Sunday, January 18, 2009

Suffer Me Not

It’s been a trying, tense day, and as the rain rages on, I can only hope that it brings with it the promise of cleansing and a new day to come.

Yesterday, a man came by our house, offering to sell us a baby chimpanzee for 5000FC (~$10). Our regular policy, first and foremost, is that we never, ever buy chimpanzees. Sure, you think you’re doing the right thing but it just encourages the hunters to go out and “make more money” -- kill more mothers, sell more infants. It’s a brutal cycle.

We do, however, conduct research on the provenance of the infants, and their conditions, and we take photos as evidence. Yesterday when I sent Richard out to take a photo, however, we discovered that the infant was being kept near the forest where its mother was killed, some 30km from here and across the river to boot.

So, we resigned ourselves to only having the history of the infant -- sometimes it’s just the best you can do.

It is, however, always easier when you send someone else to collect the evidence. With the suffering at arm’s length, it can’t ever hurt your core.

Today, at 7 am, the chimp-seller guy was back, ringing his bicycle’s bell (I thought rather rudely, considering the hour) at our front gate. Apparently, he’d come back across the river and had run into some problems... with the chimp.

Confused as to what was going on, Polycarpe called our friend, the Minister of the Environment, whose new crackdown on illegal chimp hunting & killing has led to a marked decrease in the amount of chimp meat we’ve seen at the market.

He came rather promptly, but was soon followed by Polycarpe and another man, carrying a chicken basket.

The basket looked empty. It was probably smaller than your two sneakers put together. But as I looked inside it, there was, curled up, a baby chimpanzee.

He was on his side, in a fetal position, and clearly much larger than the basket would allow. Even if he had wanted to, he couldn’t have stretched his legs or sat up or brought his arm over his head.

My immediate thought was that he was dead already. As the thought took me, seeing his tongue lolling out of his mouth, half-opened, and his eyes glazed over, I felt my insides seizing up. We’re too late. If only we’d gotten to him yesterday.

It’s at moments like these, where you really can’t cry in front of officials and chimp-hunters, where it literally hurts to hold your empathy inside. The smell radiating from the tiny basket was foul -- fish and shit and god knows what. The chimp was also filthy, covered in his own piss and feces.

“Il est dejà mort. [He is already dead]” I said, trying my hardest not to let any of my emotions out.

“Non,” replied the hunter, cocky and, in my mind, brazen in his bright red shirt, “il est bien.” As he finished, he jostled the basket roughly with his foot.

Nearly involuntarily, the tiny chimp flopped his head to the other side, his eyes very slowly... so slowly... opening and closing. He didn’t even have the energy to cry.

I shooed the hunter away, saying, in French, “You’ve done enough already, leave him!” and Polycarpe and I approached the basket slowly. It was tied at the top, though it was clear the contents of the basket posed no flight risk.

We cut the ties open, unable to untie them, and Polycarpe reached into the basket to try and free its captive.

Upon opening the basket -- the smell, before already nauseating, became rancid and seeing Polycarpe’s hand approach caused the chimpanzee to open his eyes wide, unfocussed, and scream meekly in fear.

His teeth were blackened and charred. The hunter, apparently, had “punished” the chimpanzee for biting someone and they had held him down, sticking a fire-hot knife into his mouth to dull his teeth.

While I rushed to get water, Polycarpe finally succeeded in removing the chimp from the basket. He barely fit through its opening. He couldn’t lift his arms or grasp anything in his hands. He was a rag doll, even as Polycarpe cradled in his arms and brought the cup of water to his lips.

As he drank the water like a man who’d been stranded at sea for a week, the Minister of the Environment grilled the hunter about how the chimpanzee had become so weak and feeble.

The hunter had killed the mother seven days ago, had come out of the forest with the baby five days ago, and on the first day it had bitten someone, they had “punished it” and then put it into the basket, where it had stayed, for the last five days. When asked if he had given it food or water, the hunter replied that they had put a banana into the basket two days ago, but that the “beast” had refused to eat.

We sat, shooting evil looks at this man who had apparently no awareness for the suffering of anyone but himself, wishing him evil.

Which was when the police arrived. Summoned by the Minister of the Environment to “question” the hunter and his brother about their illegal chimp killing activities, the police greeted us enthusiastically and grabbed both of the hunters -- red shirt and his brother - roughly. His brother tried to run, but was overpowered by the police and dragged to the station.

The Minister of the Environment thanked us for our help in protecting wildlife, and left.

And there we were, gazing down at this tiny chimp who could not even hold his own head up, giving him water and removing the shit-covered string that was tied crassly around his waist.

We had not planned on confiscating any further orphans for the sanctuary here, since it was intended to be only temporary until the larger sanctuary can be completed in Kisangani, but after recent developments, we feel that perhaps we can accommodate him.

And, quite frankly, seeing him in Polycarpe’s arms, so close to death...

...I couldn’t say no.

Several hours later, he continues to sleep in the bed Adam and I made for him. We gave him a bath and swathed him in our Spiderman towel from Ocean City, MD. We’ve gotten him to drink 2 full cups of water and a whole bottle of milk. I would want him to take in more, but he’s so thin and so traumatized that we simply cannot bear to wake him while he sleeps.

At this point, I don’t know if he’ll live or not. And if he does, I will probably indeed face the repercussions of taking in yet another orphan.

But it does feel good to know that, one way or another, his suffering will end.

We will continue to monitor him and hope for the best -- the knowledge, though, that others allowed him to suffer SO MUCH up to this point is the worst part.

Not only are his teeth charred, but his hands and arms are covered in cuts and scrapes and scabs.

The next couple of days will be crucial -- and all we can do now is wait.

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