A sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees

Chimpanzee rescue center near Monrovia, Liberia Jenny Desmond and her staff care for chimpanzees (© Mathias Rittgerott)

Jan 27, 2019

Orphaned and formerly captive chimpanzees deserve a good life. In Liberia, a small private organization is dedicated to caring for more than 40 such primates. The dream of the animal rights activists: An island as a lifetime sanctuary.

Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection (LCRP) had barely opened its doors when rescued chimps literally started appearing on the organization’s doorstep: orphans whose mothers had been killed for the “bushmeat” trade, while the young chimps kept alive to be sold into the pet trades, or confiscated pets. 

In the week before our visit to the sanctuary near Monrovia, the organization took in four chimpanzees, including a juvenile of about three years with a cough. “We have to isolate him from the others until he’s recovered,” explained Jimmy Desmond, who is currently sharing his room with his young patient. A dozen chimpanzees spend the nights on the ground floor of the house, the majority in an outdoor enclosure. A small team takes care of the animals nearly around the clock.

Jimmy Desmond and his wife Jenny are aware that primatologists frown on humans and chimps sharing a space, but they see no alternative at the moment. Any animals they turn away might otherwise be killed.

The animal rights activists are therefore pursuing an ambitious project: They purchased a 25-year lease on 40 hectares of forested land in the Marshall Wetlands to serve as a chimpanzee sanctuary. Visitors can easily reach the “Hundred Acre Wood” from Monrovia, and donations to the project are welcome.

LCRP is part of a coalition that wants to raise awareness among local people for chimpanzee protection. Jenny Desmond: “We expect the number of rescues to increase as rangers confiscate more orphans and pet chimps, then decline as inroads are made against poaching, bushmeat and wildlife trafficking.” She hopes that the turnaround will happen within the next five years.

The Desmonds are in the “Hundred Acre Wood” project for the long haul: Rescue chimpanzees can live up to 50 years and remain dependent on human care for the rest of their lives.

Jimmy and Jenny Desmond originally came to Liberia to care for chimpanzees living on nearby islands after being “retired” from medical experiments by the New York Blood Center. LCRP is an entirely separate project, however.

To donate for chimpanzee protection in West Africa, please go here.