying to soothe little Aketi’s worried cries as the children screamed all around us, mocking our soothing chimp noises too. It’s really difficult when you’re disgusted by the ugliness of people, and you have to realize, in perspective, that the people don’t know that their behavior is ugly.

To many people here, a chimpanzee is nyama -- “meat” or bĂȘte -- “beast” (with the implication in French that they are also stupid) so to change the course of public opinion is often difficult.

When your heart is grieving for the suffering of another -- suffering that those around you seem purposefully blind to -- the pain is so exaggerated that it shakes your very core.

Five chimps now in Aketi. Photos are on the Flickr Page. (NOT YET)

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