Saturday, 21 April 2018

Chimfunshi: The World's Largest Chimpanzee Orphanage

Chimpanzees eating guavas at Chimfunshi
By Paul Shalala and Mushota Mpundu in Chingola

They are noisy, cheerful and entertaining.

These are chimpanzees who have made this place their home.

Most of them were rescued from across Africa from poachers and animal traffickers.

Over the years, hundreds of Chimpanzees have found their way to Chimfunshi Wildlife Sanctuary here in Chingola, a major mining town in Zambia's Copperbelt region which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This place started hosting trafficked primates in the early 1980s.

"This place started as a refuge for the chimps. The road from Solwezi to Chingola was often used by animal traffickers and the animals easily found their way to Chimfunshi after being rescued," said Chimfunshi Wildlife Sanctuary Manager Innocent Mulenga.

Chimfunshi is now the largest refuge for Chimpanzees in the world.

Ironically, Zambia has no indigenous Chimpanzees.

These animals are endangered in most parts of the world.

In the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, they are hunted for their meat which is a delicacy.

With the 'never ending' conflict in the DRC, animals such as Chimpanzees are usually under threat because their habitats are always invaded by combatants.

This is why Chimfunshi is now hosting over 120 Chimpanzees, most of them from the DRC, usually confiscated by Zambian authorities at the borders.

Zambia shares over 10 border posts with the DRC.

Chimfunshi is less than 70 kilometres from Kasumbalesa, the nearest border post to the wildlife sanctuary.

The sanctuary is located on the busy Solwezi-Chingola road, a significant export route where a huge percentage of Zambian copper passes on its way to the international market.

It is this major highway which is said to be a conduit for animal traffickers from the DRC to  the Far East via South Africa.

"We receive these primates from various countries across the continent. In the past two weeks, we rescued chimpanzees from Angola and South Sudan and settled them here. We collect these animals and keep them for safety," said Mr Mulenga.

Apart from hosting the Chimpanzees, Chimfunshi is also a tourist attraction.
Mr Mulenga checking on his Chimpanzees

The sanctuary has a good collection of Zambian curios which are on display at the reception.
Tourists both foreign and local, visit this place every year to buy these crafts.

The curios are mostly out of local wood, made in the shapes of Chimpanzees and other animals.

This place is also ideal for pupils and students who have an interest in nature and conservation.

"We usually receive pupils from Solwezi, Chingola and Kitwe. These are pupils who are in Nature Clubs and they come here to study and spend one to three nights in our shelters," said Chimfunshi Wildlife Sanctuary Assistant Manager Tarisai Makwelele.
Being rich in rare species, Chimfunshi is also a center for research.

Every year, this sanctuary receives researchers who come here to study the primates.

"Most of the researchers who come here are from Germany, the USA and locally. Because of the conducive environment where our Chimpanzees are roaming freely, these researchers are able to study the primates without a problem," said Mr Mulenga who holds a Masters in Primatology.

Among the Chimpanzees here, the oldest is a female called Mila.

She is believed to have been born in 1972 in Cameroon but was later transferred to the Tanzanian town of Arusha.

Mila is believed to have been rescued from a bar where she used to drink beer and smoke cigarettes as part of her job to entertain patrons.

Her handlers say to date, some of her traits show the effects of the abuse.

Chimfunshi Wildlife Sanctuary is also an employer.

18 people are employed here in various capacities, with the oldest employee having been here for 15 years.

The sanctuary, which is run by a trust, has even built a health post and a school where over 100 local children are enrolled.

A worker, feeding the Chimpanzees
Local farmers have also found a ready market for their produce which the Wildlife Trust buys.

The sanctuary sits on an 11,000 hectare plot which is divided into two.

The first 6,000 hectares is inhabited by the Chimpanzees who are separated in groups of 20 to 30 secured by wires to avoid fights among different troops.

The remaining 5,000 hectares is a livestock farm which currently has 700 cattle which are kept by the wildlife trust to support the conservation of the Chimps.

Occasionally, the authorities here sale cattle to raise funds to meet the day-to-day financial needs of running the world's largest Chimpanzee sanctuary.

Because of its remote location, Chimfunshi uses solar panes to power all its facilities.

However, one of the biggest challenges this place faces is the 15 kilometers road which runs from the Chingola-Solwezi road to the wildlife sanctuary.

The road is gravel and because of the many streams which cross it, it is usually in bad state during the rainy season.

But access during the dry season is reasonable.

The journey from Chingola town to Chimfunshi only takes an hour and the distance is 64 kilometers.

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