Friday, September 08, 2006

Introducing "Fanta" and the Friends of Abidjan Zoo

In January 2006, a baby chimpanzee was discovered in the town of Taï, a small sous-prefecture in the west Côte d’Ivoire. It is not known whether the baby was captured in Liberia or in Côte d’Ivoire, though it is likely that her mother and other members of her group were killed by the poachers who captured her, and were sold in the illegal bushmeat trade. Orphaned babies like this one are often sold as pets, once in human hands they are often badly treated and don’t live long. West African chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) are an endangered species and protected by law – it is illegal to kill them, capture them, or keep them as pets.

The baby chimp was kept in captivity for approximately two months. She appeared to be poorly fed and weak and showed signs of dehydration, loss of hair, and depression. The baby is a young female, and she was christened "Fanta".

There are currently no chimpanzee sanctuaries in Côte d’Ivoire, where orphaned babies can join a group of other rescued chimps. Reintroducing Fanta back into the wild was impossible, since wild chimpanzee groups do not usually adopt unknown infants she would most likely be killed; she could also have introduced human diseases to the wild population. The only option the agents of the OIPR (Office Ivoirien des Parcs et Reserves) had was to take Fanta to Abidjan Zoo.

There are three other adult chimpanzees already at the zoo. They probably went through similar experiences to Fanta, being caught in the wild and kept as pets while they were young. These three individuals are the remains of two much larger groups that were decimated by disease in 2004. Fanta is too little to be housed with them as they would most likely attack her, so she is on her own for the moment.

Conditions at the zoo are far from ideal. Although the cages are of a good size, the walls and floors are bare concrete and there is no environmental enrichment. The primates are bored and lonely – some could even be called depressed. Zoo visitors throw cans, rubbish and cigarettes to the chimpanzees. The zoo director and keepers are very motivated to change things, however they lack resources and expertise. It would be easy to put up signs and fencing to stop the visitors from throwing things at the chimpanzees, but this costs money that the zoo does not have.

The chimps at the zoo do not display normal behaviour, but instead show the stereotyped pacing of unhappy prisoners. In the wild, chimpanzees live in social groups which can be very large with hundreds of members. They have complex social behaviours that play an important role in thier development and each individual’s well being. They defend a territory together and learn from each other important tasks such as nut cracking and termite fishing. They invest a lot of their time socializing in maintaining good social relations, in activities such as grooming, playing, hunting, and sharing food. All such social and environmental conditions can not be perfectly reproduced when chimpanzees find themselves in a human environment in a zoo. But with a certain understanding of wild chimpanzees, it is possible to improve the living conditions of captive chimps.

The students who work in the Taï National Park, their friends and colleagues are trying to change the dire situation of the chimpanzees of Abidjan Zoo. To this end, we have created the “Friends of Abidjan Zoo” association to work together with the zoo to improve the conditions for the animals. We want to start with Fanta, to provide a happy and secure future for her. Then we will broaden our activities to the other chimpanzees and monkeys, and the rest of the zoo.

First we need to be sure that Fanta’s immediate needs are being met. It costs only 5,000 CFA (€7.5, £5, $9,) per week to feed her properly. A visit from the vet costs approximately. 20,000 CFA (€30, £20, $27). We aim to create a stable fund with the help of internet donations and fundraising activities in Europe to secure the future of Fanta and improve the living conditions of the chimpanzees and all other animals living in the Abidjan Zoo.

In the top right hand side of this web site you can find a link to donate money to help Fanta. Any amount of money you donate will help Fanta. If you cannot donate money at this time, please bookmark this site to keep an eye on our progress, and forward our URL to friends with an interest in animal welfare. You can help give Fanta and many other animals a better life!