Have you ever seen a chimpanzee? I recall reading about them in elementary school but that is the closest I came to learning about them. So when I learnt that they were in Ol Pejeta I was excited about seeing them. Seeing chimps and the rhinos (Next article is on White Rhino and Baraka) was the highlight of my Safari.
Did you know that chimpanzees are our closest relatives? Genetic-wise? A study of the genetic difference between humans and great apes (chimpanzees and bonobos) is about 1.6%. To put this into perspective, the genetic difference between individual humans is 0.1% and while difference between the chimpanzees and gorillas (the closest relative to the chimps among all primates) is 3.7%… This potent test of biological kinship shows that humans are not only related to the great apes – we are one.. Interesting right?
This means that there are a lot of similarities between humans and chimps, they are very social, live in communities of several chimps led by an alpha male in a coalition with other males. They care for their offspring and can live to be over 50 years. Although they walk on their four limbs, they can walk on two legs for over a mile, they use sticks to fish and are highly intelligent. A study demonstrated that the cognitive development between chimps and humans is very small, and perhaps the differences we have to them may not be in our supposed superior mental capabilities, but rather we benefit from the traditions and knowledge we (humans) have developed over the years.
But one of our own may no longer be with us soon. With a population of 172,700 to 300,000, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies them as endangered. Their population has been declining by nearly 3 percent every year, with 80% of their population lost in the last 25 years alone.
This decline has been driven by habitat loss and human activities such as agriculture, deforestation for commercial purposes, mining and hunting them for bush meat. Reports of ape and human conflicts have for example been reported in Uganda, where destruction of chimp habitat through deforestation has driven them to start foraging from human homes in some cases snatching and killing small children. Humans then kill chimps in retaliation to protect their families from future attacks. Chimps are also susceptible to infectious diseases such as Ebola, which has killed a significant number in the past.
Reversing this declining trend will be key in ensuring chimps do not go extinct. It is because of this reason that several sanctuaries have been established in Africa to try and save chimps, one such sancturary is the sweetwaters chimpanzee sanctuary that is found in the Ol pejeta conservancy. They are mainly found in the forests of Central and West Africa.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy | Sweetwaters Chimpanzees Sanctuary
We decided to visit ol pejeta conservancy (the only place in Kenya with chimps) to see the chimps. The sweetwaters chimpanzee sanctuary was established in 1993 to provide refuge for chimpanzees rescued from abuse and those that are orphaned.
The sweetwaters sanctuary is a member of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), which has 18 sanctuaries in spread over 18 African countries that care for orphaned and/or injured chimpanzees. Many arrive when they are very young to survive alone in the wild or seriously injured, and conservancy gives them a chance to start over.
Currently, there are 37 chimpanzees in the conservancy distinctly divided into two groups. The two groups are separated with the vast Ewaso Nyiro river, with each having a dominant male. Before a chimp is introduced into any of the two groups, it is quarantined, given strict veterinary support before they are nursed back to health. The two groups are spread over a 200 acre plot within the sanctuary that is under 24 hour surveillance. Because the chimps are very territorial, the two groups are never allowed to meet or mingle. The chimps feed at specific times, and return to their enclosures at night. They spend most of their days socializing, climbing and exploring and most importantly learning to be chimpanzees all over again!!!.
The cost of maintaining one chimpanzee annually.
As the number of chimps have increased over the years, it has become difficult manage them considering few resources. The cost of maintaining one chimp per year is a whooping 4000 dollars. Therefore, the chimps are often administered with contraceptives to prevent over population in the camps. It is hoped that as many people visit the sanctuary (entrance fee) and more donors come through then the numbers can be increased. Visitors can also adopt a chimpanzee at a fee or buy merchandise at the shop to supplement the conservancy earnings.
The view point tower pre-covid.
Some restrictions have also been imposed because of the ongoing COVID pandemic. Given that we (humans) share a high proportion of our DNA with chimps, the sanctuary has limited the distances visitors can get to the chimps, to prevent transmission of the disease.
Safety cage when you spot Chimpanzees
We got the chance to see six or seven chimpanzees (Ali Kaka, Bahati and Julia just to name a few) despite the strict physical distancing measures. You can read about the history of each chimp here including their names, age and their origins,,, or better still why not visit the sanctuary and have a first-hand experience?
Happy New Month.
Always Keeping it:
Credits to our guest writer. Asante sana.