Chimpanzees are faced with an increased number of dangers from humans as their habitat keeps shrinking and also due to the increase in trafficking and killings by farmers as they destroy crops. They are thus feared to become extinct with 15 – 20 years if nothing is done to protect them in due time.
According to scientists chimpanzee DNA is 98.7 percent similar to that of human beings and that makes them such coveted animals by scientists from the World over.
In Ngamba Island chimpanzee sanctuary on Lake Victoria has become synonymous with chimpanzees as there has now been a chimpanzee sanctuary for the last couple of years. Here orphaned chimpanzees and those rescued from traffickers find a perfect sanctuary. Ngamba Island chimpanzee Sanctuary also provides tourists with the opportunity to get closer to chimpanzees and also highlight the plight of these primates. Ms Lilly Ajarova the executive director of CSWT – Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust says that the number of chimpanzees has greatly been reduced by activities such as poaching for bush meat as well as animal trafficking. She said these are the biggest threats to a species that is already endangered.
Ngamba Island chimpanzee Sanctuary has over 40 chimpanzees and this provides tourists with a good opportunity to interact with these amazing animals. The area is over 100 acres of land and there is an opportunity to tourists to feed the chimpanzees. It is such a joy to see the chimps playing around and urging their caretakers to toss food like bananas at them as they roll and frolic around in the open space separated by a fence from the tourists. When they are fully fed, it is good to see these chimps wander off into the rainforests that are found on the Island.
All the chimpanzees in the Sanctuary have their own story with some coming from forests after having either their mothers killed by poaches or run over by vehicles. Others have been rescued from animal traffickers or hunters. It is not uncommon for some tribes in Africa to hunt chimps for bush meat.
According to Ms Ajarova there are only about 200,000 chimpanzees compared to about a century ago when there were about 1 million chimpanzees in the wild. Chimpanzees have disappeared from nearly 21 Countries in Africa that is nearly half the number of Countries in which chimpanzees were once found.
Uganda has the highest density of primates in the World with a population of about 4,950 chimpanzees in the wild. Chimpanzes in Uganda can be found living in the wild in Budongo, Bundibugyo, Bugoma and Kibale chimpanzee forest national park found in Western Uganda. Conservationists estimate that the population of chimpanzees could be totally wiped out in the next two decades if nothing is done to help curb the current rate of destruction faced by the primates.
Ngamba Island Sanctuary was established in 1998 and most of the Island was exclusively set aside as a habitat for the chimpanzees thus avoid human – wildlife conflict as much as possible. It has tropical rainforests which provides a good habitat for the chimpanzees and the quarters or homes for the employees at the Island has been built in an eco-friendly way with solar energy for electricity and heating water for showering, compost toilets; proper waste management as well as rainwater collection to enable the Island remain as natural as possible.
The Island is just under two hours by boat from Entebbe town and although the chimpanzees have most of the rainforests to themselves, they come back to nest in specially built cages that resemble their natural sleeping environments.
Unlike most animals chimpanzees are very particular and always make their beds like mountain gorillas every night not sleeping in the same beds. Their beds are made from leaves and tree trigs which they break and neatly layout. In Ngamba Island however, the keepers put out hay which the chimps use to make their own nest. In their natural habitat chimpanzees forage through large areas looking for their food which is usually varied, so in Ngamba Island since the chimps can find all the food that they need, their diet is supplemented with fruits which the caretakers provide twice a day as well as porridge made of millet flour every evening. To supplement their animal proteins the chimpanzees are provided with eggs at least once a week.
The Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust is financed by the funds raised from tourists that visit the sanctuary as well as money donated by individuals and organizations who are given to chimpanzee conservation.
Due to the space constraints due to the high number of chimpanzees the female chimpanzees are often put on contraceptives to keep them from having babies. There was a curious case incident about 8 years ago when a chimpanzee got pregnant despite the contraceptives which are administered every 3 years and the baby was aptly named Surprise.
The Sanctuary is meant to be a place for the chimpanzees to rehabilitate and get before being released into the wild within however there is already a problem of overcrowding which if exacerbated will only cause the chimpanzees which are territorial to fight for space and survival.
Ms Ajarova says that the chimpanzees cannot be introduced in the wild individually because they are communal animal and can only survive in communities. However there is no suitable forest that has been found for the chimpanzees to be reintroduced in where they can be able to procreate easily.
One of the possible forests they are looking at is the Rabongo forest found in the South of Murchison falls national park, however, International standards require that before animals are reintroduced into the wild there needs to be assurances of food, security as well as protection against acquiring diseases. Ms. Ajarova however says they are not doing anything hurriedly as they continue to study the chimpanzees’ ability to adapt to the conditions in the wild which is a hard thing for the chimpanzees at Ngamba Island as they are well catered for.