The chimpanzee population in West Africa has declined sharply over the past few decades — more than 90% in Côte d'Ivoire alone.
Project Primates, a U.S.-based not-for-profit group, is working to preserve and protect these beautiful creatures and their habitats. That's why they launched the Chimpanzee Conservation Center (CCC).
The Chimpanzee Conservation Center rescues, rehabilitates, and, when possible, releases healthy chimps back into the wild.
The CCC, located inside the Haut Niger National Park in the West African nation of Guinea, is home to 50 young, orphaned western chimpanzees who are often sold into the pet trade after their mothers and other adult family members are killed for bushmeat.
When the chimpanzees arrive at the sanctuary, they often suffer from diseases related to their captivity.
Respiratory and skin diseases are common, as are malnutrition and psychological conditions, all of which require round-the-clock care.
After a brief period of quarantine, keepers care for the animals in age-appropriate habitats.
The CCC is just over 3,700 square miles of dry forest and grassland. There, with the help of staff and volunteers, the animals learn how to be wild animals, something few of the animals had the chance to experience.
They make nests, go for walks in the bush, forage, learn to climb, and discover how to communicate and work with other chimpanzees.
As the chimps get older and more reliant on their peers, human contact is limited to better prepare them for release and life in the wild.
This rehabilitation process requires lots of patience. Preparing a chimp to return to the wild can take more than 10 years!
The CCC released its first group of chimpanzees in 2008, right in the Haut Niger National Park, not far from the sanctuary. The animals are equipped with tracking devices to monitor their location, and since the sanctuary is so close to the release site, volunteers and staff can protect the animals from poachers and other threats. So far, the released chimpanzees are thriving and interacting with the wild population. It's truly the best outcome, and hopefully a sign of good things to come.